Elance Blog

Through an Employer’s Eyes


Providers are always looking for new strategies to improve the quality of their proposals during the bidding process, but oftentimes these suggestions are given with either a provider or employer perspective. What happens when one of your fellow Elancers finds themselves on the other side of the table? Karen Lacey, ghostwriter and editor, shares with us her story of how she used her unique experience as an Elance employer to increase her success as an Elance provider, and gives you her top tips to help you win more business.

Have you ever wondered why you lost a job to someone who placed their bid several hundred (or even thousand) dollars higher than yours? How about when the elusive jewel of “Congratulations—Your Proposal Was Chosen” went to someone with less experience or work history? Have you scratched your head over what must be in the minds of employers when they take what seem like random leaps of faith with providers you know you’d outperform if given the chance?

I too have contemplated these virtual work world incongruities and have banged my head against the baffling wall of online freelancing success. That was until one day when I discovered the door leading to the mind of the employer. All it took was a click of the mouse and in I went; in other words, I became one.

Too often we get wrapped up in the world we create in front of ourselves. For me that meant bidding on writing and editing projects, winning some, losing others, and wasting a lot of time trying to get jobs that in hindsight I had low odds of being chosen for. Now I know why and I’ve been awarded almost every single project I’ve bid on since. I don’t get them all, it’s not that earth shattering (in fact many of the tips I’m going to share with you are common sense and we simply forget to apply them) but my award ratio is much higher and I spend more time working—which I love—than searching for new jobs and writing proposal after proposal.

So let’s get started. What does Elance look like through the eyes of an employer and how can we cater to this vision so we appear as shiny and brilliant as possible?

To start, let’s look at what isn’t as important as you might think it is:

  • First to bid. Somewhere along the way we got to thinking the first one in has an edge over the rest, right? If we’re not in at the beginning it’s not worth the effort to bid at all. Granted, being at the top of the list, especially in preferred status, means our potential employer will scroll past our name that much more often (until/if, they filter us out). But is it crucial? Actually, no. The cream doesn’t always rise to the top and any serious employer will see that. Don’t let a project several days old put you off from still placing a bid.
  • The super low bid. The Golden Rule in the cyber cloud is not the cheapest wins. Sure, there will always be the employer fixated on the price and nothing else, but do you really want to toil and sweat for that type? Not more times than you have to, and they’re usually quirky in other ways too.
  • How cute you look in your picture. Sorry, this won’t win the most either. It’s always nice to work with attractive people, but the best bosses want professionals not beauty queens or kings.

Okay, so we got the No’s out of the way. Now, what is it that makes providers stand apart in the online crowd?

I became an Elance employer when I needed to get my website built. I had approximately thirty proposals within the first day, most of them within the first two hours of posting my project. The speed and quantity of responses stunned me. How would I ever sift through them all and make the best choice? It actually worked out the other way around. By observing their behavior toward me, I was able to determine who was the most serious, giving, and patient in understanding and therefore delivering what I needed.

Here are four traits that stood out:

Read my proposal and understand what I, specifically, am looking for.
I know it’s faster to do the ol’ copy and paste from that worn out proposal you wrote a year ago--I’ve certainly done it. But when these arrived in my inbox, I immediately felt the lack of personalization and knew that working with that provider wasn’t going to give me the individualized help I wanted. So I filtered them out. Bam. All of a sudden I realized just how important it was to make a personal connection right off the bat.

In the mind of each employer his or her project is unique and special. You may see a gazillion requests to have websites made (articles written, email campaigns launched, fill-in-the-blank) and to you they all seem the same. But to the employer they’re not. They’re only interested in one project, their own. Show them you see how unique they are and you’re starting off miles ahead of the pack.

Ask questions and make suggestions
When relevant, ask pointed, well thought out questions covering any important areas that aren’t clear to you. Equally, if not more importantly, make suggestions as to what more you can offer that the employer might not have thought of.

In my case, the winning provider offered to set me up so I could easily track traffic to my site. For those of you who understand these things, you know this is no big deal and easy to do. The point is he offered to do it when it wasn’t on the list of features I asked for in my posting. He also offered to help me set up Google ads and various other bells and whistles I never dreamed of. Again, nothing that would cost a great deal of time and money, it was thinking about me and seeing areas I hadn’t thought of that worked. That’s smart.

Don’t overwhelm them. The goal is to ask specific, limited questions and show you’ve not only read the posting and seen the employer as an individual, but you’re already thinking about how you can do the job. All your ideas don’t have to be included in the original proposal. You can use them as follow up messages to stay in front of the potential client and let them know you’re thinking of their project. Remember, the proposal is only the beginning. There’s a lot more to winning jobs than just the initial contact.

Read the project posting carefully and try to anticipate what else the employer might want that you can easily provide. Sometimes there’s nothing or what you could add would take too much time. Fine, leave it at that, but remember to think this way and you might be pleasantly surprised with what you’re able to offer that no one else brought up. This is a sure way to help you stand out above the cyber crowd.

Answer questions
Sounds too obvious to include, doesn’t it? Amazingly, I had several providers I was genuinely interested in who never bothered to answer my questions. I might have received an email assuring me they were the best and I needed to hire them right away, but answers to my concerns? Not included. If the employer has taken the time to PMB or email you directly, you’re on his or her list. Take advantage of this and reply promptly, professionally, and to every single issue. Run spell check, be positive, and if possible make a further suggestion as to what more you can do. (I can smell the job getting closer from here!)

Check your emails every single day
I know, to some this idea is abominable. I might as well ask you to jab yourself in the eye with a sharp stick. But if you want to stand apart you need to be available to do so. It doesn’t mean you have to work all weekend rather than be with your family. It means check your email and respond to those emails regarding projects you’ve bid on even if it’s just to say, “Thank you, let me work on that and I’ll get back to you Monday morning.” Many good employers are quick to make decisions. By simply showing up you put yourself, yet again, ahead of the pack.

It’s important to add here that some employers can be disrespectful of your time as a freelancer. (As can some providers be disrespectful of an employer’s time.) Once you get the job you might need to set boundaries as to how and when you are available to be contacted. This is a big enough issue for an entire blog posting so I’ll just say here that it doesn’t take that much time to check your email (early morning before you head out, or in the evening when you get back and before you’re off to the BBQ or club). You’re not setting any precedents you can’t adjust if you get awarded the work. Just check your emails every day, even the weekend—I promise, it’s not that big of a deal, yet can help you land the better jobs.

The four steps are easy. No rocket science is involved and you don’t need a new degree or years of resume building. They’re simple yet crucial and what’s amazing—most providers are slack about them. If you follow this advice you’ll put yourself ahead of the rest, right where you deserve to be.

About the Author:
Karen Lacey freelances with Elance as a ghostwriter and editor all the while traveling and taking on new adventures. Recently and because of her freelancing she’s been able to live in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Cocoa Beach, Florida. In Southern California now, she’s written two novels and is in the process of publishing her first nonfiction book. Check out her website at www.klacey.com.



Thank you very much for sharing this wonderful information! I will certainly put it to use right away!:)

Karen, this is a great article with lots of good advice! I have to wonder if it would serve the community better, though, if the word "employer" was replaced with "project manager." Writing in terms of employers and employees might give a new freelancer the wrong idea about the "work for hire" business relationship. But your advice is badly needed - freelancers really do need to communicate professionally if they want to succeed! Thanks for reminding us.

Very nice Karen this is what I'm looking for. Thanks for the advise!

God Bless,

Thank you for the straight forward advice.Very helpful and encouraging to read thoughts from employers .

Thanks Karen. As you said, this is mostly common sense, but we all need reminding.


Some great advice here - thank you.

Thank you, Karen, for that insightful information. It is very difficult, as a provider, to know what the employer is thinking. Thanks for that little peek into the employer's thought process.

Very useful tips. Thank you

Very useful. Thanks for that help.