Freelancing: How to start working as a freelancer on Elance

07-10-2013 | Dojo |

This article can surely be useful to kick-start your freelancing career on any freelancing site, my fave’ so far is still Elance, so let’s say I targeted the article for the readers who’d want to set their business there.

My experience with the freelancing sites was like this: a short stint on the ex-RentACoder (then ex-vWorker, now then some good experience with Elance. I tried Guru and oDesk, but they didn’t work for me. And now, let’s see the steps needed to create the account and start working on the site.

1. Get your English straight

Not all freelancers are native speakers (self included). If it’s the case, try to be able to properly communicate with your clients. Most of them don’t expect flawless style, but not being able to get their point across or understand you will annoy them. So, if you still need some work with your English Skills, do yourself (and the clients) a favor and work a little more.


2. Open a PayPal account

While we do dislike their constantly rising fees, PayPal is still one of the most widely used payment processors and Elance (plus other freelancing sites) use it. Not that difficult to set up and it has the advantage that you can manage your earnings/payments and not show your credit card (which for me is the biggest advantage).

3. Let’s create that Elance account and see what we can find

We can’t work via the site, if we don’t have an account. Here is the type of jobs you can choose to provide: IT & Programming, Design & Multimedia, Writing & Translation, Sales & Marketing, Admin Support, Engineering & Manufacturing, Fiance & Management, Legal. No matter what specialty you have, I am sure you can find at least one category of jobs that match your skill set. For me the main 2 are Design & Multimedia and IT & Programming.

Take a very close look at the job listings. Try to see which you could safely do, study the prices, view some top accounts. It will all help you make up your mind and be prepared for working on the platform.

4. The account

Once you clearly feel this is a good place to do business, it’s time to work on that account. Don’t use crazy names, you’re not in a sex-chat. It’s a workplace and usernames such as Sexy69 might not give the clients the right idea about your skills. Place a good picture (business like, more than from a crazy party). Just like with a regular CV, this account needs to showcase your professionalism, skills and willingness to provide a top service.

Provide a short description and an extended presentation of your service, regular fees, ways to get paid etc. Anything and everything that will help your clients understand how you work and what’s expected from them.

Take the tests. Focus on your specialty tests and also take few others that you feel will give your clients a better view of your skills. Last time I checked the tests on Elance were free, so there’s no reason for you not to take the ones that will help you convince your clients that you’re indeed the ‘real deal’.

Place good relevant work in your portfolio. If you don’t have yet clients, create few ‘dummy’ projects and showcase them (designers – 2-3 templates made for ‘imaginary’ companies, content writers – few articles you wrote on topics you’re passionate about). What matters is for the potential client to get an idea of what you can do, so don’t leave the portfolio empty.

5. What jobs should you look for?

Now that’s something I can’t help you with anymore, since you’re the only ones to know what you’re skilled in and what you’d like to do. If you’ve just started learning web design for instance, I wouldn’t recommend jumping into such jobs, since you’ll probably ‘show’ you are a beginner. Sure, if you do have good skills with writing for instance, go for these jobs and you can always take on new specialties, as soon as you feel like the quality of work you can provide is very good.

It’s a good idea to go for smaller jobs at first and you might have to compete at price. It’s not nice to be paid ‘peanuts’, but most clients won’t really jump to work with someone who has no history on the site and also pay a lot of money. It’s also more likely to get paid for a small job, than to get a $3,000 job from your first client. What you need now is to get something to work, showcase your professionalism and qualities and get the money, plus a 5 star review (or as close as possible to 5). You’ll notice that the next clients are easier to convince to work with you and you can increase your rates pretty fast afterwards.

6. Client management

The most difficult aspect of freelancing is dealing with the clients. In your career you’ll meet enough idiots to last you a lifetime and also great people who make your days and work so pleasant. There’s the occasional abusive client, who feels like you owe him your first born, but you’ll also meet some amazing ones, who appreciate a job well done and are willing to keep their end of the deal.

In my 4 years since working full time as a freelance web designer, I had the privilege of working with terrific people. My work was always being paid for in time, they were nice and professional, knew what they wanted from me, never treated me disrespectfully or wasted my time.

When bidding for jobs, take a look at the client’s history. If the client constantly gives bad ratings, there might be something wrong there. Freelancers also provide feedback for their clients, so this will help you even more seeing if you might find someone who won’t work well with you.

Always be one step ahead of your clients: provide tips and support (some are beginners there and don’t even know how to fund the escrow or start the job), have a plan for your work together, go the extra-mile if needed (but don’t provide samples or do spec work). The clients will appreciate someone who knows their job well and also can make the entire process faster and easier for them.

7. Be polite and know when to shut up

You don’t need to ‘sir’ and ‘madam’ the client every time you open a new paragraph, but do make it a habit to say hello and thank you. Be respectful to your clients NO MATTER WHAT. I had a client turn abusive on me and still kept my cool. I said thank you and good buy, even if there were many other things I would have said between these two. Do not get snippy with your client, even if you are right. Let the client be the unprofessional one. Say ‘sorry’ and ask if you can solve the problem, if not thank the client for the opportunity and move on.

There are many conflicts that appear online with people who don’t know how to keep their cool and this affects their image. At the end of the day, even if you weren’t wrong, being mean and disrespectful would make a potential client get scared of the prospect of getting abuse from you.

Be sincere with your client. I always tell them for instance that my main job is to design their site. If they need programming, they know from the get go that it’s not one of my skills, so they’ll probably need to hire someone. It’s better for my clients to know exactly what I do, then to try get a job and have them think I can do more than my advertised skills set. Yes, you do sometimes need to keep your clients ‘by the hand’, not all are online savvy, but it doesn’t make them bad clients or not worthy of a great service.

8. Will you have a future in freelancing?

I don’t know. There are freelancers who can barely get coffee from their earnings, while others can support a family. It’s all up to you. It’s not easy (and you’ll never hear any decent freelancer tell you it’s a breeze and surely won’t read here that it’s anything else but a difficult and yet amazing journey).

I’m one of the lucky freelancers who earn a living like this. I have my clients who appreciate my services and recommend me to others, I can pay my bills, pay for the travels, even get ready for our child with all the expenses this implies. My work schedule is flexible, my earnings are not the same, but enough to support our family and save, I have met some terrific clients and very few who didn’t end up to be the best in the bunch.

Whether you will work on Elance or other freelancing sites, most of these ideas should help you. Get ready for a tough journey, get ready for a lot of work, get ready to learn many new things and experience a true change in the way you work.

Recent Comments

  • October 7, 2013 at 2:29 am

    I don’t know that I have given Elance a fair shot. I briefly tried it out but found that most of the jobs for writers were pretty low pay and had a lot of competition. I may check it out again one day but for now I think direct email produces the best results for me. I’m glad you’ve had a good experience with it though!

    • http://Dojo

      October 7, 2013 at 12:07 pm

      I agree with you that on many freelancing sites (not only Elance), it’s not too easy to find well paid jobs. Sure, it can happen, but most see this as a start for their career, since it’s easier to create a portfolio and start looking to get more experience.

      I personally focus more on direct clients myself, since they do come to me via my portfolio (or client recommendation) and I don’t have to pay commission for this, not to mention I don’t need to compete on price. I did use Elance in the past and, if I get a job from there, I won’t say ‘no’ 🙂

  • October 7, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    I always wondered where you got your client base from as I had never seen you around Fiverr which is the main project I use myself. I am thankful for you sharing this information and I may have to look at Elance as well. Do you like Elance more than Fiverr?

    • http://Dojo

      October 8, 2013 at 1:44 pm

      I don’t use Fiverr almost at all. I can use jobs if I want this type of jobs. 20% off my money as commission is a bit too much for my taste.

      Am not too active on Elance either, since I focus more on direct clients, but it was OK for me back in 2009-2010 and for an extra gig it still works.

  • October 8, 2013 at 1:05 am

    I work full-time as a freelance writer and have never used elance. Thanks for the review! Like Alexa, it looked like there was a lot of competition and that the jobs were low-paying.

    • http://Dojo

      October 8, 2013 at 1:45 pm

      Well, many freelancers make a good living off such sites. Some (self included) used it to get a feel and some initial clients, others are able to secure jobs directly with their clients. As long as you get clients, that’s what matters 😉

  • October 8, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Great review! I’ve used Elance to hire writers before and I must admit I have been tempted to bid on the odd job now and then. I’ve never really delved into the world of freelance writing though, something to think about for the future perhaps. 🙂

    • http://Dojo

      October 8, 2013 at 1:55 pm

      It might not be a good fit for you, especially if you can secure jobs outside such sites, but sometimes it does the trick. I have also hired from there and it seems to attract some better clients/freelancers than other similar sites, at least that’s how I feel.

  • October 10, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    Thanks Dojo! I’ve been considering trying elance out for freelance writing work. I’m a bit nervous about getting myself out there but I really need to earn extra income so I’m going to have to get on and do it!

    Really appreciate the advice on how to go about setting up the account.

    • http://Dojo

      October 11, 2013 at 6:22 am

      Well, this is only an income stream anyway. You should always promote your own stuff and portfolio, but, if you can get few clients from there, they’ll surely not do any harm. You can get the experience of working on such site and then decide if it’s worth it or not 😉

      • October 11, 2013 at 10:05 pm

        Hi Ramona 🙂 Could I ask a quick question on Elance if that’s ok? I’m in the process of setting up an account and am looking at adding samples to my portfolio. I have samples of work already published on my blog. Can I submit those or would I end up being penalized by Google for duplicate content as I understand that the portfolio is made publicly available? Hope this makes sense!

      • http://Dojo

        October 13, 2013 at 11:35 am

        Well, I think you can place them as .pdf there and it shouldn’t be an issue, unless Google is already reading .pdf formats. On another note though, if you already have the posts published into the main blog, I’d just link them directly (you can use some traffic).

  • October 11, 2013 at 8:18 am

    […] from Dojo Blog wrote a really helpful article on Freelancing: How to start working as a freelancer on Elance. This is something I’ve been considering doing so I found Ramona’s advice really useful, […]

  • October 11, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    I tried to start off on Elance before I landed my first few writing jobs. I didn’t have any luck on Elance – I found that people looking to hire somebody were interested in the people who had a lot of ratings – I was a newbie so I didn’t have any.

    • http://Dojo

      October 13, 2013 at 11:36 am

      Yeah, the start is usually pretty painful, since many potential customers would rather hire someone who’s already having a history. I was able to solve this issue back then by taking the texts and making sure the portfolio was Ok, then I won the ‘money’ game. I did have to work few times for very small fees, but it helped get more clients afterward at way better fees.

  • October 18, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    […] recommend this web site for any aspiring freelancer. You can also read an article detailing how you can start your career there and be […]

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