Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Freelance Writer's First Experience With Elance

Today's post is about my very first experience with the freelance job bidding site Elance.

I have known about Elance since I first got started in freelance writing in early 2006 but hadn't taken the plunge for a few reasons.

So, I know I'm queen of the mile long posts...but that's because I want to give valuable information instead of just a quick overview so if you've got a cuppa Joe ready, here's my wordy take on my first experience bidding for a writing job with Elance.

What is Elance?

Elance is a job bidding system geared to freelancers. There are many categories including technical as well as writing. Members can bid on available jobs in many writing areas like ghostwriting, content writing, press releases, etc. and complete them through the system. The site takes service fees from the service provider. There are a large number of buyers and providers that regularly use this site. The site's homepage boasts over $134million in jobs awarded since 2005.

Why I Avoided Elance for 2.5 Years

I wasn't sure I wanted to bid on job bidding sites for writing work and I'd heard a few negative things about Elance and recent changes to their membership fees.

1. They take a % of the fees and a bit of a complicated system for being able to bid. You need to pay money to place bids as well as pay more money from your earnings as well.
2. There is a lot of competition vying for the same jobs as you so competing bidders might bid very low, making it difficult for you to be competitive without giving your work away for peanuts.
3. I prefer ongoing relationships with my clients rather than one-offs.
4. I've read some horror stories about difficult buyers.
5. Most of all, I've been quite busy with my own workload which has been fairly steady for most of my writing career thus far.

Why I Decided To Check Elance Out

I decided this week to take the plunge for the first time and bid on a gig. Why?

1. I personally know writers that earn more than six figures annually from this website alone.
2. Elance has an escrow payment system and I've had some near death experiences with client invoices so that made me feel secure.
3. I could try them out without committing to a membership by using a basic membership and bidding for free.
4. I have two big clients whose business volumes have dropped substantially in the last month or two so I need to protect my livelihood by coming up with additional ways to find ongoing writing work.

In the last year or so, I've spent a bit of time browsing the open jobs and I've spent time looking at profiles and feedback for writers who I know use this site. I decided this week to use my free connects (that come with a basic free membership)to bid on a job. I first though I would just use those 3 free connects each month for now and see if it netted me any results.

The first bid I wanted to place was an internet marketing blog which is one of my niches and I knew I was very qualified based on all the buyer asked for but the bid required 4 connects and I had already vowed to just try the site out with my free connects. I only had 3 of those connects available so I had to pass on this bid.

Bidding On Writing Jobs

So I found a project listed and placed my first the other day for an article in a niche that's also one of my specialties.

After placing the bid, I noticed that others were bidding too, but they weren't bidding in the open. They were using Elance's PMB (private message board) function to hide their pricing instead of using the sealed bid feature which probably just costs more.

At first, I felt that I should have thought of that as well instead of showing my cards to my competitors but in the end I won the first bid I made against six other bidders. I was excited and decided that maybe my open and transparent approach was better.

As I began to try to navigate the system I liked what I saw. The buyer put the funds in escrow for me and Elance holds the funds until we're both satisfied or decide to file a dispute.

The client was a dream. He provided me with a lot of information and I was able to easily complete the assignment knowing just what was expected of me. It took a bit longer to research than I expected but I still finished in a decent enough amount of time to make it a profitable project.

I was a bit nervous about waiting for the client to tell me if he was satisfied with my first draft. What if the dream client suddenly turned into one of the nightmares I've read about on other freelancer blogs? (It turned out wonderfully but I'm under no illusions about the potential for difficulties in the future with other buyers)

The system was smooth with e-mail notifications and a workroom to hold all the pertinent information and messages about the project and I'm sure there are other functions I haven't even discovered yet. I've been paid and had a glowing review of five stars and a satisfied buyer who asked if he can offer me steady work.

Wonderful! I'm giving Elance a thumbs up for my first experience with them.

Getting Paid From Elance

Elance released the funds and I had the option to withdraw to my PayPal account, a bank account or Elance pre-paid MasterCard debit card. What I decided to do, because PayPal doesn't offer a debit card to Canadians (and it's a nice thought to be able to get hold of my funds quickly when needed) is to sign up for the Elance MasterCard.

The Elance MasterCard is only open to paid Elance members so I took $19.95 of my project fee and upgraded to a premium account for the next month which will give me extra features and allow me 40 connects instead of 3.

I like investing in my business with writing dividends and feel like it's a smart way to grow my potential client base. Besides, the gig was an extra gig so I treated it a little bit like found money. Whenever I find money, I try to plant it and make it grow a little so hopefully my success rate with Elance will grow too.

If interested, check out Elance here.


Amanda Evans said...

Hi Dana,

I'm glad your experience with Elance has been a positive one. I joined Elance in 2004 and used it daily up until the middle of 2006. I had my client base built by then and no longer needed to rely on Elance to earn a living. I have been back a few times and find myself browsing the jobs a lot lately as things are being to slow down. There are some great jobs but there are also the ones that you wouldn't touch such as $1 for 500 word articles.

I hope your experience continues to be a successful one.


Jen said...

I totally agree with your assessment.
I'm picky about what I bid on and always increase my bid by the amount of the Elance fees so I don't even mind paying them. I've earned a few loyal and good clients from Elance.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. I've always been wary of Elance myself, but may have to check it out.

Anonymous said...

Glad you had a good experience. Maybe I'll check it out. Up until now I've heard mostly negative comments. Might have to see for myself.

jen brister said...

Hi Dana,
I know this isn't the place for this comment, but I didn't really know where else to put it. I recently got accepted to write at Life Tips and I noticed that you are a writer there. Can you tell me about your experiences?

Dana Prince said...

Hi Jen,
I worked for Lifetips in 2006 and at the time they were a great organization to work for. I know they've changed the way they compensate writers several times so I don't know what their plan is currently like. I have heard a lot of mixed emotions over the years at how frequently they change things.

Thanks for your comments Amanda and Sharon.

I am shocked at the volume of low paying gigs on the site but do definitely see potential there as well.

Kimberly Ben said...

Dana, I really appreciate this post. You are always so open and helpful with the information you share.:-)

I signed on with Elance a year ago and did not have success. I signed on as a vendor, and never won a bid (I did get some interest though). It seemed like I would have to mark my rates down so low just to get a bite. I eventually wrote them off because I was doing okay just by marketing my own services.

But I must admit, you have peaked my curiosity. I know that you are doing very well as a freelancer so I am really paying attention to your experience which seems very positive. Maybe I didn't know what I was doing - I don't know.

In the past six months I have lost a couple of clients due to the uncertain economy and am looking at ways to diversify my income so that unexpected changes will not affect me to much. I hope you'll continue to keep us posted on your experiences with Elance.

Dana Prince said...

Hi Kimberly,
I will keep everyone posted. I haven't had many nibbles since that first bite so hopefully I wasn't too optimistic and just experiencing beginner's luck.

I've done bids for about 11 open projects since then and only had one declined who told me I was charging about double what they were hoping to pay. Since I was charging lower than usual that certainly made me wince.

I had one buyer very interested who put me on a short list yesterday but who wanted a phone conference with me. I decided to back out of that one due to some other client commitments and because it looked like it would monopolize a lot of my time with a low pay to resource ratio. There are currently several waiting to close so we'll see how it goes. Fingers crossed :)

I'll probably do this for at least 3 months to really test the waters.

I started this so I could diversify as well because I've seen a decline in work from some of my regulars and because I know people making 6 figures annually from this site. If I can nab a few regulars and get the occasional interesting project it'll be worth the $20 a month, I think.

jen brister said...

Thanks for your reply, Dana. It looks like they are doing a major site overhaul in Jan. 09, so we'll see how it goes.

Ashwin said...

Hey Dana,

I don't know where to begin, but begin I will.

I signed up with elance way early in the year 2004, but never bothered much about it until this year, month of June.

I got started on the first month itself. I got some projects, got "in" with a bang. I kept getting more and more projects and my last six months with elance have been, let's say, eventful.

I won't say anything negative about the fees and the way elance makes money out of the entire transaction -- all businesses do have costs which we need to bear.

The only thing that irks me is the fact that elance is rather ruthless when it comes to the 8.75% part of the deal. Let's say you are the buyer and you award the project to me ( the service provider/vendor) and suddenly vanish because you've had some problems -- like your project is on a stand-still; your parents are sick, etc. You don't even pay up the advance ( 25% to 50%) on escrow and you don't turn up for a long time. Elance would charge the provider( that's me) nevertheless (Remember that I was never even paid). No, it isn't going to send you a nice polite email or something -- it's just going to rip it off your account balance.

That's the worst thing I had to experience with elance and although I won't claim that I would stop working there, I certainly decreased my activity for sure.


Dana Prince said...

Hi Ash,
Ouch! I know their fees are awful and before I got involved I lurked in many discussions about their fee structure changing but I can't imagine how they could take a project fee from your account if the job wasn't done and you weren't paid. That just doesn't make any sense at all. I hope you fought about it with them to get your money back.

I am on my second project with them. There is a lot of competition! My first one going really smoothly might have been beginner's luck as it has taken another 10-12 bids before getting a second project.

Thanks for stopping by.

Dana Prince said...

As a further update, I've tweaked my bidding process and am getting some great results with a few new bids won and excellent feedback from clients so far.

Ash, I'm wondering if your problem could be resolved by using escrow only. That way the money can only come out if the client pays you. What do you think?

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