Ask Me Anything: Beyond Elance

Jennie asks,

My question is about the value of and other freelance hiring sites. I accepted a project from an Elance client which will be completed in January 2010. After I complete the project, I am not sure what I will do with my Elance account. Do you believe, as Robert Bly does, that Elance pays poorly overall? Is there a better, faster way to find potential clients? Or is the old-fashioned cold-calling route the way to go?

I think that Elance and other bid sites can be useful as starting points for freelance writers. They provide a simple way to start building up a portfolio of work as well as to find work quickly — which can be a key concern when you’re first starting out. However, in the long run, I think that moving away from such sites is the best option in the long run. Projects posted on Elance, do typically pay lower rates than those you find for yourself.

You don’t need to make an immediate leap away from Elance, though. My suggestion would be to transition to finding work from other sources. A good starting point is to start looking for projects on other job boards and among the listings that sites like and publish on a regular basis. You can also start marketing yourself: by building up your reputation as you reduce the amount of work your find on Elance, you can find higher paying clients without having to worry about having enough work at any given time. There are plenty of ways to market yourself (start with the 31 posts listed here) and cold-calling is only one element of it.

The downside to leaving Elance is that marketing yourself as a writer is not immediate. It takes longer to find those better paying clients than it does to submit a bid on Elance. You get the benefit of more money, but it requires an investment of time on your part. As much as I’d personally rather not work on a bid basis, it can make a lot of sense for a freelance writer who is only able to work a few hours every so often.


  1. Jen   •  

    Hi Thursday and Jennie, Just wanted to say thanks for the question and answer. As someone stepping slowly into freelance writing, I find it easy to become paralyzed for fear of getting caught up in writer mills and so on. Commentary on sites like elance tends to be polarized and it’s nice to see an answer that strikes a middle ground and indicates both the positives and negatives plus tips on how to best use it. -Jen

  2. thursday   •     Author

    @Jen, I know that some writers get caught up on the idea of content mills. I think it’s hard to keep such things in perspective, because we all want the best opportunities we can find. Unfortunately, content mills are not really all that new — there were low-paying projects available to writers long before the internet came along!

  3. Sudheer   •  

    Hi Thursday,
    I’m glad I chanced upon your site. Really appreciate the laid back style, this place feels so fresh without the marketing hype (you don’t collect emails for the e-books). And the ideas in the e-books are so valuable for starting writers like me. Thank you so much.

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