After reading the last post, Who Do You Want to Be: Freelancer or Small Business Owner?,one of our readers asked the question “Where did you bid on projects? I’d love to get more info on the freelancing aspect.” So I thought I would take this opportunity to review as well as give some tips for placing bids and getting projects through two of the more popular freelance job sites, Elance and oDesk.
I’ve tried countless other sites, but these two always produced the most fruitful results and the best clientele. I have used both Elance and oDesk extensively to get clients and one-hitter projects. The expanse of details involved in working through these sites is vast, so I will cover the basics and give links for further information. Everything can be found clearly laid out for new freelancers on their websites: Elance and oDesk.
This will need to be a two part post so I’ll cover Elance first, then next week we’ll take a look at oDesk.
If I had to pick a favorite, it would definitely be Elance. The clients (known as the “buyers”) respect the credentials and experience of the freelancers (known as the “providers”) and are not prone to trying to take advantage of those willing to sell their work for extremely low fees. Bids accepted are reasonable, if not at times excellent, no matter whether you are bidding hourly or for fixed price. Of course, with so many great services, there are added fees deducted to use Elance:
When you start, you’ll notice you can register for free and have the opportunity to upgrade your free membership and add additional categories of expertise immediately. I suggest using the free “connects” or opportunities offered for bidding on your first few projects. I didn’t upgrade until I started actually adding on team members as I acquired more and more jobs.
The fees that really bite come at the end of the project when you get paid because Elance takes a chunk out of your profits. This is a quote directly from Elance regarding their fees: “Elance makes money when the work is delivered and payments are made through Elance. When Clients make payments to their Provider(s), Elance deducts between 6.75% and 8.75% from each payment to cover its Service Fee and Payment Processing costs, transferring the remaining amount directly to the Provider’s Elance account.” My advice for combating this issue is to make sure you take into consideration the deduction when bidding on jobs so you’re not making less than you can afford. Visit “How much does Elance cost?” for more information.
Creating Your Profile
When creating your Elance profile keep in mind that, for the most part, every buyer whose job you bid on will take a look at your profile, so it is highly important you put in the time and effort to create one which puts you, your skills, and your experience in the best light. That means detailing your skill sets, truthfully rating yourself, and creating an extensive portfolio. Also, even though you may feel uncomfortable with posting it, having your picture on your profile will get you more buyers than not.
It took me about 2 weeks working on my profile off and on to get it tweaked to just how I wanted it. Then two years later I had the idea to niche and recreated my profile to highlight and promote my skills, expertise, and experience in a very specific niche industry. So always be tweaking and adding to your profile—it is a never ending work in progress that will bring you money and business.
Another aspect of your profile includes buyer ratings and feedback, milestone accomplishments, paid projects to date, and much more; this is all done by ELance and the buyers so you have no control over this other than making sure you do the best and most complete job each and every time you accept the terms of a bid.
Elance has what seems like endless job opportunities and, as much as you may want to, you can’t bid on them all. Figure out a strategy for bidding and a checklist of what you will and won’t bid on. If the project looks like it will pay too little, but you haven’t won any bids yet, then bidding on this otherwise-less-than-desirable job might just be the one that gets your Elance experience rolling. So when getting your feet wet, be a bit more open minded.
The major turning point in my freelance career was when I “niched.” Once I focused all of my skills, expertise, and experience on one industry and then directed all of my marketing and bidding efforts on Elance (and off) to this industry, my business grew too fast for me to keep up with. I went from a 7% close on bids to a 30% close percentage.
Is there a particular industry you have extensive experience in that fits with your other online skills such as writing, web design, or marketing? Highlight it and promote the heck out of it, and this is key—Bid ONLY on jobs which fit your niche. You’ll soon become known as an expert in your field and you’ll have only industry-specific jobs on your most recent profile view; you’re much more likely to get the job over a general “provider.” I’ve experienced it time and time again.
If you don’t feel like you can niche at this point, don’t worry, general providers close tons of jobs too. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Take a look at the buyer’s previous jobs on Elance and see the winning bid prices they have previously paid and for what type of service. This will give you a good idea what this buyer is willing to pay and you can use it to help you place your bid.
- Read the buyer’s job description which includes what they are looking for in a provider for that particular project.
- Move on if you don’t fit their requirement and happily bid on the next project which is a better fit. Note: Buyers are very serious when they set forth certain criteria, so don’t think they will overlook a certain lack of skill or experience they require because the skills you do have will make up for it.
- Write your cover letter (if you fit the position) to answer exactly what they are looking for and how you are the one they need to get the job done.
- Create a short outline (within the cover letter) of how you will carry the project out. I have a form cover letter with the basics ready to go. I then change each aspect of it to address how I will meet the buyer’s needs posted in their job description.
- Ask questions of the buyer before placing a bid if you need additional information to bid accurately.
- Sell yourself and your expertise in the most professional of ways. This means in all communications, bids, feedback, and emails, you are a consummate professional.
- Follow up with buyers who have not chosen a provider after a week or so to see if any additional information from you would help in making their decision. It reflects enthusiams on your part as well.
I can assure you that Elance works if you work it properly and consistently. However, I would like to note that although the majority of my bigger clients were acquired through Elance and oDesk, I don’t suggest focusing all of your marketing efforts on these sites. It is always smart to diversify and expand your business sources.
I hope you found my experience with Elance helpful. I know many others will have their own personal takes on it, so I’d love to hear your feedback on the service or a competitor’s service. Please let me know if you have any additional questions.
P.S. Recently, The New York Times covered a story about a survey conducted by Elance. One stat that really stood out to me was the fact that out of 700 Elance freelancers surveyed, “over 60 percent also said their income has increased in the last year.” I can attest to that as my income has dramatically increased over the last year. Even in this down economy, I went from a single freelancer to a small business owner in less than a year.