Elance: An Open Tool for Freelancers and Businesses


Article by Alison K. Lanier | 798 words

I recently created my Elance profile to give the service a trial run and get an inside look at what features the massive freelancing site brings to the table. Elance claims to have over four million members between the businesses hiring freelancers and the freelancers themselves—who include writers, coders, graphic designers and more. “Hire professionals,” the site boasts. “Outsource work. Get jobs done.”

Simply Functional

Elance features a practical, straightforward design. With a site layout conveniently similar to LinkedIn, the given freelancer or business creates a profile. There are hundreds of tags to indicate either a person’s skills offered or a business’s job requirements. Those jobs then appear in a tailored stream to freelancers who have selected the given skill tags needed.

A freelancer looking for proofreading work enter their language, styles and translation proficiency. Coders similarly enter languages and the sorts of projects they’re interested in working on, such as newsletters or web pages. For translators, graphic designers and webmasters, the process remains the same. Find a job or a freelancer, submit a proposal or an invitation to apply and you’re in business—provided your offer is accepted, of course.

Elance search results

Sample search results on the Elance website. Credit: Elance.com

“As a Freelancer providing services on Elance, you’ll have the opportunity to work with Clients in more than 170 countries—from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses to individual entrepreneurs,” as Elance’s About page boasts.

One of Elance’s most significant draws, at first glance, is security. The site promises repeatedly on its About page a level of control and security for both work promised and payments. Elance uses its own internal secure payment system, Elance Escrow, to assure payment protection for jobs that meet certain standards.

More appealing yet: Elance is technically free for all basic aspects. Although the site does exact a roughly nine percent fee, the pre-proposal calculator makes it simple to compensate the requested amount so that the freelancer can ensure they receive the expected payment.


The predictable problem with this system is its potential for messiness (for lack of a better word). As Launch a Startup’s blog describes, there are numerous stumbling blocks in a do-it-yourself scenario like Elance. The blog points out that many hirers as well as freelancers are either unsure what they want or are simply under-qualified.

“[Companies and freelancers] have been advised that Elance and oDesk are the places to go to find people who can do the job, and so they go there,” writes Launch. “Because the company wanted such a low price, the contractor feels that they don’t have to offer quality—after all, quality costs money. … Nobody is particularly happy, but they are willing to accept the ‘good enough’ situation as it is because they don’t want to go through the dance of bidding and selection again.”

And once you start searching for jobs and scrolling through the competing proposals, this situation becomes painfully clear. One dollar for five hundred words, “Hourly rate: Not sure,” “Fixed Price: Less than $500” are all common occurrences on the “Browse Jobs” page.

Elance is not alone on the e-outsourcing stage. Many reviews—such as Launch’s—tend to nudge freelancers and businesses toward similar services like Guru, oDesk and Freelancer since their posts are often more specific. Options abound, and new ones emerge every few months.

A Massive Online Presence

CNET boosted Elance’s profile in 2009 by naming the site as its top 100 Webware winner for that year. Between 2005 and 2009, writes CNET, the outsourcing site has managed upward of $161 billion in earnings. There is no doubt, even among similar services including newcomer Fiverr, that Elance is the biggest, noisiest player.

My own experience on the site has been, admittedly, fairly off-putting. “Proofread my novel,” “Write short articles”…The descriptions are all just vague enough for a moment of uncertainty or hesitation. For a site that uses the word professional so repeatedly, the professional element feels distinctly lacking. On this point, I have to wholeheartedly agree with Launch. Elance’s approach to freelancing is truly open, with the outcome that the volume of applications sometimes makes it difficult to pick through the qualified versus the unqualified.

Elance is a quick answer that sometimes raises too many questions to be worth the trouble. For the security-focused user, though, it can be a useful tool. It’s important to know how much you expect to make or to pay going in and to clarify all aspects of the job before starting. It’s also important to know how to use the site and to make sure you use the Milestone function to ensure that payments go through properly. Elance is a massive, tricky tool that demands time and attention to get right, but it is a very popular and secure tool nevertheless.

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