Sarah Skerrett on Elance

No, we won’t be prefacing all of Sarah’s headlines with her name, we’re just slow getting her set up with her own Freelance-Zone login due to a technical problem. This is Sarah’s first full-fledged FZ post…welcome aboard, Sarah!

I recently got half-way through setting up an account with Elance (, an eBay-style job auction site for freelancers. Divided into “industries,” Writing & Translation is the second-largest pool of jobs (Web & Programming took the first place trophy, with Admin Support rounding out the top three), however some of these jobs are cross-disciplinary and can fall in multiple categories. When I heard from a colleague about Elance and its business model, I immediately checked it out and was only further intrigued when I saw, “15,000+ projects posted in the last 30 days.”

I’ve also been intrigued by Goobers (a peanut butter-and-jelly-combo in a jar) for several years. Same for commemorative plates, mechanical pencils, and audio cards. As with these products, after the initial excitement, a “too-good-to-be-true” feeling set in.

I started polling several freelancer friends about their thoughts on Elance and the general reaction was “Be as wary of this site as you would with any Craigslist posting.” A friend describes being hired to write what basically amounted to tips for crookery in real estate. When she got to the litigation part of the story, I began to suspect that her experience has been shared in the freelance internet arena.

I found an article on PC Magazine’s site ( about Elance’s new facelift that wasn’t incredibly discriminating, and this was to be somewhat expected, as it was linked in the “Water Cooler” (media coverage) section on Elance’s site. The goldmine of freelance opinion regarding Elance came in the comments section of the PC Mag blog article. (Take a helping of salt now.)

If I may quote Ms. Cheryl Frost, “The truth is, due to the changes, Elance is now a joke. The projects posted (particularly in the writing and translation area) became more and more insulting. The good clients (like publishing houses and technical corporations) were driven away and replaced with slave laborers—–cheap web owners who want thousands of dollars worth of work for pennies. So I suppose you can say that Elance is not much more than an incorporated slave trade business.” Mr. Mike Starr concurs on Elance’s price predication: “I’m a senior-level technical writer with high-end skills and over 20 years of experience. However, I’m not about to compete with folks who are willing to work for $8-$10 per hour.”

While Elance certainly serves its purpose as a two-way street for employers and freelancers, for the latter population, it seems incredibly difficult to achieve a respectable income based off the site’s jobs alone. Of course, as it is a two-way street, there are two sides to every story. One commenter, Mr. Niel Leon, has been much more fortunate in the Engineering and Manufacturing division, saying he is able to make a “decent living” and is “the only one in [his] category that is making their living primarily on Elance.” But for freelance writers, editors, and translators, his case seems to be the anomaly. The recent overhaul of the site has lost some early dedicated users but it has also brought in new traffic, based on their increased user numbers. As with many multi-faceted sites that don’t specifically target one industry, this guarantees some fall through the cracks. Perhaps Elance is a marketplace best used for technical projects that traditionally haven’t had as many freelance outlets. You can’t escape the competitive spirit of freelancing no matter the breakdown of the site but it’s also good to note that I’ve had more luck at particular sites for writers, even Freelance Writing Jobs (, despite the sassy lady typing in her pajamas on the site’s banner. Occasional telecommuting jobs show up on MediaBistro ( and I’ve had some success finding freelance writing or editing jobs on Craigslist Chicago, New York, and San Francisco (, but again, it’s often a crapshoot.