Elance Blog

Why I Stay On The Elance-oDesk Platform

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


It’s been a journey since you registered with Elance, hasn’t it? You opened your Elance profile; you uploaded a photo and agonized over what to write in your profile. You added some portfolio samples and took some tests. You bid on and won several jobs, and I’ll bet it’s been more exhilarating than the first time Mom let you drive her car.

With a few jobs under your belt, most, if not all with excellent feedback, it feels pretty damn good, doesn’t it? Riding that wave over the last few weeks or months, you may not have been able to stop and think about the business side of things for too long. If you are anything like me, you were probably too busy working and meeting deadlines. You admit to your partner/spouse that you're in love with Elance. Forget grateful; you’re in love!

Then one day you rediscover the transactions section. Yeah, you may have seen it early on, but in the beginning there wasn’t much to fixate on: One $50 job and a few $100 jobs didn't look like much compared to the vast white space below them.

Now that you’re hitting “next page” a few times to see all the transactions, it dawns on you that you’ve made a few thousand dollars. Predictably you have two reactions: “Where’s my ‘you’re number 1’ foam finger? I am one truly awesome human being!”

This is immediately followed by, “Holy crap, I made how much money and Elance took how much in service fees?”

Both eyebrows raised, your eyes are practically popping out of their sockets. You rise up in your seat and bring your shoulders back and your neck and head forward. Now your eyes are narrowed as they focus intently on each credit (your earnings) and each debit (Elance’s fees) and dang if you can’t launch your calculator fast enough!

You continue talking to yourself as you cock your head to one side. “Are you kidding me? Am I really out a few hundred bucks in service fees? Grrrrrrr!”

Yeah, I Had the Same Reaction, Too!

Did I reenact your ‘aha’ moment pretty well? Yeah, because I’d be lying to you if I said I haven’t had many of those hair-raising, eye popping moments several times myself over the last five years.

In the beginning when you’re still on the high from earning money as a new freelancer, you honestly don’t have time for the reality of the fees to hit you. It really is as exhilarating as the first time you drove Mom’s car—until you realize the more you make, the more Elance wants a piece of your action.

It’s a bunch of crap, isn’t it?

Well, actually it’s not, and I’ll tell you why.

To put this into perspective for you: by taking our four long-term clients off the platform, the Elance transaction fees I would save are about the same as what the average Elancer in the Writing & Translation category earns in one year.

(And for the record, we’ve long since exhausted the two-year exclusivity period with these clients, so there’s no risk of violating the Terms of Service (ToS) requiring us to pay the opt out fee of $2500 or 15% of my expected gross earnings—whichever is greater—that keeps us on Elance.)

Despite the money I could save, there are several reasons I continue to operate my business exclusively on the Elance platform, but I'll list two, and both have to do with money. There are obviously numerous others, but these are my main ones.

Pay Pal is Fine, But They Don’t Chase Up Your Clients When They Go AWOL.

Have you ever had the pleasure of chasing a client all over the virtual world, including leaving nasty posts on his or her Facebook wall to get your money? My first client off-Elance turned into a complete nightmare.

He was a referral whom I thought I could trust to pay the invoice I sent him through Pay Pal because he runs a non-profit that helps kids who are runaways. I wrote five articles for him and after he posted them on his website, he stopped returning my emails and phone calls. And instead of responding to my nasty posts on his Facebook wall, he did the only sensible thing a scam artist in this situation would do: he blocked me.

Sure I could have taken him to small claims court, but I live on Puerto Rico. Did I really want to fly to Virginia to go to court over a few hundred dollars? I really dislike drama and that was drama that could have been avoided had I met him through Elance and gotten him to fund escrow ahead of time.

It was a lesson I had no intention on learning over and over, so these days to ensure my team and I get paid, I require that clients fund escrow before we start working. If it’s an hourly job and they forget to pay, six days after I submit a time sheet it auto-pays. I really like the payment protection offered by Elance.

Short Term Gains Vs. Building a Sustainable Business.

I still think back to when I was in my infancy and crawling stages of being an Elancer. I was competing for the same jobs everyone else in Writing & Translation was bidding on.

After about a year or so I decided my team and I were no longer going to be Jacks and Jills of all writing trades, and that we would decide on a niche and specialize in it.

There's a magical thing that happens as you are building a reputation in a particular niche. You start rising in rank, and as a result the invitations come. No, not the invitations to translate Mandarin into Danish or to build a website even though your specialty has zero to do with either of those things.

No, we’re talking about the private invitations—the ones with your name on them that start like this, “Hi Sarah, I read your profile and have looked at all of your samples, and I think your team and you would be perfect for my job…”

Today my team and I both live entirely off this kind of work. Although we occasionally bid on a job if it looks fun and exciting, we don’t actively look for work anymore. Rather than finding clients on the open marketplace, they come to us (or they’re repeat business).

That’s right. I said, “They come to us.”

When I think of the biggest benefit Elance offers me by staying on the platform, that’s the one that speaks loudest to me. Because I didn’t give in to the temptation to take my clients off the platform to achieve a short-term monetary gain, today Elance markets my company better and cheaper than I can market it.

It makes me think about my version of the MasterCard commercial:

·       $1440 in annual membership dues for a large business
registered in three categories

·       8.75% of every dollar earned in transaction fees

·       Seeing a personalized invitation with my name on it that I/we have a 99% chance of winning?


Now that I have shared all this with you, my biggest question to you is, will you think twice before you put short-term monetary gain before long-term marketing goals? Leave a comment below and let me know.

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




I once had to chase what I THOUGHT was reputable media company for many months to get the payment even they said they owed me for work they said was excellent. Make that, chase them for more than a year until I finally received a check. That one experience alone was more than enough to make me really appreciate the protection that Elance affords (as long as you use the system correctly). While I do have reliable, long-term clients off of Elance, I no longer seek and probably would not accept off-Elance freelance work. It's just not worth the risk for me. If someone who's not on Elance were to approach me to do freelance work, I would suggest we use Elance for the protection it affords both parties.

Wow Deb, a year! You have much more patience than I do, but then again. I am glad you finally got it. I agree that of course the payment protection is dependent upon using the system correctly.

I have brought clients to Elance, and I will continue to. It's just easier and I agree that it affords us both the protection.

Thanks for replying!

I'm brand new here and just completed my first assignment. I'm happy to pay Elance their share. I HATE chasing clients for money, which I did in my own ad agency for 20 years. I kind of like sitting back and letting someone else do the parts I hate!

Hi Suzi,

Welcome to Elance and congratulations on your first job. Yep, that's not an experience I want to repeat. I agree. Let Elance handle all that accounting, so we can just work.


Great post, Sarah. What you just said to Suzi is exactly what I was going to write: I'm not an accountant (or a debt collector) and the Elance system allows me to just get on with my work. I think it's a fair price for the advertising and payment protection I receive, plus it's cheaper than other platforms I have investigated.

Hey Bryony,

Thank you! Exactly! Who has time or the chutzpah to be a debt collector? Even if we had the latter, implementing them eats into our time when we could just be working. Having once owned another business in California, I agree there's no better bang for our marketing buck than Elance. I haven't compared them to other bidding platforms' prices, but compared to marketing off a bidding platform, it's a fraction of the cost.

Nice to see you! :)

Intereting as how to have a basic protection. Elance has Help and chat functions, I use them because even if I can read, am not in my element fully and to seek help or clarification is necessary to understand what is going on or what is expected of us. we are not Elancer born, we learn to be Elancers. your articles are inspiring

"We are not Elancer born, we learn to be Elancers."

This is such a true statement. I am glad my blogs are helping you. Thank you for commenting, Bil-kist.


I am a newbie at Elance, and so far I love it. I have my first contract and I'm working hard at it. I appreciate you reminding me why it is best to allow Elance to take out their percentage and do the time-consuming accounting part for me. I was never great with numbers, and as I grow my "passion" through Elance, I want to let them do their part so I can focus on mine, which is writing.

Welcome Pamela!

You won a job pretty quickly! Good for you! Yes, Elance's accounting makes things so much simpler, doesn't it? You hit the nail on the head: let them do their part so you can concentrate on your passion.

Cheers for continued success!

Great post, thanks for sharing your knowledge