How Millo changed my opinion of Elance and led me to projects I love

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I first came across Elance a couple years ago when I started freelancing full time.

At the time, I was willing to try most anything to get my business up and running, including:

  • responding to ads on a Craigslist-type website (which worked; I got a great first web design client this way) and
  • competing on a crowdsourced logo competition site (which was a complete disaster other than to improve my Illustrator skills).

At first glance, Elance seemed too good to be true: thousands of clients looking for work! Being able to work anywhere and set my own schedule!

But then, it hit me: these jobs paid less than I was willing to work for. Plus I’d have to compete against thousands of other freelancers.

Enough is enough. Make 2018 the year you trade your worst clients for some of the best companies in the world. Click here to learn how.

Nope, not for me.

Instead, I pounded the pavement, following the advice of the wonderful, seasoned entrepreneurs on Millo, and learned how to find new clients the traditional way.

Then, out of the blue, Danny Margulies’ article on Millo (“How I built a 6-figure freelancing business on Elance“) hits my inbox. I was intrigued, and I bet so were many of you.

If it were any other blog, I’d have paid no attention.

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Getting to 6 figures on Elance sounds like a ridiculous, impossible claim.

But I’ve been reading Millo for a couple years and they’ve helped me in my freelance design career time and time again. Because of this, I trust their content.

Going into research mode, I looked for other articles about freelancers’ experiences with Elance.

(Psst: Do you have an Elance experience? Share it in the comments!)

UPDATE: Today (what are the odds?) Elance announced they will be merging with Upwork over the next few months. Keep in mind, many of the tips found in this article still apply regardless of the platform you’re using. 

At first, everything I read seemed to support my initial thoughts: it was a waste of time, a race to the bottom.

I’d come across the same complaints:

  • There are no good clients
  • There are no high paying jobs
  • There’s too much competition

But then I found a different perspective: people who presented Elance hacks and tips on submitting proposals that won jobs.

I wondered if there was any truth to what they were saying.

So I decided to look into this whole Elance thing.

What I discovered not only changed the way I run my business, but allowed me to work with some incredible clients on the most interesting projects of my career.

I really enjoy working on Elance and want to share my experiences with others.

(A note from Preston: we’re not paid here to promote Elance. And we don’t have any sort of partnership with them. But this was such a unique story, I wanted to make sure we shared it here.)

From freelancer to Elancer

The turning point for me came after reaching out to author Danny, who also provides a course on how he became successful on the site.

I still had no idea whether I could land even a single job online, but he seemed like a genuine guy and his course appeared to be helping others, so I chose to try it out.

The day I put up my very first Elance profile, I submitted a proposal late in the evening and won that job the very next morning.

I experienced little milestones on Elance every week:

  • winning a job an hour after submitting a proposal,
  • getting invites to apply to jobs that I would be interested in,
  • earning a good review, and
  • receiving a message to apply to an invite-only job where all the applicants were pre-screened (and being awarded that project!).

Why Elance works for me

My whole perception of Elance changed as I started working, and my experiences were that:

1) There are GREAT CLIENTS on Elance

I’ve worked with high-quality clients who were responsive, professional and had business-critical jobs I could help them with. I felt like I was making a positive impact on their immediate design and marketing goals.

And it was extremely easy to communicate with them – through Elance and normal channels.

2) There are HIGH PAYING JOBS on Elance

Within a week, I was already charging my Elance clients my outside-of-Elance hourly rates.

And you’d be surprised the various types of people I’ve met on Elance:

  • well-known industry leaders,
  • up-and-coming entrepreneurs, as well as
  • clients who work with Fortune 500 companies.

It’s just like in the “real world,” some clients will be looking for entry-level freelancers, and others are willing to pay for quality work.

3) Elance is about CONNECTING, not competing

Sure, it feels amazing to be awarded a job against dozens of other applicants, but the whole Elance system is more about being provided the opportunity to connect with clients, not compete against other freelancers.

When I’m submitting proposals, I’m looking for a good fit with a client just like freelancing outside of Elance.

If I don’t win a job, I know that the client has found a better fit for their needs.

And finding this mutual fit can be an incredibly quick process. On Elance, I could apply to a job, meet the client, and complete the work all in one day if that was the schedule the client had in mind.

However, in the “real world:”

  • meeting a prospective client,
  • demonstrating my value,
  • negotiating the terms of the job, and
  • then waiting for the client to gather the necessary resources to start

sometimes took weeks to land a new contract.

Overall, I feel like I’m just getting started. I’m only three months into my Elance career, but every week is a new adventure connecting with potential clients, helping out ongoing clients and doing work I love.

How Elance can work for you

The sheer number of job posts on Elance at any given time benefits freelancers.

You can pick whether you want to apply to jobs that require a certain set of skills, or ones in a particular industry.

You have the opportunity to apply your experience from your offline business as well as branch into industries you’ve previously been unable to break into.

Everything’s up to you.

What do you have to lose?

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About Ella Yeung

Ella’s interests lie at the intersection of marketing and design. She’s passionate about creating modern graphics and websites, and every day, she wakes up with the goal of helping her clients be more successful.

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Comments

  1. How old is this article? I’m not being rude. It’s just that I came here from an email I just now received and I find it odd, if this is a new article, because eLance is closing its doors VERY soon.

    I would, however, be interested in hearing some stories about Upwork, the company that bought them out?

    This article is spot on though. I tried my hand at a freelancer site a few years back and swore it off forever. A colleague talked me into giving eLance a stab and I regret not finding them years ago. I truly am sad to see them go! 🙁

    • Maria Wendt says:

      JD, just so that you know. Elance is not going away. Instead, it is merging with another freelancing site called Upwork.

  2. Peter Roy Barlow says:

    This looks like a new article. However, Elance is going to merge with Upwork and be no more later this year as Jd Simpkins said.

    My feelings on Elance were made clear in the other blog post and I don’t really have much to add.

    My biggest problem with Elance (and sites like it) are that clients do not post detailed enough briefs and so every bid for me is a shot in the dark. Most clients also refuse to answer any of your questions to clarify the bid as there are other freelancers willing to just place a bid without knowing the full picture and so they get the job. These freelancers are usually from Pakistan and India and are willing to work for next to nothing.

  3. Sue Mazur says:

    I’ve been submitting bids on Outsource and experiencing the same type of thing… clients low-balling their budgets with little understanding of what their project would really entail. Plus bid from everywhere… I was hoping the Ms. Yeung would actually share the tips she talks about at the beginning of the article; I was disappointed that she only offered generalities.

      • Thanks for pointing that out. I overlooked it as well, checking it out now. I have hired some on odesk (upwork now) but haven’t tried to get leads myself off of it. Might be worth a go

        • Hey Ryan – great to hear from you; hope you’re well! I think your experience on the client-side of ODesk/Upwork gives you a unique advantage in that you have a sense of how a proposal can stand out from the others. Would love to hear your experiences as a freelancer on the platform if you decide to try it out. All the best!

          • Hey Ella, I am sorry I have been out of touch lately. First off, let me say what a great article this was! It was very intriguing.

            The problem is that the two people I hired on odesk I actually found somewhere else but ended up being easy to keep track and pay them through odesk lol.

            However, after reading your article I am thinking about giving Elance a go and see if I can network with some potential clients 🙂

          • Hi Ryan! Elance is turning into Upwork – so you should check out the job postings there. I just got to migrate my Elance profile to Upwork this week so will be spending more time on there soon. Let me know how it goes!

  4. Who are these high paying clients on Elance? Cause I sure haven’t found them. Can you send them my way?

    I totally agree with what Peter is saying, either the briefs are either extremely detailed and extremely low priced making it slave labor if you take the job or you’re constantly told your price is too high (and clients have nerve to be offended by the price) or they won’t engage when you need more info to properly bid.

    I have used tips and tricks and hacks only to really receive more invite only jobs but I’m still not awarded because I need to ask questions and create that connection – something Elance clients do not want. They want practically free work for the most work. Elance was a terrible experience for me. I’m going to let my profile lie dormant for a while during this transition to Upwork. I need to see if the quality of clients and their project listings go up.

    • High-paying, quality clients are there, every day, looking for confident, quality contractors. I only say this because of the experience of me and my many friends who also have make good money there and look forward to making good money on Upwork. I would suggest someone wondering about freelancing sites do some googling on Elance/Upwork and any other ones, and then come up with a game plan, and then go for it–this is what I did, and it has connected me to the most valuable clients I’ve ever had.

      • Bruce, your comments about Elance are a little too candy-coated, it sounds like they paid you off. That said, I’d have to agree with the majority of designers here who have found Elance severely wanting. Sure, there are always exceptions to the rule, as in your case, but unfortunately anecdotal evidence doesn’t prove much.

        • Dear
          Sheila,

          Your post.

          Wow.

          Your post, Sheila.

          Okay, whatever. I admit it.

          You hit the nail on the head.

          So let’s answer the items in your post. I’ll be honest, and thorough, and gritty. And because I suspect this will be a long post, I’ll give the Coles Notes at the bottom.

          1) How much is Elance paying me to defend their image?

          To answer this, I have to go back a bit.

          First thing to understand about me is that by day, I work at a start-up.

          By night,
          I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Elancer.

          It’s true! I’ve been outed, guys. Jigs up.

          Started in 2011. Always been a lifelong learner and so I liked the platform system—it was something to learn. Worked the shit jobs at first, because I understood that it was the rating system that would be my friend. Got a couple good references. Sidled up the scales. Made okay money. Dropped in and out intermittently.

          That’s the beauty, right? You got to do your own thinking as an entrepreneur on a freelance platform. You get to—have to— make your own moves. And you have to take responsibility for the final product of your actions.

          So Elance, it was a part-time income supplementer.
          Then, late 2014, I started getting pretty good clients.
          Still part-time, but better, a bit more. Just comfort with the system, I guessed.

          Then Elance, the mothereffers, they began this thing where there were two boxes instead of one for the proposal.

          Creeped me like right the hell out.

          I figured that probably spelled the end of my good-luck streak. But it was really the start of it.

          I googled something like “tips on how to make money on Elance” and found Danny’s course (the one Ella talks about above).

          Lifelong learner and spontaneous idiot that I am, I enrolled.

          From the lessons learned there, I raised my rates. I made it worth it to both my clients and me. My clientele thus improved.

          A lot of the tips were old entrepreneurship first principles set to the music of a freelance platform.

          I know they are entrepreneurship first principles because I recognized some of them from my day-to-day job at the start-up.

          Now, the course just friggin exploded my results.

          No other way to put it.
          I didn’t expect it, and I don’t care how it sounds.

          I was beginning to pace, then outpace my 9-5 job in terms of money made.

          How do you say that without sounding ridiculous?

          Should I keep it a secret because it worked?

          And there are people like me, all sorts of people, succeeding on Elance. I saw them. They went regularly to the forums sharing their successes.

          And you know what kind of clients I found on Elance that have me raving?

          Lowly, dirty, penny-pinching, no-scruples-having clients, right? And then Elance just gives me a bill to spout rainbow bull about them in comment sections, right?

          Well, one client sent a bouquet of flowers to me to celebrate the birth of my most recent child (got two children now–both girls–eep).

          One I speak to regularly to like an old colleague. He’s a repeat client who’s netted me thousands.

          And just today I got my first tip—even I charge a premium rate for my services and he still thought it prudent to pay me what he thought I was worth, which was evidently more.

          So back to how much is Elance paying me to defend their image.

          From my work in July, by Monday they will have forked over to me $4000USD.

          (I’m from Canada and that works out to over $5000 in my monopoly money.)

          And here’s a link to proof – it’s my july earning columns indicating money in my account (in USD—remember): http://i.imgur.com/GyMpWfs.png

          That’s three weeks, Sheila. How’s your design agency coming? I ask this because it’s a question you need to answer before you slough off freelancing platforms like Elance as severely wanting.

          I’m part-time.

          To be clear, only when I’m not working, or hanging out with kids, or wife, or doing things around the house, or hanging out with friends, or relaxing, I elance.

          And this month I made more than my well-paying 9-5 job will have netted me.
          And I’m not an isolated incident of success. Success stories are all over. And Elance is growing, growing, growing– and so the anecdotal evidence is yours, you see? Like any behemoth of a company there is the dregs and the upper echelons. The upper echelons always have room for one more good, hard worker. I have found that to be true in every industry I’ve been a part of.

          And you know what I’ve never seen any person who’s been successful on Elance say? How Elance sucks. You’d think there’d be at least a couple people who were really successful and then backed away and said it sucked. Nope. Only people who suck at it say it sucks.

          So why am I even talking about freelancing platforms like Elance like there’s going to be a revolution on them? Why do I even bother spending the time on a gargantuan post like this in reply to you, Sheila?

          First, because I’ve never been called a corporate shill before. It gave me the tingles. 🙂

          But mostly I like it when people succeed. And I think of a younger me reading some of these negative things and deciding not to go to Elance. And not being able to pay so readily his Visa or his car or put money away for vacations to his his mom three provinces away or whatever.

          Bottom line: when you hear falsehood, you should attack it. I invite others to do the same here.

          I hear a couple people saying “There are no good clients on Elance/Upwork” when I know it to be false and “There is no money to be made on Elance” when I know it to be false, and I stand up and say it’s false. Because if I were young and dumb and listened to the naysayers, I wouldn’t be on Elance.

          Because no matter how much it makes me sound like a shill, the fact is there is tons of money on Elance and there is no reason I’ve seen yet to think differently of the upcoming Upwork.

          Just…tons of it.

          And why that bothers you I have no idea.

          So, this point sufficiently beat into the ground, moving on to your last one:

          “I’d have to agree with the majority of designers here who have found Elance severely wanting” —

          You agree with the majority of the designers in the comment section who have found Elance severely wanting?

          Where’s this majority?

          It doesn’t exist at the time of this posting.

          As of the time of your post, 3 people dislike Elance enough to post their disdain: 1 saying Elance do not post detailed enough briefs, 1 saying there are no good clients and another–the post we are currently a part of–agreeing with the first guy).

          On the other side of the fence, there is 1 guy saying he’s sad to see Elance go.

          Then there is 1 saying that Elance is pretty good and it is not a get-rich-quick-scheme but a work-hard-and-you’ll-make-money opportunity (and they’re right–you have to think smart and work smart).

          Then there is Ella, who wrote the post.

          3-3

          So, the “majority” is just evidence of your echo chamber.

          Plenty of people know the value in freelance-platform websites.
          Again, who would ever dislike such a thing?

          I guess maybe agencies themselves? Classically trained designers who might have to start competing with every little he and she who wants to be a designer or a copywriter or a whatever and didn’t even take seventy years of post-secondary to do it!

          That would be frustrating.

          Anyways I’m done and so I guess this is good a time as any to plug your agency: Apex Creative—an awesome graphic design studio built by someone who’s taken a lot of post-secondary to be the real best at design for small businesses and startups in Scottsdale and Phoenix! Check her out!

          Bruce’s
          hey-it’s-a-novel-in-the-comics-section summary:

          1) Elance doesn’t pay me to defend them; I do it for free because I believe in what freelance platform websites stand for and have seen results personally and in others, and want to see more succeed

          2) The majority you talk about who dislike Elance aren’t those succeeding on Elance or other freelance platform websites, and they aren’t a majority

          With still a bit of warmth because hey this was fun to write,

          Bruce

          • Peter Roy Barlow says:

            Bruce, I have to say that I find the tone in your reply aggressive and a bit uncalled for. I do find it a bit odd that you would be so vehemently defending what is essentially a faceless company.

            Still, I will try and address the content of your response as it is very comprehensive.

            I acknowledge that you are doing well on Elance by your own evidence but I can’t help but wonder if you are an outlier. What sorts of projects are you winning in what categories?

            I still maintain that there are certain industries/disciplines which are lost causes on that site. I can write the most awesome proposals, give examples of my expertise and still end up losing to someone in Bangladesh who wants $35 for the whole job when it should be $500+. It’s demoralising and time consuming which is why I, and many others, have given up entirely.

            I have also seen suppliers who are supposedly from the US winning work at ridiculously low prices, at least 1/3rd of what I would want to charge which makes me question the calibre of clients who go on the site as a whole.

            However, although I take issue with how you express yourself, your responses have certainly whet my appetite to dive back into the site when it officially merges with Upwork.

            I urge you to be respectful in your response, Bruce. The above is my opinion based on my experience and I will not enter into a flame war with you. You have strong beliefs, I get it, but we are all entitled to our opinions, even if you don’t agree with them.

            In terms of the quality of the post itself, I do think that its a bit of a nothing post. Akin more to an extended testimonial rather than something of substance that I can actually use right now- no offence intended to Ella. I suppose I find it a bit too “ra-ra Elance for me”.

          • Dear Peter,

            Thanks for the detail and consideration in your response. I think it is a valuable addition to the conversation.

            If Elance was called OhNo or MoMo or something else, or if I had found similar success on some other platform, I would be extolling the virtues of that platform. I simply want to counter bad information where I hear it–There is nothing inherently lovely about the Elance corporation itself–simply its platform which has afforded me great gains. I am not so much meaning to act as an advocate of Elance or UpWork necessarily but of the platform system for freelancers.
            However my only true and concentrated experience is with Elance.

            True that there are clients who would rather work with someone from Bangladesh for pennies on the dollar–still true as you say that many U.S. Companies will go and hire the cheapest alternative.
            I think it is important people know this about Elance.

            It is also important people know about the other side. The large pool– calling me an outlier Peter would be unfortunate as it would be the easiest way to ignore my successes as some anomaly–but there is so much success on Elance, easily searchable and findable.
            It is simply finding the large large pool of clients who do not act in the ways you have described. Trying not to engage them and spending your time with the good clients. This is not a science but there are ways to improve one’s ability to recognise and engage such clients. For instance, looking at a clients history to see how they rate other clients and how they pay other clients can save you a lot of time. Same in the way they present their post–are they pushing quality or time-sensitivity? These are just examples of course but hopefully they will be of help to someone. Like most things, a freelance platform is about learning, making mistakes, mentoring (if lucky, to speed learning), and coming up with one’s own approach. This being the life of an entrepreneur!

            So Peter I thank you for your response and hope the sauciness covering my last to Sheila did not shock too much–simply I really in kind and find it a bit of sport —

            With warmth,

            Bruce

  5. I agree with the experience of most here. Elance = cheap, naive clients + foreign designers who work for pennies on the dollar. If there are hacks that work, I’d sure like to know them. Ella doesn’t give details about these hacks and proposal tips. However, she does link to the original (as well as other Millo) articles, which I’ll check out for the meat of this topic. I just feel like why bother posting this blog article if you’re not going to mention a critical fact like an upcoming merger, which could change everything, or give actual tips!

    • Dear Natalie,

      Something tells me you haven’t found success on Elance.
      Call it a hunch.

      As with all platforms, there is a spectrum. There are some clients who value speed over quality, or money over speed, or whatever.

      All said, I’m sure my repeat Elance/Upwork clients would resent being called cheap and naïve, especially while they pay me well as I perform work for their various companies.

      Not here to start a flame war– just that painting Elance jobs–you know, the 103,000-some-odd jobs posted in the last thirty days– with the same brush is just oh-my-goodness.

      • Dear Bruce,

        If you’ve found success with Elance/Upwork, then I’m happy for you and the wonderful clients you’ve managed to connect with. Your experience is your experience. My experience is mine. Neither of us is alone in our experience and neither experience is invalid.

        You are free take offense or exception to the comments made in this post. If you didn’t want to “start a flame war”, as you say, you could have kept your comments to one post rather than commenting to people directly. Right?

        In any case, happy freelancing! Let’s keep it moving. I mean, I know I have better things to do.

        • Dear Natalie,

          Thank you for your reply.
          The thing that makes your comment (not your experience) invalid is your extrapolation on the whole of Elance. I never say everyone is successful on Elance–only that success is definitely possible. Also, of course I’m not offended by your remarks! I said my clients, who pay me well and often, might be.

          But why comment at all, you ask.

          Like other comments to which I chose to reply, your comment–which implies Elance houses only cheap, naive clients and only foreign designers who work for pennies on the dollar could win any jobs–is not only wrong but it could deter real people from finding success on Elance and similar platforms, and I like to see others succeed.

          Even though we disagree on some items– I think you like to see others succeed, too, and so thank you for your contribution to the pool. I am sure you are a talented freelancer.

          Wishing you the best,

          Bruce

          PS How do you find getting jobs off Elance–? I would be interested in chatting off-comments (in a friendly way!) about our relative successes and what we can learn from each other. 🙂

          • CORRECTION: Years ago I was an Elance member. The Elance clients that I came across posted low budgets for the scope of work and were naive to the amount, and type of work required for the projects they posted. The site was flooded with designers in places outside of the U.S. who could afford to bid low. I would not recommend them based on my experience.

            I hope the clarity helps. Lunch is over. : )

          • Ah–thanks for this clarification. It does indeed help with the added context. Hope you had a good lunch! 🙂

  6. desmarsol says:

    I first joined and explored Elance back in 2003 and much like you came away with the feeling that it would be a waste of time with too many low-bidding competitors. Fast forward to 2013, based on my circumstances at the time (recently laid off from my full-time job) I went back and decided I had little to lose. I’ve seen both sides, good and bad about Elance and would caution that it is certainly ‘not a get rich quick scheme’ by any means (it takes a lot of time and effort) but overall I would concur with most everything you’ve said here. There are some good paying clients there though I have found that for the most part I am not able to command the same rates I do for clients/work outside of Elance so it is for me mostly a way to find interesting, work to “fill-in” the gaps.

    Elance is currently undergoing a merger with O’Desk and is becoming UpWork. They expect to cease operation as Elance in mid-2016 and new sign-ups will no longer be permitted after August 1. I feel Elance had the better reputation of the two and it will remain to be seen how it all works out once complete. The jury is definitely still out on it.

    • Barney Rugama says:

      Hi, your response got my attention, Elance is also becoming Upwork? so they are merging into one and only?

    • Thanks for sharing, desmarsol. I agree that writing customized proposals takes time and effort, but I think clients really appreciate it. Great that you’re able to find interesting work on the site!

  7. Great post, Ella.

    This post reminds me of why I got into Elance/Upwork in the first place. Your reasoning for liking the platform align with my own.

    I have worked as a freelancer for years. While working for brick-and-mortar companies, you have a lot of hurdles to leap over that having a platform to deal with just gets rid of through standardization (think payment, client acquisition, milestones and communication). On Elance/Upwork, you can make a good living from wherever you are in the world.

    Thanks for the insight, and hopefully it will turn people towards freelancing, which at this point in history is hitting its renaissance through the online domain.

    • Thanks Bruce! There are definitely different challenges with offline and online freelancing, but at the end of the day, it’s all about working with great clients as a freelancer so I try to make the most out of each.

  8. Elance will completely merge into Upwork by mid-2016. This would mean more competition for aspiring freelancers. It would become a buyers’ market.

  9. The world needs more Ella’s. After getting to know you it’s inspiring that your main motivation is to make a positive impact on the people around you. Thanks for spreading the word about this.

  10. Instantlancer says:

    Instead of giving your money to Elance and wasting time bidding against freelancers from poorer countries, why not work locally? Instantlancer is a hyper-local freelancer discovery platform designed to take you to the next level. Sign up for FREE at http://instantlancer.com. Looking forward to hearing your feedback.