Why I closed my Elance profile and you should too

Despite the continued hype, Elance is not worth it for writers. If you have an Elance profile, close it. It just makes you look cheap. Here's why I did.

Yesterday I finally closed my Elance account and asked them to delete my profile. They say they’ll close it in the next billing cycle, so it’ll take a month for it to be deleted from the Internet – hopefully for good.

For writers like me, online bidding sites like Elance are a waste of time. In June last year I wrote about my experience with Elance and why the system just doesn’t work for me. I know I’m not the only one. Almost a year later, the company has bought out oDesk, arguably its biggest competition, and this makes them huge – but the market there is one where bargain-bin hunters hound professionals to provide them Pulitzer Prize quality work for the same price as a couple of cokes and a packet of chips.

I’m not even exaggerating. I was once invited to bid on a job where the client wanted to pay $20 for a 50,000 word novel. What shocked me was people actually bid on the job! What are they doing?

I left my profile open for a while because I did garner a few clients. Only one paid me a decent price for several articles. The others didn’t pay well at all (but admittedly were better than most of the work there) but I did the work for them to test a theory I often hear about Elance – that if you build a good profile and get good reviews, the decent paying clients will come.

Frankly, I don’t believe this for a second. The amount of time you spend doing the cheap jobs so that you can move into some bracket of decent-paying jobs can be better spent marketing yourself the old school way and actually writing and querying publications. Furthermore, I don’t think there really is a decent paying market on Elance – at least not a consistent one. Practically every job I bid on was badly priced, with only a few exceptions. The highest paying ghostwriting project I did bid on – and almost won – was offered at just a little lower than a decent ghostwriting rate. I lost the bid because the guy who won underbid me (surprise, surprise) and claimed that he was a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter. I checked out his profile and his stuff was pretty good. But I couldn’t help but wonder why, if this was the case, he was bidding on jobs at Elance – and for the price he undercut me for, too.

Decently priced jobs are honestly so few and far between that the time you invest to find them and bid on them (and then often re-bid when the client asks you to provide some speculative work) is not worth it. Why bother building a decent Elance profile if you can rather build a good profile with real people in your own city, through relationships, word-of-mouth, cold calling and a decent website?

The Elance online freelance model, despite the hype, actually doesn’t work near as well as it (a) could or (b) claims to work. Your time is better spent getting business the old school way. My suggestion to any writer these days is avoid Elance. If you’re starting out, rather build a portfolio through volunteer work – say, the local newspaper or your dad’s company. Real relationships and real people. Freelancing through online sites seems like an easy way to get things done but it’s more of a pain in the butt – one that will always be a pain to you if you invest in it – than the old way of getting things done.

My opinion of the site is so bad that I am going to insist that every trace of me on that site will not be found by search engines because being there just makes me look cheap and desperate. I think a writer ought to think about that. Don’t waste your time or ruin your reputation.

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