My Love Affair with Elance

I have taken a secret lover. Now, I don’t want my hubby to know because it would devastate him, so I’m only going to tell you guys. The name of my secret lover? Elance. I know, I know, it’s weird. Before I did the Elance experiment for AFW, I never really considered Elance a real place to work. Through the experiment, Elance and I had some hot flirting sessions—nothing too crazy just exchanging glances, hair play and coyness. But it was fun, not too stressful and… well… I liked most of it. Naturally, the experiment did have one hitch that resulted in a .04 per word client--but otherwise I did okay.

After the experiment I laid off for a little while—you know how it is, it’s fun to flirt once in a while but you don’t want a lifetime commitment or anything. But then, I noticed my business was getting a little slow. I had been booked solid for a couple of months and as a result I hadn’t been marketing as much as I should have and I hadn’t been as active on LinkedIn or Twitter. By the time I finished up all of my existing obligations I was left without any projects other than my regulars and I wasn't as visible to my target clients.

So I turned to Elance for support and although I still haven’t found a way to get up to my normal rates on Elance I have found that it’s a great way to make what I am comfortable calling decent money without a lot of marketing effort and since I've streamlined my client selection process so I don't deal with as many nervous or controlling clients (check out the feedback the client has given to other providers before you bid), it's been a real pleasure. It’s not a long-term plan for me, but it’s a great way to get gigs quickly and pay the bills. Since they’ve upgraded their system you can now save search criteria which really helps make searching for gigs faster. Also, since my client proposal is a few pages long and has a visual element, pitching is actually less time consuming through Elance than it is when clients contact me directly.  I also save time because I never need to talk to anyone on the phone and even email exchanges are short.

The important thing about this (and the reason why I'm talking to you about it today) is that I'm not just settling into the Elance groove for the rest of the foreseeable future. With the time I’m saving on marketing, I've gotten a little breathing room to work on my own projects: a white paper, a client guide, guest posting to raise my visibility, queries and some freebies for my target clients--all of which will help me get more of those direct client gigs that are within my normal rates and aren't subject to a fee (Elance charges around 6-10% of the price of your gigs).

And that's the key--whether you are working for low paying clients right now, Elance, a content mill or any other arrangement that isn't making you feel completely happy--you've got to find the time to do what it takes to get you to your next level. If you don't then you are probably going to be stuck at your current level for... well... a long time. Because that's just how it is.

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Yolander Prinzel is the profit monster behind the Profitable Freelancer website. She has written for a number of publications and websites such as American Express,, Advisor Today, Money Smart Radio and the International Travel Insurance Journal (ITIJ). Her book, Specialty Ghostwriting: A New Way to Look at an Old Career, is currently available on Amazon.

21 thoughts on “My Love Affair with Elance”

  1. Tsk, tsk. Not marketing while booked? I should let Chris have at you, since he just covered that topic here. 😛

    Glad to hear you’re making time for your own projects though. I have a white paper I need to start on (for my own release, targeting SEO firms), but that’s something I need to find time for. Almost jealous, because those can be fun projects. 🙂

  2. Interesting, you’re the second writer (that I trust) who has mentioned that Elance can be a viable way to find decent paying work right now.

    I joined Elance a couple of years ago when I was just starting out. According to the other writer I didn’t really give it time to work (I left just short of a month later) – I want to say she discovered she averaged 1 project win per 20 bids (I could be misquoting).

    I’d be interested in learning more about how you conducted your experiment, like did you use the free of paid service? Did you only target -projects matching your niche? How many bids before winning your first job, etc.

  3. Yo – Can I ask what rates you’re looking at with Elance? My marketing time is so limited, I’m not sure if I want to delve into that market at the moment, but if you’re landing gigs paying over $0.07 per word pretty often or seeing them around at least, it might be worth flirting with down here in Texas, too. 🙂

  4. Oh, I think you’ll be happy Rebecca. I’m averaging .10 per word but I’m bidding on really niche stuff so it betters my chances of getting it.

  5. I’ll have to look into this again. Right now I can only manage a free account, but who knows? Hit up the right kind of clients and I can fund my way to something bigger.

  6. @Kimberly–I average 3 for every 16 but I only choose gigs in my niche so I can make a really strong case for hiring me. The full details of the experiment are here: I did bid for one that I shouldn’t have for the sake of the experiment and it was a miserable experience–so just make sure you vet the buyer and bid a price you are happy to offer. I can’t remember specifically but I don’t think I bid for more than 7 or 8 before scoring my first one–and that was before I started targeting my niche so…

    @Matt, it’s $10 and totally worth it especially if you are trying to establish a client base.

  7. Thanks for the tips. I found myself bidding low on Elance (I know, I know, I was one of THOSE – shudder) to “make my time worth it.” The whole thing buckled under me and became, as you say, a “miserable experience.” Haven’t canceled my membership yet so maybe I’ll have a gander again. They always said I was a flirt 😉

  8. Glad to hear you’re lovin it Yo – I’ve always thought that Elance should separate the riff-raff with the real businesses, but for now its up to us to do it ourselves. So if our radar is screwed on right and functional, there’s some gems to be had in there 🙂

  9. Ten cents a word is GOOD? I thought this site was about listing better-paying jobs and maybe even educating clients about all that writers bring to the party. No?

  10. Star,

    This site is indeed about educating writers about earning more. However, this site is not about drawing a hard line in the sand. 10 cents per word may suck for you personally. It might suck for print writers or corporate writers. But for the relatively large readership here earning less than that, it’s a huge step up, and it’s the minimum we’ve set for jobs listed. Keep in mind that per word rates are all relative. If you’re spending weeks on a print piece, that rate is utter crap. If you’re writing a 20 minute, 300-word beginner-level blog post for a new blog, it’s not that bad — an equivalent of $90 per hour. While I’d like to see most writers working at $100 per hour or more, I’m not going to be naive about it — $90 hourly is quite a bit better than the $30-40 (gross) some people brag about as excellent rates. We’re about helping writers improve their situations and grow their freelance writing careers. For many of them, $.10 per word is a hell of a lot better than the $.03 per word, $.01 per word, or even significantly less that they were led to believe were “average” rates when they got started.

    If you review Yo’s post series, you’ll also find that it has absolutely nothing to do with AFW’s job listings, nor is she advocating it as a way to earn a full-time living. She explores the traditionally low-pay markets and marketplaces, getting into the trenches with the newer writers to share real stories about how they can make the most of their time there while they’re developing their business elsewhere to expand beyond them.

  11. You are right Star, this site is about those things. My series (for the most part) is about exploring the different traditional marketplaces out there. Here is a quote from the first post in the series that sort of lays it all out:

    “In this series I’ll share what it’s like to get gigs on webmaster forums, content mills, residual income sites, bidding sites and more. I’ll give you tips to increase your success and let you know how the work feels. And while these may not be my traditional methods for getting gigs, I will treat every one with respect and care while I am executing them–after all, a paying client is a paying client. It’s not up to me to place a sliding scale value on their money.

    As a final note, it is important to remember that these posts are not meant to opine on whether or not you should or shouldn’t use any of these sources. I don’t know your business model so I don’t know if one penny a word is a step up or down for you. My hope is that, at some point in the series, you’ll find a resource that you can use as your stepping stone toward creating the freelance writing business you want, not the one some random blogger tells you to be happy with.”

    I’d also like to point out that being paid .10 per word by a new insurance agent just starting his business is a lot different than being paid .03 per word by an established content mill that makes tens of millions off of low-paid writers each year. The insurance agent has a very limited budget, has no guarantee that the writer they hire will actually bring them sales, and even if the writer is successful, they might not be able to bring in enough sales to make the same profits as a content mill. A content mill, on the other hand, knows exactly what it is doing, knows exactly the value delivered by the writers and absolutely can afford to pay more for the work–and yet they don’t. For me, this makes working with that independent insurance agent at .10 per word a decent experience.

    Also, as Jenn pointed out, hourly rate is key. Whether I’m writing for print, web, indie agents or broker/dealers, I have an hourly rate range that I must meet. Of course, I consider the budget and potential for profit of the client as well, but as long as my hourly rate is satisfied then I’m happy.

  12. I’d also like to point out that being paid .10 per word by a new insurance agent just starting his business is a lot different than being paid .03 per word by an established content mill that makes tens of millions off of low-paid writers each year.

    I agree with this–but I would make a huge try at “educating” this agent (and I actually did a brochure for my agent) about what I bring in terms of experience, business savvy, comfort in working with designers, tracking results, and so on.

    As for this figuring your per hour line of thought, I see DS say they pay “up to” $30 an hour (which is crap) and I think they figure this by two stories at $15–surely someone can type up two stories in an hour. Well, typing isn’t writing. There is thought, gestation, research, even back and forth with real live human sources, involved in writing.

    I am even boring myself these days. I am so dismayed to see the business I have loved and I like to think, improved and done well by, all these years go off the cliff.

  13. Star — You’re right about educating clients. That’s every freelancer’s job. Those who can demonstrate greater value for the client will always be able to earn much more than those who can’t.

    However, I think you’re taking one type of writing and trying to push its standards on others. And that really isn’t a fair comparison. Does journalism involve more extensive research and “real human sources?” Do magazine features? Yes, that’s probably the case most of the time.

    But that is not the case with every type of writing. When I’m hired to write a commentary on an issue in PR or social media, that comes from my years of experience in the fields. I sit down and I can write about it. That’s the benefit of hiring expert sources in the first place as opposed to a general “magazine writer” for example who will write about anything they can get an assignment for (and there are generalists in other types of writing as well — that’s just an example). Subject matter experts ARE the real live human source behind the writing. When they’re hired to write blog posts for example, they’re hired to share what they know and get it ready relatively quickly. There’s much to that than simply typing (and yes, you can put together more than one piece per hour).

    It’s an apples and oranges situation. Not all types of writing are directly comparable. That said, what we absolutely do not want to see or promote here are these slave wage jobs where not only is the per word rate very low, but the writer is expected to churn out one quick piece after another at breakneck speed all week long just to make a mediocre living at best. $30k for that kind of work is not a good living — at least not compared to what the writers could be doing instead without much added effort. If they can write half the number of pieces and earn more overall (and many content mill writers could), then that’s the kind of change we want to help them plan and eventually make.

    • Here’s a condensed way of looking at it:

      How much time you spend on a single piece doesn’t determine whether or not you’re a real writer. You can absolutely be a professional writer and turn around a post or two in an hour, depending on the types of projects you take on. The point is that you shouldn’t be doing that for a measly $10.

  14. I am not pushing standards on anyone–but I am saying the lower bar is hurting everyone. Even some science writers–top of the game–are feeling it. If someone wants to slave away so some young kid can get more billions, have at it. But it is dragging everyone down. Or maybe you don’t think so. I will shut up. What you describe–writing what you know–to me is an essay. I love to write essays. I sort of do them for my various blogs. And I have been paid, too–by newspapers and mags. When I say article, I mean researched, with one or more outside authorities interviewed and quoted. Maybe we have a semantics problem here. And yes–because it only took you half an hour does not mean the client does not have to pay! People who can do something in half an hour are worth MORE money!


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