$140,000 Per Year on Elance.com?

by Mike O’Mary

Will work for food iStock_000004304868LargeI’m curious…do any members of the Freelance-Zone.com community have experience using Elance.com to get jobs? If so, how did it go for you as a freelancer?

I ask because I’ve used Elance.com as a client, and I have mixed feelings about it. A while back, I mentioned to someone that I needed help from a graphic designer and a proofreader, but that I was on a tight budget. My friend suggested Elance.com. So I gave it a try and posted a couple of jobs.

As a client, I was pleased with the results. I got bids from graphic designers and proofreaders from all over the world. And the prices reflected the global nature of the competition. In fact, some prices were so low I couldn’t believe it.

In the end, I didn’t go with the lowest bidder. Nor did I go with an overseas bidder, although there were many. I went with U.S. providers, partly because of my comfort level, but also because I found that I could hire a U.S. freelancer and still spend way less than I had anticipated. In fact, at the end of the graphic design job, I gave the designer a bonus because I couldn’t believe how much work she did for the price she had quoted me. And that’s where my mixed feelings come in…

From a client perspective, Elance.com seems like a good idea. But from a freelancer’s perspective, I’m not so sure. On a site like Elance.com, you get so much competition from all around the world – including from people in countries with much lower costs of living – that it seems to me the main result for U.S. freelancers is going to be to drive down prices.

To wit: There are 115,912 “Writing and translation specialists” on Elance.com. Fewer than half (56,542) are in the United States. If you wind up competing with all of those people solely on price, you are going to end up getting less than $10 per hour for your work. That’s less than the U.S. poverty level of $22,350 per year for a family of four. Of course, you’re not going to compete solely on price. You’re going to tout the quality of your work and your experience and your expertise and maybe also the fact that English is your native language – and even when you’re competing against freelancers from the UK or Australia or India who also have English as their native language, you speak/write/edit American English, which is what your American clients are probably going to want. So maybe with all of that going for you, you could demand a premium well above $10 per hour…maybe as much as $20-25 per hour. That’s still not much for somebody who is doing high-quality freelance writing, and you’re not going to have much, if anything, left at the end of the year to put in your IRA.

On the other hand, there is “Words You Want.” Words You Want is one of the 115,912 Writing and translation specialists on Elance.com. In fact, she is the first one that pops up when you search that category. In her profile, she says that she has earned more than $700,000 on Elance.com. She also says she has been in business since 2006. That means she’s averaging $140,000 per year. Not bad. But that would mean that she’s billing 2,000 hours per year at $70 per hour. From what I’ve seen on Elance.com, it would be pretty remarkable to average that kind of hourly rate. Maybe she’s actually working her butt off at a much lower rate and putting in 60-80 hours per week to make her $140,000 per year. If so, my hat is off to her. In any case, I think $140,000 per year via Elance.com jobs is the exception, not the rule. Or worse, it might be a fiction.

Based on all of the above, I have to believe that Elance.com is NOT a good thing for freelance writers. But that’s my opinion. What about you? What experiences have you had getting freelance/contract work through sites like Elance.com – or freelancer.com or other similar sites? Any sites you would recommend to other freelancers? Any you would avoid?

Mike O’Mary is founder of the Note Project, a campaign to make the world a million times better by encouraging 1 million people to share appreciation, and of Dream of Things, a book publisher and online book store.

5 thoughts on “$140,000 Per Year on Elance.com?”

  1. I call baloney. Anyone willing to work that many hours and capable of securing that many gigs would surely be ambitious enough to charge an even higher hourly than $70. Unless she’s simply a glutton for punishment, which I suppose is possible.

    I posted a profile on Elance many, many years ago. I put no effort into it and got nothing from it. So, in that respect, it worked precisely like you’d expect!

  2. You may be right, Jake…but you can buy a lot of baloney with $140K! It’s interesting though…whether this particular person is stretching the numbers or not, she clearly seems happy to be working via elance.com, and it sounds like she’s making enough to pay the bills. So it must work for some people in some situations. That’s why I’m curious to know what others have experienced.

  3. I meant to add that the sites Joe mentioned in his Aug 9 post on “Freelance Job Sharing” are probably better resources for freelancers.

  4. I’m with Jake on this one; sounds suspicious. I went there and created an account years ago to test it out, and my offers were way off when compared to people out of the country. It’s hard to prove you’re good when you can’t compete on price. Based on a different figure, even if she worked 10 hour days 7 days a week, that would come out to around $53 an hour. Based on what you saw on Elance, do you think that’s possible?

    I just haven’t any freelance sites that will get it done frankly. The best I found was to go to a few forums, prove to some people who might hire you that you can get it done, then you can raise your price after the fact. I let people know it’s coming though, so they’re not caught off guard and to protect my reputation on the back end.

  5. Elance is heavily on the side of the Client, and sometimes they go so far as to abuse the freelancer. For example, consider Workview, a program implemented by Elance to allow a client to take snapshots of the Freelancer’s screen. How weird is that? I call it an electronic sweatshop. Also consider chargebacks. Some clients try to steal as much as they can, from everyone they work with. I had top reviews after working on Elance for several years and then 6 months after I did a job for a client, she did a chargeback on her credit card and Elance passed it on to me, even tho i provided the services with no complaints from the client.

    Then later on, I got into a dispute with a client and I tried to use the dispute services. It was over $200 and I discovered that it costs money to use those services, so much that it was not possible to continue and I lost the money. Everything goes back to the client because elance set it up that way. The client brings the money, so they get preferential treatment. The Freelancer gets treated poorly in every situation.

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