Everything you need to begin competitively bidding on Elance…
Freelance writing job boards like Elance get more than their fair share of bashing from the writing community, but as they’re where a lot of small business clients head to, they continue to be my bread and butter. My first official freelance writing gig came courtesy of Elance, and while my target client has changed over the years, most of my income still comes from Elance or from long-term clients I initially met through the site.
There are many great articles on Men with Pens about how to score big on Elance, so I’d just like to add some tricks I’ve used to take me from that initial client to a full-time business. Elance has also recently introduced changes that may be irksome to the old hands, but it is now easier for newbies to get their foot in the door. If you’ve dismissed Elance in the past, perhaps it’s a good time to take another look.
The biggest change of late has been an increase in the number of ‘connects’ (bids on projects) all levels of membership get, including free memberships. Non-paying members now get 40 free connects a month. Note that the first level of paid membership only offers an additional 20 connects on top of this, causing many paying members to re-evaluate why they are forking out the $10.00 monthly membership fee at all. Look at this Hacking Elance article that depicts one person earning $23k+ in 1 month.
This change has been offset by doubling the cost of purchasing extra connects when your free connects run out. This seems to have only hurt the larger content mills who used the splatter-gun method of bidding on every project indiscriminately, so is only a good thing in my opinion.
Elance’s marketing of late seems to be trying to stave off its competitors with invites to clients to post tiny projects with vague project descriptions, with the advice that the details can be sorted out later because Elance is just so easy to use. This may benefit the new provider more than anyone, as more short term jobs are available, and clients are arguably more likely to take a chance on a less proven writer for these smaller jobs.
Much is made in writing circles of the eroding prices of freelance writing, and there has certainly been a shift, but perhaps not in the way irate providers constantly bluster about on Elance’s forums. The Google Panda updates which started rolling out in 2011 have been quite effective in removing a lot of the lower quality article writing contracts from the marketplace. This has led to the lowest quality article writers struggling for work and competing in a price war.
My advice is to just ignore any poor paying jobs and move on. If you are unsure whether a client is one of these bottom feeders, you can usually check their past job history to see roughly the prices they have paid in the past and the type of providers they have chosen. Other warning signs are when the description seems to be selling the project as some kind of dream gig, if there is a promise of better pay later, if they are explicitly looking for new providers only, or if they’re posting a new search for writers every other day.
The influx of poorly detailed projects mean that we sometimes spend most of our time on Elance sifting through project descriptions to find the jobs that appropriately fit our skills.
The job listing interface has been updated, and while it looks slightly more Web 2.0 it’s actually harder to browse all available jobs quickly, so we need to be smarter when looking for new opportunities.
Elance’s job listings page comes with a range of filters to weed out all of the projects you will never want to see. Writing jobs are split into categories, ranging from grant writing to press releases. Go through each of these in turn to see if they actually ever contain jobs you feel suitable for or interested in. Uncheck any that are poor match for your skills.
I personally only view fixed priced jobs as oppose to hourly job postings because almost all hourly jobs require you to use Work View, software you must install that periodically takes screenshots of your desktop and sends it to the client. This is too much of an invasion of privacy for me, and the clients that require it are more likely to be micromanagers.
Selecting ‘only payment verified’ allows you to ignore all those clients who haven’t yet verified how they’re going to pay on Elance. Checking this box will certainly cut down on the less serious posts, but you also run the risk of missing out on some genuine clients new to Elance.
Elance allows us to save specific job searches, so take advantage of this. I have three saved searches that I use regularly, and I choose between them based on how much free time I have to search for new jobs at the time.
If my schedule is nearly empty, I can afford to use a rather loose job search and trawl through lots of projects, perhaps finding some hidden gems a more targeted search would have missed. Conversely if I’m busy, I use a narrower search to save time and just view the most likely culprits. The final search is just for my particular niche, as I’ve written a number of revision guides for English Literature, if ‘English literature’ is included anywhere in a job listing I want to make sure I don’t miss it, so it’s set as a daily email alert. You can do the same for your niche.
You’ve landed the job – great! But before you gleefully accept the terms, ensure that you and your new client have explicitly stated what is expected of you and them over the course of the project. You are probably going to be paid by the word, so any extra work like extensive unexpected research, giving advice outside of the project boundaries, constant revisions due to a poor project outline, or long Skype calls, are just going to be eating into your precious time.
I tend to avoid Skype calls completely if I can and make it clear I’m a freelancer, not an employee or partner. Some clients are extremely invested in their brand new idea, and expect you to be as enthused about it as they are. There are however few jobs that can’t be outlined in detail within one or two messages. Always use the Elance workroom for this, so you have a record of what was agreed in case of a dispute. If your client insists on using another method of communication add a summary of your conversation into the workroom and get the client to confirm what was decided.
It goes without saying – don’t start any work without the milestone first being funded. This is one of the main benefits of Elance, as it provided a modicum of protection for the provider. This goes straight out the window if you send a client work before the milestone has been funded. Another great depiction of freelancing comes from 27 Things You’ll Only Know If You’re A Freelancer by Buzzfeed.
Although it’s hard for the new provider to give up on the promise of work, don’t be afraid to advise to a client or potential client that the project doesn’t seem quite right for you after all. The earlier the better, as you’ll avoid wasting time and a potential bad review on your profile.
Elance continues to be a great source for clients, and with recent changes to the membership scheme now more than ever new providers can get their foot on the ladder. The good jobs are still there for the taking, as they always have been, but you need to be very selective and avoid the clients who will, unwittingly or not, be a terrible drain on your most precious resource – time.
Richard Glover is a full-time freelance ghostwriter from the UK who has published a series of books on English literature, global politics, and the rise of China in the modern era.