Thursday, January 22, 2009

Elance Lessons: Bidding Selectively

I talked recently about the gamble I took on bidding on freelance writing jobs on Elance. I've only been using the site for three months but it seems that I'm a bit of gambler that way because I've not just rolled the dice but I just had to also learn about folding 'em and knowing when to walk away. I've learned some things this month that will change the way I bid on Elance in the future.

A few times in my writing career so far, I've had to walk away from clients because of various reasons such as not being suitable for their project, personality conflicts, finding their demands unrealistic, payment problems, and finding the pay to be unworthy of the effort required. I don't take ending relationships lightly but I am trying to remember that as a self-employed individual I get the benefit of deciding what I want to work on and of deciding who I want to work with. With Elance, this can get tricky. Why? The feedback mechanism. Once you accept a job, the buyer can have a big impact on your reputation so my new advice to myself is to be sure I really want to do the job before bidding.

Elance Feedback Scores

Part of the big appeal to buyers on Elance is the ability to get detailed history about providers. They can see how many projects you've worked on, what categories those projects are in, how much it costs the buyer to do business with you and they can see what others thought of your work. So, this means that as a provider on this job bidding site, you want stellar reviews from clients. I've already taken a few lower paying jobs that would help me build a positive reputation on the site but because my stats are still low due to being new to the site, one bad review could ruin all my hard work. I've seen a writer friend of mine have stellar reviews with five stars and a single bad review from a difficult buyer has made her score plummet.

Due to recent events, I've learned that if I want to use this freelance job bidding site, I have to be very choosy about providers I deal with, otherwise a bad review could ruin my ability to make money. I'm currently crossing my fingers that a buyer I've just dealt with won't hit 2 stars out of five because I've had to bow out of a project.

Bowing Out Of Elance Projects

This week I've come to the realisation that a project I've been working on is just not profitable and no longer enjoyable. I expected about 3-4 hours of work so priced it out accordingly. The project subject looked like an enjoyable one and one a topic I have a lot of experience in. The description made it appear like it would be easy money and good for my portfolio. I made two mistakes, though.

1. I didn't take into account the fact that the buyer was new and probably not real familiar with Elance policies. As a provider, I now realise that I should look for history with a buyer before I accept a project. Other providers can leave feedback too!
2. I didn't notice at first that the buyer, who invited me to bid on their project, didn't specify the project as escrow. That meant I was taking a financial risk by doing the project and would have to just hope they'd pay me.

Reading Reviews of Buyers

So, as much as I know how valuable reviews of my services are, I'm now going to seriously consider the feedback scores and history of the buyers I deal with before bidding and accepting a job.
  • Do they have feedback scores that are positive?
  • What kind of feedback have they left for other providers they've dealt with?
  • And, does the project have an Escrow symbol?
Here's what happened to me recently, prompting this blog post:
Almost a month after a particular job, a project was still on my to-do list. The buyer didn't seem satisfied and has requested multiple rewrites. I understand the client has a vision for the finished product and it's a ghostwriting project so they should feel my writing style fits their voice but for some reason we've had trouble effectively communicating. This isn't something that typically happens to me with clients but I need to realise that not everyone is suited to work together and not everyone will love my writing style the first time I try to turn their vision into a written product.

This buyer isn't very quick to respond so this was dragging out well beyond the anticipated project scope and creating scheduling difficulties for me. So, because it didn't look like it'd end any time soon or end well so I finally decided to cut my losses and discount the project rate so I can bow out and move on. Hopefully my efforts will make this just 'go away' and hopefully the buyer chooses to ignore the feedback feature on the site. I did remark in my updated terms that we would choose to NOT leave negative feedback for one another. If they do, I'll be sure to defend myself in the hopes it doesn't hurt my ability to attract future buyers. I feel comfortable that I have made more than reasonable efforts to deliver what my bid was for but at this point if I have no desire to read over and revise my words again. I've definitely lost money and sadly, I've lost passion for the project. Passion is an essential ingredient for great writing ( in my humble opinion).

Things can go wrong even if you do your due diligence and investigate up front but I now know that I'll be a little more careful in future and hope that translates into a positive experience with this bidding site.

Instead of just feeling bad that I had a difficult experience and lost money, instead I'll take my own advice and learn from the experience. As I always say, "If you can't earn from it, make sure you learn from it."

Check out Elance here.


Dana Prince said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
L. Shepherd said...

I never, ever bid on anything from a new provider, They may have absolutely no idea what to expect, they may want you to do free work, or they may believe that a rating of three is great. Your reputation is on the line with every project, so being selective really pays.

Dana Prince said...

You're SO right, L.Shepherd. That job did give me a neutral review so it hurt my profile. Lesson learned.

Master Dayton said...

Great advice. I was doing great on Elance, then there was one insane job where the effort, work, and demands were extremely unrealistic for payment. I did the work anyway, hammered out a near impossible job, and was rewarded with a 4.0 out of 5.0. Since they go by hundreths of a point, that pretty much killed my ability to land work. I prefer Guru because it's easier to shake off unwarranted negative feedback, and they let you block one bad feedback rank now. Thanks for being honest and sharing this information with other writers!

The 1.000.000 Project said...

Yeah, I totally see where you're coming from. I've just registered at, but I haven't bid on anything yet. The feedbacksystem is kinda scary!

Thanks for sharing:)

Dana Prince said...

I've had some decent luck in the last few weeks with Elance and like that in six months if I'm still using it, the neutral review will move into history and let me have a chance at 100% again. I've registered for Guru but haven't taken any plunges yet. I'm also starting to get some queries from new clients so don't want to spread myself too thin. I'm cautiously optimistic about an increase in volume. :)

Shandy said...

Useful info - thanks Dana.