Can You Make Money on Elance? Six Strategies That Work Better Than You Think!

elance and the working writerIf you don’t know Elance, you should. Elance is a vast “match-making” website but instead of pairing would-be lovers, it tries to match people who want work done with people looking to grab some freelance work. Elance has lots of writing, translating, design, and other types of jobs and most freelance writers and artists I know have at least some familiarity with the site. Mostly it has been an exercise in frustration, because would-be employers post their expectations, including pay (stated as a sum or a range).

It is often sad to see what people think writing is worth. I once saw a listing there seeking some medical articles to be written by an M.D. (that is, a physician) and the pay being offered was $10/hour. I have seen other people try to entice writers into delivering 100 articles for $2 each. Most Elance jobs also have crazy deadlines (“I need 25 articles on hummingbirds to be delivered tomorrow and I can pay $50.”)

Added to that is a sometimes creepy and offensive tone taken by those doing the hiring. My favorite–and many folks copy this–is something like this: “This is a very easy job for somebody who knows what they’re doing.” In other words, the buyer is challenging you that if you think this job is anything but a cake-walk, you must be incompetent.

That being said, is there any good at all for writers from Elance? Elance clients would like to tell you that you should do their work free because it is good for your portfolio or it might be a good skill to learn. In such cases, they are practically saying, “I’m a big fat cheapskate.” But can anybody actually make money on Elance?

First, let’s look at what Elance does right. Elance sets up the site so that all communication has to go through the site. Elance gets a commission on all projects, but do not begrudge them their money. They also act as arbitrators. Everything you and the client say to each other, the work delivered, the dates, and the payments are all recorded. Your new client cannot cheat you. By the same token, you have to deliver what you said you’d deliver. Resist the urge to go off Elance and work independently, because in my opinion one of the best things Elance offers is this security. You won’t get cheated or, let me put that another way, you won’t get cheated without knowing it. You may agree to write an article for $2, but if you write the article, you’ll get your money.

Second, Elance opens up lots of work that you would never ordinarily see. It’s a giant marketplace and if you struggle to scare up writing jobs, let me assure you, there are tons of Elance.

The problem is that Elance does not pay or at least it does not pay that well. Furthermore, the better-paying Elance gigs attract lots of bidders (you have to bid for work) so you do not always get your shot. If you think that Elance is for you, there are some strategies you can use to set yourself apart.

1. Specialize. I know, everybody thinks that being a generalist writer is the key to riches, but specialization is how you make money. Find a specialty. It should be broad enough that it encompasses a lot of different subjects but narrow enough that you can look like an expert. Medical writing, educational topics, fitness writing, cooking, lifestyle, and business are all good specialties.

2. Trick out your Elance profile. Get a logo, pictures, and make sure your profile emphasizes your specialization.

3. Get a blog going and make sure that folks can see your blog, which, again, emphasizes your specialty. Don’t just be a writer, be a business writer. Link from your Elance profile to the blog. The blog should have examples of your business writing. Don’t do a blog about “how to be a business writer.” Make it a bunch of business articles so your prospective clients know you’re not blowing smoke.

4. Be selective. Again, counter-intuitive, but if you bid on every project, you look like somebody trying to scare up any kind of work at any price. Bid on work that matches your specialty. Don’t bid on work that is a misfit. The thing here is that if 10 writers all bid on an Elance writing project for a book on the topic of  “how to start your own restaurant,” and 9 of those writers are generalists … who gets the job? By being selective you refuse to compete in any arena where you are just one of the pack and choose only to compete where you stand out.

5. Bid what you want. While clients on Elance post what they want to pay, you know that people do not always get what they want. You are perfectly free to bid way above what they post. A person can ask you to write a book entitled  “how to start your own restaurant” for $100 but you can turn around and ask $5,000 for it. Now with that kind of differential, you’re bidding yourself out of the running, but I’m making a point. You can bid whatever you want. Now if you really want this job but can’t see that it’s worth your time for under $1,000, why not bid $1,000?Think this doesn’t work? Try it. But the point is you have to be very specialized to make this work. A generalist can’t get away with it.

6. Don’t be afraid to load your blog up with articles on-point. If I’m trying to get the book job on starting a new restaurant, I could post on my blog some links to short articles I’ve written like “10 Pitfalls to Starting a New Restaurant” or “Designing Your Restaurant Menu Without Breaking the Bank.” If you bid on the job or communicate with the client before the writer is chosen, you can forward those links. Voila, instant expert.And everybody knows, experts are expensive.

One last tip to working with Elance. I would hesitate to take on any big project even with Elance until I knew the client. As you may know, some clients are crazy. A short project is usually the best way to get to know the client and to let the client get to know you. You can often negotiate better prices when the client specifically asks for you to bid on his or her Elance project (clients can request bids on specific writers).