Elance–Not as Bad as You Might Think

on December 4, 2009 in Freelance Writing Business, Freelance Writing Jobs
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In September I bought an “Individual” membership plan on Elance. The cost was $9.95 and with it I received 20 bright and shiny proposal credits. When you bid on jobs at Elance it costs you anywhere from 1-3 of these juicy credits (Elance actually calls them “connects” but I'm going to continue to call them credits because...well...that's what I think they should be called). A free membership gives you 3 credits per month but I decided to go balls to the wall for this trial.

With my 20 credits I bid on 16 different jobs. I scored 3 of them for a total of $1,265 worth of work. I bid with rates that were well below my normal rates and got between .04 and .10 per word. I probably should have been more aggressive when bidding just to see what would happen, but I wasn’t. My main goal was to make sure I averaged about $40 per hour writing 1,000 or fewer words because that makes me feel a little bit less like a factory assembly line.

The Gig Scoring

The key to getting gigs on Elance seems to be staying within your proven specialty. What do I mean by proven specialty? I mean the specialty that you can prove you specialize in. Oh, you know exactly what I mean. You can prove it through clips, overall experience in the subject matter, education, certificates…you know…proof.

The proposal that I used for each of the gigs was the same—I know most people suggest that you don’t do that but when I find something that works I tend to stick with it. I only changed the last paragraph to individualize it for each job. My proposal outlines my experience in the financial industry, some of my credits within the industry (licenses, speaking engagements, etc.) and then discusses my writing experience in that industry.

I made sure that the last paragraph (the one I personalized) illustrated a good understanding of what the job posters were looking for and mentioned the reasons I was a good fit for the job. Finally, I attached samples that matched the type of writing and subjects they wanted and a copy of my resume.

The Work

The work was not comparable to the work I do outside of Elance. I don’t know if this is an Elance issue or just an issue with the jobs I went after, but all the clients seemed way more nervous on Elance than any I've encountered outside. Normally, when a company contacts me to work with them we chat on the phone, I prepare a proposal and contract summing up what I’ll do and when I’ll do it by, they pay a deposit and I’m off to work. I don’t hear from them again, I don’t get outlines from them, I very rarely get SEO keywords from them (of course, I'm an article/blog and content writer not an SEO specialist)--they really leave everything in my hands.


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Not so on Elance.

Elance clients all seemed to have this really confined process and made me stick to these annoying formats. I was given outlines, strict SEO guidelines (so strict that I had to start every article with a certain keyword), and rigid formatting instructions. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the clients doing this, mind you, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I do my normal work. Interestingly, the most restrictive and difficult gigs were the low bid ones. I think we can all agree that this usually holds true outside of Elance as well.

The Verdict

Ugh, it’s hard to give Elance a final verdict. I think that Elance offers a great platform for earning more money than you will with content mills with no additional work or research (if you stay within your specialty as you would a content mill) and offers a lot of variety. Of the $1,265 worth of work I scored, 75% of it came from the .04 per word client. Because it was within my specialty I was able to write relatively quickly, but it was such a big order I don’t think I’d want to do it again (I'm actually still working on this one...feels like I may be working on it forever...). Also, it's important to remember that Elance takes roughly 5%-10% in fees.

My big tactical error was bidding way too low on that bulk order. That was a huge and costly mistake because it dragged my hourly average down to $40--had I gone even one penny higher per word it would have brought me to an average of about $50 per hour, for the same amount of work.

If you are looking for:

  • A foot in the freelance writing door
  • A way out of the content mills
  • A way to supplement your income while you build your client list
  • A flexible income that allows you to give yourself "raises" as you gain experience and feedback
  • Little time spent marketing

then I think Elance could be a good arrow in your quiver.

Oh yeah and...

  • Unless you are desperate for cash, don’t feel like you have to bid too low.
  • Bidding too low, even if you are desperate for some cheddar, can work against you. The people who post jobs on Elance aren't necessarily looking for cheap workers, they are using Elance to protect them from getting screwed and to make the writer-seeking effort easier.
  • Bid on those gigs that you can really make a case for scoring.
  • Checkout the job poster's portfolio before you bid. I wasted a lot of credits on jobs that were offered by people who had never awarded jobs on Elance before. Had I checked out their profile before bidding, I might not have made that mistake.

Oh, one last thing, two of the clients I worked with decided to move their future jobs off site in order to continue to work with me. This is not allowed by Elance but since I scheduled my account for closure it was necessary for them to do so. These two clients were in the higher end of my bid rates so it is possible to get repeat work at decent rates which can cut down on future your marketing expenses.

Thanks for sharing!
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Yo Prinzel
Yolander Prinzel is the profit monster behind the Profitable Freelancer website. She has written for a number of publications and websites such as American Express, Covestor.com, Advisor Today, Money Smart Radio and the International Travel Insurance Journal (ITIJ). Her book, Specialty Ghostwriting: A New Way to Look at an Old Career, is currently available on Amazon.

Yo Prinzel

12 Comments

  1. Jessie Fitzgerald December 4, 2009 Reply

    Wow, I think I’d rather get some work through Elance than bore myself to death at Demand Studios. Thanks for sharing Yo. When I get settled in to my new place I’ll be utilizing Elance.

  2. Carol Tice December 4, 2009 Reply

    I took a teleclass on Elance recently, and your experience seems to mirror what I heard there. I personally don’t work for rates this low, either per-penny or hourly, but agree that if you bid selectively and carefully, this could be a step up from content-mill pay, and a way to connect with ongoing clients.

    My understanding is you bid a little low because it’s elance, then if the client brings you another project outside elance, it’s time to raise your rates.

    Carol Tice
    http://www.caroltice.com
    http://Twitter.com/TiceWrites
    http://caroltice.com/blog/30 – More on ‘The Day the Content Mills Died’

  3. Thursday Bram December 4, 2009 Reply

    What an incredibly valuable article. There always seem to be arguments going on about whether Elance and similar sites are any good for writers. Those arguments never seem to have any hard numbers, though! Having some numbers from an experienced freelancer will make it a lot easier for other writers to decide for themselves.

  4. Yolander Prinzel Author
    Yolander Prinzel December 4, 2009 Reply

    Thanks Thursday, that means a lot. I don’t think my experience is at all indicative of the top rates you can get there, either. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t bid so aggressively that I ended up with a 200 word post about how no one hired me, but I also needed to show a range of rates so that a wide variety of freelancers felt as though their personal needs could be met with the site.

    Thanks Jessie and Carol :-)

    Oh, and I forgot to mention that when I started, I had not done any work on Elance and had no feedback and the first 2 gigs I got were in the higher end of my bidding range–so don’t feel like you can’t do it if you are a newbie!

  5. Jessie Fitzgerald December 4, 2009 Reply

    Monday morning when I begin work at my new apartment, I’ll be signing up for Elance. I want to cut my DS time in half at least. By April I’m hoping that I”ll be gaining most of my clients from my networking and platform-building efforts. However, so as not to starve I need to content mill now…Elance is clearly a better option for me right now.

  6. Laura Cross December 4, 2009 Reply

    I provide freelance book editing, ghostwriting (nonfiction books exclusively) and book proposal development, and even though I have a well-established business I have found eLance to be a good source of projects (I can’t speak to the article-writing projects, as I don’t provide those services.) I average about $65 per hour for my substantive line-editing services and $85 per hour for book proposals (I have not obtained any ghostwriting projects through eLance but have turned several ghostwriting bids into book proposal projects instead.)

    My experience has been that customers on eLance require a LOT of education about the publishing industry and how much it costs to work with an experienced, quality writer. A statistic you might find helpful: I have tracked all my bids and discovered that more than 40% of the jobs I bid on were never awarded to any provider on the eLance site – however, I know from my own experience that a large percentage of projects I obtained, which were originally listed on the eLance site, were eventually awarded to me offsite when the client contacted me directly and changed the parameters of the project.

    Obviously, there are many projects listed on eLance with ridiculously low budgets and there will always be “writers” willing to accept those projects and low fees. To be successful and ensure you receive the rate you are worth, you need to set yourself apart from the lowball bidders/unqualified writers and be selective of the projects you bid on – avoid listings that state “this is an easy project” (translation: “I have no respect for writers or the writing process”) or outline how much the writer will be paid and when the project must be submitted. A professional writer is the one to tell the client how much the fee is and when the project can be scheduled on his or her calendar. Take the time to bid on projects that you will enjoy working on and will be proud to have in your portfolio.

  7. Jennifer Mattern December 4, 2009 Reply

    Good points Laura.

    I don’t personally have a problem with bidding sites even though I haven’t used them in years. When I first decided to wise up and kick content mills to the curb I tried a couple of these types of sites. My rule was simple and effective — set your regular rates and bid them. I’ve repeatedly tried to explain why service providers should never market solely on price. It’s as true in bidding as in anything else. Low-priced writers are only your competition if you allow them to be. It’s also each writer’s responsibility to have other ways to demonstrate value to prospective clients. I can tell you from experience that clients on these sites aren’t always looking for the lowest price. There are plenty who are looking for the most qualified person. If you can show them that person is you through your bid info then you don’t have to settle for less than your time is worth anywhere else to land these gigs.

    That said, I’ve found these sites are a better supplemental, rather than primary, income source. While there are good jobs to be found, the process of digging through the garbage gigs to find them can waste time better spent elsewhere if you’re not careful.

  8. Salma December 5, 2009 Reply

    Hi Yolander,

    Good article!

    You said: “I only changed the last paragraph to individualize it for each job.”

    I actually do the opposite; put that personalized part right at the top because that’s the first thing most clients want to see.

    It works too since I have an award ratio of 27% at Elance. Just a small tip :) You can read some of other elance success tips here: http://wordpl.net/index.php/2009/11/how-to-build-an-online-business-with-elance/

    Cheers,
    Salma

  9. Dana December 5, 2009 Reply

    Great post. I use Elance for fill-in work. It’s nice to be able to jump on and work at filling my schedule when things are light and I like the escrow option.

    In terms of the ‘connects’, once you use a connect to reach out and win a project, either the provider or the buyer can create new projects in the future without using a new one. So, you could continue to work with existing Elance contacts without a paid membership.

    Cheers,
    Dana

  10. Diana D January 2, 2010 Reply

    Being fairly new to the freelancing world (okay, so new they just spanked me), I just adore Elance. It’s strictly a part time gig for me now – as mentioned above the bills need to be paid and the regular paycheques work for that.

    I signed up on Elance last week and have been awarded two projects. One was low pay, but got me some experience with a particular style of article. The other is better pay and much more exciting. When bidding, I also stayed within my realm of professional expertise and tried to pitch myself above and beyond the other bidders. I have received a request for more samples from another bid as well, which I’m just itching to get.

    All things being said, Elance has been a treat for me and I’m looking forward to the future.

  11. Kristi Patrice Carter February 2, 2010 Reply

    Very informative article! I totally agree with you that Elance is a great place to market your services. In fact, after 700+ projects awarded it is still one of my favorite places to get new clients. In the 10 years I have been using Elance, I have found that the quality of buyers and providers is extremely high if you know where to look. You also have to do a bit of homework and put your best foot forward to find the best projects.

    When I submit proposals, I am very selective with the buyers that I select and look hard at their online Elance reputations. I also bid above the range for most projects. I must admit however that there may be times when lowballing is necessary (to get your first project, establish your reputation, or simply to get a repeat project), however I believe that smart competitive bidding is the KEY to being a success on and off Elance.

    For instance, before I submit an Elance proposal, I review the buyer’s feedback and make sure that they have a solid reputation. In addition, I always write individualized proposals and clearly state my qualifications on what makes me the best candidate. By doing this, I have been successful and recommend Elance to newbies and experienced freelancers too as it is truly the leading marketplace for online talent.

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