Getting work on elance, etc. often requires suicidally low bids. Is online really the way to go, or is it better to get clients through "real-world" networking in your city?

  • Sadly, Odesk combined with elance, so ... Anyone want to build a freelance site that WON'T merge with elance? Dec 19, 2013 at 20:58
  • @Question3CPO they're still separate entities, they just share common owners now. Which means hopefully they wont share userbases or that will end up going horribly wrong.
    – Amelia
    Dec 19, 2013 at 23:02
  • 1
    The guys who are doing really cheap work are building crap. You can't afford to sell quality service for pennies. You'll get business if you target quality companies, with quality (great) service, for a premium price. People are willing to pay for it if they realize how good it is. You have to stress that it costs more because it's top notch. Sometimes, charging too little can actually lose you the job. It's crazy, but I find that it works that way quite often.
    – user4118
    Jun 14, 2014 at 7:18

10 Answers 10


I have never gotten a single client from any web-based crowd source site. Ever.

All my clients have come via word of mouth. Networking in real life is far more valuable than anything online in my opinion. If you network properly all it takes is one or two of the right contacts and you'll have all the work you need.

Look at it this way.... you can float in a raft in the Atlantic ocean (the internet) hoping you are seen and deemed worthy of attention. Or you can throw an inner tube into the pond in your local park where you are sure to get stares and attention.

  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Local companies needing temporary support staff
  • Previous employment positions often offer exterior contacts in need
  • straight up - the web wont put $ in your pocket.
    – Tapper7
    Jan 14, 2017 at 9:00

I suspect it takes quite a bit of time and effort and many "lean" jobs to build a reputation on Elance etc especially when you are in Canada and competing for jobs with people in other countries who can work for a much lower hourly rate than you.

What worked best for me was using the reputation I already had in the "real world" by finding work from friends, family and other people who already know me. This type of work was at a reasonable hourly rate and once I started, there has always seemed to be plenty of work as existing clients will often refer me to new clients.

Once you have a portfolio of websites, you are in a good position to show this to people you don't know and convince them you can do the job.


Regardless of where you seek for work, reputation is what matters. Once you achieve a reputation either on online freelancing websites or forums or in the local community, you will start getting satisfactory proposals.

Wherever you work, you will be forced to start from the bottom. If you think Elance is bad, try going to some local company and offer them you real price. You will soon think similarities.

I also advise you to browse ALL freelancing websites. They all have Search page where you can search for clients from your local area or your area of interest.


As a person who hires developers, I think you should do a mix of the two. You should do real world networking because there obviously is a demand for good developers. People want someone who gets what they're trying to build and can build it. So I'm sure eventually you'll have more referrals than you can handle.

As for online, you should do contests. 99Designs is the big one but Freelancer also has contests and other ones. If you just go balls out with your developing and impress them and win the contest, you have a client in the future.

  • 6
    Design contests are inherently BAD for freelancers and the industry as a whole. They provide no feedback, very minimal returns if you happen to win, and essentially take advantage of those who don't know any better. One should avoid contests if they are serious about making a living freelancing.
    – Scott
    Dec 16, 2013 at 8:31

You just need to be versatile. There are all sorts of ways to get work and you need to try them all. I've found work online through sites like Craigslist and eLance, but I've also found work offline. You can market yourself to your household contractors or you can talk to old college classmates. I was catching up with an old friend through Hangouts and I got a decent long term contract with a major corporation through that conversation. You just need to put yourself out there and produce quality work. If you don't have work, build something of your own. Put it out there on Hacker News or Twitter and see if it gets any traction. Just don't sit idle and keep building.

  • 1
    As a freelancer you are only one person. It is unrealistic to say "try them all" - who has that kind of time? Instead, better to think about the kind of customers you want, and pursue the most likely avenues for finding those clients. Dec 16, 2013 at 13:45

I think you should be focused on "word of mouth"approach because that is a real way to get clients.

Clients you get by this method are generally very trustworthy and would stick with you for a long time.

Using online websites with jobs system medium but not a full-time source of income.

There was a time 3 to 4 years ago where you could succeed easily on Elance and Odesk.

But now, the market is very different because there are many competitors offering quality services at very low prices.


To start, I spoke with friends & family who are involved with businesses and they either had no work or known some one who was in need and introduced me.

This way is very hit and miss, but nonetheless, I think it does have some value. However, if you have already started out and completed a few projects, you most-likely don't need to do this.

Also, have a killer website/work. That always helps.


It takes a while, but word of mouth is probably the best. However, that word of mouth can be physical face-to-face referrals, or can also be online referrals on any of the job sites.

I'd pick your favorite job site (Freelanced.com is my favorite, but Elance or Freelancer are also good), then use all the tools available to build your online portfolio. Make it colorful and interesting, with your best samples.

Then, after you've landed a few jobs, don't be afraid to reach out to your clients (after the job is complete) and ask them to refer you in the future. If they were happy with your work, I've found that they often times will.

Some of the job boards also have ways to elevate your portfolio to get it additional exposure. These are usually paid options, and the fees depend on the site. You could try those and measure the results, although I'll guess that your results will vary depending on your field, skill, portfolio, and other factors. Just try it for a limited time and see if it pays for itself or not. Probably landing 1 job would be worth several months of fees, depending on your rates.

Unrelated to your question, but one more thing I'll mention. Don't be afraid to turn down very low paying or low quality work. You won't build your reputation by doing jobs that pay 1/3 of what you're worth. I'd choose quality (and higher pay) over quantity (and lower pay).


SEO can be beneficial for you. You should create an excellent website and start SEO of that website. Once your site will be at the top you can get clients directly via Google. Another thing you can do is to submit your portfolio on various web developer portfolio websites.


To get the first job you should start with really low on bids and make the contacts and your rating high. This will lead to you earning a reputation and attracting employers.

To submit your proposal for a job, you can try on Elance. Many more employers are there.

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