Could you be an elf this Christmas?

How to pick up freelance work

A retro styled Santa with his elves standing in a row in the snow.  Each elf holds a toy for Christmas.  Copyspace below for youChristmas is coming, and Santa's little elves are beavering away making presents for people all over the world.

But they're not the only ones. You don't have to be based at the North Pole and wearing a pointy hat to get busy at this time of year - and earn yourself a little extra cash.

One way to do this is to get crafty. Last Christmas, according to Direct Line for Business, three million Brits made goods for sale, bringing in £376 million from items including Christmas cards, candles, baubles and 'reindeer dust'.

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With shop-bought Christmas cards so expensive, for example, many people prefer to buy handmade cards - and making them can be a great way to make a bit of extra cash at home. You can sell your cards to family and friends, online or at Christmas fairs. The same applies to home-made decorations.

But be sensible, says a spokeswoman for supplier Paper Mill Direct. "In our hearts we just want to make sales and sadly this can mean we end up barely breaking even because we lower prices too much," she says. "Think with your head, get the calculator out and start estimating your costs."

But you don't have to be good at crafts to use Christmas to pick up a bit of extra cash: there are all sorts of skills in demand at this time of year.

Freelance websites such as PeoplePerHour, Upwork and TaskRabbit report that December is one of their busiest times of the year, as clients outsource everything from wrapping presents and baking cakes to writing Christmas cards.

People have even been known to offer their services taking down Christmas decorations, disposing of trees and taking unwanted presents back for a refund.

"Freelancing used to be considered a high-risk option, but the last recession showed us that while big business is at the mercy of the global economic climate, the freelancer has the flexibility to move with the times, tailoring their offerings to suit market demands and special need periods like Christmas, with little additional investment," comments PeoplePerHour founder and CEO Xenios Thrasyvoulou.

Rates for these jobs vary widely, depending on the skill required. For example, a social media expert is currently offering to create nine Christmas related posts for businesses for a fee of £25. Others are charging £20 for a video Christmas card or £8 an hour for wrapping presents.

And for those who really only have a small amount of time to offer, PeoplePerHour's 'Hourlies' service offers specific tasks on a quick turnaround.

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According to PeoplePerHour, Christmas is a great time to take on a bit of freelance work - especially as it can bring in extra cash for the January sales. But what's known as the gig economy is booming all year round, with the number of tasks advertised jumping by 14% between May and September, according to the Oxford Internet Institute.

While many people offer specific services, others pick up work on these sites by applying for individual tasks. But with thousands of people competing with you, there are a few basic principles to keep in mind when marketing yourself for freelance tasks.

First, complete your profile, including a photo as well as your qualifications and experience; people prefer to feel a personal connection.

When responding to ads, get in quickly - most people looking for help want to get things sorted fast. Applying the next day will often be too late, however polished your response.

If you're expected to quote a price, make sure it's reasonable compared with the competition. Most jobs on task sites pay very little, and while you may be able to charge a bit more than average if your skills or experience are exceptional, there's definitely a limit to what you can expect. Your best bet is to check out what other freelancers are charging for similar service, and set your prices accordingly.

And be realistic about what you can deliver - many newbie freelancers report taking on far too much work at first and struggling to do a decent job.

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But if all goes well, temporary freelance work via these sites can lead to a lucrative sideline all year round - or even to a fully-fledged small business.

As PeoplePerHour says, "It offers a great opportunity for those thinking about working for themselves to dip their toe into the water of freelancing and see what their earning potential is and start to build a portfolio of work and a network of clients to build upon in future."

Christmas cards with a difference

Christmas cards with a difference