How to go above and beyond your peers and successfully find work as a freelance data scientist
The market for consultants and freelancers has expanded considerably over the past decade. LinkedIn has seen a growth in the number of freelancers using their website by 43% in the last 5 years as employers prefer to hire independent contractors over employees. You can now become a freelance data scientist, a career path chosen by some like Ryan Rosario, a Springboard mentor.
The appeal of a flexible work schedule with high pay is bringing large numbers of new data science freelancers to the labor market. This means an increased level of competition for finding work. For an aspiring freelance data scientist, you must ask yourself:
How do I find companies looking for freelance data scientists? Where can I network with experts in my field? What will make my portfolio stand out amongst a pool of hundreds of freelance data scientists? How can I find work as a freelance data scientist?
We will help you answer these questions and provide you with the know-how to successfully network with hiring companies. We will teach you how to hack commonly-used professional networks to work to your advantage, and how to differentiate yourself from other aspiring freelance data scientists.
Curious about data scientist vs analyst? Check out our career comparison where we look at backgrounds, responsibilities, and salaries.
First, build a better portfolio and make a profile on freelancer directories
If the names Upwork and Toptal aren’t familiar to you, learning about these companies and other freelancer directories is a mandatory first step. Freelancer directories act as a platform for connecting freelance data scientists with the companies who want to hire them. They are vital to the job prospects of a freelance data scientist.
Listing yourself as a freelance data scientist via LinkedIn is not enough, you must grow your network and publicize yourself by using alternative networks.
One of the most effective ways to advertise your work experience is by having a personal website that displays your portfolio. Employers use portfolios to gauge your fit for a contract. By showcasing your portfolio, you will communicate your strengths and motivations. This example from Trent Salazar shows up near the top of search results for “data science portfolio”, guaranteeing that hiring managers are looking through his profile every day.
Your website should include an easy to navigate portfolio section, and make it easy for someone to find your contact information. Make sure potential employers can find your email address with ease. For tips on building your portfolio, read the first section of this article by DataQuest.
In addition to having a personal website, it helps to create a freelance data scientist profile on platforms that receive lots of traffic from potential employers. Freelancer directories where employers browse through are the perfect places to start.
Below we have highlighted two of our favorite directories: Upwork and Toptal. Both sites have a high quality and quantity of data science job postings offered. Browse the websites, and sign up! They are both free to use.
Toptal connects top freelance talent in the tech industry with companies in need. The company offers pre-screening of candidates and a quality guarantee. Only the top 3% of applicants will be admitted into Toptal’s directory, but if you are accepted, expect access to world class job openings, and to be courted by the best companies in the world.
Getting started with Toptal
Prepare your portfolio, brush up on relevant skills, and submit an application. To be admitted to Toptal you must pass a live screening for language and technical skills as well as an interview by two senior engineers, and you must complete an assigned test project, typically over one to three weeks. The application process will take approximately a month to complete.
Upwork recently merged with popular freelance platform Elance-oDesk, making the company a giant in the freelancer industry. Boasting over 1,900 job listings for data science and thousands of registered freelancers, Upwork is a familiar name to businesses across the world. Your listing as a freelance data scientist will be noticed there.
Getting started with Upwork
Sign up for an account with Upwork. You must submit a cover letter and create a profile describing your skills, experience, portfolios, client feedback, and your language and communication skills. After that, you’re free to browse through the job listings and apply to whichever jobs you’re best suited for.
Second, participate in your peers’ community groups and show that you are an expert
Once you have a presence in online directories, the next step is to develop a presence on the web as an expert in your field.
The internet is packed with forums for data scientists like yourself to share ideas, collaborate, and learn from one another. Regular participation in professional groups will advertise your technical skills to your peers, and potential employers. It will help you define yourself as a freelance data scientist with valuable insight.
Often, data scientists beginning a new project will turn to communities of experts for help solving tough problems. If you are able to help, your peers in different communities will potentially reach out to you with offers to collaborate on freelance work. Potential employers will take note as well. A significant portion of freelance work is found through online professional networks – expand your network and reap the benefits of increased visibility.
We highlighted a few of our favorite online communities for data scientists below:
With 19 data science related communities, Gitter is a Slack community for developers to collaborate. User discussion is technical, with most conversations focusing on debugging, and sharing code bases. For a strong programmer, Gitter offers endless opportunity to showcase your data engineering prowess.
Kaggle boasts one of the most active data science forums on the web. Helpful participants receive points that help them stand out on a leaderboard of data science competitors – the more participation in the community, the greater your visibility, and the more invitations you will receive to work with others. Check out the active competitions – you can win prizes up to $50,000 US dollars for finishing first.
About 13,000 data scientists use this platform to collaborate and compete on competitions. CrowdAnalytix primarily serves as a crowdsourced portal for data science solutions.
At Data Science Central, you can find a forum dedicated to data science, helpful resources and tutorials, networking events, and industry job opportunities.
This forum for data scientists and machine learning specialists uses a simple Q&A format to connect experts with the people who need their help. It is a great resource to differentiate yourself as a data science expert and a great freelance data scientist.
Attending professional conferences and networking in person is also vital. Use the following resources to stay connected.
Use Meetup to find groups of data scientists near you who are engaging in peer-to-peer networking. RSVP for local events and get face-to-face meetings with other professionals. Make your mark as a local freelance data scientist.
KDNuggets will be a go-to website for networking in the data science community. Consult their meetings calendar and discover events across the globe.
The premier conference for data scientists, check out a local edition and network with leading practitioners in the field.
Finally, act outside of the box
Using non-traditional methods to connect with employers will increase your likelihood of being noticed and hired as a freelance data scientist. Being proactive is essential to becoming a freelance data scientist.
We have found several ways you can “hack” common websites to your advantage and get ahead of other freelancers in the job search – all it takes is an entrepreneurial mindset and the right set of skills to become a freelance data scientist.
AngelList – filter your search to find start-ups looking to contract a data scientist
AngelList is an online hub for start-ups to promote their businesses, advertise jobs, and for young entrepreneurs to network with other like-minded workers.
Here is how to use AngelList to jump-start your freelance data scientist career:
1- Create a profile and click “Jobs” off of the main navigation menu.
2- Simply use the filters “Data Scientist” and “Contract” and you will instantly narrow the search results to only include start-ups offering contracted work to data scientists. We were able to find 42 openings for data scientists.
3- From here, find positions and companies that fit your skill set and interests. We recommend sending a message giving more information about yourself to all companies you apply to. If you can find contact information for the company on their profile, send them a personal email and bypass the AngelList queue. Become a freelance data scientist with companies looking to hire.
FounderDating – find entrepreneurs and advisees searching for a data science consultant
Network with young entrepreneurs and business looking to discuss data science with you. FounderDating will connect you to peers with similar interests. Some of them will be looking for a freelance data scientist.
Here’s how to leverage the site to connect with employers:
1- Create an account and register as an entrepreneur. Register for the advisor network, and if possible, join the cofounder network. As a cofounder you can view the projects that each cofounder is currently cultivating, their biographies, and their work experience.
2- Find entrepreneurs in search of advising. Filter your search of advisees by looking for those with a background in Data & Analytics. With a quick search of the available profiles you will find entrepreneurs looking for someone with your skill set, and you can message them directly from the site.
How have you found work as a consulting data scientist?
For me personally, I have been focused on the local community. Living in a tourist/resort town in the middle of the forest there really are not any other data scientists around, and many of the local services and businesses must go through lengthy contract processes with large companies that have rates that the community would prefer not to spend. Staying local has been lucrative for everyone involved because the relationship is personable and easier to manage, and I charge a reasonable rate compared to large consulting firms that may not have the domain expertise to make the most impact.
What are the best channels for a data scientist to find freelance work?
For me, I didn’t have to look far. In general, Upwork seems to be a good starting place in the sense that there is already a pool of clients that can use a data scientist’s assistance. In my case, I’ve also had luck in getting work through my blog and the talks that I have given at meetups — when a client doesn’t know where to look, a blog, speech video, etc. can go a long way in allowing a data scientist to stand out.
What traits will make a freelancer more likely to find consistent work?
Always be learning new things. Communication is also very important. Once a job ends, it is a good idea to stay in touch with the client to learn how your work has been helpful to them. They can then serve as a reference or testimonial to skill and work ethic.
You can make a living as a freelancer data scientist, but you need to be proactive and make the most of your available resources. Do more than other freelancers, engage in professional networks online, and search out start-ups and entrepreneurs in search of your skills! Finally, research how much you can make in our post on data scientist salaries.
Now, get started building your presence as a freelance data scientist and enjoy the fruits of your labor!