Elance Review: How to Outsource Your Web Work

Today’s job markets are tough, which is why so many people are considering different revenue streams just to keep up with a struggling economy.  But before you go all billboardy on me, keep reading.

Answer a few of these questions:  Ever wonder how to start your freelancing career? Ever think about building a web project but stopped short of the point of action because you weren’t sure how it all works? Do you enjoy the ego gratification that comes when people bid on the right to work for you?

Then you might consider going online to hire and outsource some freelance web work – and you might just consider Elance.com.

How to Hire a Freelancer Online

Elance.com is just one of many sites that takes advantage of the old adage when in doubt, outsource. If you’re building a car but aren’t very good at engines, you might outsource to an engine guy. If you’re painting a house but need help with mixing colors, you go to the color mixing gal. So why should it be any different when you’re plugging the holes in your online business plan?

How does the process work? First, you visit the Elance.com home page and click “Sign in or Register.” Of course, since you’re new to this process, you’ll have to register for a new account.

As you might suspect, it’s not as easy as signing up for a free e-mail account; you can’t simply log in and start giving people orders. When you sign up as a buyer on Elance, you’re going to have to jump through a few hoops. For example, Elance is going to have to verify that your credit card actually works.  Kind of important.

After you’ve jumped through the hoops and verified that you really do plan on paying people for the work they provide, you’re ready to search for some good freelancers. But where do you start? Start with what you need. A typical search might start out like this under “Find Quality Professionals”:

Elance Screen Shot of the very Web 2.0 Front Page

When you sign up to Elance, you’ll be able to search for professionals (also called “providers” on Elance) and invite them to bid on a project you’ve set up; or you can simply set up that project and wait for the providers to place bids.  It’s a bit like eBay, except freelancers are vying for your work.

What kind of services can you expect to find on Elance? Here are some of the major categories:

  • Web and Programming – Web design, application design, WordPress design, etc.
  • Design and Multimedia – Logos, graphics, videos, etc.
  • Writing and Translation – Articles, blog posts, etc.
  • Admin and Support – Virtual assistants
  • Sales and Marketing – Market research, consulting
  • Finance and Management – Accounting, budgeting
  • Legal
  • Engineering and Manufacturing

Needless to say, there are a lot of different options.

Once you’ve established a connection with a provider, you can use features like project milestones to make sure that your provider is on time – you can also require that they provide you with status reports.  Throughout the project, you can contact your freelancer through private message boards that keep you in touch – it’s also possible to exchange further contact information if you’d like to contact through e-mail or phone.

How to Work on Elance

Of course, this is a two-way street:  Elance isn’t just for people looking to outsource their work, it’s for the workers themselves who have a marketable skill to use.

You have two options when you work on Elance – you can get paid hourly or through one lump sum.  When you’re looking for projects to bid on, you can easily sort through these different options.

How do you know that you’ll get paid and won’t get stiffed on an Elance project?  Elance offers an escrow feature which means that your client will fund the project’s fee at the beginning of work – you’ll know the money’s there waiting to be released once you complete the project or complete a project milestone.

The most difficult part about using Elance as a provider is the proposal process.  Elance doesn’t allow you to make an infinite number of proposals or bids; instead, your membership plan will limit you to a certain amount of proposals/bids per month.

Getting these proposals or bids to turn into work is perhaps the “trick” to working on Elance.  When you write a proposal, you can customize certain items like pricing (you write your own price, usually with a minimum price you can bid at) and scheduling (you let the buyer know when you expect to finish by).  Your goal is to put together the best proposal and best profile so that you can get desirable work.

Huh?  Profile?  Yep, your provider’s profile will come into play here.  When you bid on a project, the buyer doesn’t only see your proposal, but your experience, as well:

Elance Feedback

As you can see, they’ll look at your experience including feedback and earnings just like on eBay.  If you’ve been producing low-quality work over a long period of time, that work will come back to haunt you in the form of poor buyer reviews.  So make sure the work you do is, you know, good.

Competing Sites – Where Else Can You Freelance?

Elance, of course, is not the only place to look for work and/or workers.  Here are some other sites you might consider:

The experience on Elance, however, has been positive enough both for buyers and providers that is has become one of the most well-known places to outsource your work online.

Elance Pricing

Elance isn’t free if you plan on bidding on projects.  Rates run from around $10 per month (if you’re going for the minimum amount; a one-person freelancing operation with a low amount of bids per month) and can go up into the hundreds depending on the options that you want to select.  For many people, Elance basically pays for itself and you can select to have the money you earn into your Elance account pay your monthly Elance subscription.

How do you collect the funds sitting in  your Elance account?  You can plug in your bank account and routing number to deposit funds to your bank or you can transfer the money to your PayPal – once you’re set up it’s a very easy process.

Elance will also charge you a percentage of the income you earn on projects, so make sure you consider that as well.

Overall Impressions

Elance is a great tool for both finding people who can skillfully do work that you otherwise couldn’t, and for finding work online.  Many Elance projects can be entirely digital, which allows you to work from anywhere as long as you own a laptop.

How well does Elance really “work”?  Believe it or not, this article is actually coming to you thanks to Elance – Emory Rowland and I found each other through the site.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Dan Kenitz

Dan Kenitz is a former professional Search Engine Optimization specialist and current freelance writer, commentator, and all-around entrepreneur.


  1. Emory Rowland

    Thanks, Dan for the review. I like the happy ending :)

    For me, Elance has made doing business easier, faster and more efficient.

  2. Matt Brown

    One big problem that bothers me, is the high saturation of “over-seas” workers that will work for $9-$12 per hour. They flood websites like Guru and Elance.

    “You want a website comparable to MySpace.com for $250? No problem, we can do that.”

    I’m a firm believer in that you get what you pay for. Developers like myself, who take huge pride in our craftmanship, and who charge industry standard rates in the $50-$80 per hour range get over shadowed by these people.

  3. John

    They ask you 10 dollars to start with when you sign up for Elance.

  4. Thanks for sharing such an Informative review – it is obvious that you’ve done your homework. : ) I have been a provider on Elance for over 10 years now, I started when it was free to bid on any project. When they started charging, I stayed around. Why? Because the online marketplace model works if you’ve got qualified skills and can market yourself effectively!

    Over the past 10 years, I have completed over 700 projects and the list grows every day. What’ve learned is that qualified providers can succeed on Elance.com if they have the right attitude and are willing to put in the work to build a solid reputation. They also have to be willing to:

    1. Bid consistently with non-canned bids.
    2. Evaluate all projects and buyers before bidding.
    3. Have a stellar profile that adequately defines their qualifications and unique skills set.
    4. Are able to market their services and know their value.
    5. Bid competitively without lowballing.
    6. Work diligently to exceed expectations.
    7. Keep at it until they succeed.

    This method has definitely worked for me and I truly believe that it will work for other providers also.

    Kristi Patrice Carter
    KPC Writing on Elance

  5. elance-loser

    I’m a new provider at Elance and I’m an outsourcing company. I would like to share my first project experience with you.

    I gave a project to a “Xperts Inn” URL-www.elance.com/experts/pakistan_capital_islamabad/iphone_android/1657361#tab=1 . They took the advance of 30% and delivered the first milestone partially completed and delivered it with lots of bugs. They never responded to my emails and skype messages for a month. Finally I lost my project, I lost my client. Had to pay compensations for this project.

    I lost the Elance arbitrations because all my communication to him was on email and Skype. because he wanted me to communicate via email and Skype.

    Now I went through his other comments and found the last 3 feedbacks are as bad as mine. Lots of feedbacks have been removed. When I looked for people who gave him good comment and I found user: gordondarling URL-www.elance.com/php/profile/main/eolbuyerprofile.php?userid=2312674 All his projects are range from $200 to $500/-

    Now, Imran the boss of Xperts Inn skyped me saying he will refund 50% of the project cost if I were to remove the feedback posted to him. I wonder if this is the reason for so many no feedbacks removed for “Xperts Inn”.

    Now I have strong feeling that “Xperts Inn” is a big scam they get good ratings from another account gordondarling which is owned by them. They “steel” service providers money and tell them they will refund 50% of the money after removing the feedback. After the feedback is removed the provider doesn’t get any money.

    This is a big SCAM!! watch out

  6. Tiendq

    Hi elance-loser,

    I’m a new provider on elance too, but IMHO as Matt has said above, you just got what you paid for, I guess that the bid price was very low. As an employer you also made several trivial mistakes to not review provider profile carefully, to communicate with provider outside the Workroom and don’t log anything.

  7. Dean

    At the moment I’m not enamored of Elance. I got my first job a few weeks ago and the client put the money in escrow, so I thought (and the Elance site said).

    This morning, after numerous requests for extra work, I finally told him that he needed to release the first measely $100 and we could go to phase II. Within minutes he canceled the job, and guess what – he was able to immediately pull the money out of escrow. There was some financial connection with his bank that he had not finalized, despite the work going for a few weeks. I got an email from Elance saying that they would provide me with his contact info if I want to sue him in court! Isn’t that what escrow exists for? And he said he was in the UK.

    All in all, since this guy didn’t finalize escrow over these weeks, I’m guessing he never intended to pay and had figured out how to game Elance’s system. An Elance person on their help line has told me that I should request that my support email be “escalated to policy” – i.e. that they need to review their policy. No client should be able to let escrow funds hang like that.

    I’ve now been told of some place on their website that I could have gone to see that the money wasn’t actually in escrow. How many providers know that? I’m not out that much money, but this is what Elance escrow is supposed to avoid.

  8. Emory Rowland

    That sounds really strange, Dean. Sorry to hear that happened. As a buyer, there is one screen that confirms I have placed funds in escrow so I assumed this is past the point of no return. If you find out anymore about this, please post back. Thanks.

  9. Jeff


    You probably didn’t wait for the Client to actually fund the escrow account. You have to wait until you receive an email from Elance (after the project is awarded and the terms finalized) saying that the escrow account for the project has been funded. After the account has been funded the client can not pull the money back out. The details about the escrow can be found in their help pages.

    I’ve been on Elance several months and I’ve been able to build up a pretty solid reputation and have worked with some great clients, a few situations were a little bit uncomfortable but all-in-all my experiences have been fairly positive. I’m aware that not everyone has had as great an experience as a provider on the site, which is why I’ve built a site called FreelancerReports which hopefully will give providers some more information on a potential client before they begin working for them

  10. Elance Bite

    @ 6. elance-loser,

    Elance removed Xperts Inn account. But guess what they are using a new account called QITSOL and doing the same stuff. They also added that on Guru, Odesk, PeoplePerHour etc. and guess what they already have over 40 reviews inside 2 months.

    These people won’t change I Guess.

  11. Tandav

    Elance Beware : Don’t waste your time on this

    One of the worst experience I had till date, it was simply overwhelming, seems like I have been degraded and cheated.

    I posted my interest in my first job post and after two days they suspended my account saying that I had violated their terms, which both of us (me and my employer do not agree as we were just going through regular elance payments, communications and all.)

    We tried to contact their support, which is worst of all never got a response back.

    thoroughly discourage using it when there are tons of options floating around.

  12. Samantha

    I was suspended too. It was my fault. If you’re a vendor and you take on a new hire, yes, they might make a mistake. One put years into building your profile, getting postive comments and then bam !

    Your account is suspended for a whole month.

    Okay Elance, I know now to expand and be certain you are only a small bit of our business. Which means I’ll downgrade membership and join a different site :)

  13. Hey Dan & Emory, I’m a big elance proponent as well. My 2 big factors when evaluating these types of sites are usability of the site and quality of the resources.

    Regarding usability, it’s the best out there. I won’t name any names, but some other sites you could use a real UI makeover. All I really need is a simple interface to compare candidates and track where I am in the interview process, which elance does well.

    Regarding quality, it’s the most popular site so you get the best and the worst people out there. But fortunately, the sheer numbers of candidates mean if you screen well you can find some really good people.

    • Emory Rowland

      I think you’re right on, Geoff. Absolutely no issues with usability and couldn’t be happier. On resource quality, I do have problems finding writers who are truly experts in their niches, especially when it involves technical stuff like web design or hosting. With some jobs I post, I just keep extending them for as long as possible before giving up. The good thing for the buyer is there’s nothing lost if you don’t choose someone.

Leave a comment