Elance Blog

Getting Out of the Starting Gate: A Guide For Elance Newbies

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.”


That's a great article. It is necessary for every newbie that these are the essentials and the starting with a complete profile will lead towards the success. I also focused on my article in my website http://freelancefront.com/why-freelancers-failure-to-get-freelance-jobs & I tried to expose a common mistake that majority of newbies usually make. Nevertheless You have total control. Thanks for sharing

What a relief to learn that clients' "tight deadlines" only matter when bidding, not after the contract is awarded! (" If the project takes way longer than you figured, it’s okay; you’re learning.")


I can't believe elance paid someone to write this.

"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."


WOW. I guess elance is no longer an online platform for professionals.
Now elance is just an online place for people to "get in on the game" or
pick a price range, and find projects they like doing?

Nobody is a professional from day one. So stuff it.

Cathy, what a potential and helpful post! Yesterday before going to bed I was wondering that why I don't have any success on Elance? I'm working as a Freelancer since 2009, I'm from Pakistan but my normal working hours are US business hours, I figured that I'm not consistently bidding due to low number of connects but I'm writing cover letter according to client's job description, attaching samples but no luck! One more thing I noticed that I'm not bidding low may be it's a main factor in getting my first project. Your suggestions are going to help and now I'm on fire, confident to get my first today!

This is a very good article to address the needs for those getting started on this venture in working for a company such as this. I do not understand some of these comments here. Sadly, some people just do not understand the importance of basic information that is needed to get started. I appreciate what you are offering to us. My question is this, when you mentioned that you should have a portfolio of work that you offer, what would be the best thing to do? I have not done any work for any customer here. I am a transcriptionist/editor. I can do almost any typing job for doctors, dentists, teachers, professors, spiritual leaders, and so forth. Can you please advise? I would greatly appreciate your input. Thank you.

Thank you for the tip about bidding low at first. That makes sense and I did not think about that. Great advice.

Thank you for this wonderful guide. It's really helpful, and just what I need as a newcomer.

I have one comment, and that is about bidding low. I understand the temptation to do this, but, based on experience in another online business, I feel it can actually be counter-productive.

If a seller/contractor prices his product low, it can look like a Walmart service ("Always the low price!") and, by association, a lower-quality service. The potential buyer can get a sense of desperation, as if the contractor doesn't have confidence in his work.

This is especially true if the new person is experienced. For instance, I'm new to Elance, but a 20-year veteran of business and academic writing. If I submitted a bid for $10 an hour, a potential client could well think "Wow. It's not like she's fresh out of college. What's wrong with HER?"

I think we should charge what we're worth. Doing so tells the world "I may be new to this website, but I believe in my work, and so should you."

I was looking for something else when I came across this article. My inclination is to agree both ways! I agree with the writer, and when I started, I began lowering my bids so that they were around the "average" mark, but having thought about it (and getting a couple of really poorly-paid gigs that took way too long to do, because I follow that old rule of "a job worth doing" ) I'm beginning to realize that I am coming across as second-rate or just plain desperate, so I agree with Barbara as well!

These are some great, helpful tips! As a newbie, I appreciate any and all advice that can help me get on my way to a successful freelance career!

I'd like to see some example of feedbacks left from contractors to their clients. I can't find them on Elance.

I've just finished my first project and the client left me with a perfect feedback, but I'm not sure what to write back or if writing a feedback is worth at all.

Im new to Elance. i got my first job the 1st week. using all my connects. now that i upgraded my account to have connects again i spent my money that i got from my 1st job just for connects. im not getting jobs!! whats wrong???

Great article. Honestly I didn't do a lot of preparation before jumping in and now I wish I had come across this article. From my experience greenhorns often have to settle for "bulk" work that pays low. As the author said experience counts and these early jobs should be seen more from an experience than a money angle.

On one point I'd like to add though - bid often is good enough but make sure you bid for what you can do. Quite often the seasoned freelancers will shy away from a job that demands rare skills or excessive effort (because they know what level of effort is needed). It is insanely tempting to jump in, but one should always read the job description carefully before bidding. There's nothing better than getting a good job in the first week, but there's nothing worse than getting a bad review on your first job.


But I don't want to pay for anything ! I'm quite happy for them to take a commission from what I earn, but I don't want to pay out upfront. Do I still have a chance ?

But I don't want to pay for anything ! I'm quite happy for them to take a commission from what I earn, but I don't want to pay out upfront. Do I still have a chance ?

But I don't want to pay for anything ! I'm quite happy for them to take a commission from what I earn, but I don't want to pay out upfront. Do I still have a chance ?

But I don't want to pay for anything ! I'm quite happy for them to take a commission from what I earn, but I don't want to pay out upfront. Do I still have a chance ?

when you start bid ,bid low, then get experience.

great tutorial

Thank you for your article - I appreciate it! I have been in design and advertising agencies for 20 years and have never had to solicit my own work. Thank you for the help at getting started - I needed a rah rah!!!

This look like great tip for me! Excited about the stuff and new things here. Lets see the result what I get from here.

We just created a piece about the same topic, but refers more to href="http://www.imcreator.com/blog/get-more-projects-on-elance">web designers starting out on Elance
I hope you'll like it