Tab Earley

20 June, 2011

Don’t Use Elance

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tab Earley @ 8:04 pm
Tags: , ,

When I quit my job in the spring, I signed up to Elance thinking that, at the very least, I could make a bit of money doing freelance writing. It had been recommended to me by someone as a way of finding freelance work, so I signed up. I can’t speak for any other aspect of the site except writing, so none of this may apply to web developers and other freelance users. It does apply to writers, though, and because I don’t want to see anyone else waste time or money on something that isn’t going to get them anywhere, I’m writing this.

Number of jobs I’ve gotten on Elance in 3 months: 2

Number of jobs I’ve completed on Elance and been paid for: 1

Number of jobs I’ve completed and not been paid for: 1

At first glance, Elance seems like it’s on the up and up, but once you have a closer look, you realise that there is no substance to this site whatsoever. I have looked for work there on nearly a daily basis this summer, so it’s not as if I just dip my toe in every so often. I want freelance work, but I also want to be paid a decent wage for it.

The vast majority of writing jobs on Elance are SEO writing. A glance at the proposals for some of these jobs will give you an idea of the economy at work here: people bidding insanely low amounts for jobs that require hours upon hours of work.

Providers are encouraged to underbid each other, and they do. The number of hours that would be required to produce the word counts for these jobs, even writing quickly, means that the providers in question would be working for £1 or £2 an hour. A simpler mind might say, “Well, they don’t have to do that.” I would have to ask this simpler mind if they’ve ever been unemployed, broke, and desperate for work.

The strategy I’ve seen mentioned is to bid low at first to get a few jobs, then work your way up. This might be a good idea if there were actually enough work on the site to make it viable, but there isn’t. And once you’ve bid on a certain number of jobs, you have to wait until the next month.

Elance has paid memberships, which essentially mean that you pay a monthly fee in order to bid on more jobs. In theory, this means you get more work. In reality, it would be a waste of money. To begin with, there is very little writing work on Elance. I was lucky to find a job right off the bat that was legitimate and didn’t involve writing 30 500-word Google-baiting articles for pennies, but that turned out to be a fluke. I got that job in April, and two months later, I haven’t gotten another.

Then there’s that second job. I made a proposal, was accepted, and got to work. What I didn’t realise is that the Escrow service that Elance pretends is a guarantee is no such thing. It turns out that, in order to post a job, you don’t actually have to put up any money. At some point after a contract has been awarded, a client (theoretically) puts the payment amount into this Escrow service. My client didn’t do that, and I didn’t realise it.

So imagine my surprise a month later when I looked at my accounts and found that I still hadn’t been paid. I looked more closely and found that the client had never funded the job at all. Naturally he claimed he would pay me soon, once I filed a dispute and started hassling him, but as of today, he hasn’t. And Elance could not care less.

According to Elance, ‘the provider is under no contractual obligation to complete the work’ if the job isn’t funded. This was their official response to my dispute. Which is helpful, if you haven’t completed the work. I did, and as a result, I’ve been ripped off. A look at the user in question reveals that he does this frequently: sets up a job, awards it to someone, and then cancels it to avoid payment later on. I have no idea how much work this user has contracted and then stolen from providers, but you would think Elance would step in and do something about it at some point. He is, after all, stealing from them as well, since a job he doesn’t pay for is a job he doesn’t pay Elance a commission for. That doesn’t seem to be an issue.

You might argue that I should have paid closer attention to the profile of the person posting the job. If I had scrutinised him, I might have decided against bidding on a job that was likely to be a scam. I might have, or I might have bid on it anyway because I needed the money.

This is what really pisses me off about Elance. It poses as a professional source for freelancers and people looking to hire freelancers. It encourages people to buy paid accounts so that they can bid on more jobs, and I’m sure there are a lot of people who fall for it. How much money have people desperate for work pumped into Elance in the hope that it would get them work? How many jobs have people bid on, performed, and not been paid for while Elance sits by and says that they were ‘under no obligation to complete the work’? I expect quite a few.

Sure, Elance is under no obligation to take action. The site is set up in just such a way that they can avoid any legal ramifications. Sure, I should have paid closer attention to the job I signed up for. But that doesn’t change the fact that Elance is continuing to allow users to post jobs that they have no intention of paying anyone for. It doesn’t change the fact that Elance is essentially useless to anyone looking to write freelance.

If you want to find writing work, go to There, at least, you won’t be pressured to pay for memberships. There won’t be a limit to how many jobs you can inquire about. There won’t be a middleman between you and a job, holding out a hand to take your money. There are lots of ways to get freelance writing work, but Elance isn’t one of them. It’s just a waste of time.


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