Elance Blog

How Do Clients See Elancers?

Here’s another post from Sarah Ratliff of Coqui Prose Content Marketing. She regularly shares her thoughts on ways to succeed on Elance.


Many people know me as the owner of Coquí Prose Content Marketing, but I am also a prolific client who exclusively uses Elance to hire freelancers.

Although many Elancers have hired a few other Elancers to fill the occasional needs of a client or to assist with specific projects, I work day in and day out with a team of freelancers who help meet the goals of our long-term clients.

There’s a big difference …

For every job I have with a client, I may hire five or more team members to fill the needs for that client.

With more than 1000 jobs awarded since I started hiring on Elance about four years ago (both one-off jobs and ones lasting six months or longer), I see the business of freelancing from a very unique perspective.

Okay, Let’s Get Down to Business.

Let’s start by debunking three common myths that frequently lead to lots of chest pounding, self-aggrandizing and pontification ad nauseam. These are myths I have read in online forums again and again and, sadly, a-gain.

“You shouldn’t start out with low rates because you’ll forever be branded a low-baller and no serious client will take a second look at you.”

“Competition is stiff on Elance. You need to sell yourself in your proposal.”

“Keep your earnings private until you reach $10k.”

Rates: What Matters? Your Past, Present or Future?

I’ll take you through a typical job posting of mine to give you the “bird’s eye view” of things.

I’m pretty methodical when I post jobs on Elance. I have a formula for my job descriptions. I always include the following in my descriptions, especially if I am posting a public job (which I only do if my exhaustive search for an Elancer doesn't jibe with Elance’s sometimes-interesting ranking of expertise):

“My name is Sarah; please address me as such. My name is not: Yo, Sir, Ma’am, Hiring Manager or Employer.

Please read the entire description and in your proposal tell me exactly how you can address my needs.

Do not include contact information in your proposal, in your samples or in your résumé—it is against Elance’s Terms of Service. If I like your proposal and samples, I will reach out to you through the Workroom and ask you for your phone number or Skype information for a phone interview.”

Unfortunately, I have found that the majority of bidders can’t resist the urge to completely disregard one, two or all three of those requests, and so they make my job extremely easy. Following directions for them is apparently a hardship, and I don’t want to work with people who can’t follow the simplest of directions.

The result? Declines en masse, and yes, I will report them—not because I want to, but because I have to.

Having weeded through more than half the proposals, I am left with a handful of possible serious contenders.

I read all of the proposals. If I am moved, I check out your samples. If I like what I see in your samples, I move on to your profile. From there I have a checklist.

·      What story is your Company Snapshot telling me?

·      Does your overview tell me who you are and why you’re perfect for my job?

·      What’s the ratio of open and complete jobs to cancelled ones?

·      What do clients say about you?

I look for four things in the Company Snapshot:

1.     Overall rating

2.     How many jobs and clients have you had in the last 12 months?

3.     How many clients have rehired you?

4.     What's your recommendation score?

And more specifically, what am I zeroing in on?

1.     If your rating is a 4.8 or higher, I’m listening

2.     Contrary to what you might suppose, for me, less is more

3.     I personally love to see a repeat client rate of 30 percent or higher—50 percent or higher and my eyes are large with excitement!

4.     If your recommendation score is 90 percent or less, I’m no longer listening (not likely if you've got a high repeat client rate)

Why do fewer jobs speak to me but more jobs turn me off? One of two things is happening with Elancers who have many jobs. Either you’re farming out work without your clients’ knowledge or you’re so overbooked, you’re guaranteed to be late delivering my job. And if you’re late with delivery, guess what? So am I when delivering to my clients.

Then I move on to your job history. Once there, I sort through your “All Jobs” by:

·      4 and 5 stars

·      3 stars

·      1 and 2 stars

·      Working jobs

·      Completed jobs

·      Cancelled jobs

I make a mental note of roughly how many are in each category. As you might imagine, if you have too many cancellations, I'm no longer listening.

I said earlier that I am only interested in an overall rating of 4.8 or higher. However, when I look at individual feedback on jobs, I am more interested in what prior clients had to say vs. the rating.

·      A 5.0 with the words, “Thanks” doesn’t impress me

·      A 4.6 or higher with specific feedback about your quality, expertise and professionalism speaks volumes to me

·      Given the caliber of freelancers I have on my team, I am disinterested in anyone who consistently receives a 4.5 or lower—that’s not acceptable when my clients have come to expect the quality we’ve been known to give them over the last five years

I look through as many jobs of yours as I need to in order to establish a pattern and take you from a faceless blob to a person who could possibly partner with me—either to fill the needs of one of my clients or to assist me with my own needs.

Oh yeah, that myth that no serious clients will look twice at someone who used to charge low rates? It’s simply not true.

As a freelancer, I started out as low as it gets in the Writing & Translation category. I can assure you my clients—all of whom are quite serious—pay no attention to what I earned as a solo freelancer back when I started years ago as they're considering us for their job today. As they're going through the same ritual that I describe, they don't have time to notice, and they really don't care anyway.

As a client, when I look through your old jobs, I could care less what you charged in the past. In fact, I would hope you’ve raised your rates at some point and that you continue to raise your rates.

If you aren’t, something is wrong …

All that matters as far as money goes is what you want to charge me for this job. Is it something I can afford?

Proposals Matter.

Writing proposals is both a skill and an art. So much so that I wrote an entire blog

about it and I only scratched the surface writing it. I’ll give you the high level.

Resist the urge to tell your prospective client you’re absolutely amazing over and over and o v e r a-z-z-z-z-z. Fewer things put me to sleep faster than someone who’s in love with him or herself.

Here’s a clue: the job isn’t about you.

It’s about me and my needs.

Address them in your proposal.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to imply that I am not interested in who you are as a person. In fact, if I'm impressed enough to want to call you for an interview, I'll want to find out who you are. Personality is as important to me as expertise. I just don't want to know all that in your proposal.

In a discussion I was having with a colleague, she phrased it very succinctly.

“The proposal pattern should be Client, Client, and then You. In the ‘You’ portion of your proposal, you have to be as stealthy as a Jedi Knight.”

There we go.

Earnings: To Display or Not to Display?

I have as much interest in how much you’ve earned on Elance as I do in who won X Factor or the Super Bowl.

It doesn’t tell me one way or another whether you can do the job I am considering you for.

Think about this for a moment. How could your overall earnings have any relevance to the job you're bidding on? And as a prospective client of yours, wouldn't it seem like a bizarre question for me to ask you how much you've made on Elance?

And here’s the kicker: If you bid on my job, I can see your earnings, even if you keep them private. Not my choice; talk to Elance about that one. And even after I've seen your earnings, I'm still going on my reconnaissance mission through your profile.

My guess is that the display of earnings only matters to other Elancers so they can benchmark themselves against you and each other. If that doesn't bother you, make them public. If you're like me and don't want to invite speculation, make them private.

And here's the question I have for those who freely offer this advice to those new-to-Elance freelancers who wonder whether they should display their earnings: Why $10k? What is so special about this number that after reaching it, you go public with your earnings?

All it tells me is that it gives your competitors one more thing to wag their tongues about. "So and so reached $10k six months after I did."

And if your competitors have that much time to speculate about you and your freelance business, guess what they're not doing?

My mom used to say to me all the time, "Sarah, don't compare your insides to other people's outsides."

Now that I have shared all this with you, my biggest question to you is, how will you change your bidding strategy? Leave a comment below and let me know.

PS: Looking for more free Elance tips? I recommend Danny Margulies' Top 5 Elance Hacks.





Nice article! I find that allowing the client to get a tiny bit of who I am in the proposal goes a long way. You're right about not wanting to read a freelancers cut and dry "I am a great...here's why...100%...blah blah blah." I'll be a little goofy, maybe throw a "haha" out there if the clients proposal description warrants it, but I'll revert back to being professional and getting detailed about the specifics of their project. Keeping it light helps, but I find that most clients respond to your proposal if you ask about a specific aspect of their project they may have left out, or when I say I've worked on a similar project, or something like that. It's just about saying things that will make them inclined to respond. If I get a laugh out of them and I can back it up with my portfolio, I know I'll at least start a conversation.

Hey Jarek,

Thanks! I am glad you liked it. Ah, interesting you should mention humor. If I get the sense the client is a humorous person, I'll definitely inject a little. I try to inject my personality somewhat in proposals, but I tend to inject or not depending on the vibe I get from clients' job description. If I sense humor will either go over his head or that she'll perceive it as me/us not being serious, I'll play it straight.

I think in your line of work, however, you can add more levity than I can. And yes, your portfolio backs up your claims nicely! Shoot, I'd hire you! :)


Invaluable information here. Sarah, what would your recommendation for samples be? Attach as a document / link through to portfolio samples / include URLs within your proposal to published work? And if the first option, how many and / or would you recommend a specific word count?

Hi Bryony,

Thank you! I do a combination of all three. I love adding from our portfolio, because they're all visual, even if they're writing samples. I add those to give prospective clients a general idea what we can do. For specific writing/graphic/marketing/admin samples that will address the client's needs, I'll include Word or PDFs and URLs to my/our published work.

I don't pay much attention to word count, because I hope to mesmerize him or her with our samples, and he or she won't be concerned about word count. Said somewhat tongue in cheek. :)

I attach/link to as many as I think will give clients an idea of writing/design, etc. style.

What do you do?


Thanks Sarah, sounds good. I do much the same. One of the best Elance updates for me was when they introduced the link to samples from your profile function last year. I find that a really useful and quick way of attaching relevant examples of--hopefully--similar work. So definitely that and URLs. From what I've read I'm guessing freelancers should be wary of providing too much in the way of Word documents, just because they can be easily copied. Happy mesmerising! :)

I too was thrilled when Elance allowed us to pop in samples directly from our portfolios. I was in goat heaven! Quick and easy is right.

I am more wary of having Word documents in our portfolio than I am of clients using them because once they do, it'll be pretty obvious from posting dates that the one we sent was already posted on our client's site. I haven't had that happen, but I am sure it does. But theft of portfolio items is rampant, I am sorry to say.

Happy mesmerizing/mesmerising too! :)

Very nice rundown Sarah. By the way,I second your recommendation of Danny's course. Lots of rock solid advice in it.

Hi Opher,

Thank you. Yes, I agree. New or veteran, I think many could benefit from Danny's course. I think he gives incredible value for the price. I'd pay twice or three times for his course.


Love that line - "don't compare your insides to someone else's outsides"! This is a great philosophy for so many situations, not just Elance!

Thank you, Kristen. My mom had so much wisdom. I quote her a lot. That was one she started imparting on me when I was really young. And as you say, it can apply to so many situations.

Thank you so much for this great article :)

Thank you, Lynda. Continued best wishes on Elance!

Another great article, Sarah. You continue to provide a great perspective from both sides of the fence, and I doubt the grass is greener on either side.

On a side note, it appears I might have barely "made the cut" as they say, according to your checklist! As of today, I believe I am sitting at 91% recommended and 29% repeat clients. Sad face (just kidding).

Hey Brandon,

Thank you! I really appreciate your vote of confidence.

And oh no! Honestly? I may not have noticed had you not pointed it out or I would have still checked out your profile further because you profile is so strong and presently you've got four 5-star ratings up front and center. In your case I would have looked for the anomaly that brought your recommended score down and not seen it as a pattern.

I actually think you're awesome. :)

Of course. I give credit where credit is due.

I'm not exactly sure why recommended score is only 91% given I've received nothing but positive feedback (numerical and written). The only less-than-stellar rating (4 stars) was given by a client who actually requested to work with me again some time later, which made no sense given the rating. I always try to identify areas of improvement, so I asked for his opinion on what exactly he wasn't satisfied with; he gave a non-informative response, leaving me in a position to knowingly deliver unsatisfactory results if we started another project. That's not me, so I declined (with explanation).

But I digress; I tend not to gripe about scores too much anyway, unless they don't follow with the client's commentary. As long as I am providing quality services that clients appreciate and value (on and off Elance), which has been the case to my knowledge, I'm satisfied.

And thank you, Sarah. The feeling is mutual!

Thank you! ;)

Although I preach not to get too hung up on stars, I'd be lying if I told you I don't feel it when a client marks me/us down. I don't believe we always have to have 5 stars, but knowing as I do what is behind each rating, I do wonder what goes through a client's mind when he dings us on (for example) schedule and responsiveness when we deliver days early and always respond within an hour.

Obviously in the overall scheme of things it's not important, except that I believe it puts a question mark in a future client's mind, like "will they be late on delivery?" Hey, we're human.

And you're right, what's important is the client's commentary as well as the rating, which in your case is stellar--unsurprisingly.

Thank you! I really appreciate that.

My first job was by a client who conned freelancers in the past and due to him, I got my first two jobs cancelled eventhough I provided all the work way before deadline and as he wanted it. And because of it, my first two jobs are cancelled. Do you have any advice on how to deal with this ? I am a designer and all my other jobs have 5 star ratings on them.

Hi Farhan,

From your description, it sounds like there was some kind of snowball effect. So you were conned by the first client (you don't say how you were conned), and due to being conned by your first Elance client, your next two jobs were canceled? I am not sure how to advise you because two things:
- I see two jobs canceled, but no indication from feedback that you were conned
- I'm not sure how being conned resulted in the two canceled jobs

I wish I could, but I'm obviously missing something big. Can you help me out?


Hi Sarah,

Great blog, such a useful perspective thank you. I have just joined Elance today and I am in the process of writing my profile etc so there may not be much for you to see as yet.

What I was interested to know from your perspective is under what conditions would you consider employing somebody who is just starting out on Elance as a freelance writer?

This is not a pitch by the way just a question aimed at planning my journey here on Elance and being very interested in your thoughts after reading you blog



Hi Jeremiah,

Welcome to Elance! Thank you for your comments on my blog.

Hey, you gotta start somewhere, right? When I started almost five years ago, I, too had no feedback. One thing you (I assume) have going for you that I didn't was that I had next to no experience as a writer. I had had a lot of corporate experience, but in different fields.

All this to say that I did what I had to in order to compete with more experienced writers. I was honest and let clients know that I had no experience, and that if they were willing to hire me, they wouldn't regret it.

So if you have any writing experience, you are a way ahead of the ballgame than I was, so i believe you'll do fine! Would I hire you without seeing any yellow stars on your profile? Yes, I have done it many times, and other clients will hire you. Just please be careful not to fall into a trap of allowing any of them to con into anything. Keep your eyes and ears open. Desperation made me creative and work five times as hard as others. Sadly I see desperation turn otherwise talented people into victims.


How clients see freelancers. Sometimes I believe we have to ask how freelancers see clients. In your blog ,you talked about job repeats as a criteria, personally this is not something one can look forward to as a freelancer, it depends on the motivation of a person, to work with different people on different things than to work with one only. It doesn't mean I don't like the work or the person, just the perspective to work with various people. so much for relationship you would say but I feel it does not affect relationship at all only the ratings.

So interesting piece of article! I could not stop reading.. Thanks for the advises and the good intention you are spreading with us.

so interning article . thkx for the advises