How Elance Writing Jobs Helped One Writer Earn $113,553 Last Year

How Elance Writing Jobs Helped One Writer Earn $113,553 Last Year

Most people are surprised to find out that I earned six figures in 12 months using Elance as my only source of clients.

I get it: In the minds of most writers, freelancing platforms like Elance tend to conjure up images of penny-per-word hell.

There’s a good reason for this reputation. Many clients are attracted to freelancing sites because they can hire writers at a discount.

But that’s only part of the story.

In my experience, Elance also offers writers a great opportunity to make an excellent living — without all the hassles of “real world” freelancing.

Nor was building up my six-figure Elance income as mysterious or challenging as you might think it would be — especially once I decided to reject conventional wisdom and stop following the masses.

Even if you’ve had a bad experience freelance bidding sites, bear with me: Here’s how I make money as a freelance writer on Elance.

Company Snapshot

Getting started as a freelance writer

When I set out to become a copywriter and start freelancing in July of 2012 — with no previous experience to speak of — Elance seemed like a good way to get my feet wet.

So I spent dozens of hours researching the idea, devouring blog posts, articles and forum threads on the subject. Unfortunately, my main takeaway from all this reading was that there seemed to be an invisible “cap” on what an Elance writer could earn.

But a few weeks into my Elance adventure, I’d already landed two $50-an-hour jobs. At that point, I realized that one of two things was true:

A) I’d been super lucky and managed to find the only two decent-paying clients on Elance, or

B) There were more of those decent-paying clients out there, and I could make great money if I could figure out how to attract them.

So I spent the next few months developing strategies and tactics specifically designed to pull in the highest-quality clients Elance had to offer.

It wasn’t long before my hourly rate rose from $50, to $75 and ultimately, $125 and beyond.

High Conversion Sales Writing

The challenges most freelancers experience on Elance have less to do with supply and demand, and more to do with not knowing how to find and secure the best-paying work.

Here are some counterintuitive approaches I’ve used to overcome these challenges, winning more work and charging higher rates than my competitors — while spending less time grinding away at the keyboard.

1. Don’t compete on price

Lowering your price on Elance can seem like the right way to deal with low-bidding competitors. But it’s a game you won’t win, and can’t even afford to play.

Personally, I love seeing gaggles of writers racing to the bottom on price: It tells me there’s a lack of quality options available to clients.

Writers who charge bargain rates don’t have time to hone their craft; they’re too busy working their way to burnout. So I go the opposite way — offering high-quality work for a premium price.

There’s nothing mysterious about this plan. I spend a lot of time educating myself about my craft and my niche, and it makes me more valuable than most of my competitors.

Mostly, this strategy involves reading. I regularly pore over a plethora of writing blogs (like the one you’re reading right now) and books like Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath (a must-read for all writers), all of which have helped me improve my skills in different ways.

You might think that all of your competitors are gaining the same knowledge as you are through reading, but they aren’t. This simple habit gives you a huge advantage in the marketplace and allows you to charge above-average prices.

2. Choose a specialty

Most Elancers are scared to choose a niche, for fear of shutting out most of the clients they encounter.

So they stick to being the “Jack of all trades.” Or they choose several niches, and misguidedly try to tie them all together (e.g. Resume Writer / Novel Editor / White Paper Author).

My advice? Forget about “most clients.”

Successful freelancing isn’t about catering to the masses. It is, to paraphrase Seth Godin, about finding the “weird” clients who are a perfect fit for you.

The irony of choosing a specialty on Elance is that, far from limiting yourself, you’ll now appear even more valuable to the clients who want and need you the most. It’ll be easier for them to find you, and easier for you to charge them what you’re really worth.

3. To win big, aim small

Bigger jobs on Elance come with a paradox: Though they offer more income potential, they also draw out more competition.

Like this one:

Job Ad

Snagging these long-term or recurring jobs can seem like winning the lottery. But you’re also competing against about as many other people as you would in the actual lottery. Instead, I’ve developed a strategy to flip the odds in my favor.

Rather than trying to get the client to award me the whole enchilada, I offer them a small trial job. This has many benefits, like:

  • Helping me stand out from the crowd (who are all pushing for the “big contract”)
  • Making it easier for the client to say yes, since there’s less commitment required
  • Giving me added credibility and posture (i.e. I don’t appear desperate)
  • Offering me a chance to test the waters, just in case the client turns out to not be a good fit

For the job above, instead of forcing the client into the big decision of hiring me for a three-month blogging contract, I suggested we start with a single blog post.

As you can see from the screenshot below, this approach worked out great for both of us, and has been a great income stream for me over the course of a just a few months.

Blog Writer - Fixed Price

(Of course, this strategy requires some confidence, which goes back to expertly honing your skills. As the great Jim Rohn said, “Work harder on yourself than you do on your job.”)

4. Tap into the “Hidden Elance Economy”

The only thing more fun than finding lots of clients is having them find you.

While Elance’s jobs marketplace is great for finding new work, many of the best clients use the “search” feature to scout for writers before they consider posting a job.

If one of these clients likes what they see in your profile, they just might go ahead and invite you to a job they created just for you. Like this one:

Hidden Elance Economy

I call this the “Hidden Elance Economy” because it’s totally invisible to anyone but you!

Receiving high-quality, private invites like this one allows you to charge more for your work, and gives you a passive stream of new leads to choose from.

Here are some tips for taking advantage of these opportunities:

  • Word your profile carefully so clients can easily see exactly what services you offer and the type of client you work best with (if you aren’t sure, don’t worry, you’ll figure it out once you get a feel for the market)
  • Over-deliver to clients so they write you the sort of amazing reviews that attract even more awesome clients
  • End your profile with a call-to-action letting clients know they can invite you to a private job (otherwise, how will they know?)

Have you found decent-paying writing jobs on Elance?

In my experience, Elance can be an enormously rewarding source of freelancing business, way beyond what the average writer imagines.

But you need to choose the right approaches to make it work. “Going with the flow” is just a race to the bottom. Instead, be strategic and you just might find yourself with lucrative jobs and quality clients.

Have you tried Elance as a source of writing jobs? What was your experience like, and looking back, would you do anything differently?

Filed Under: Freelancing
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  • John Felix Koziol says:

    From the research I have done on Elance, the only positive commentary is herein The Write Life, everything else I have seen pertaining to this website has been negative. Is it really as good as you say and, if so, why am I seeing such negativity in regards to this website?

  • Paula Gibbs says:

    Danny, thanks for sharing your experience! I found your article while reading an article about where to find content writers. You make it tempting to become one. I understand the hard work part of it, and know I would have little time for my art which is what I am working to promote. It is all about give-and-take I suppose.

    Thanks again!

  • Sara Ellsworth   says:

    I view something genuinely interesting about your website so I saved to bookmarks .

  • Lancerholic says:

    Danny, congs it worked out for you. Yes, I believe it’s possible but the problem with Elance just like most other freelance sites, is the tremendous competition. Finding jobs is a major hurdle for most freelancers. I therefore doubt one could earn a sustainable living off Elance in the long run. Am I wrong?

      • Not your classiest reply, Danny.

        Person after person has given our individual experiences that are at great variance with yours. It is NOT unreasonable at this point to start putting a “Danny’s results not typical” footnote at the bottom of this article. Snark on your part strikes me as uncalled for.

        Trish O’Connor
        Epiclesis Consulting LLC

  • Ruby says:

    Excellent article – I haven’t tried out eLance but I’ve been on oDesk. Was lucky enough that one of the first jobs I applied to, I got accepted, but it was a cheap $1 per 100 words post. Not so bad as I was still building my craft and only doing this part time (in the evenings after work) as I try to learn more about the business of writing before we eventually launch and start a .com niche blog

    Now, 8 months after moderate success in oDesk, I have already earned 4 digits. Not so bad, I would think, and started raising my hourly prices & criteria in applying for jobs, considering I only work an hour or so (sometimes none at all) a day.

    • It’s great to hear that you’re starting to raise your prices. Honestly, most freelancers undersell themselves, so there’s no reason not to try and go for more now that you’ve gotten your feet wet.

  • Laura Smith says:

    Thank you. This is exactly what I needed to read. A friend of mine recommended Odesk and I’ve considered it and services such as Elance to find clients for my grant writing business but have hesitated. But this provided the last bit of information I needed. Thank you.

  • Failed Writer says:

    I’m sure you can tell where this is going to go by the name I’ve chosen. I’ve been a penny chaser and one of those writers that writes for places like content mills or marketing forums for too long. I’ve probably done well over a thousand articles for hundreds of clients even though I know there’s no possible way to pay the bills on these clients. Now days, it’s tough to even find $1 per 100 word gigs on these said places (which is disgusting enough).

    I turned my attention to Elance and tried to aim small and win big. I couldn’t ever get a response back. Every decently paid gig I applied to already had a ton of other people already applying to it, even the fresh and recently posted gigs. It’s tough enough even finding people who value writers and know that highly paid writers have time to actually work on their content.

    Personally, I’m ready to call it quits. I’ve spent years as a content mill slave for what’s essentially beer money and all that’s resulted in is no portfolio to show off, no outstanding work to showcase and some beer money every once in a while. That’s all that writing for penny chasers has built up to.

    I still browse marketing forums and job boards from time to time but it seems that the majority of the people are paying less and less as time goes on, even though Google keeps raising their standards of what quality is over time. It’s a strange world we live in.

    I’m glad others are finding success though.


  • Elisabeth says:

    Thanks for taking most of the mystery out of succeeding on Elance, Danny! Great info.

    For point #3, in which you offered to a single blog post, did you do it for free? Or did they pay you for it?

    Thanks again for being so open about what’s working for you!

    • Thanks Elisabeth, and great question. I did get paid for it ($125), which was part of the arrangement. This is especially important to note as it’s against Elance’s terms of service to provide “free samples.”

  • Jane says:

    Danny, thanks for your write up experience with Elance, it has opened my eyes to opportunities for my writing. Just one question: how much experience as a writer did you gave before doing Elance? Did you have an established writing career or blog or were you a beginner? I am a new writer with a blog I started a few months ago and no other experience in writing. What would your. Advice be regarding leaping into freelance writing with Elance?

    • Hi Jane — I didn’t have any experience as a writer, but I quickly realized that there were lots of jobs that anyone with a high school education (or less in some cases) could do. For example my first job was writing template-based children’s stories, which I like to say is the writing equivalent of paint by numbers! And I just moved up from there. So my best advice if you’re new is to start with low pressure jobs that don’t require years of expertise, and then go at whatever pace you’re comfortable with. Hope this helps and I wish you lots of luck!

      • Jane says:

        Thanks of much Danny for getting back to me on my questions. That is great news re not having to be an experienced writer. I would say I know how to write good articles on my blog from the comments I have so I guess I cannot be that bad. Will check out small jobs at Elance and go from there. Thanks again Danny.

        • Rather than thinking of it as “experienced” vs. “non-experienced,” I’ve found a better way to look at it is like this:

          –We’ve all been writing since grade school (decades for most of us)

          –Even someone who has never written a blog post can google “how to write a blog post” and learn the basics well enough to get by at the entry level fairly quickly

          –Finally, clients will only hire you if they like the sample work you show them. So it’s not like there’s any harm in applying for jobs…if clients like your work then you are obviously doing something right, and if they don’t then you can use that feedback to improve. So in that sense there’s a built in fail-safe. 🙂

  • Jonathan Westwood says:

    Danny – Thank you for the article. I’m genuinely pleased to read that you’re doing so well with Elance. More power to you and long may it continue.

    To relate my own experience, I was doing OK on Elance. I’d got some good jobs and some good clients, but I’d also got some lousy jobs and some lousy clients.

    Then, one day last year, I got an email from Elance telling me that – without explanation but following a “security review” of my account – they were closing my account. And that was that.

    I had never received anything but five-star reviews; I had never (knowingly) done anything contrary to Elance’s terms and conditions; I had never (again to my knowledge) had a client complain about my work or criticise me; I had never tried to get clients to pay me outside of Elance. To this day I am baffled as to what their “security review” could have been about, let alone what nefarious activity it apparently uncovered.

    There was no opportunity to appeal; there was no explanation forthcoming.

    But – and this is a nice touch – they have continued to send me an email each day telling me about jobs on Elance that might be of interest to me! I’ve asked them to stop, but still they persist.

    I appreciate the adage that different people’s mileage may vary, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t share your good opinion of Elance: I think their behaviour was appalling and arrogant.

    As a result of my experience I cannot recommend Elance as a place on which to do business.

  • Katie Cook says:

    Great article, Danny! When I first signed up for elance I was frustrated because I had to get my feet wet with some lower paying jobs. I’ve found that this is necessary because without a referral base it is almost impossible to land well paying clients on the site. At first I thought I had gotten around this problem by taking on some jobs from the Admin category. I quickly realized that I could charge $40-50 for simple admin jobs like creating mailing labels or a Google Forms (and these jobs were easy to win). By accepting these small jobs I was able to keep my hourly rate and build a client base on elance. However, I soon found out that jobs completed one category don’t count for another category. So, even though I had completed 20 jobs total, the clients only saw reviews, ratings, and total jobs for the category that their job was posted.

    The bidding process is another thing to consider. Crafting a quality job proposal that stands out from the dozens of other proposals can take time. I’ve found that I have to be choosy about the jobs I bid on otherwise the site can become a big time suck and can actually lower my weekly productivity.

    That being said, I just picked up two large clients via elance. Having these clients has given me the security to quit my part-time job and take my freelance business full time. I’m now on track to earn significantly more money this year over previous years.

    • Thanks for sharing, Katie. In my experience everything you’re saying is spot on. Especially the part about being more productive when you aren’t writing zillions of proposals! And being selective. As you’ve discovered, there are clients that are willing to pay well, it’s just a matter of finding them–and keeping them. Congrats on going full time! 🙂

  • Lynette says:

    You’re the best for sharing your lucrative experience and tips with us. I’m going to try putting them into practice. Thanks!

  • I think we have crossed paths before on Joanna’s Copyhacker blog (you did pen a guest post on Elance over there, right? I apologize if I am mistaken 🙁 )

    Anyway, I enjoyed your article. I will be able to start earning soon and your tips will come handy, for sure…

    Thank you so much

  • This article couldn’t have come at a better time. I do copy editing and technical writing. I’m the past, I charged hourly $50-65/hour. Then I read that charging per word, for manuscript length, is more accurate and can help if you’re fast. I am. But frankly hourly appeals more. Wanting your feedback on rates for longer work, which is my niche. Manuscripts, book propsals etc. And then would I go back up hourly of I did a tech writing or smaller job. Thoughts? Any advice appreciated, am getting started with Elance ASAP. I’d been overwhelmed by it in the past.

    Thank you so much.

    • Great to hear from you Jenny. For full disclosure, I don’t work in those particular niches, but your hourly rate sounds reasonable to me. I’m not crazy about per word pricing either because you get penalized for being succinct, when it should be the other way around. With that said you can generally charge more, both per hour and per word, for smaller jobs. Hope this helps. 🙂

  • Valerie Rouse says:

    Hi Danny. Glad to read your article! My experience with Elance was a bit different from yours. I only gained one job on Elance as a book reviewer. Elance then allowed me to know that they were going to close my account as I was not as successful in getting lots of jobs on that site. They closed the account. However I have been doing reviews since 2013 and having exposure on the web! I am still pressing on as a newbie freelancer with other sites but I felt really bad that Elance did this to me. Just saying.

  • Bic says:

    Hi Danny, I’m glad to know that there are people speaking up about their positive experience with Elance, because if you just listen to the consensus out there, it’s not really a rosy picture. If there’s one thing I’d like to add to your positive experience, it’s that I, too, have found Elance to be a lucrative source of full-time income (and I’m not even a native English speaker, which to most clients, can be a hindrance when they are looking for a writer).

    For me, it’s a matter of finding the kind of client who is willing to pay my asking price. Clients like this don’t come often, of course, because I’m also very choosy when it comes to which project to sign up for. In the grand scheme of hourly rates, I don’t make much, but it’s more than enough to have funded months-long trips around Southeast Asia. Even on days I don’t feel like working (I’m mildly bipolar), I’m making more than a local supervisor makes in a month (about $600). Now that I’m working seven days a week (only because I have an upcoming trip), I’m earning twice as much as a local manager earns in a month.

    I really don’t know how I came by with this “luck”, but I suspect it has something to do with a)making my profile sound like me b)crafting an application letter specific to what the client needs vs. what I can deliver c)committing to quality and letting clients know that it does not take me an hour to write 1,000 words and stitch in there 20 keywords d)specializing, but not too narrowly e)choosing projects that I’m personally interested in or willing to learn more about (to keep me engaged and learning and growing).

    It’s been five years, and I hope to grow with Elance for many more.

    • Right on! It’s great to hear you’re doing well. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. 🙂

    • Bic, having been raised in the Mideast as an expat American child, I would like to say something in defense of non-native English speakers.

      In elementary school, about half of my classmates spoke something other than English at home. Those of us who had English-speaking parents may have picked up some bad speech habits at home, but the rest learned English mainly from textbooks and teachers. At home, they and their parents watched an instructional TV show called “Let’s Speak English.”

      (I actually defaulted to “Liz” because so few people could pronounce “Elizabeth”, which is an Anglo-Hebrew name.)

      When my father retired, we moved back to the USA. I had a hard time understanding what some local people were saying, especially as they dropped and added syllables to words. Yet I had no trouble understanding longtime immigrants, who learned English through formal educational channels.

      Sometimes a German colleague asks me for a word he is trying to remember. But I can understand what he is saying, more clearly than I can understand some of the people who have spent their entire lives here in the USA.

      Compare this to my experience working in food service, years ago. I had co-workers who were formally trained in corporate facilities, or in the military. I also had co-workers who learned food handling from their mothers and grandmothers. You definitely want your food prepared by the former group.

  • Thanks for this article, Danny! It was reassuring to me as I also started my freelancing with Elance nine months ago and have found several lucrative jobs. Only recently, I’ve been weaning myself away as I realize many other opportunities exist for a talented, reliable writer. My fees started low as a newbie ($12/hour or $20 blog post), but after I earned positive reviews (five stars in Elance ratings), I continued to raise my rates ($50+/hour). I get multiple “invitation-only” jobs per month. I’m selective with whom I work with now, and honestly, I find it empowering to choose my clients. My summary statement is Elance provided a great launching point, stretched my comfort zone with writing various content, and increased my confidence as a writer.

  • Bex says:

    Yes! Thanks for this. I’ve been saying similar things in the comments on writing websites for quite some time now, whenever someone explains how awful Elance is for writers and that no one should use it.

    The platform can be useful, if you learn how to use it well!

  • I’m glad to hear it has worked out for someone!

    I looked into elance, and ended up not pursuing it precisely because it seemed like one gigantic race to the bottom, and there was a Catch-22 that I just did not want to spend my time wrestling with: All my experience outside elance didn’t seem to mean anything, and starting from nothing meant I had no reviews, so I would only attract bargain-basement clients, whose reviews would not be meaningful to the kind of clients I wanted to attract. To get those first few gigs, I would be competing with people whose first language was not even English who could live what is considered a decent lifestyle in the Third World on a few dollars for a full day’s work. No thanks! I congratulate anyone who can jump into that melee and come out with the decent jobs. Well-done!

    As a freelance editor, I often face the bargain-basement mentality from people who ought to know better: Writers! People for some reason think that a book that took them thousands of hours to write is only worth a few hundred dollars to copyedit. The sad thing is, you can always find someone who will do it for any price, all the way down to free, but you do get what you pay for.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Trish. I agree most writers do undercharge. My best advice to Elancers is to not get caught up in the “price wars,” and focus on doing great work for those clients who are willing to pay well for it.

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