Elance Blog

Guest Blog Post: How to Land Lucrative Projects, Without The Hard Sell.

Occasionally we invite professionals to wax poetic about issues of importance to Elance clients and freelancers. Here are some thoughts from Ashwin Satyanarayana, an online marketing strategist and big fan of Elance.


I confess, it was a shameless trick to make the title irresistible for the lazy freelancers, but the truth is this: Either there is “hard sell” or years of hard work involved before the “easy sell”.

Personal development guru Steve Pavlina says it best, “Challenging work, when intelligently chosen, pays off.” Challenging work is painful. It sucks your soul. Yet, it’s this pain that charts the path to your growth. Pain, by the way, is a ruthless, unbiased, and a horrendously hardnosed teacher.

Yet, there’s a way for freelancers to land more jobs. You are on Elance and that should be enough work for this lifetime and the next. It’s not about whether there are jobs (because there are too many of them out there). It’s about the approach:

The Rule of Pure Hustle.

For freelancers who dig digital work, “hustle” here is of the digital kind.

You’d send proposals, write guest posts, develop your own content for your blog, generate alternate content, and compose social media specific content.

On Elance specifically, the hustle is entirely digital. It’s simple: How many proposals do you send out everyday? Hustling on Elance has a specific workflow: Customize your proposals, fix a set number of proposals you’ll make per day, send in proposals irrespective of what happens to the proposals you make.

It’s not like heaving bags of cement and working in harsh conditions (oil rigs or construction work) and also doesn’t require you to shove your hands between moving gears and free-falling pistons.

You’ve just run out of excuses to not “hustle” at least when it’s digital.

Play by the numbers.

It’s amazing how numbers (in the sense of activity volume) come to your rescue.  I am a freelance writer and here is how my averages play out:

Number of proposals or bids sent per day: 20 (and all of them are customized)

Historic average conversion rate: 10%

Number of opportunities that accrue per day: 2

Average ticket size per opportunity: $350

Total bookings made per day: $350 x 2 = $700

If I work 20 days a month, I make: $700 x 20 = $14,000.

Want more? Can you do with less? Go play with the numbers.

Now, the numbers look good here but in real life there are things like the state of your mind, motivation levels, hunger, distractions, people, and current workloads that you have to think of.

Find exactly 20 right opportunities to apply to everyday and in months (or sooner), you’ll have more than you can handle. Elance, at any given point, has thousands of jobs across categories. You’ll never fall short of opportunities to apply to. Of course, ignore those “Peanut Projects” and others who look for “Monkey labor”, if you want to.
Assuming you do take all of that into account and still manage to pull it off, I can hear your cash register ringing.

Being creative with the act of “looking out.”

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt of Payscale points out that more than 80% of job openings aren’t advertised. While you let that sink in, browse Peter Cappelli’s explanation of why employers aren’t filling up open jobs, in the Harvard Business Review.

Clearly, there’s impetus to getting creative with “opportunity seeking” for freelancers. The competition is understandably high for every opportunity. So, here are a few ideas to kick-start your opportunity patrolling on Elance:

  • Cross Sell: On Elance, there are two ways to make more money: getting clients and selling more to the clients that you manage to secure.

To make more money per client, you’ll have to upsell your services. While bidding, the key lies in something so simple that we miss it every time: it’s called “asking for it”.


Let’s assume that the client posts a brief asking for exactly 12 blog posts a month (3 per week). You could send in a custom proposal along with other services you can offer: upload posts and manage comments through their CMS; find and add images to every blog post; do their social media management for them; let them know that you can also do guest blogging campaigns.


The worst that could happen (apart from getting no response to your proposal): Clients will stick to their original requirement and commission you to work on those 12 blog posts a month.

All I did was put up an offer. If accepted, I earn more and the client is happy. If the offer were not accepted, I’d still end up blogging for the client.

  • Find channel partners: Reach out to others on Elance. Web designers and developers generally don’t take up content development work. Clients, however, ask developers for content work, and vice versa. Virtual assistants could team up with anyone. You get the drift, don’t you?
  • Be everywhere with your mettle: Creative types should showcase – that’s a given.  

Elance already has a functional portfolio section.  Instead of putting up files on your portfolio, use graphics (even for word documents and other content). Web Designer and developers could do the same.  

What other ways can you think of?

Build a legacy

Here’s one way to sell easy: do work upfront, give to the community, and create a legacy.

Now, it’s against Elance Terms and Conditions to offer free work to clients. It’s not against any Elance policies to provide value to the Elance Community itself, though.

Designers/developers can sit tight and create templates for free on Elance. Did you know that you could head to the Water Cooler, create free templates for other freelancers to use, and let others download these templates?

If you are a content developer, blogger, or writer, you can offer to write guest posts on the Elance Blog, to begin with. You could also create helpful posts and publish them as a new topic on the Water Cooler.

When you rustle enough leaves and make some commercially viable noise, you create a name for yourself.

You, in effect, create a legacy.

When you give away, you earn credibility and trust. Once you are past the tipping point, selling is automatic. You could contribute, write a book, develop a community website, and lead a tribe. In years, you’d develop enough credibility and build a personal brand that can pump your pipeline up.

Brent Weaver of Hotpressweb.com actually built bcgurus.com as a community site that helps him get loads of credibility, trust, and visibility. Daniel Larsson of RightInbox.com chronicles how Brent Weaver manages to do it. Do we have lessons to pick or what?

Which of these tips do you think you can act on?


Ashwin Satyanarayana is an online marketing strategist and is the founder of Fetchprofits -- an end-to-end digital marketing services company. He is a passionate blogger, technology evangelist, and an incorrigible world traveler.


Thank you for this very useful article.


You are welcome :)


I enjoyed reading your article, it was very informative!


Such great ideas! Thank you so much!

Good one!

Good. Upsell is the only point i can work on.

Good, interesting article, Enjoyed a lot.

Ashwin, thank you for your article. It helps to get people thinking outside the box and reinforce normal sales techniques. You said you write 20 customized proposals each day. I'm curious as to how long this takes you, since you are a writer and still need time to work on the great projects you get.

The only thing incredible I find about Aswin's article is finding 20 bid-worthy gigs a day to bid on. Maybe he's fishing in many ponds other than Elance?

A custom proposal doesn't take long, maybe 3 minutes where you address the points raised by the employer, provide some of your achievements in line with what they want and THEN you post your manicured pedicured resume. I sometimes take 2 hours for a custom proposal if the client provided a detailed project specification (which is rare) and I need to address each point in detail. But clients who spell out what they need in detail are generally worth the time, in spades.

Most projects are short and a custom proposal just needs to demonstrate empathy, competence and that you read what he posted to stand out heads and shoulders above your competition.

Just my 2 cents.

I totally agree, you have to be personal.

Some of these are ideas i will be able to put to use! Thank you for posting this. However PennyGhost is right, in that you have to put the time into each assignment, in order to get the results that you want from that client. If he is willing to pay reasonable rate for the work you do, then offering him more than he asks for, and making sure the work you send him is top quality goes without saying. You want that fellow to come back for more

Then there are all those people out there who want magic for peanuts. I am not a monkey, and never have been. And I always feel disgusted with myself for taking such jobs, especially when they are offered by corporations that can definitely afford to pay reasonable rates for the work they want. How do you deal with that on this sort of job board?

I agree with Genevieve-1. The old adage applies, "You get what you pay for." I don't feel I am lazy nor unwilling to do the work required. Nor even go beyond the call of duty to do it, or even take a lower rate of pay to prove myself. I also fall all OVER myself for feedback: please help me help you! Believe me, employers, I understand! Yet, there comes a time where once the work ethic and quality have been proven, that one's pay should reflect the quality and expertise applied to that work.


Brilliant math and the numbers are real. The secret sauce is being good at what you do and especially the custom proposals, and not copy-pasted bids posted robotic monkey style. My hit rate is never below double digits and I don't ever compete on price either, just value. I'm just 4 gigs old here as I only come here when I have available slots in my calendar but when I do I slay them with exactly the tactics you mention.

Thanks for this Ashwin!

Great advice, thanks Ashwin!

Hello, I´m new in this, your advices are simples, clear and too usefull, I will try follow it and I hope take advantage of them.
Thanks a lot to you and Elance.

Wow - you must be brilliant.
First to find 20 bid-worthy jobs, prepare customized proposals, quickly work on your blog, website and social networks, a guest blog or two on a high ranking page, after the Cappuccino, before the Margarita, you do 2 quick 350 $ jobs and then u you call it a day. You have to tell us more about how you do that.

Hi, I've almost given up on elance. It's not that I am lazy it's that I'm not prepared to work for nothing. Last week I logged on and bid for two jobs. One for 10k ($350)words another for 20K. ($800) They have been awarded for $60 and $300 respectively. Now I don't mind hard work and I don't mind quick turn round. But I'm not working for less than I can stack shelves at a supermarket. The average pay for a creative writer when I started with elance was about $6 - $10 an hour it is now about $2. While everyone thinks they have a book in them I have noticed a pattern of contracts that are never completed as new writers realise they are writing for nothing and give up. It is not good for the industry or the clients to set such low pricing rates. Good writers go else where.

It's quite frustrating when everyone bidding gives the lowest price , at which practically the job can't be completed. There have been days when I've had no project awarded at a stretch, upon studying the projects that I lost I found that they had been awarded to the lowest bidder, I was a bit disappointed but if I was asked to do the job at just a price, it wouldn't be feasible for me, so I just kept bidding and I did find clients who wanted quantity work and they were willing to award the job to the experts than to give it to ones who gave the lowest bids. So don't give up hope, keep bidding and I'm sure like Ashwin said if you are to post 20 jobs you are bound to land 2 jobs in your kitty each day,

Hi Guys,

Thanks a ton for all your comments. I totally agree with a few points made here by some of my fellow freelancers:

1. It's hard to find 20 "good" and "bid worthy" projects. It's true that you don't always find such projects to bid on so 20 bids a day ( everyday) is indeed ambitious. But c'mon, where's the challenge if it was that easy?

2. I've always insisted on bidding "your" price, irrespective of what other freelancers bid on projects. Low-balling takes all the fun out of business and degrades freelancing in general. Yet, that's the state of the market. That's why working with numbers ( enough good bids in a day) probably lands you closer to the deal that's worthy of your time and skills.

3. Never price yourself low. In all these years, I realized: you'd spend just as much time and put in the same effort for a $10 blog post as you'd for a $30 blog post or even one that costs $60. So, why take up the $10 post in the first place?