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I just starting using Elance and Freelancer. I was wondering if freelancers generally use these platforms to help them make ends meet, or if some freelancers actually make their entire living with jobs obtained there?

  • Out of interest as someone who has just started have you had any success yet? I haven't ever gone for it but have considered it. – tim.baker Dec 22 '13 at 13:37
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    No not yet because first you need to get a few positive ratings (pretty much like a seller on eBay), otherwise most employers will skip you. Hence the first weeks/months require a bit of determination. – drake035 Dec 24 '13 at 8:30
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    My clients pay me through oDesk, but I usually contact the client outside of oDesk (or in my most recent case, I was contacted by a client personally). The side-effect is that if I want to go ahead and use oDesk for finding work, I already have ratings – Amelia Dec 29 '13 at 0:49
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    and which is against the T&C of Odesk. – Gauraw Yadav Feb 24 '14 at 7:24
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Geographically, it depends on where you are. I'm based in the US and answering from that point of view.

I've been a full-time freelance UX designer since mid-2012. I began by looking for projects on Elance and oDesk. I was requested for several projects before I made my minimum rate public. Over several months, I probably wrote about 5-10 proposals which took a lot of time to put together. Each proposal had a fair rate of, at the time, $50-60 an hour. (My rates are now higher.) That's a fair rate for designers in my area (I'm currently in the Washington, DC, metro area), which I had verified with other designers via a question I asked on Quora. I wasn't charging too much for someone who was first starting out.

Yet I wasn't winning any of these projects either. Some of these projects seemed to be posted by the clients as a way to not hire anyone yet but just explore the possibilities and find out who they could hire for the job.

The tipping point for me, however, came after I wrote a long, detailed proposal (which took several full days to write) on a project where I met the job description's requirements very well. The rate I bid was either $54.89 or $58.89 an hour; it's been over a year, so I don't remember which. I thought I could get the project. What happened?

The client hired not one but two freelancers for the job. Between the two of them, they didn't have the skills that the job description asked for, let alone my skill set. But they were bidding only $2-3 an hour. That rate is impossible to live on in the US, where the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and some jurisdictions are higher than that. (As of this writing, there are also currently proposals to raise the minimum wage.) If working for $2-3 an hour as a designer doesn't sound like a problem, consider this: if I'm working for that rate and I go to a fast food restaurant in the US, the person taking my order is making 3-4 times as much per hour as I am and doesn't have nearly the skill set that I do.

So as a design professional, I had to answer this question: How would I get work that actually paid me in line with my credentials (bachelor's degree from a top university in the US, 5 - now close to 7 - years of work experience, almost 2 years in UX design) and gave me a rate that I could live on? And what would I advise others to do if they live in other countries where the cost of living is much higher than what most oDesk/Elance/... projects can pay?

The solution was this: I stopped looking for work from these bid sites. I picked an industry and learned how to do prospecting. And, while I've unfortunately had to do a lot of free work over the past year to build my portfolio, I have had more than enough work over the past year. I got most of that work from one prospecting email.

The prospecting course I took was Warm Email Prospecting, offered about once a year through International Freelancers Academy. (Full disclosure: I am a student of this class, but I'm not affiliated with the group that offers it.) I'd recommend subscribing to IFA's email list to find out when the class will be offered again. The course costs hundreds of dollars, which isn't cheap but it is a good investment for freelancers who don't have a background in selling or prospecting. As freelancers, selling and prospecting are skills that we need to have on the side to run a profitable business.

What picking an industry will get you is domain expertise. That will let you charge a higher rate than you would get working for just anyone who would give you a project. Why? You would be able to speak that industry's language and understand their business and their company's specific problems better than someone who only brings the technical skills.

Once you have picked an industry, make a list of companies in that industry which could use your skills. Many job openings or opportunities for freelance work are not made public. It is better to know - or find out about - specific people you can contact at the companies.

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There are both scenarios.

Ones will earn their living via Elance, odesk, guru, freelancer and other similar sites.

Other will use those sites to find a good client and then start working for him only.

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I have been working as a freelancer since year 2009, Well sometimes it is hard to get a job there on Odesk/Elance. There are tons of people now, what you would do for someone in 500 dollars, another person may do the same task 10 times better than you at a very low cost. You can't just rely on freelancing sites. Few days ago all was well with me but all of a sudden I wasn't getting jobs on Odesk, so expect for the unexpected, I know some people who are doing very well but

it all depends how good you are, the luck factor and lots of things.

I love working as a freelancer because I don't like to go to the office and money of course - If you would work hard I am sure you will earn a lot more than your friends who go to offices.

Also,

If you are from the developed countries, I think you are gonna struggle to get job because for me and most of the people from developing countries for them Even 1 dollar is a lot of money, if I work 8 hours a day I may have 14000 bucks by the end of the month which is quite Okay to me.

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I know some talented developers who make a living through those sites, but they live in low-income countries like Chile or the Ukraine. Those sites attract businesses that want cheap labor and it's very hard to distinguish between someone who's good and someone who is merely "productive" (i.e., turning in the completed work on time, but it's an absolute mess).

  • Don't the feedback mechanisms on those work-bid sites expose the absolute messes, @ovid ? – Martin F Jan 12 '14 at 21:56
  • Martin: in theory, yes, but in reality, if you're a business person and someone hands you a steaming pile of ones and zeros that, nonetheless, appears to do what you want, how would you know? By definition, many people who try to hire programmers at those sites have no idea how technology works. – Ovid Jan 13 '14 at 21:16
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It depends on what you do.

I run a start-up and my company is primarily focused on providing services to our clients.

But, it is very essential that in this age of strict competition in all the IT fields , it is essential that you come up with your own product as well which would sell in the market.

I suggest you to build a base using Elance or Odesk till the point to have a stable income from your client.

After that, do some market research and go directly into products and start coming up with products of your own.

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