How to Succeed on Elance

May 21, 2013 | By | 5 Replies More

Elance is one of the leading marketplaces for freelancers, offering various skills from translations to website design to legal consulting to ghostwriting. As of this writing, the site has 2,348,312 registered freelancers competing for the 94,546 jobs posted in the last 30 days. No matter how you look at it, that is one tough marketplace, with about 25 freelancers competing for a single job.

I recently used Elance for help with the Kindle formatting  of our ebook ”Checklist for Starting a Business.”  For my small project, I got 29 bids from freelancers all over the globe, ranging from experts who’ve been doing this work 24/7 to those “I-have-no-experience-but-I’d-like-to-use-your-project-as-my-guinea-pig-to-learn.”

Adam TervortAfter a week of sorting through the proposals, I chose Adam Tervort, who is based in Taiwan, for the project. His proposal stood out from the rest for me in terms of his skills and knowledge, as well as stated willingness to go the extra mile for the customer (yes, I prepared a spreadsheet comparing various facets of the freelancers — from their quote price, bid proposal, reviews and testimonials, etc). The project got completed on time, on budget, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.

I interviewed Adam Tervort to learn about his processes and strategies in winning bids on Elance and succeeding in this cut-throat marketplace for freelancers. Adam has a 5-star rating on Elance, and recommended by 100% of his past clients. Below is my interview with Adam on his views on how to succeed on Elance:

1. How long have you been using Elance?

I started on Elance in October 2012, but I didn’t really become active on it until November. Since then it’s the most visited website in my browser.

2. What are the most effective ways in learning about jobs that fit your skills?

I learned a lot through completing my profile, looking through the profiles of other freelancers, and searching for jobs using keywords. (I know that sounds a bit counter intuitive  but bear with me.)

I would suggest that anyone who is getting started on Elance really needs to take the time to put together a great profile. Search through the jobs and find some that you would be interested in, then click through and look at the profiles of people who have applied for those jobs. Pay special attention to the profiles of freelancers who have either high ratings (level 6 or level 7) or a very high level of positive feedback. Scroll through and read about the jobs that they have completed. This will give you a great idea of the people that you will be competing against, but will also help you to see the types of jobs that people similar to you end up winning. You’ll probably also start to see some areas that you aren’t strong in but should be, this gives you some direction for new skills to learn so you’ll become more competitive.

3. What are your criteria for choosing the jobs that you bid on?

When I first started out, I bid on anything with the keyword “Kindle” since eBook formatting was the thing I wanted to do. As time has gone on I’ve become more selective of the jobs I bid on for a couple of reasons. First, I found that almost 2/3 of the jobs I was bidding on were never awarded to anyone, they just closed without a contractor being hired.

The jobs that were awarded had a number of things in common:

  • The description of the job was detailed and complete
  • Any communication (messages either from them to me or me to them) was answered promptly
  • Many took the time to invite specific freelancers to bid on the job
  • They have a record of posting and awarding contracts (which can be seen on their profile)

The third one is really a key, as I’ve become busier and had more jobs coming to me directly rather than searching for them, I tend to not bid on a job unless I see that the employer has invited some freelancers to bid. They don’t necessarily have to invite me directly, just the fact that they have invited someone makes a big difference.

When I have the time to be really picky, I try to bid on projects that seem to be a passion of the employer, a book they have been working on for a year or more, a memoir that was written after a significant event in their life, or a business book based on their years of experience. The best experiences I’ve had have always been on this type of project.

4. What do you think are the elements of a winning bid? What makes job posters choose you over the others bidding on the same project?

I was extremely lucky on one of the first contracts that I won to work with a sales guru from the UK named Mark Boardman. After his project was completed, he and I ended up talking on Skype quite often and he has helped me with reviewing the base sales copy that I use on many of my bids. The results have been staggering – my acceptance rate on jobs that are awarded is up to something like 65%. You need to sell yourself, or you have no chance.

One of the keys to having good sales copy in your bids is to be a little negative. No one likes to focus on all of the bad things that can happen, but discussing the worst case scenario gets people’s attention really fast, especially when you apply it to their project and then tell them how you will help them avoid it. I’m not a negative person myself, so this is hard for me, and I do everything I can to be positive in all of my other correspondence both before, during, and after a project, but having a bit of doom and gloom is tremendously effective in sales copy. (Mark once told me that people should be “mildly concerned” after reading a pitch. It works wonders as long as you can then resolve the concern.)

5. What are the top 3 problems you’ve encountered on Elance?

In general, I think Elance’s system is very easy to use and works well most of the time.

One problem I’ve come up against a number of times is problems attaching documents to messages. This doesn’t seem to be a consistent problem, and reloading the browser window usually fixes it, but sometimes this is a big problem for clients. A good way to avoid this is to set up a shared folder on Dropbox or use a file delivery service like You Send It or Google Drive.

Occasionally the text-based messaging system in Elance can cause problems. It’s always easier to talk out loud than to type out your meaning, so I find visiting with clients on Skype or another VoIP service to be useful at times. Another thing I do on occasion is to make a video screencast for clients. Many of the folks I work with will be uploading their books to Kindle, so I have a screencast where I walk them through the steps to do that using my own Kindle account. This has been really helpful for quite a few people. I also have a standard set of PDFs that I send to clients in the early days of a job that cover topics that seem to come up often, issues like how to open eBook files or general ideas for marketing books.

The third thing that is an issue for me is time zones. (This won’t affect everyone, obviously, but it has been a hurdle for me at times.) I live in Asia, so my time is 12-15 hours different than clients living in the Americas, and 7-9 hours different than clients in Europe. There have been a few times I’ve woken up to find my inbox flooded with messages from a client with an emergency who thinks I’m not answering messages because I’m not online when they are. There aren’t many good solutions to this one besides good communication. I also do a short email session just before bed so that I can get many of my clients’ first thing in the morning emails.

6. There are many clients who price low and freelancers who low-ball their bids. How do you compete against those who price their services too low?

All of my experiences with really low-paying projects have been bad. Which client has given me the most problems? The one who was only going to pay me $10 for the job. The first way to avoid problems is not to bid on jobs that have an extremely low budget.

There are always going to be people who bid lower than I do, and some of them are very good at what they do. The best way I’ve found to compete with someone who bids low and has good skills is to emphasize what makes me a good choice, or the advantages I bring to the table. Those are things like being a native English speaker, an author in my own right, and I’ve been down the same path as my clients. Sometimes those things are enough to help me get the job, sometimes they aren’t. If it doesn’t work out, find another job to bid on and don’t worry about it too much.

7. What should a freelancer include in the profile they create? How important is the profile?

Your profile is gold, every hour you put into it will pay back 100 fold. Do not think that you can be successful without a good profile.

Your profile should give solid background information, even if your education or work experience doesn’t have a lot to do with the kind of work you freelance on. (Like in my case.) Seeing your education level and work experience is still important to many potential employers. Make sure the description of your services is thorough and honest. Never promise things you can’t deliver on, but don’t be afraid to tell how good you are at what you do.

The second most important part of your profile is your portfolio. This can take a bit of creativity if the kind of work you do doesn’t represent itself well in images. I design and format eBooks, but I couldn’t find a way to upload eBooks to my portfolio and I don’t think that would be particularly useful anyways. I ended up putting the covers of books I had worked on as well as links to those books on Amazon. Never ever post work in your portfolio that doesn’t belong to you, but I felt that linking to the books I worked on was a great compromise and it could give some of the authors a small promotional boost.

The most important aspect of your portfolio is also the hardest to control, the reviews from customers. The early reviews are so important, so do everything in your power to make sure those customers are fully satisfied and will give you a high rating. When future customers come to your profile and look and see many positive reviews it will automatically engender the beginnings of trust in you.

8. How important is having a website for a freelancer using Elance?

I think having a website could be helpful, but at the same time I don’t really have one for my freelance work. I do have a blog and a couple of other random sites that I work on in my spare time, but up until now I haven’t made getting a site just for my freelance work a priority because I’m getting plenty through other methods.

There’s a caveat though, if your freelancing has something to do with web design make sure you have a killer site.

9. What role does feedback or review has in getting jobs for you?

As I mentioned above, nothing is as important as good feedback. I’ve had quite a few jobs that landed in my lap just because of the reviews in my profile. Do whatever you need to to get good reviews without being manic about it. It isn’t the end of the world if someone gives you less than five stars, but perfect feedback (and a great customer experience) should always be your top goal.

10. Is it advisable for a freelancer to focus solely on Elance?

This really depends on you. I’ve also worked on oDesk and Guru, and have looked at, but the bulk of my work has come either through Elance or directly from repeat customers or referrals. The other freelancing sites have strong marketplaces as well, and depending on the type of work you do you can nice opportunities on them. I have found that I make more money per job on Elance than on other sites, so I tend to spend most of my time focusing on Elance rather than other sites.

11. What do you think are the top 5 factors that will help you succeed on Elance?

  • Be an expert in your field. If you aren’t there yet then work to become one.
  • Treat each project as if it is your own rather than one you’re hired to work on.
  • Communicate as much as possible, never leave your client flapping in the wind without an idea of your progress on the job.
  • Teach your clients whenever possible. Educating people will never put you out of work, it will only prove your expertise.
  • Be happy and love your work!

12. Any other tips and advice to freelancers out there?

Be patient when you first start out, and don’t focus overly much on money. If you do good work the money will come eventually, focus instead on providing as much value as you can.

If you have any questions for me, feel free to send me an email, adam @, drop by my blog at, or stop by my Elance profile to see what I’m working on,

For more information on how to become a successful freelancer, read these articles:

Recommended Books on How to Become a Successful Freelancer:


Isabel Isidro

Isabel Isidro is the co-founder of A mom of three boys, avid vintage postcard collector, frustrated scrapbooker, she also manages Women Home Business, Starting Up Tips and Learning from Big Boys. Connect with her in Google +.

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Comments (5)

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  1. Ray Colon says:

    Hi Isabel,

    Great interview! I’m new to Elance and I found your questions and Adam’s answers to be interesting and insightful. It’s been less than a week, and I haven’t won any jobs yet, but I’m excited for the possibilities. As suggested, I’ve spent a good deal of time on my profile and have taken the time to draft specific and non-boilerplate proposals for the jobs that I have bid on thus far. Today, I’m going to focus on presenting some of my work in the Elance portfolio section.

    I’ve been teaching people Excel for years, and I’ve never regretted sharing my knowledge because, to quote Adam, “Educating people will never put you out of work, it will only prove your expertise.” My experience confirms this notion.

    Isabel, I found this post and linked to it through Zemanta’s related post feature. I thought you’d like to know.

    • Glad you liked the article!

      I didn’t realize how competitive Elance can be until I actually used it for a project. There’s a ton of potential to earn, but it’s not easy. It’s not enough to know that you’re good; you need to prove to the project owner that you’re the best one that he/she needs to hire — and every little signal helps from your profile to your bid response.

      Thanks for visiting!

  2. margo d johnson says:

    Amazing interview. I had to read this as I have done a little work on Elance. I became frustrated though because I have done a few jobs, that the client accepted the work and never paid. I messaged them several times and they keep saying they will pay me ‘monday’…lol
    I learned that I really need to work on my profile some more though and that may be why I haven’t gotten a lot of response lately. I also haven’t been really on Elance for well over 2 months because I am working on my own freelance writing outside of any content mills. I just gained two new clients. One I am writing a 200 page e-book for and being paid VERY WELL i might add and the other is an editorial type job.
    It is articles/interviews like the one above that keep me motivated. And the best tip I think adam gave is to treat the work like it’s your own, not like your being paid for it. That is honestly the best way to give your client 150% of what they paid for.

    • Thanks for dropping by Margo! I am glad that you liked the interview.

      I think in these kinds of marketplaces, it is really important to look at what you can do to protect yourself, like what should be a freelancer’s recourse when the client refuses to pay. I know there are freelancers who only choose jobs where the payment is already in escrow, but the downside is you limit your market and you may be missing out on clients who did not put the payment in escrow but delivers payments. It’s not easy!

  3. Alejandra Roney says:

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