How I made $100,000 on Elance

I recently passed a significant milestone in my career as a freelance writer on Elance: I have surpassed $100,000 in lifetime income on Elance.

This all started with a single $200 project that I won back in February 2009. A business consultant in Australia hired me to help him write some training materials, and the rest is history. On that day, I never would have guessed how thoroughly my life would change as a result of getting signed up on Elance.

I originally started out as a part-time freelance writer just to earn some extra money and have some fun with some more interesting side projects outside of my day job. Soon I was working nights and weekends, loving the work and loving the extra income. There were frustrations and stresses and hassles along the way, but I maintained my determination to keep bidding on Elance jobs and finding new clients and building up my reputation.

By July 2010, I had quit my corporate job and started my new life as a full-time freelance writer. I’ve been doing this now for almost 1.5 years and I sometimes still can’t believe it’s real. I love working from home. I love spending ridiculous amounts of time with my family. I get to eat lunch with my kids every day (I used to eat lots of miserable, lonely lunches in my cubicle – no more!) and I get to feel sunlight on my face every day, and I get to work with interesting people from all over the U.S. and all over the world.

If you’re stuck in a job that you hate…maybe you should start working as a freelancer on Elance. Start small. Start now. You never know where it might lead. That first Elance project could turn into $100,000 of income.

How to get started on Elance

A few people recently have asked me for advice on how to get started on Elance. Here are some tips:

  • Verify your credentials. It only costs like $4 to prove that yes, you did in fact go to college, yes, you did in fact work where you claim to have worked. Pay the money and prove that you’re legitimate. And if you verify 2 or more credentials and do good work, you can qualify for the Elance Premier Provider program.
  • Upload a portfolio. If you’re a writer, share some good writing samples. If you’re a Web designer, share some URLs of sites you’ve developed. Clients want to see your work. Especially before you start getting some Elance jobs, your portfolio is the best way to show what you can do and demonstrate that you are worth hiring.
  • The first project is the hardest to win. Be prepared to work cheap at first. If you’re a new provider on Elance, with no reputation and no track record, people are going to be skeptical about hiring you. You’re going to need to prove yourself – even if that means working for less money than you had planned.
  • Don’t get discouraged. Some days, all the projects that are posted on Elance look depressing – and some of them are depressing – the pay is too low, the client sounds sketchy, etc. But remember: you don’t have to win every project. You’re not going to win every project. Just try to bid on a few projects each day and put your best foot forward with each one. It’s funny – sometimes, projects that originally look less-than-promising will turn out to be some of your best clients on Elance. You never know.
  • Remember: most clients are good people. In all the dozens of projects I’ve completed on Elance, I only had one client who failed to pay me. (And who knows – he might still pay me; it’s only been 3 months.) There are unscrupulous, dishonest people out there, but my experience on Elance (and in life) has been that the overwhelming majority of people will do the right thing and will behave honestly most of the time.
  • Trust – but verify. Most clients are good people, but don’t start working on a project until the full project fee is funded. I’ve had two clients who promised they would pay me, then I delivered the work even though they hadn’t fully funded the project in the Escrow account, and then I never heard from them again. (One of them did eventually pay me after I filed a dispute with Elance.) Once you have an established relationship with a client, perhaps then you can loosen up a bit and deliver work even if they haven’t gotten around to funding the fee – but especially at first, make sure that your clients are serious about paying you – for the full amount they’ve agreed to.
  • Don’t waste time. If you’re a freelancer working from home, your only real overhead is the value of your time. This means that when in doubt, you should just go ahead and bid on a project. If you’ve spent 15 minutes reading the project description and thinking about whether to put in a bid, you might as well spend the 50 cents worth of Connects and actually bid on the job. Introduce yourself to as many potential clients as possible – the only cost is the time it takes you to press “Send.” Even if it later turns out that you don’t have time to take on the work, or the project isn’t quite the right fit, you can always decline the offer.
  • Don’t use pre-packaged pitches. Clients will be able to tell if you’re sending them a project quote that just contains standard boilerplate. Don’t use the same verbiage for every project. It’s fine if you want to have a standard set of bullet points to succinctly describe your qualifications, but even these should be tweaked to show an interest in the particular needs of this client and this project that you are currently bidding on.
  • Be brave. It can be tough to put yourself out there and promote yourself to prospective clients. Not everyone is able to be so aggressive and self-confident and tenacious. It can be tough to get rejected or ignored, or to never hear back from someone who seemed like they were going to be a promising new client. But think of it this way: Elance is one of the most efficient methods in the world for finding work! You spend a few hours sending e-mails to people, and eventually you get hired, and a few days later you have real money in your bank account. And it all starts with sending e-mails – are you afraid to send a few e-mails? Try to make a game of it – make it fun.

Think of it this way; all you’re basically doing on Elance is introducing yourself to people. Not everyone is going to be the right fit for you, not every project will be right for what you do, but if you give it time and make a diligent, consistent effort, great things can happen.

Happy hunting!