Elance Blog

New Study Suggests Winning Strategy For Freelancers

If you’re looking to win more jobs on Elance, you may want to lean in when Ming D. Leung speaks about Stretchwork.

Ming D. Leung is an Assistant Professor at the Hass School of Business on the University of California’s Berkeley campus. He specializes in economic sociology and the study of online labor markets. Ming has recently published an enlightening article outlining his findings in the area of “Stretchwork” (in layman’s terms – ever-so slightly broadening your skillset and work experience to your economic advantage).

In the article, Ming reports that freelancers are more-likely to get hired when having an incrementally expanding career path.

The benefits of incremental career growth.

More specifically, this means that you’ll be more successful on Elance by moving between similar, but not identical, types of jobs.

The paper also concludes that despite conventional wisdom, if you work exclusively on one specific type of job, you’re actually less likely to be hired.

An example would be a graphic designer. If you work solely on logo projects day-in and day-out, eventually you’ll be pigeonholed as exclusively a logo designer. Hence you’re not as desirable. But if you branch out to also design websites, brochures, and book covers, you’re more likely to get hired.

And important footnote is that the research suggests “incremental” stretching, not enormous leaps. “If you’re a writer who also does tax preparation, that’s not going to help you,” said Ming.

It makes sense when you think about it.

The underlying reason for this, as Assistant Professor Ming D. Leung explains, appears to be two-fold:

1. By stretching, clients see you as more committed to your career and they have more confidence in your abilities.

2. Clients want to build ongoing and ever-expanding relationships with freelancers who they’re comfortable working with. By seeing a broader range of skills in a background, they can project using that freelancer in various roles down the road.

To gather information for this study, Ming, an advisor to Elance, analyzed hundreds of thousands of job applications and tens of thousands of freelancer profiles on Elance. To take a closer look at his methodology and findings you can view his article, “Dilettante or Renaissance Person? How the Order of Job Experiences Affects Hiring in an External Labor Market,” published in the American Sociological Review.

Note that Ming is now building on the study, researching the role “online reputations” plays in this mix. As soon as he determines how your ratings and reviews factor into the big picture, we’ll let you know. Around here we can’t wait for the results.



Stretch work as defined by Prof Leung is interesting and practical advice for a freelancer. However, the term itself has issues: "stretching" your qualifications or resume is very negative from a HR perspective.

However, what Leung is advising isn't really stretch: it's more repackaging and rebranding your skills: if you can design a logo you do have the skills to design a brochure, but perhaps not the experience... yet!

Good points!

I believe you have a typo in the second-to-last paragraph. "Dilettante OR Renaissance Person..." is probably what you meant. As an editor, I had to point this out.

Illuminating piece, and full of solid advice.

Nice sounding idea and one we can all relate to. We all have to expand our horizons in our work, and it makes sense to offer a variety of closely related or complementary skills to our clients. I would be wary, however, of trying to diversify into areas in which I have no experience or training. I always follow the old saying "practice makes perfect" and I would hesitate to offer skills not founded on a solid base. Corporations, too, have been known to find that they have expanded their portfolio ever so slightly too far.

On another level, I would hesitate to overuse the word "stretch". Overstretching can be harmful for biological systems and materials. Again, only "stretchable", well-"conditioned" entities/materials -- think of muscles, for example -- are really suited to indeterminate movement.

Still, an idea worth pondering. (But why do employers demand years and years of "work experience" in precisely the job function they are offering?)

Elance has changed my life! I have been here for only 3 months and have a Global client base and have an income of someone with a Master's Degree! I have only my GED and have educated myself and produce amazing results for my clients. I could not dream of working any other way ever again! Thank you to Elance and all my clients I am able to spread my SEO/SEM and marketing experience World Wide!


If I'm looking for a logo designer, then I'd be quite happy to hire someone who only works on logos day in day out. Sure, if I'm looking for somebody to groom my dog, then I'm not going to hire that same logo designer.... but I'd say that's pretty obvious.

I'd be careful with using the term "stretching". I'm agreeing with comments above. It's more about finding specialized skills you can boast about, but still within your field. For example, I opened up a new sub-set of skills to talk about so I would not be perceived as just a generalist. When you offer specialist skills it means you have that territory nailed, but doesn't exclude you from generalist considerations, plus it is believable to the client because you are staying within your field. Also means you are constantly looking to rebrand yourself and update your skills. Only positive can come from this. Good luck, everyone!

As I was reading Prof. Leung's article, I was thinking that "stretching" could mean getting out of my comfort zone and expanding the skills and talents that I have to offer. I was also thinking that whatever I "stretch" into should also be something that I love doing. Thank you, Professor Leung, for "stretching" my thinking!


Can anyone help me? I don't get any new job on elance. Actually I have worked on SEO/SMM/SEM. I think I have some problem on my profile. But I don't understand that what change I need.

Hi kstnayem,

I looked at your profile and it seems to be fine. However, I noticed you have not taken any tests to prove your skills. If possible, I think you should take some of the tests, as your test results will help prospective clients decide whether you are likely to be good at your job.

One more thing I'd like to say is that there is a lot of competition on Elance and, as you are relatively new, it will take some time to get a steady flow of clients. My advice to you is keep trying and whenever you get a job give the best to your client so that you get a good rating from the client. (I have been freelancing on Elance since 2006 and, to date, I have completed 100+ jobs, but I still do not get a sufficient number of new jobs. (I do proofreading, editing, and technical writing.) However, I've now got a few repeat clients who keep coming back to give me work, so it is all worth it at the end of the day.

So, keep trying and jobs will come, but it will take some time...


"stretching" is the great point for good attention of client.

I think in today's markets you do have the need to diversify, N to only is it healthier for your for career progression but also for your own mind. I feel that change is good and a very positive influencer on state of mind, if you work on one thing all the time there is a danger of becoming stale in thinking and perhaps not as productive. With small changes and or additions to work type there will be new connection s made between ideas and a new was of solving problems or designing that master piece talked about for generations to come.

Very helpful.