Monday, November 2, 2009

The Basics of Using Elance for Writing Work

I joined Elance last year. I wouldn't call myself an Elance guru by any stretch of the imagination but I did want to share the bit of knowledge I have learned in the last little while. I don't work there constantly but have earned about $4400 in the past year there doing the occasional writing gig. (I do know a writing company that is approaching 7 figures of earnings on Elance since the year 2000, though, and that's what inspired me to join.)

Elance has brought me a few regular clients and I typically log in and bid on work when I have (or foresee upcoming) gaps in my schedule. I get a fair amount of traffic to The Writer's Blog asking questions related to: elance jobs, elance reputation, elance escrow, etc. So, I thought I'd share some basic information on how the system works for me.

Elance Memberships

The first bid I placed, I was lucky enough to win and it was a single article for $50 so I took $30 out of the payment ($19.95 membership fee and about $10 to get the ATM card, which is optional) and used it to upgrade from a free to a small business membership and sign up for the Elance debit MasterCard for convenience sake. Since then I've paid for a that membership each month (except for 2 months when I was too busy to bid).

I subscribe to the Writing and Translation category at a membership of $19.95 a month, which gives me 40 "connects" per month. Connects cannot be carried over and expire at the end of each billing cycle.

A connect allows you to bid on a job. One connect is required for jobs under $500.00 and 4 connects are required for jobs above that amount. In terms of the fees, there is also a small % of each job taken off the top, depending on the amount. There are higher membership levels as well as memberships where you can bid in multiple job categories (such as: design and multimedia, sales and marketing, admin support, web and programming, etc) and if you use all your connects, you can buy additional blocks of them.

Bidding - Sealed vs. Open

You can browse available jobs in any category. Elance bids can be placed privately or publicly. A person looking to get services places a bid request in the appropriate category and they can invite specific people only, invite anyone, or do a combination of inviting providers as well as listing the project publicly.

Buyers can indicate sealed bidding or open bidding and when you bid on a job, you'll want to note whether or not the bidding is sealed so you can decide how much information to reveal in your bid. Some bidders are transparent even with open bidding but some utilise a private message board to retain their competitive edge. If a project is listed with sealed bidding, anyone looking at the job can see the average bid amount, the highest bid, and the lowest bid, as well as see the number of bids that have been placed so far.

Pre-Bid Questions

In order to ask questions, you need to bid or do a pre-bid, which costs you a connect. If you have a free membership you only have 3 connects per month so you need to bid wisely unless you're willing to upgrade your membership.

Placing a Bid on Elance

When you place a bid, you can list in text what your bid and proposal is and then a monetary amount. You can bid by flat fee or by hourly rate depending on how the client sets things up. You can also list a delivery schedule as well as attach documents to the bid. The client indicates whether or not they want to use escrow services and if you're bidding on a project you can also tick the escrow box.

What is Elance Escrow?

Elance escrow services holds the project fee. Once the escrow account is funded the money sits there until: a) the client releases it to you or b) you both agree that the money gets released back to the client. I prefer escrow projects to avoid non-paying clients or chasing payment after a project is done and don't start a job until the account is funded (with the exception of very regular and reliable customers). I had one scenario where a client disappeared after the project was done so Elance contacted them to find out if there was a dispute and when they did not reply, the funds were finally released to me.

Winning an Elance Bid

If you win a bid, you'll get a 'congratulations' notice and then you have an opportunity to review the final terms and either negotiate or accept the terms. If you've chosen an escrow option, the client will get a notice to fund the account after you've accepted the terms and you'll again receive a notification when the account is funded.

The Workroom

For each job there is a workroom where all documents are held, all conversations are kept, and information about the project is listed. It's advisable to do all communication through this board in case you ever need to have Elance get involved in resolving a dispute. (They'll only pay attention to what's on their system and won't take emails or verbal agreements into account)

Getting Paid from Elance

Elance offers several payment options including: PayPal, check, Elance debit MasterCard. I regularly use the Elance MasterCard debit card as it's faster than being paid on PayPal and in Canada we don't have PayPal debit cards. When money is released to you, you simply tick off the option you'd like to use to withdraw your money. Elance generally releases money the next business day, depending on what time you submit your withdrawal request and pays by mass payment option so there are no PayPal service charges taken off the top.


Here are some tips and other information related to bidding and working on Elance. I know a lot of writers who use this system a lot more than I do so today's blog post isn't intended to be a full and complete guide to working on Elance but hopefully there's enough information here to get you started. Do feel free to ask me questions and I'll try to help you.

-Use your profile to your advantage. You'll get a URL that links to your profile and you can use this to your advantage on and off the system. You can even download a badge to place on your website that links directly to your profile. Once you've made some money on Elance and have some positive feedback, it can be another illustration to clients you're trying to woo that you do have experience and expertise.

-Take a look at some of the top providers to see how they set up their profile and get some inspiration from that. I lurked on Elance for a while before I took the plunge and started bidding.

-I can't stress enough the importance of checking out buyers before you bid. I always look at a buyer's history before I bid to see what type of fees they typically pay and what type of feedback they typically give. The feedback system on Elance is essential to your success because it will help you when you bid on a project you want. Look at what buyers provide as feedback to others and what those other providers have said about that buyer. It's easy to click through a profile and view historical information and use it to your advantage in terms of knowing how much to bid and knowing whether the buyer is worth working with.

-If you really want to win a bid, you can 'pay' extra connects to be highlighted ahead of other bids. (I've never used this option so don't know how useful it is.)

-Read project details carefully and check buyers out carefully. I once ignored the lack of escrow and vagueness on a project in an overzealous attempt to book up my schedule and that was the first problem project I had. The buyer was new to Elance and had zero feedback and was difficult so I ended up with a 'neutral' feedback score of 3.2 out of 5 which took my 100% approval rating down for six months and it's now permanently in my history. I'm now much more careful about bidding.

-Remember when bidding, especially on a low paying gig, that you are paying a % of the project fee and paying for a membership. While it may pay off in the long run to do a few lower paying gigs to get experience under your belt and a few 100% positive feedback scores, ensure you're still making money.

-I don't leave feedback for a buyer until after they've left feedback for me. That way if you do get a bad review, you'll have a chance to defend yourself and leave something on the buyer's page that indicates to future bidders that a buyer may be a problem buyer. I've never left anything unprofessional on someone's profile as I believe that would be a reflection of my own professionalism but I have responded tactfully to my one neutral review in a way that would be a red flag to other writers bidding on her projects in the future.

All in all I do recommend Elance as a writing income stream. You can get paid quickly and you can find profitable work (despite quite a few really low $1/500 word article jobs). Once you've built up a good reputation you can also get unsolicited job offers.

Other Elance Posts:

Elance Lessons - Bidding Selectively
A Writer's First Experience with Elance

(PS: If you're interested in joining Elance, kindly join with this Elance referral link. Once you earn your first $1000.00 on writing jobs, they'll pay me a referral bonus.)


Jen said...

I agree. Elance isn't my primary source of income but has been a good source of finding regular clients and filling in gaps. I've had many positive experiences with Elance.

Chris said...

I like Elance for its set up. Straightforward, easy to navigate. I have yet to land a job. My problem has been clients that approve me and then go silent on me. I'm hoping it will turn around next time. Great advice!

deacon004 said...

Good info on Elance. I've only bid one job there, unsuccessfully, but will visit their site more often now. Thank you for the post.

Anonymous said...

Hello from Toronto, I will be needing some service providers soon. As a new buyer, I have no history, so would you suggest that I use escrow versus non escrow payments just so providers feel assured that I wont rip them off? Or does it not matter?

thanks, Angel

Dana Prince said...

Hi Angel,
I'm near Toronto as well :)
Yes, escrow helps protect both you and the provider and I highly recommend using it. If the provider doesn't deliver, you won't get ripped off and vice versa. Good luck!

Adam Herrington said...

Thanks so much for sharing. As an illustrator/designer new to Elance, it's comforting and informative to hear about other people's experiences.