Elance is polarising – people either love it or they hate it. Here at Legal123, we’re big fans of Elance (and it’s sister website oDesk). In previous blog posts we’ve recommended Elance for jumpstarting your online business and getting on top of end of financial year tasks. But it’s taken us a long time to understand how to get the most out of Elance.
Elance is slowly being shut down. Back in 2014, Elance merged with their largest competitor, oDesk. They re-branded the merged entity, Upwork, and re-built their website based on the oDesk platform. The result was that Elance users had to migrate to the “new” Upwork platform – and in the process lost all their communication history with Elancers. Big fail!
Most of the comments below about how to best use Elance also apply to Upwork – but the screenshots obviously are out-of-date. To be honest, we don’t like the new Upwork interface – it’s slow and non-intuitive. But we’ll continue to use Upwork and let you know if we find anything better.
Not heard of Elance?
If you’ve not heard of Elance – where have you been? Elance is the global leader in “online staffing” or connecting online freelancers with businesses. Together, Elance and oDesk have 9.7 million registered freelancers and over 2 million business clients. In 2014 they enabled over US$940 million in project revenue and picked up an 8.75% commission for acting as electronic middlemen.
And Australia is Elance’s largest market on a per capita revenue basis, prompting them to open a local office.
You can get almost anything done on Elance – coding, writing, designing, bookkeeping, advising, customer servicing, virtual assisting, etc. The typical flow of freelance work goes something like this:
- A business (or individual) posts details of a project on Elance, including hourly rate/project budget and technical skills required
- Freelancers (Elancers) with those technical skills are notified of the project and post proposals and quotes
- The business selects a freelancer and together they agree project milestones and a payment schedule
- The business funds the project (or the first milestone) via an escrow account and the freelancer starts work
- The business and freelancer communicate and exchange documents via the Elance website (and/or email) as the project progresses
- Once the project (or first milestone) is complete funds are released from the escrow account to the freelancer
- The business rates the freelancer’s performance on the project, etc.
We’ve made some mistakes along the way
Over the last couple of years, we’ve posted 116 jobs on Elance and spent over $26,384 on Elancers:
Initially we were only happy with 50% of the freelancers we hired. But we’ve learned some tips and tricks along the way and our “hit rate” is now closer to 80%. Here are our “hacks” for getting the most out of Elance.
Hack #1 – For important jobs, invite freelancers one-by-one
Everybody gets this wrong. It is so easy to post a project on Elance – and get quotes and responses – people think this is how the Elance service should be used. Wrong! With almost 10 million registered freelancers, you’ll be inundated with low quality bidders.
You need to change the way you’re approaching this. You are trying to find those illusive Elancers who do quality work, speak English, deliver to deadlines and know their stuff. And they are not sitting around responding to random projects that come through the Elance pipeline. If they’re any good, they’re already busy.
And your job is to find them – and persuade them to work with you. And that requires some work on your part. You need to search the Elance database of freelancers and projects for projects similar to yours. You’ll soon see the right language and keywords to use in your searches.
These are the kind of freelance profiles you should be searching for:
The key metrics you’re looking for are:
- Over 50 jobs in the last 12 months (make sure they’re still using Elance)
- Over 4.5 star rating and 80% recommended in reviews
- Over 30% repeat work with clients, and
- Over $300 earnings per client
The repeat work percentage and dollar earnings per client are probably the two most important measures. You want freelancers that work on substantial projects and have clients that keep coming back. Then once you’ve found one or two of these Elancers, you have to persuade them to take on your project.
Remember, you want them … you need them. So make an effort. Show that you’ve checked them out thoroughly and you really want to work with them. The most important thing? Start your job request by addressing them by name. And make sure they know you’ve only contacted them. Your project request might look something like this:
If they’re not interested or don’t have time for your project, then move on to your second Elancer choice.
Hack #2 – For easy jobs, upload all the material required to do the job
The Elance marketplace has become so competitive, freelancers will often do the job – or a trial or watermarked version – before getting paid. We often put out small graphic design jobs (image editing, cartoon drawing, etc.) and will regularly receive 3-5 “completed” works as job proposals.
But you’ll only get this kind of response if you put up a detailed project request, including the raw materials required to do the job. For small graphic design projects, this might be the original image that needs editing or example work that you want to simulate.
Most of the time, the responses will be trial versions with comments like: “This is the kind of thing I can do for you, what do you think?” Or “If you like this version, please make payment and I’ll remove the watermark from the image.” Then it’s up to you to work with the freelancers to get the output you require.
In quite a few cases, we’ve paid two (or three) times for the same piece of work (always less than $50 each) because we felt bad for the trouble people went to. Wait until it happens to you – I’m sure you’ll feel the same way. And nothing wrong with building up your karma account.
Hack #3 – Don’t be afraid to use the “Candidate Location” settings
Now, in this hack it’s going to be difficult not to come across as culturally biased. But I’m afraid, it’s just a fact of life. Like the old joke: “Do you want an English lover, French mechanic, German chef and Italian policeman? Or English policeman, French chef, German mechanic and Italian lover.”
When you post a job on Elance there’s a (hidden) option to only allow candidates from certain locations to respond:
You can use the region or country dropdown options to narrow in on the kind of candidates you want. For example, for:
- Writing and Content: Select Australia/Oceania, North America and UK
- Programming: Select Eastern Europe and Australia/Oceania
- Virtual Assistant: Select Philippines and Australia/Oceania
- Graphic Design: Select Australia/Oceania, North America and Western Europe
- Legal, Accounting and Tax: Select Australia, etc.
The hourly rates differ widely between different regions and countries. The UK and US are mostly high; India and Philippines are mostly low. You just need to judge each project and decide if you can afford to go with the cheaper options.
And don’t judge us, until you’ve used Elance a few times.
Hack #4 – Sometimes you need a company, not an individual
And here’s our last Elance hack. When you’re searching for freelancers, you have an option to search for either “Individuals” or “Companies” or both. In the image below, the options are listed under “Everyone”. The default is to search the entire Elance database. However, there will be times when your project is best handled by a “Company”.
Scenario 1: You have an ongoing article writing project that requires a steady stream of new, high quality content to be generated. This kind of project might overwhelm an individual writer or be put on hold if the freelancer goes on vacation, etc. But a company, with a team of writers, might be better able to handle a large, ongoing project like this and without any disruptions.
Scenario 2: You have a diverse range of graphic design needs – image manipulation, banner ads, infographics, cartoons, technical illustration, re-branding, print brochures, etc. – and each of the projects is relatively small. In this case you might be better off finding a graphics design company that can handle multiple kinds of work. Simpler to manage and less variation in your business look and feel.
Some parting advice …
So there we go, our best hacks for getting the most out of Elance. If you’re hesitant about hiring online, maybe go attend one of the local Elance meetups. Or check out some of the other online hiring options.
And when you find a freelancer you want to work with long term, make sure you’re covered with a Contractor Agreement (or at minimum a Confidentiality Agreement). This will help protect your business IP, keep your business ideas confidential and formalise your relationship with your contractor.
We’ve written an extremely easy-to-use Contractor Agreement. It has a minimal number of inputs, is written in plain English and comes as an easy PDF form: