Is Elance a Winner or Loser?

Today’s guest post comes to us from a guest poster. I advocate writers using job sites like Elance to find work. I’ve used the system effectively myself, and I’ve spoken to plenty of people who’ve done well with Elance also. This person gave Elance a whirl… and here’s what she had to say about her experience.

In the fall of 2004, I was the marketing director for a mid-sized software company – and I was getting really tired of the corporate grind. That’s the year I began using Elance.

I researched the site, figured out what my cost would be for 6 months (a good period just right for a trial), and the revenue I needed to bring in from Elance to break even. The numbers seemed reasonable, so I signed up and started bidding.

Within six weeks, I had booked $20,000 in projects.

It was a no-brainer: I quit my job, and by January 1, 2005, I was the owner of 4R Marketing, a copywriting and marketing consultancy.

Before the company was two years old, revenues passed the six-figure mark. Today, I have now earned more than $100,000 through Elance and continue to earn an average of $1,000 per month through the site.

Elance Doesn’t Work?

I am convinced that Elance can provide a good revenue stream to a freelancer. I am also convinced that it takes a particular approach and the right expectations for that to happen.

That’s where things start to break down. There are some pretty negative perceptions about Elance out there, including:

• Elance is only for low-cost providers and cheap-as-dirt buyers.
• Elance lowers the bar for everyone, revenue-wise.
• Elance miseducates buyers about what it really costs to provide good-quality services.
• Elance isn’t worth it because it takes too much time and energy to place bids on projects that never even get awarded to providers.

I also hear people piss and moan that they’ve tried Elance but didn’t get any work, so they decided that it was a bust.

I am not going to deny any of those perceptions. They are perceptions, after all, and valid for the people perceiving them. I just don’t agree with them.

Sure, there are buyers looking for bargains, and there are sellers willing to get paid next to nothing for their work—but that phenomenon isn’t limited to Elance. It’s everywhere. And if it’s taking too many resources to work on Elance, it’s an efficiency problem, not a problem with the site.

Finding Fleas and Treasures

Here is my take on Elance: It’s a flea market.

Flea markets are full of junk. Table after table, stall after stall—there is crap piled up and strewn around. Amazingly, there are people who buy the crap, and there are more people bringing in crap to sell.

But amongst the junk are gems, antiques and collectibles worth good (even great) money. It takes the right experience, a good eye, and a little “spidey-sense” to spot the gold among the dross.

Elance is a flea market and you are the expert—or at least the expert-in-training. The more you walk the tables and the stalls, the more trained your eye becomes and the better you can spot the projects you have a good chance of winning and that pay fairly.

The folks who gripe they aren’t getting work? Don’t pay attention to them. They usually fall into one of three groups:

• They’re trying to make Elance work using a free membership (which never works well)
• They aren’t posting enough bids to win awards (rule of thumb: 20 bids for each award)
• They aren’t giving the Elance experience enough time to make a realistic decision about its effectiveness (minimum trial period: 6 months).

The bottom line is that you have to be a flea-market expert to get Elance to work well for you. Look past the crappy stuff and the low-ball projects while honing your eye to see the gems. Learn how to get awarded those projects like you’d learn any skill, and you’ll be an Elance winner!

Your turn: What has your experience with Elance or another job site been like?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.