Getting Out of the Starting Gate: A Guide For Elance NewbiesGuest_Blogger | Apr 09, 2012
So you’ve joined Elance and you want to know what’s the best way to get out of the starting gate and become a serious contender in the bidding wars. You’ve probably noticed that there’s often fierce competition for projects, that some Elance contractors bid low, some Elance clients offer low prices, and that seasoned Elancers have a big head start when they have lots of great reviews.
On the flip side, I see new contractors coming on like a storm all the time. There they are, brand new, and lo and behold they have 4 or 5 projects in the first couple of weeks with 4 or 5 great reviews. And they don’t necessarily have amazing credentials—just some good basic experience and probably some good samples. When I see their quick success, what does that tell me?
- They’re serious about starting their business.
- They probably have a competitive streak (a good attribute in this business).
- They’ve been bidding a lot—you have to bid a lot when you’re just getting started.
- They’ve been buying extra Connects so they can keep bidding. (Note: spending $20 or $30 or $40 on extra Connects the first few months is not a big cost for starting a business!)
- They’re probably checking for new projects every couple of hours because they’ve figured out that with newly posted projects there is less competition. (The projects come rolling in all day long and many clients choose someone quickly.)
- They’re choosing small projects to get started, knowing that seasoned contractors usually bid on larger projects.
- They’ve been careful to pick decent projects with good clients (more about that later).
- They must have done a good job because they’ve received good reviews.
The First Great Big Goal
So there you go. Once you have 4 or 5 good reviews, you’re on the map! You’re a bona fide Elance contractor. You’re a player in the bidding wars. For that first batch of jobs, pick small jobs and bid low to get started—the important thing is to get started. If the project takes way longer than you figured, it’s okay; you’re learning. The idea is to end up with your first little batch of projects, all with great ratings (you’re aiming to score 5s, but high 4s are okay).
The Starting Gate
Okay, so now let’s back up. How did you get to those first five projects? Like a race horse heading for the starting gate, there’s lots of preparation involved before you can stand at the gate. Basically, there are three stages you have to go through:
Stage #1: Research: What Does My Competition Look Like?
…and what can I learn from them before I start competing against them? You’ll learn all kinds of things by checking out your competition, both before you start and regularly after that. On the top menu of Elance, go to “Hire” instead of “Work.” If you’re a writer, for example, click on the Writing & Translation section. Your fellow writers will be listed, starting with who’s making the most money. Then you can refine your search by putting “web content” or “press release” or “ghostwriting” or “manuscript” in the search bar—depending on what type of jobs you want to pursue. Again, the top earning writers in that particular category will be listed first. Check out what kind of projects they’ve been getting and how much they charge. You can also go from there to their Profile, Portfolio or Job History. You can look at a competitor’s overall Elance Profile and say, “This is what I want to be doing; this is what I want to aspire to.”
Stage #2: Complete Your Profile
- Complete your Profile.
- Choose 10 Keywords that describe what you do or want to do.
- List 8 Skills; you can test them later. Some clients like to check out what you consider your particular skills.
- Start building your Portfolio. You can add more samples later. And check out the Portfolio of your competitors to see what you think works best.
- Do not have any typos in your Profile (an amazingly common occurrence, even with writers and editors!)
Stage #3: Create Your Samples
- Samples are your number one sales tool. Before you start bidding, create samples—a sample or two for every type of service you’re going to offer.
- Create a file of samples so that it’s easy to grab one or two and attach them to your proposal. Many clients will not take the time to look at bidders’ Portfolios, especially if they have 10 or 20 bids.
- Samples do not even have to be something you did for a client. For example, you can create a press release that shows you know how to write a press release. You can create a website or a logo for a friend. You can edit an essay for a student whose first language is not English.
- Be absolutely sure your samples have no mistakes or typos.
- You can also add testimonials from clients.
The Bidding Wars
- When you’re first starting, pick projects that are uncomplicated, short, and easy for you to do.
- Pick clients who are experienced, who explain exactly what they want, and who have a history on Elance of giving feedback to clients and often giving a 5. (Just click on the client’s name when you’re bidding to see his History.)
- Bid on lots of projects. Your total cost of joining Elance so far is $10. Spend money on extra connects. This is your total financial cost to starting your business. Where else can you start a business for less than $100? Do lots of bidding but pick carefully.
- Bid frequently during the day. Projects come rolling into Elance all day long. Pick your categories and check what’s come in every hour or two. Many clients choose as soon as they have a few good bidders, and many have tight deadlines.
- The default time for posting a project is 14 days. Those projects get huge numbers of bids, and quite often the bidder doesn’t choose anyone! Make sure you spend most of your bidding time on projects that are relatively new—a couple of hours, a couple of days. If you have lots of time to bid, then you can make your way through everything else too.
- When you start bidding, bid low. Get experience. Then when you’re in the game, decide on what price range you’re willing to work in and what kind of projects you like doing.
- Note that, in every niche, there will be a wide range of Elance contractors and they will charge a very wide range of fees. Find your sweet spot. Are you a hot dog stand, a McDonald’s, an Italian deli or a fancy French bistro? It takes trial and error and more research to find out where you fit. You’re an entrepreneur, and that means you’re competitive, flexible, innovative, and resilient.
- Congratulations on getting started! Enjoy the ride and revisit your business plan every few months.
Have other tips for new contractors? Share them on the Elance Facebook page!
About the Author
Cathy has been working on Elance for 3 years, writing and editing for clients in 38 countries and counting. Her summary of the experience: “I’ve worked with some great clients and learned about so many countries and all kinds of fascinating subjects—it’s like taking an advanced degree in globalization.”