When Clients Attack: An Elance Story

I had just finished graduate school and needed a job. The problem with getting a Master’s in English with emphasis in Creative Writing is that there is no career development course in the curriculum. There may not be one in any other major either, but with this particular course of study, it seems to be completely necessary.  If you’re really interested in being a teacher, you’ve got it made. Otherwise, you’re SOL.

But, I had to do what I know how to do best, so I set out to write. First, I started by writing and pitching to magazines, journals, and the like, but to no avail. Apparently, you need an “agent” and have many, many articles or stories “published already”. But you typically need to be published to get an agent in the literary world. It’s a terrible standard to have to live up to.

Turns out, even if you do get through and published by, let’s say, the New Yorker, it’s not lucrative until you’re a successful writer, anyway. But, if I’m going to be honest, my real talent isn’t in storytelling, and I realized that quickly.

So I was still in the same bind as before. How do I make money by doing what I know how to do? Naturally, I said, I’ll just be a freelance writer!

What an adventure it’s been.

The adventure began (and nearly ended) on Elance.com. Here is my story.

Client A – The first of the last

With how Elance is set up, it took me a few pitches to get my bids accepted. I couldn’t just throw any monetary number out there and hope it stuck. I’ve got mouths to feed, after all. I had to be competitive without knowing what other people were bidding, had to rely on my expertise as a writer, and had to make sure I made it clear that I was the best candidate for them. Unfortunately, the world we live in is run by money, and there are people out there that will work for a lot less than you will. Imagine that!

No matter – I was really excited to have a gig. My boyfriend (now husband) and I celebrated with two bottles of wine.

I’m glad we did because it was the only good thing about the project.

My pitch was accepted so I started a dialogue with the client. They said they wanted a brochure set up with a few trimmings. I figured, Doesn’t seem so hard…

I researched the topic, found some really interesting royalty-free photos that I could use for them, formatted it to fit their needs, and saved enough space to give additional information on the topic, outside the original standards.

I submitted the project about two weeks after my bid was accepted, which was about two weeks before the due date. What can I say? I wasn’t busy with other things. I waited a week to hear back from the client. I sent them a message. I waited another week. I sent them another message. Finally, two weeks after I sent in the project, they got back to me. Here’s a little snippet from the message I got:


We’ve reviewed your work and decided that it is not up to our standards. We’ve done our own research on the topic and put together our own brochure, so we will not be using your work.”

If my work had actually been unsatisfactory, that would have been perfectly fine. I get rejected all the time when I submit stories and poems to journals. I’m down with failure. But, it chapped my backside that they actually did use my brochure, but did not pay me for the work I had completed for them. All they did was change the titles of the sub-sections. Everything else was word-for-word.

I went through Elance’s policies and found that they did have a section that talked about what to do in this situation. So I went through the proper channels, but because the client had become unresponsive, they could not do anything about it. Their account was no longer valid, so the money couldn’t be withdrawn automatically. There was nothing left to do.

Luckily, they didn’t leave a review (a false one, at that) on my page.

Clients: 1, Genevieve: 0

Client B – The second of the last

I had another bid accepted. This client wanted a blog edited and spruced up for SEO purposes. They sent me the blog posts in Word documents.

I began editing right away and actually found the blog really interesting, so I enjoyed working on it. It was littered with grammatical errors, misspellings, and other common mistakes for someone who works quickly, so I fixed them, added a few keywords (though, it really didn’t need much work in this sense), and then shipped each blog entry back to the client.

On the fifth day or so, I received a message from Elance telling me that the project had been cancelled. I was a little upset, but I figured there must have been a good reason. So, naturally, I checked my account and saw this (the examples in the parentheses are examples of the correct way to do things, as noted by the client):

“As a community college English major, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the English language. But, Genevieve sent me the work riddled with more errors than I sent it out with. She used commas where she shouldn’t (its red, white and blue Genevieve!). She did not know the difference between your and you’re (I said, “Your a fool!”). She consistently put [sic] after the quotes in the entry. Why is it sick, Genevieve? …”

The note went on and on about how incompetent I was and how little I knew about the English language and that I should be kicked off the site for misrepresenting what I could do. I’ll give her the first example she gave. Most of the time, this rule (the comma is called the Oxford comma and is commonly omitted in newspapers to save space) is considered wrong… but not by anyone reputable. The rest, though? Well, I think you can see.

She then left a very unsavory review of my work on my homepage for the Elance world to see. Of course, I didn’t get paid either.

Clients: 1 ½, Genevieve: 0

Client C – The last straw

I met many good people on Elance, too. In fact, there are people whom I still work for to this day. Unfortunately, that was all ruined with the bad apples.

Literally, in this case.

This particular client wanted me to write an e-book on apple trees. I won’t go into specifics, because, well, who really cares about apple trees until they give you apples for pie, but I’ll tell you that it was a little daunting at first.

I had a month to produce the project, so I worked tirelessly doing research, double checking facts, and making sure I got pictures. After I had a draft put together, I sent the project to a professor I had in graduate school that doubled as a horticulturist on his farm in upstate New York. I wanted no excuses on this project. The client wasn’t going to be able to turn it down.

He sent the project back a few days later, calling the work “immaculate,” “flawless,” and “ready for publish in trade journals across the world.” Maybe he didn’t call it publish ready for trade journals, but immaculate and flawless were definitely in there.

With his expertise backing me, I felt confident that I could send it in without any hiccups.

After they received it, I got this message:

“Genevieve, we wanted an e-book.”

Confused, I double checked my notes on what exactly an e-book was, how to create one, and all the trimmings that typically went into an e-book. I sent this message back to them:

“That’s what I gave you. Is there something wrong with it?”

They sent this message back:

“Thanks, but no thanks.”

We then sent a few more messages back and forth and I told them that I had produced exactly what they wanted, to which they replied in the negative. They weren’t going to pay me, so I went to Elance to get their support and to get my money. They were little help as they fought through whatever bureaucratic red tape held them back. Finally, I got them to agree to pay me at least a quarter of the original bid. They then left a bad review on my page.

I told my boyfriend what had happened. He was incensed. He knew how much work I had put into that project and what the final payout was going to be (which we needed to make rent that month). Angrier than I had ever seen him, he picked up my ultrabook (link provided to show just exactly how much I was going to have to shell out to get a new one – a pretty penny for us poor folk) and threw it against the wall.

We then spent the rest of the night trying to put it back together, to no avail. We sat in silence with two bottles of wine.

Clients: 2 ½, Genevieve: 0

All in all, we all have to work with clients that are fickle or don’t want to pay. But at the end of the day, we still need to make money and the more you can put up with, the more you will succeed. After my experience on Elance with these particular clients, I closed my account in hopes of putting an end to the sullying of my young freelance career. But that didn’t mean that I had to stop being a freelancer. There are so many great sites out there (as I’ve become more familiar with AllFreelanceWriting.com, the more I am impressed with their honesty and ability to parse out the good and the bad, which is something that is lacking in many job fields today).

So don’t be discouraged. Just keep at it and you’ll do well… one day.

Profile image for Genevieve Coates
Genevieve Coates is a freelance writer/staff writer for AndGeeks.com. She lives in Tampa, Florida.

83 thoughts on “When Clients Attack: An Elance Story”

    • Well, I have since moved on from Elance and bidding sites altogether. Now, I’ll send out random pitches to bloggers when I’m not working at my job and build up an online presence that I hope gets me some clout in the writing community. But it’s a slow process, and I’d only recommend this to people who aren’t in an immediate need for cash. Writing can be lonely, writing can be ostracizing, but it shouldn’t ever be a burden of production. Keep it fun.

  1. Genevieve – I’m very sorry to hear of your poor experience with these clients on Elance. I lead our Customer Success efforts for Elance and it sounds like we failed in our mission here. Outcomes like yours are exactly the ones we strive to avoid and why we put protections in place like Escrow for fixed price jobs, where we hold the money in trust for both parties just in case something goes wrong. It’s also why we’ve created Work View for hourly jobs where you can document your time spent working for your client, and so long as it’s relevant work, we guarantee that you’ll get paid for every minute worked (even if we can’t collect from the client). While they may not be perfect and everyone is free to choose whether they use these protections, if you do use them there is usually something we can do to help.

    Unfortunately, we weren’t able to locate your account from your name. But if you’re willing, please shoot me an email at jond@elance.com so we can take a closer look at what happened and see if we can help get things back on track.

    Jon Diller
    VP, Customer Success

    • Jon,

      I appreciate you stopping by and offering to help Genevieve. And I hope she takes you up on the offer. Now for one comment and two questions.

      My thoughts on the legally questionable status of Work View has been covered in depth here in the past, so I won’t get into that in this comment. Suffice it to say I’m just disappointed to see Elance reps still promoting this as “optional” and a good thing for freelancers, and I want my readers to be very clear that I and All Freelance Writing in no way support or endorse its use.

      As for my questions…

      What is Elance’s policy in cases like these — do you cancel client access to Elance so they can’t exploit other contractors, or is some other action taken? How much evidence (and what type) do contractors have to provide to have Elance step in and remove these kinds of clients from the marketplace?



    • Hey Jon,

      I closed my account almost three years ago now, so I don’t know that I would still show up in your database.

      If you’d like to reach me personally, me e-mail address is coates.genevieve@gmail.com.

      Thanks for reaching out.

    • Jon,

      I would have to say that Customer Success is bit of a…Well, I won’t say it. But I will say this. I had a freelancer whom I awarded the project to that had clearly a fake portfolio. I only discovered this after the designs I got in the first round were abysmal. I did some research found that her portfolio was completely fake. I had proof. I showed links to several different websites that showed the work belonged other people. The idiots at Elance couldn’t figure that out. They insisted we have an intervention. In the end, I prevailed–because logic always prevails, but I just couldn’t get over how stupid the Customer Success people were at Elance. They must have been blind as mice no to see what was so obvious. I’m sure this will get deleted because we all have to play nice nice.

      • You didn’t attack an individual or try to expose someone’s private personal information like another poster here did, so I’m not sure why you’d think the comment would be deleted.

        But more to the point, I hope this was a learning experience. Now that you know what to look for you should have an easier time searching for and identifying legitimate contractors with real portfolios, and without relying on sites like Elance as a middleman. It’s unfortunate, but just as these kinds of race-to-the-bottom marketplaces attract some of the worst “clients” for serious freelancers, they also attract the kinds of scam artists you ran into. It’s not an ideal situation for either side.

  2. I loved your writing and the story — see you are a good story teller! Comedy too. You made me laugh with that second one. I tried Elance too, and had problems, it was a waste of my time and I canceled my account. Luckily, I only talked with the client about ideas and didn’t do any written work. I write for Demand Studios, at least it’s honest and they pay, but it’s not perfect.

    • I told her the same thing Deila. I was impressed with her post. It’s the first guest post in a long time that I didn’t have to edit. And I hate seeing writers question themselves based on woefully ignorant comments like some examples here.

      • I appreciate the kind words. It’s always nice to hear that all the hard work you put in has paid off a little.

        Now if I could only pay off a few of those student loans…

  3. Wow, that is quite a story, but a story well-told! You ARE a good writer so let’s hope your efforts are paying off in other venues. Meanwhile, I’ve never been tempted to use Elance or any other freelance/bid service…they seem kind of crazy…although I’m sure there are people who use them successfully. I’ll just never be one of them! 🙂

    • I’m with you on the “crazy” assessment Pam. No professional has to put themselves in a “race to the bottom” situation. And that’s how these bidding sites often work. While you can occasionally land work at reasonable rates if you stick to your guns, most clients I’ve come across over the years who use them are there for a bargain. Any freelance writer with an ounce of business sense can do far better outside of these bidding sites. They just have to break away from the artificial comfort that comes with seeing a lot of potential clients gathered in one place. Simple fact — if their primary concern is getting the lowest price possible, they’re not in any professional writer’s true market anyway.

  4. I still have my Elance and Guru.com account, but I don’t use them. The projects are usually low-balled for the amount of work people want. I won’t sell out. I’d rather write my own material, publish it, and earn monies from it.

  5. I’ve been on Elance since January and have been averaging 2-3 projects a month on Elance. My experience has been pretty positive – I’ve had one dubious client but it was quickly sorted out by their policy team.

    It seems a little unfair for the author to write this as if it happened recently- it should have been disclosed that she hasn’t been on Elance for 3 years.

    • Sharing an experience about starting out isn’t unfair at all. And I don’t believe she ever stated in the article that it happened recently. She did make it clear that it was about her earliest days freelancing. These kinds of stories from bidding sites are far from out of the norm. We get new freelancers here all the time asking for help to get away from these sites where “clients” routinely exploit writers. And we always welcome writer warnings about the kinds of clients and client feedback new freelancers should be on the lookout for.

      If you want to ask for complete transparency, please offer the same. If you want to talk about positive experiences, that’s fine. But share the details. 2-3 projects per months really isn’t much for a freelancer. How big are these projects? How much do they pay on average? Are you able to bid your target rates or do you only get the gigs when you lower them and try to undercut other bidders? How did Elance’s policy team sort the issue out, and did you have to subject yourself to Work View in order to get help in your situation or not? Those kinds of things would help readers get a better feel for your side of the story and the context. Even though we in no way support Elance here at All Freelance Writing and I strongly recommend against new writers using their (and similar) services, I truly am happy that you’re happy with them. To each his own.

  6. Sorry to hear you were ripped off by some unsavoury clients Genevieve. Good to see you turning a negative into a positive though by using your frustration as fuel for this excellent post. Onwards and upwards.

  7. Guess all you can do is laugh. Take out the parts where you get your ego trampled all over and computers get thrown at the wall, and these stories are pretty funny in their ridiculousness. My favourite is number 2. I always use the Oxford comma!

    I’m sorry you had these experiences though. We’ve all had bad ones, but from what I can tell (never having used Elance) there does seem to be a disproportionate number of bad apples on those sites. Still, onwards and upwards, right?

  8. Honestly, this article seems a little one-sided. I have absolutely no connection with eLance and so have no motivation to defend them, but the way the author writes makes me wonder what she’s not telling us. While I’ve certainly had my share of difficult clients, she seems to have had several in short order — making me wonder what’s going wrong on her side of the fence.

    • As a blog post sharing a personal story, of course it’s one-sided. It’s not journalism. And Elance really isn’t the one that needs defense here — it’s the clients (whose identities she’s protected). I don’t know any further background than you do. But I do know these stories are far from rare on freelance bidding sites. So three bad experiences doesn’t seem strange at all. Clients on the lower end of the spectrum (who often seek contractors on these types of sites) famously rip freelancers off — collecting work, coming up with petty complaints so they can refuse to pay, and then using the work anyway. It’s nothing new.

      Had we been talking about a dozen bad experiences and no good ones, I’d concede your point. But with just three, nothing seems out of the norm. And really any time a freelancer has a bad client they’re partly to blame (myself included). You’re absolutely right that something went wrong on both ends. Oftentimes the freelancer doesn’t even realize what mistake they made. Thoroughly vetting clients is as important as them vetting their contractors. Along those lines, I’d love it if Genevieve could share what she did to check out the clients first, if anything. More importantly, was there even feedback available on these clients, or was the mistake taking gigs from clients who had no experience on Elance yet? Of course not all new users are out to screw you over. But the risks sure do shoot up.

    • I mentioned somewhere in the article that there were also good clients. All these were in a period of about six months. I bid on close to 40 projects during that time, several of which I got and were great. Some of them, I still do work for.

      The clients in the article were made up of two individuals and one company. The company had not posted any jobs prior to my accepting of their bid, but the two individuals had posted a few jobs each.

      I’ll concede that it’s entirely possible that I did something wrong. But, like most of us, I would like an explanation. Maybe even a chance to correct it. These clients provided neither.

      Typically, I know what I’m doing. I can write fairly well, and I always do my research, but with these clients there was a certain disconnect. And now I have no idea what went wrong or where I could have fixed it.

      And yes, it is totally one-sided. Utterly and completely.

      • New users on those sites always make me skeptical. I know it’s not entirely fair because most people pay what they owe. But it’s always good to be cautious if you don’t know much about the company or person hiring you yet. That’s why I prefer to stick with private clients and building enough of a demand that I can charge in full up front. I don’t have to worry as much about it anymore. Even if you take small steps to improve your Web presence and build your network, it can make a huge difference (for example, I didn’t see a website for your services yet — do you write under another name by chance?).

        It sounds like you learned from that mistake. And I’d bet most of us have made it at some point. Never hesitate to ask a new client for references (and never be surprised if they do the same to you). At the very least, try to negotiate partial payments up front to insulate yourself.

        As for wanting a chance to fix things, you’re not alone. But unfortunately there are some buyers you can never please. No matter how experienced you are, you run the risk of working with one. They hire a writer because they think it’s what they’re supposed to do, but ultimately if you can’t read their mind and do it exactly the way they would have done it, they’ll refuse to pay. Again, it’s a good place for up front deposits — at least 50%.

        No worries though Genevieve. Over time it gets better and you’ll learn to identify the gems and sniff out the rats and those situations will be little more than something to laugh about when you look back on them. 🙂

  9. Wow!
    I really lucked out.
    I write in a small niche, and list those skills on my account.
    I was a member for two years before someone reached out to me and asked me to write something.
    I started ghostwriting for them and quickly got my own name on my articles.
    The pay is much better than the lowball offers and so far has be a steady stream of work.
    I have been leery of some projects because they looked like they were looking for the cheapest no matter what.

  10. Wow! I’m with you – the apple ebook would have been the final straw for me, too. I don’t doubt at all that there were clients on eLance who ultimately wanted free work. One of the great things about working with clients directly is the ability to charge a deposit before starting work. Clients are less likely to rip you off if they’ve already put money toward the project.

  11. It’s true, there’s a lot of clients out there that won’t pay up, but I have to say that as long as you make sure not to start work before Escrow is funded, you don’t run the risk of not getting paid on Elance. Odesk is the problem, since they have NO such system, and I have been repeatedly let down by clients there. I’ve been on Elance a few years, and every client has either paid, or – in cases where they have not – Elance has released Escrow to me without any issues.

    • I really, really despise Odesk. I tried that at the same time as Elance, but never even submitted a proposal because of the overall layout of the site, the rates I saw that some businesses and people were hiring for, and the system they had in place. It’s unfortunate that I never had an escrow system with any of the above clients. Really unfortunate.

  12. I just felt like the site was too much hassle. It’s not hard enough to pitch clients or to apply for work, but to have to bid (and fail) in itself always seemed like a system waiting to fail me. Mturk is a lot like elance in that it has tons of “dine and dash” types who let you “rit and run””. 🙁 So sorry to hear all the troubles, glad you got a blog out of it and wish you good luck!

    • Jane, that’s an unfortunate part of all of these “race to the bottom” sites. They claim to be so great for freelancers, yet they encourage buyers to focus on price. If we were talking about goods, that would be fine. But it’s not fine with services. They’re completely different businesses, have completely different value sets, and your time can never be mass-produced to drive down costs. The traditional auction model never should have been used for services.

  13. Thanks for the very interesting article and story! I am a retired scientist and have done a lot of technical writing and also translation. I found you story to be both interesting and educational. I am comtemplating writing an article or perhaps a few articles, and this blog was particularly helpful in showing me one path to not go down. I hope that the people at Elance make good on their pledge to make amends. My experience has been that far too often nothing is done when these injustices happen. In any case, my advice is to shake off the negative remarks – you obviously have a great deal of skill as a writer.

    • As has been said a few times in the comments of this post, there are always a few good – maybe even great – clients that really make up for the bad. But, ultimately, you have to make a choice on whether or not you want to continue down a particular road. I chose the road less taken, I suppose. I appreciate the kind words, Carl. Sometimes, though, I wish I were a scientist…

  14. Hi Genevieve,
    First I hope that you have better luck with your career as a writer since this horrible experience at Elance. Next, I wanted to say that you are not alone in this nightmare experience. Elance, by its nature is a mean place that takes advantage of its workers, sometimes even bordering abuse. For example, look at their Elance policies, that go something like this: BUYER CAN REVIEW THE WORK AND IF THEY DON’T LIKE IT THEY DON’T HAVE TO PAY. What other business does this? Who can work for weeks to find out they aren’t getting paid? That Elance VP above tries to claim they have fair escrow system, but what I understand is if there is a dispute, the worker pays a hundred bucks or so to get the case heard, so if the project was $75 they have to walk away and take the loss and the Client keeps the money.
    I also search on founder of Elance and he was involved in some type of scandal or fraud case. Search on “eLance founder indicted” for details and CNET article. Usually if you have criminals at the top of an organization, the tone and ethics filter down through the managers and other shady characters are attracted. I noticed that the VP of Elancedidn’t respond to the moderator’s questions. That speaks for itself. I also saw that his title is “Customer Success” – That speaks for itself to since Elance cares nothing about the poor worker. I have heard many many horror stories and if you search on the web you are not alone.
    Hang in there and keep working. Avoid nasty places like Elance and keep searching for your dreams! Good luck.

    • While I agree with you to some extent in that I consider Elance to be one of the worst things to happen to the freelance writing industry, I do want to clarify something for fairness sake. The alleged fraud you mentioned had to do with a single person’s actions prior to their involvement with Elance itself. I just want to make sure it’s clear that no one here is stating that Elance itself was involved with the alleged fraud.

  15. Well I thought I would give oDesk a try and found it was horrible, you could spot the SCAM Job advertisments from nearly a mile off, they where being posted in ALL CAPS with spelling that went something akin to the following: CONTRACTOR SHUD CONTACT FOR DETAILS. So I soon thought “hand over my banking details?” “not on your nelly!” and then I heard about Elance so I thought I would do a little research first. Discovered they’re pretty alike, they still have swathes of people from middle eastern countries and when you look at the feedback ratings its almost as if they get their best friend to leave them possitive feedback, where have I seen that kind of SCAM before, oh yeah eBay!

    Does anyone out there want to pass the oDesk readiness test? Well now you can because here’s a blog containing all the answers and if you look around a bit harder you’ll find all the test question answer’s too. It’s a bit pathetic that people gauge the merrits of their potential contractor on things like a Windows XP Test considering people have been using Vista, Seven and Windows Eight for the last three to four years.

  16. Thanks to the original author for this great discussion. Hope your problem with Elance got resolved, but I bet it didn’t

    I have been on Elance for several years and have I tried to use Odesk every year it seems but they just dont have things set up right so I never end up doing any business there. I have used some workers on Elance but have done most of my Elance business as a contractor and have made several thousand dollars on multiple projects. The people who run Elance are sort of weird in that they treat the contractors like 3rd-world waste. At least thats how I feel, and a couple people I know. The entire system is set up in favor of the buyers, like the workers deserve no respect, and it almost feels like the buyers pick up on that sort of derogatory atmosphere and also act in a condescending manner to the contractors. Sort of like “I will let you work for a few weeks and if you do some good work, then I will release some money”. The website interface has this sort of rude contemptuous feel also.

    Maybe this is how it works in undeveloped countries. Work for a few weeks then if its good enough you get paid. They brag about their Escrow and “pay for performance” system but it is a scam to steal from the contractors. I know some people who wanted to find quality writers there but were unable to. They hired several writers and the end result was just a book that got worse each time it was worked on. I think quality workers sort of gave up on Elance because of the condescending attitude of the people who run it and now the Buyers treat the workers that way too, and all the $5 bids from people working in some hut in their underwear.

  17. I am sorry to hear about the problems some of the people hear have experienced. I have worked as a contractor before (offline) and had good times and bad times, which were caused by people being corrupt or dishonest and sometimes just inept.

    I have experiences as someone hiring people with both Odesk and Elance. At first I tried ODesk until one or two contractors did not come through and there seemed to be nothing that could be done about it. I became frustrated using their site and then moved to Elance. I was a lot happier with Elance although there was one contractor that I had a huge issue with. They were supposed to develop some code for me for a website but proceeded to copy someone else’s code they had found on the web and then did not even amend it correctly so that it worked according to what we had agreed. The contractor eventually opened a dispute when I kept insisting things be done according to the agreement and Elance became involved. Fortunately, they ruled in my favour and gave my money back. I was grateful for that but the process did take a while and it seems the contractor is still active on Elance. That makes me wonder how many other contractors are on the site that might not always do what they are supposed to. I also now have a contractor who has missed two deadlines that they had decided on. In the meantime certain things I want to do have to be put on hold. Fortunately, I also found two really great contractors that have done a lot of work for me.

    As for cheap labour, I do not believe in it. For one thing, it is explotative. Second, you get what you pay for. Make no mistake: there are some contractors who take chances and quote excessive fees, e.g $300 for a simple mail form. I have crerated those on my own before within fifteen minutes or so. I know enough about the kinds of jobs I post about to know what is reasonable.

    Tonight Elance messed up. They deleted a job I posted and claimed it undermined the integrity of an academic or professional institution. It makes no sense to me. I self-published a book and do not work for either an academic or “professional” institution. Nowhere in my listing did I mention any such organisation. I asked people to publicly post reviews on the book even if these reviews were unfavourable. The only thing I can think of is that someone at Elance did not read the listing properly and in addition assumed I was trying to undermine the author by allowing negative reviews. I am the author, for goodness sake. I have contacted Elance (I am very angry) to ask what is going on and why nothing was discussed with me first.

    The contractors who wanted to work with me are shocked by what Elance did and do not understand it. I am thinking now of leaving Elance once my last project deadline has come and gone. The thing is, where do legitimate contractors and legitimate hirers go to avoid these kinds of situations?

    • I don’t waste my time on Elance and their absurd policies anymore, so I can’t say what their exactly reason was for deleting the listing. The only thing that makes sense to me is that they don’t allow certain types of unethical gigs (like academic papers, which might explain why academic institutions were mentioned — might just be a blanket notice you received). I would consider paid reviews on par with that. It’s bad form for authors to pay people for reviews, period. We talked about this recently on my indie publishing blog in more depth. If they act as a marketplace for paid reviews, they might risk having their search engine rankings penalized. If that’s their reason, this is a rare case where I’d say Elance is making a smart decision. Now if only they cared as much about the ethics of helping cheap-ass buyers exploit independent contractors.

  18. Oh my god Genevieve! I read your story and I am truly sorry for what happened.
    I have only just started my elance account recently… And I tell you it makes no sense, It is horrible. I feel that my profession as a Graphic Designer is being cheapened by the minute.. It is highly exploitative at elance. I’m not bothering.

  19. I so appreciate this ex-Elancer sharing her story. Reading it has helped me cope with my first sleazy client. After bending over backwards to please this cheapskate who disappeared like a thief in the night after receiving a first draft, only to reappear two months later to “cancel” due “my” poor performance, even lying and claiming he couldn’t get a hold of ME. His behavior was cowardly and rude–and all to save a measly $20. I’ve had many great clients in my short 6 months as a provider, but a bad one or two can really burn you out. I hate to hear how hard Genevieve worked on those projects, especially the eBook, just to be treated in such a discardable manner. I thought slave labor was illegal? It should be a crime for any company to allow such exploitative practices to happen again and again and again. But, hey, they’re getting rich.

    • I’m sorry to hear you’ve had trouble with a client there Quin. Unfortunately things are unlikely to change though. Preference with these companies always seems to go to the clients. And on the rare occasion they claim they’re doing something to benefit freelancers, it’s sleazy as well (like their spyware letting clients get around laws that differentiate the rights of clients vs employers). It’s sickening. But as long as there are people looking to make a quick buck and they want advertised gigs instead of finding better clients, these sites aren’t likely to go anywhere.

  20. While it’s horrible you had these experiences, I must admit I’ve never had them myself. My Elance experiences have all been positive, especially with the Escrow protection; I always wait to give the fully formatted copy of my work until the Escrow is funded, and I make sure they approve all the textual content beforehand. I hardly think Escrow is a scam to steal from contractors considering the job can still be cancelled and refunded if there’s a dispute.

    Point is, if you write something that doesn’t fit the request, they don’t have to pay. It’s not good or bad to have this; it’s just a standard. That’s like paying a contractor for adding an addition that doesn’t fit your state safety standards – you don’t do it, even if they beg and pester and try to shove a lawyer’s briefcase up your butt.

    For those reading this, if someone does go use your work without your permission, don’t try to get Elance to deal with it; it’s an outside copyright problem. Issue a take down notice through the DMCA in regards to the sites its on and harass them to high hell until they pay for it or take it down. I’ve had to go through this with some work I did outside of Elance, and it’s not too difficult if you’re strict about it and regularly check to see if cancelled work is being used elsewhere. (You also don’t need an attorney or anything to do this, though it looks much more convincing if you do.)

    • “Point is, if you write something that doesn’t fit the request, they don’t have to pay. ”

      And the point on the other side of this issue is that this isn’t how things work in independent contractor business relationships. If a client isn’t clear despite being asked what they’re looking for, or they change their mind, or they simply can’t be satisfied (all of which happen), under a normal independent contractor contracted relationship, they would almost always still have to pay for the time put into the project. Normal freelance writing relationships do not happen on spec.

      You’re telling people that it’s okay for Elance to interfere on behalf of clients if they aren’t happy, but that if a client basically steals work by not paying for it but publishing it (in which case it has very little value for the writer to resell it because first rights have been exploited), that it’s tough luck and an outside copyright dispute. That’s absurd. Both of these issues are contract disputes.

      And you’re highlighting the problem. Elance is not in it for the benefit of freelance professionals. They’re in it for the clients who pay them. That’s why in true freelance contracts you don’t have a middleman sitting between you with the ability to settle what are legally contract matters. It’s a bad deal for freelance writers, period.

      As for the DMCA requests, I’m with you 100% if someone swipes your previously published material. I do this frequently, with great success. But that’s very different from a freelance contract situation where the writer wouldn’t have published the material. The vast majority of DMCA reporting policies by hosts (and even other third parties like search engines and ad networks) require you to provide links to both the infringing material and your original published copy, which wouldn’t exist. It would be very difficult to prove the specific copy they published is actually yours without publication.

      On top of that, you might not even technically own the copyright depending on your contract. If you signed a work-made-for-hire agreement, the copyright might have transferred to the client. You can’t assume that you can immediately do what you want with the material just because they haven’t paid. Their failure to pay is a contract issue, and so is the copyright transfer. Unless you go after them for breaching the contract and nullify the rest in the process, you might find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit if you try to re-publish or re-sell the material. Whether they would win or not is another question entirely, but in most cases a client is going to be able to afford a suit much easier than a freelancer.

      A lawyer is always a good option if you’re concerned about legal lines being crosses — from paying one to simply answer questions about your local laws and how they might apply to having them draft letters on your behalf or even file suit (usually unnecessary). What some writers do, which is usually a better option to start with, is to hire a collection agency to go after them for the money. Personally, I’ve not had to do this (which I’m thankful for). But I’ve seen several cases where clients paid up almost immediately when they realized stiffing an independent contractor could end up hurting their business credit.

      Never assume you shouldn’t get paid for work you’ve put into a project. Unless you completely screwed up or didn’t even bother to ask a client what they were looking for, you should be compensated for your time. And Elance, or other third party marketplaces, should have absolutely no say in those contract issues between you and a client.

  21. Well, if Genevieve hadn’t completed the work, then there would be no question. However, she did complete the work. The client just didn’t pay.

    To be honest, this is what I hate about bidding sites — it puts all the power in the client’s hands. Writers have no say over their rates (since when do you tell your mechanic or hair stylist what to charge?), and clients can simply not pay and have no repercussions.

    Bidding sites also breed the attitude expressed by Piercie –“Point is, if you write something that doesn’t fit the request, they don’t have to pay.” The real point is yes, they do. Especially in the case where the client gave great feedback and then suddenly decided it wasn’t right. Or in the case where the client used it anyway. Or in the case where the client was clueless and blaming her for, what, doing it right? But if a client contracts with you to do the job and you do it, there’s compensation owed you. If it’s not right, you should be afforded the opportunity to fix it.

    The fact is most of the bottom-feeder clients who use Elance, etc. do so in order to find something for dirt cheap or for nothing.

    The better course of action for any writer is to actively seek clients and not rely on bidding sites where you’re competing with every other writer to be the cheapest.

    • Excellent point Lori. Clearly this wasn’t a case of the client being dissatisfied. If that were true, they wouldn’t have used the work. Instead they scammed a contractor into providing the base material, and they created a derivative work, claiming that they didn’t have to pay. That’s not how copyright, or freelance contracts, work.

      And not paying because you aren’t 100% happy with the first draft is anything but “standard.” Edits on request are standard practice. And with her turning in the work two weeks early, there was no excuse for them not going back to her with edit requests.

      It’s a client’s responsibility to set the deadline and that deadline needs to account for more than receiving a first draft.

  22. I’m sorry to hear about your experience with Elance. It’s not the same as my own; though I have been ripped off once it came a lot further down the line than your experience so it’s not the end of the world. I live in the developing world and Elance has been an incredible lifeline for me to work as I want and get paid reasonably well for it.

  23. I am aware of the fact that this thread has started long time ago. However, I am contributing anyway if this can help new freelancers because over the years, things have changed quite a lot on Elance.

    For example the customer service has improved significantly and providers are better protected against clients and conversely. Elance has even a new (January 2014) terms of use policy that does even better in creating a clean working environment for all. In addition, Elance recently acquired O’Desk to create even better conditions with the best of both worlds.

    Nevertheless, the virtual world being a reflection of our real world, you will still bump against good or bad elements on both sides. With some commons sense, you can avoid the pitfalls. You just need to take some precautions on your own in order to make your experience enjoyable on Elance.

    I have had in the beginning a couple of unpleasant experiences that taught me some lessons. Since then, I have devised a strategy to prevent or handle potentially nasty outcomes. In a particular hopeless case, I quickly cancelled myself a job to move away from an a client with an attitude problem. In few words, here is my strategy:

    1) Make sure before you start working that your client funds the project (putting money in Elance escrow). “No escrow, no work” should be your mantra.

    2) If your project is expected to take more than three days or cost more than $100 (you set your own level), break it down into several milestones. Explicitly ask your client to fund the milestones one by one (or in total) and release the funds one after another as you move forward into the project.

    3) The best recommendation I have is that you should work together with your client by engaging him/her into the process. Absolutely send him/her regular updates of the work and ask for his/her opinion and feedback. Clients will always love it. This approach helps you take your client’s pulse and make sure you are on the same wave length. It helps avoid misunderstandings, disputes and confrontations in the end. The end product will be a collaborative effort that your client, absolutely, cannot reject. I am pretty sure that if Genevieve had applied this simple rule, she would have spared herself those unpleasant adventures.

    4) In all your communications, stay polite and professional with your client. You do not know him/her personally nor does he/she know you in any way. Your communication style is the only clue your client has into your personality. Make them feel comfortable, at ease and secure with you.

    5) Be patient and understanding with your client because so many things could happen in a business decision-making process. By adopting this position, you are sending them the message that you are a good and reliable business partner. If you do, you are likely to be the first person in line for their next project or when they recommend a freelancer to their acquaintances.

    I hope this helps you make your life a little easier on freelance Web sites.

    Good luck.

    Elimba Dikalo

    • Elimba,

      I appreciate your comment, and you offer some good general tips on working with clients. 🙂

      However, Elance still poses major problems for freelance professionals, and I still have to warn them away from these race-to-the-bottom marketplaces.

      The Elance-Odesk merger is a problem in itself, as are their “protections” for freelancers. These are two companies that pioneered technologies allowing clients to spy on contractors (which enables them to violate the legal distinctions between being employers and clients). Freelancers should be demanding deposits if they want to protect themselves. It’s not the place of a third party marketplace to take and hold funds. But that’s all I’ll say on the issue. If you’re curious about the potential legal problems with their various forms of interference, you can read about it at the link below. I’ve already covered it extensively.


  24. Don’t worry Genevieve. At least, you are still working as a creative freelancer. For Elance freelancers out there, I would like to share on my url about how I detect an Elance client with verified payment method as a scammer.

  25. As a freelance writer and editor, I hear complaints about elance.com all the time. I’ve checked them out. My biggest problem is that 50% of the resumes posted for any kind of writing or editing have egregious grammatical errors in the first paragraph, spelling errors, awkward phrasing, and writing that wouldn’t pass muster in a high school comp class. (“I really like writing because writing is what I do the best!if I can help you please contact me. all genre accepted.”) This is not an actual post but modeled after one I saw. I had an editor with a publishing company look at the resumes, and she said that most represented the worst writing she’d ever seen.

    Does anyone there screen these resumes?

    You had a great post and you’re obviously a great writer. Kudos.


    • It’s the client’s job to screen resumes when they use a site like that. They’re open marketplaces, meaning pretty much anyone can offer services and Elance won’t get involved in a screening capacity.

      This is what clients get when they choose to use a race-to-the-bottom style bidding marketplace though. Many, if not most, of the freelancers there are inexperienced. Many also don’t speak English as their first language. While some ESL writers are fantastic, I’d argue that most are not. If it’s clear they struggle with the language, they can’t represent a client’s company or project very well through writing.

      Most experienced pros don’t use these sites. They don’t need to. They know how to attract and pitch more desirable clients and build demand for their services. There are occasionally gems (both projects and freelancers), but they’re the exception rather than the rule. Personally I wouldn’t waste time there as either a writer or a buyer. As a writer, I make sure I attract the kinds of clients I want through my platform and marketing efforts. As a buyer, I hire writers I know and trust when I need contributors or subcontractors for a project, or I seek referrals from people I trust. Bidding marketplaces are too much of a gamble.

  26. Dear Genevieve,

    I read your article and really sorry for your awful experiences. My husband in fact is one of the freelancer user on Elance. He always delivers quality works to his clients and has received good reviews without payment issues. We on the other hand also are clients on Elance which post many issues for us. We have tried to hire contractor to work on building a website which cost us $8000. The entire website supposed to be completed in 3 months but it took the contractor 2 years and yet still has many problems. We funded the escrow account in Elance and thinking it would be ‘safe’ if the contractor did not deliver, we could take the money back. We are so wrong about that. We didn’t know about the Elance auto-release fund system, i.e. money in escrow was released to contractor after about 30 days? After all money was released, contractor to communicating with us and tell us they don’t have time to do our project and what we have now is what we get. The website has so many issues and no other contractor will take to ‘fix’ it and basically we wasted all the money and 2 years. Then you tried to file dispute with Elance, they said it is after 30 days and once no money is in freelancer’s escrow, you can’t do anything about it. I then heard that Elance in fact is heavily protecting the freelancers and contractors as they are the one who pay them especially the big company who have made over 100k in Elance. Elance’s escrow system doesn’t really serve to protect any party and Elance doesn’t do anything to protect clients. I would think all freelancers get paid whether they complete the job or not due to ‘auto-release’ fund in escrow. My husband and I have since stop using Elance all together just like you. I guess there is always story on the other side.

  27. I’m sorry to read what happened to all of you.
    This is why I don’t work with clients that don’t have a verified payment method (for hourly jobs plus I always use the tracker) and I don’t start working until the first milestone is funded (fixed price jobs).

    • If by “tracker” you mean their “Work View” option, make sure you’re aware of the potential issues involved. They were covered here extensively in the post below:

      Elance Work View – Legal and Ethical Issues

      Beyond that, I’m glad to hear you haven’t been screwed over like some of the other Elance users here have been. I hope things continue to go well for you as long as you’re using them. 🙂

  28. Maybe it’s my style of communication or my process of submitting examples and asking penetrating questions to ensure that I understand exactly what they are expecting. My dialogue also confirms that they are somebody that I want to work with, and I always aim to assert myself as the in-demand agent of the interaction. I am clear that I will work for MY price and deliver MY work to them, and they will release the escrow funds immediately after review. If they do not understand, I simply suggest that they find somebody else more suitable for the position.

    My first two Elance jobs were scams. They were outsourcers who asked me to add them to skype, then begin working immediately. I was so happy to have a gig that I didn’t even think about getting scammed, and they got a few free articles out of me.

    However, I now have an account with a 5 star rating and I’ve made nearly 2 grand in my first month– and I’m a high school drop out.

    It’s all about your initial communication, and finding the right clients. Don’t let them think they’re in charge or else they’ll walk all over you.

    I offer revisions and even complete rewrites, but clients rarely ask for it.

    Just some perspective.

  29. Unfortunately my experience with Elance has been less than satisfactory in my first 6 months I made over $2.500 and had excellent clients that paid immediately. However nothing lasts and in July I got my first chancer that initially wanted 5,000 words a day which was fine, but kept trying to push it up and up to 6,500 which is when I broke of with him. Of course this is when he decided to take umbrage and not pay for work submitted.
    Initially we went through the arbitration mode were Elance were of no help at all, finally we did come to a mutual agreement and everything went on as normal with new clients. Then today I was informed , despite having 5, all 5 star reviews in six months that my account has been cancelled.
    Apparently this is due to a customer complaint! Yet they gave me no warning or chance to address the matter just an email stating I was no longer welcome as a writer and my account locked out despite me having over #300 in fees due from other satisfied clients. I still do not know who the unsatisfied client is, though I suspect it was the original one.

    Elance, they are a bunch of thieving bastards.

    • I’m sorry you had such a negative experience there. But I hope them cancelling your account turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Just keep pushing forward toward bigger and better things. You won’t miss them at all. 🙂

  30. I think there is a lot of truth in this discussion and that negative things happen on Elance. I worked on Elance and then I found out from a client that Elance was “badmouthing” my company. Apparently, they didnt actually say bad things, but they started communicating with the client and asking all sorts of weird questions and in doing that made the client think there was something wrong with what we charged. It then happened with 3 different clients. First a message appeared in the message board saying something like “Looks like thinks are going well…congratulations on your new project…I am the relationship manager….let me know if I can help…” something like that. I noticed the first 2 times this happened that those projects ended with the clients having bad feelings toward me about what I charged, like I overcharged them or something which was not true. We both agreed to the prices beforehand in all cases.
    The next time this happened, the client actually told me that Elance was making him nervous in their communications, and these were comunications I could not see. I believe that Elance steals your customers this way. I have excellent relationships everywhere but Elance, where it is a paranoid, abusive (to the workers) deceptive place. Stay away from that place.

    • That’s crazy Gary. I’m sorry to hear about your experience there. And I certainly hope it was just some kind of miscommunication that the client misinterpreted or just one rogue employee. Because Elance has absolutely no right to meddle in pricing agreements when they connect freelancers and clients. Doing so has the potential to cross all sorts of legal lines. On the positive side, at least this means you can move on to bigger and better things. 🙂

  31. I have also created an entry about the scammer and I am glad their site’s out now. Anyway, at least you are now independent from Elance’s hands and you are now starting to write on your own.

  32. Hi Genevieve and Jennifer,

    I am not a Writer by profession, but a Data Analyst and Multimedia Developer. I know this post is really old, but the issue is still vividly prevalent on various Freelance sites; may be even in larger extent. Thanks for this outstanding post, I was compelled to write and share something. I was reading each word of your post and most comments, and I really felt your pain that blended with some my experiences. There is so much outrageous discrimination against so many Freelancers / Workers these days, which is sometimes annoyingly demotivating. Fortunately, I have encountered some great clients who I work and converse with almost everyday; and painfully enough, some really disturbed and con ones in my path, with no recourse or mediation support from those sites. They are still conning and oppressing other Freelancers everyday, with no one to hold them back. This modern ‘Slavery-like’ discriminative attitude towards Freelancers needs to be put into an end soon.
    Anyway, for better or worse, each of my Scar has a Silver-lining…I Learn.

  33. Here and now I do have problem on Elance recently to share with everyone and would be great to hear your opinions on what is fair.
    I am new to this Elance service for a few months and only use the site as to hire freelancer to help me with my start-up project. I only posted 5 jobs so far for website content, logo design, images edit. I have hired and paid people. Everyone of the hired submit good work so far. I even rehired two of them too. I thought, this is a genuine site with good people.
    Then recently, I hired a freelancer on Elance to build me a website, ofcourse after filtering out some bids due to my budget. At first I kinda wanted to have an e-commerce website with some customizations, but the price was abit out of range so I decided to have a normal static pages website. So we agreed for the that static page using a wordpress theme, and the guy promised to complete the job within 7 days. Yes, he asked me to Escrow him that money on the spot, in which I did as it is common practice to those previous jobs.
    During the first few days, he show me his work with my logo, and some tabs on that theme. However, as he knew I initially wanted the e-commerce site, he kept trying to tell me “you should add the shopping cart now, now i am developing i can give you a deal now if you like, it will be good invest for future” (yes this was his exact words too); so I thought about it for a day. Yet the catch here that I have over-looked, every little addition function I asked, he said “that will be $$ more and so on”. I try to negotiate with him and he gave me a price.
    The price sounded like a decent deal compare to the initial priced with abit of extra customize work that I wanted. Then so I decided to do the job. At this point, it is on the 5th day through the “first agreed project”, he guy required me to post a new project as for add-on for my site. He said the reason of it so he can get good extra review, and it as a second phrase of the project. Sounds fair right? Since he is giving me a deal, so I agreed. I went on posted that new job for add-on.
    During 5 days on the job, he didnt do much, yet he claimed he did alot of work. It basicly look like tabs name were changed, logo up, and my content copied and pasted in..There was problem going toward his work so far to that point. There were so many errors on the work he did, such as the tabs, sub-categories were not all there and the spelling on it just a big mess, no pages were link to anything inside the site. So I requested him to change it since day 3 with a note what to amends were sent to him. He said “dont worry sir, i am working on it”. Fourth day, it still un-changed, so I ask him to change and he went on change only 2/10 points I mentioned. This is when we have the agree to have the add-on and he said the add-on will take another 7 days to complete. As i needed the site to be up soon, so I had to stay up late because our time difference, trying to work with him on the project.
    On the 6th day, he did not changed all the things on the site as I asked. I thought maybe he is working hard trying to figure the site. He now accepted the new add-on job, so I award him with immediate Escrow. I then asked him nicely to fix the errors on the site and guess what he said “I am working on the backend sir”. AND he went to change the job status as COMPLETED. The guy now asking me to release the fund and must rate him 5 stars. I said to him again, I will but can you make all the changes first then I will do so. He said “ok will do sir, dont worry”. Once again, I put my trust and hope on this guy.
    Next day (supposed to be final delivery date of the first phrase), as excited as having a new car, I went to check on the website. I was shocked, almost fall off my chair. Nothing has changed since last time I talked to him. So I waited for him to be online on Skype, and ask him nicely why no changes been made and the site still the same. He said “dont worry sir” and ask “can you release the fund now, I have completed the first phrase”. I told him “can you be fair, and complete what I asked you to change, I need the website to link, tabs to change, etc.”, he then said the same “dont worry sir” line. Here, I have been patience as much as a normal human beings could, and I have lost it. I said “no, I dont want to work with you no more”. The guy sent me a smiley emocon and said “good luck”.

    I went to Elance’s site make the dispute to cancel both jobs. And I took screen shots of the main page just incase this guy going to be tricky. As the dispute sent out, I talked to Elance’s customer service to ask what is the process going to be; shared with the person about the incident and showed the evident of the mainpage is still a messed. The customer service person agreed the site is very scattered and not complete.
    Funny how, within the next few hours that freelancer went to link up and changes the tabs, etc. (but it still not fully changed to what i wanted yet).
    I had to find a new person to do my work. Being very frustrated and as I need this site up urgent to for customers to place order for the upcoming holiday season. I had to hire someone can do the same job, in which I did and it abit more premium. But this time, milestones were divided and only escrow per milestones as job progress.

    At this moment, I am still waiting to see what going to happen to my dispute with Elance. Will I lose the money that I escrow him? What should I do, I really need that money back. Can someone advise me for my current situation please.

  34. Hi all and especially Stephen B

    I am also a new client on elance who commissioned a freelancer to update an existing e-commerce web-site in one of the existing e-commerce platforms, specifically, ekm powershop. She pitched, she was a lady in the US, who sounded really keen, we agreed the budget and off we went.

    Dutifully, I deposited half of the agreed funds into elance escrow account in November and waited for the work to begin. By December, all I had was a big fat nothing of any visible work. Apparently, all she was doing was a lot of coding. I have all the emails exchanges showing in my elance account.

    Now, because I am partly stupid for not checking T&Cs and for being busy around Christmas (my gran died suddenly), I did not stop elance from taking money from my escrow account and transferring them to this freelance despite not seeing any work. I thought, oh crap, but hopefully she will do it after Christmas/. It is now half the March and all I have is this: https://df2828.40.ekmpowershop.net/ekmps/data/connectionerror.asp?url=http%3A%2F%2Fdf2828%2E40%2Eekmpowershop%2Enet%2Findex%2Easp&formData=

    I have been asking and sharing my ideas how I want my home page to look, spending hours to send the images and ideas through. Nothing is transpired on the web-page.

    I first snapped back in January where I emailed elance and reported her. All I got was an email saying my ticket has been escalated and then, when I logged to check on the ticket status, it was marked as SOLVED. Perplexed, I left it be, because the freelancer was profusely apologising, begging me to stick with her. So, I did. Until last week, where still not a single change has been uploaded, despite her telling me numerous time she was going to do it. When asked why it was not done, a reply with a different excuse came each time.

    So, I emailed elance once again and once again I got a reply in my email saying my ticket has been escalated as it requires a further investigation.

    Now, I am obviously fed up with elance, the freelancer and myself for being stupid and trustworthy. I would like my money back, because this lady does not deserve to be in business. In fact, I am going to name and shame her here: [Editor’s note: No, in fact, you will not. Attacking another individual in that way would be a violation of this site’s comment policies.]

    Despite claiming she did so much work and no one else would not do it for the kind of money I am asking, I do not believe that being led on for over 3 months is justifying this claim.

    What I am peeved off about is this: elance dos not communicate about this as they should. They mark my ticket as SOLVED despite not solving anything…

    So, it is also clients as well as freelancers getting scammed on elance and everywhere else. This is human nature and we have to fight against this injustice if we can. I am going to email the CS person who put his email here earlier with my thoughts and see where it will get me…

    Best wishes,

    • I’m sorry you ran into problems. But all I can do, as I would for anyone on the client side, is warn you to look for legitimate professionals outside of freelance bidding sites. Those sites breed problems on both ends due to the race to the bottom system that makes gigs worth very little to the freelancer while always pushing clients to look for services at unrealistically low rates. These are the kinds of issues that come up when both sides are using a tool designed to serve as the easy way out. Look for specialists on your own. Ask for referrals. Browse portfolios (ones on freelancers’ own sites, not Elance). Are you guaranteed to find the perfect fit? No. But you’ll limit your exposure to underqualified individuals.

      Also keep in mind that problems like those you’re having can be a result of a communications break-down. It’s always possible you aren’t being as clear as you think you are in conveying what you want. What I see is a functioning website with a few minor problems — nothing big. We have nothing to compare it to if you don’t have a mockup or something similar. Given that web developers often aren’t designers (and vice versa), it might help in the future if you have a designer put together a mock-up based on your ideas, and then pass that along to your developer to deal with the code. It might help cut back on these kinds of issues.

      • What a great website you have Jennifer! I will be registering and dropping by to listen in to the conversations and learn. As to the communication breakdown that you politely refer to, non-native English speakers trying to sort out detailed problems can and does cause problems for both sides.

        As to the original story, my biggest worry was the reaction of the apple E-book client. It seems they wanted 2nd rate work done quickly and cheaply. Maybe it was just a quick scam, vile but understandable, but I got the impression they truly were puzzled by the obvious quality of her work.

        I am an Elance freelancer. Rates for some content jobs are approaching trivial levels, as they say in economics. My problem is that I don’t have the offline writing credentials and experience that many here seem to have, so I have been using Elance to build a portfolio. I will have to migrate away from Elance as soon as it is feasible, although it’s hard to say when that might be. I’ll just have to visit this site more and start to develop alternative paths.Thanks again. And Genevieve is a wonderful story teller.

  35. I’m a freelancer in a different field and thanks God this is something I haven’t gone through.
    From the very first day, I worked with work-view which protects me. I never do fix projects unless the client is reliable.
    When you look for clients, check for the nice ones:
    * no less than 3 green circles which means they had already spend more than $500.
    * Check their history. Never aim for clients that only give 20% of jobs or clients that are nasty when it’s time for them to leave a review.
    * ask yourself. Can I help this client? if the answer is Yes, do apply and get on with it!
    Ask for feedback early on the project. It’s best to ask before you finish and see if that’s what they client has been expecting…bother them from time to time! They love it and it shows you’re interested in getting exactly what they’re looking for.
    Google search it and you’ll certainly find tons of info out there on using Elance and/or several other platforms.
    Best of luck!

  36. It’s hard not to get bitter when your work is continuously undervalued and you are low balled right, left and center. I’ve had some better luck with some clients and not so good luck with others. I try not to let it bother me but sometimes it’s quite frustrating. The site itself has been very helpful as I think they’ve improved greatly since your last visit.

    • That’s interesting to hear PJ because I’ve heard far more complaints since Elance and Odesk merged. I’m curious about what you feel they’re doing better now if you don’t mind sharing.

  37. “Why is it sick, Genevieve?”

    Oh no… ha! I couldn’t stop laughing at this. (Of course, in my gut, I felt your pain…)

    Brutal stories.

    I, quite fortunately, haven’t had a negative experience on Elance to date. But then again, my freelancing business outside Elance has really picked up, and I haven’t gone back to it since.

    But I totally could see how these stories could have happened.

    Thanks for sharing your aggravating albeit amusing stories. 🙂

  38. I’m so glad to find this post. I’m a journalist, but I still new in freelancing. Once time, I read a famous blogger’s post. He proudly shared his experience about how he fake a job in Elance, so he could steal the pitching ideas from the bidders. He got more than 200 proposal ideas to steal and encourage people to do the same. That’s really freak me out. I definitely will not go to any bidding site.

    • That sounds like a pretty disgusting way to do business. I’m glad you didn’t get caught up working with anyone like that. If a blogger is that desperate for ideas (and let’s be realistic — you’re not likely to find the best ideas from desperate freelancers bidding on Elance jobs), maybe you shouldn’t be blogging in the first place.

      Unfortunately these kinds of scams are common on cheap freelance sites — bidding sites and free job boards (like the ones on Craigslist). The only thing worse is when they ask for a “free sample” to test your writing with a custom project. Never take those gigs unless a custom sample is being paid for. Free ones have a bad habit of ending up on someone’s website (as-is or slightly “spun”). Instead of stealing ideas, the job posters steal the content in-full.

  39. I wish I read this article sooner. I always give credit where credit is due, such as how my first clients on Elance-oDesk were great long term clients.

    But I took a step back to see the work that I was doing and whether the pay was truly worth it…it really wasn’t.

    As a college student, the pay was more than enough to cover my utilities and a portion of the rent. But now that I’m out of college, I’ve tried to upscale the business that I had but to no avail.

    Also, just recently, I finished writing some SEO articles for a client (fixed-price) and was looking to receive the payment. I had a lot of trust in the person as we started the job on the same page.

    But after I submitted the work and asked to receive the funds, he somehow disappeared. He won’t respond to Skype calls, emails, and I can’t contact them via website.

    Genevieve’s story is but one of many that have experienced this situation. I’ve learned my lesson and moved away from the bidding sites.

    Whoever said pitching ideas to businesses was a failure has yet to see the kind of pay, and appreciation, that they give to freelance writers. (sooo much better than freelance bidding sites)

    But thanks Genevieve for the great story and tips. I’m a few years late, but it’s better late than never.


    • I appreciate you stopping by to share your story. I’m sorry you ran into trouble with that client. But I’m glad to hear that it sounds like you’ve moved on to much bigger and better things. 🙂

  40. Hi!
    I must say that I do not agree that Elance/oDesk/Upwork is so bad.(Although I get the point…)

    It gives people with intermediate skills the chance to become more professional and learn new skills.

    I think you should treat online freelance platforms like a business rather than a job, and like any business, there is a chance that you will lose money. I won’t pay for sour milk… However, I won’t leave it outside for three days before complaining. There are a lot of freelancers on these platforms that outsource their own work and then never pay the person that did it for them… they find a job, get someone else to do it, deliver the job to their client and never pay the unsuspecting newbie… that does suck 🙂

    I have been working online for three years and I have learned a lot, Elance and oDesk have been a stepping stone to me to the point where I am now a full-time technical writer getting paid weekly. I had four clients in 3 years that did not pay me and the total of those jobs is about $70.00.(I did not use workview or escrow for those jobs)

    I am glad that I ended up here and got some great advice on how to earn more.

    • The problem is that Elance wasn’t intended to be (and isn’t marketed as) a platform where people can go to learn new skills. It’s marketed as being a platform full of actual professionals, and it’s also marketed to freelancers who are already operating at a professional level as though it’s good for them and their careers (it’s not). I have no problem with amateurs doing whatever they want to do. But I do have a problem with companies like Elance misleading clients as to what they’re getting, encouraging a bottom-feeder mentality to freelance pricing by implying their rate scheme represents “professionals,” and helping buyers cross legal lines between clients and employers (in turn disrespecting the business owners who provide services through them).

      If all you lost through Elance clients is $70, it sounds like you’re one of the lucky ones. But no one in the business for 3 years should still need to work for race-to-the-bottom bidding marketplaces. You can absolutely do better for yourself. And once you decide you’re ready, I have no doubt you’ll do just that. And I’m sure you won’t regret the changes. Best of luck moving forward. 🙂

      • Thanks. I only read this now. Elance doesnt say that everybody are experts..just professional. There are experts tht cant work for low wages, but then again, everybody doesnt need an expert and cant pay for one. So when someone wants a 400 word article that can help sell his online product… They dnt always want to pay $100.00. If someone wants a list of festivals they dont to pay a data scientist to actually gather the data. Thats what i meant with intermediate skills. What upwork does is get you 130k+ jobs at any time to apply for, some of them.pay really well.others dont. There arent that many opportunities that can compare. The client can see the freelancers history. They get ratings on each job- a bad rating cannot be deleted. The thing with upwork is its an equal opportunity platform. In a country where there are 117 laws preventing me from having equal opportunity, I appreciate that. I have a job. My employer and I are happy with Upwork. They do provode u with a collection of tools that make working online easy. You want to pioneer where some people are still discovering the wheel.

  41. I’ve used Elance and mostly recently Upwork and I must say that, unfortunately, these sites are plagued with narcissistic, rude clients.
    I’m actually thinking on closing my account. I got scammed for a 15 page essay and then insulted by another client who asked for corrections on another job which had closed over 3 months ago. I was always a part-time, sporadical freelancer, since I luckily work a lot in my field, so I just thought this could be a breezy, spontaneous activity for me and a change to earn a couple of bucks from time to time. Turns out it’s not worth it. Online working relationships are not so easy: written communication is so unilateral and opaque. Now, I’m not saying face-to-face communication is completely transparent. Of course it is not. What is language’s characteristic if not its opacity? I’m just saying written text -written relationships- hold the best possiblity for a misunderstanding to go very wrong.
    And anyway, I don’t know about you but I would much rather get insulted to the face as opposed to being insulted by a no name stranger who might very well be a pedophile for all I know. [meant to be read in a Louis CK-ish kinda tone]
    It sucks that you had to go through all that. I really enjoyed your article and just wanted to let you know you’re not alone! So long, blood-sucking, mercantilist, Freelancer sites! Rock on, Teacher’s National Library. 🙂

  42. I’m not a writer; I’m a computer programmer. Sadly, sites like Elance (and other “race-to-the-bottom” sites) are just as horrible for coders as for writers. In some ways it’s worse, because to a non-technical client, you can “tech mumbo jumbo” your way through a bit of the screen process (so, easier to defraud clients), and in many ways it’s easier to copy code than writing and get away with it (so, easier to defraud contractors).

    But in some ways worse than fraud is the corrosive effect auction sites have on the marketplace. I work hard and have a great deal of experience — more than just an alphabet soup of acronyms and shiny new technologies, I know when it is appropriate to use each of them… what the tradeoffs are. You simply cannot get that with a “what is the cheapest possible bid” scenario.

    In short, if you treat creative talent as fungible and deposable, you’ll end up in the worst possible world for everyone, clients and contractors alike. And that is precisely where bidding sites like Elance/UpWork/Rent-a-Coder have left us.

  43. Hello everyone!

    I am working as a musician freelancer for 2.5 years. I am myself from Latvia (Eastern Europe) and our economical situation is really bad when it comes to the employment in general, but when it comes to the music – the market is completely dead. So, I’ve started to work slowly on ODesk (Currently Upwork) and to be honest I wouldn’t really complain until this Spring 2016. I mean I indeed met clients who asked some demo production or recording in advance and many times after receiving a free demo – client simply were disappearing. But in Spring 2016, I was hired by a client who wanted to produce a full song for him and have made a full deposit to the ESCROW system of the amount of 600$ which I was very happy with. I started to work immediately and have been working very hard, whereas client was changing his mind and vision of the song everytime. I was really patient and tried to pleased him, produced so many different demos and etc. Finally it was a 5th demo, which he said he was very happy with and in a day I’ve done last touches to the song and delivered to the client. However, the client said that it’s not going to stay like this, that I have to work much more and re-do almost everything. I politely refused to do that, where he started to become rude and unhappy. Anyways, I’ve applied to a milestone release. Of course the client disappeared. After 5 days, I have received a message from Upwrok saying the the contract is currently suspended for security reasons and that I may not receive my payment in 14 days (according to the ESCROW policy). I was really shocked and was trying to figured out, what happened and etc. The Upwrok team said that there was a problem of payment method verification of the client and that is why I may not receive the money for my work, However, they suggested to wait those 14 days and see what will happen. After 14 days, I was surprised but I RECEIVED my payment which I was very happy about and everything seemed “Wheeew – Thanks, god!” so I continued to work as I usually do. After 1.5 months I’ve received an email from Upwrok again, mentioning that I need to return 600$ which I earned for this “trouble” contract, because the client went to the bank and reversed the payment, what automatically debited the account of Upwork. So, Upwrok is looking for reimbursement of this amount of money. I was so shocked and frustrated – I was trying to figure out, why I am suppose to pay this money back, if it’s a job of the UPWORK to very client’s payment methods not MINE. That this is their problem if THEY have been cheated by a client. Of course they said to read some kind of point form the TERMS and POLICY. I couldn’t do anything about it and what happened afterwards. Upwork blocked earning withdraw option from my account. Like the said, when my earnings reach 600$ they will debit this money from me and then unblock the earnings withdraw back. From this time, I literally stopped to work there, I was trying to apply for jobs but it’s a rule violation to attempt work with clients outside of the platform and I didn’t have much luck in that. I had no desire even to look for work at their platform. Don’t get me wrong, but after 1.5 months I did not have this 600$, because this is literally an average monthly salary in Latvia. Even if I had, I wouldn’t return it to them. The only option for me was to continue work on Freelancer.com platform, which doesn’t have that many music-related projects, but I really had no other otpion. And this week I met another client who literally humiliated me and called my work trash after receiving a full work, not during the delivery. The project was delivered part by part and client was saying that everything is ok and ok, so didn’t show any frustration or dislikes. I’ve started a dispute, I am currently waiting for the option to start an arbitration for additional fee, and I WILL START AN ARBITRATION because I have all the proof like full chat print screens where I will prove that client is not right and the truth is on my side for 100%. Let’s see what happens. In case if Freelancer decides that client is a winner, I don’t know – I am giving up on this crappy platforms, where I have to fight for my own money after the work completion.


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