This is what a friend asked me and I directed him to the similar question How to find clients beyond sites like oDesk/Guru/Freelancer? here. Then we started discussing the issue and I realize that this question is nothing like:

  1. Find the first client
  2. How to get the first job

and other similar questions.

After that I decided to post this question here as I was without an answer. If you still find it as a duplicate, I will delete it.

The situation is like this:There is an experienced contractor who has been living using sites like Elance, odesk, Freelancer, etc. He has a good reputation, dozens of clients and 50+ projects. He decided not to rely on these sites any more and pay them a percentage and decided to work outside of them instead. His other main reason is that his account was locked for the 5th time for 10 days just because he was hired by a suspicious client and these Services needed time to investigate if he's guilty or not. In the meantime he lost a couple of potential clients. (Who would work for the contractor with a locked account?) So his main reason is the locking of his account for any silly reason (others who read this may simply not want to pay service fees any more).

But he lives in a poor region and that is why he chose to use these websites in the first place. Yet again, all his clients are individuals or small companies who do not have enough work for him to make a living from them.

So what choices does he have now? Is it impossible for him (and other like him) to live without large services like those I mentioned above? Does he have to return to his ex company to have small salary and earn small extra part-time?

Is there anyone around who started working using these services and left them and made a living without them?

I hope you now realize why I was without a good answer to this question.

  • Peter, I'm seeing this as an exact duplicate, just with more detail. I still don't see how it's different, but it's worded much nicer than the previous question you linked to. I'm wondering if it's a duplicate of a different one, but I'm tempted to leave it open for now.
    – Canadian Luke
    Jan 30, 2015 at 21:42
  • All similar questions I found did not include poor region and its economical circumstances. I found those workers dependent on services like those above (simply cannot make living without them). Totally different from freelancers living in developed countries like USA, UK, etc.
    – Peter MV
    Jan 31, 2015 at 7:20
  • Which is why I want to leave this one open. Just showing my train of thought
    – Canadian Luke
    Jan 31, 2015 at 10:41
  • 2
    What I have personally done is work my butt off working for peanuts on sites like you mentioned for a short term in which I was fortunate enough to have worked and met a few connections by working for clients on Elance which have led to pretty much full time work between a handful of big spender clients! So basically I couldn't survive by working on Elance project however the connections I made from ELance have led to good paying and somewhat steady work!
    – JasonDavis
    Jan 31, 2015 at 23:34
  • @jasondavis There are many people like you. But there are also the same amount of those like my friend who are good but were unable to find clients who will let them work out of the middleman.
    – Peter MV
    Feb 2, 2015 at 11:12

2 Answers 2


I have never used any online freelance service to acquire work. Ever. Not even for one project. Without any direct experience as a worker, they all seemed like a less-than-ideal business venture for me to make market-level money.

I have hired workers from guru.com and have ultimately never been impressed. The hoops one has to jump through make the entire process highly non-customer-friendly. My personal opinion is that good clients aren't using these services and good workers are impossible to discern from the herd of hobbyists. And I know there are good workers using these sites.

I've been freelancing for over a decade successfully. While my field (design) is different than programming or development, I have several friends who are developers and pretty much work the way I do.

The key to a good freelance business without online middlemen is relationships.

I don't seek, and rarely accept, the small "one-off" clients. If they want something quick and easy and then they are done, they aren't the clients I want. That is not to say I don't do these types of project. I will. But I'm fully aware I'm doing this project just so I can earn an extra $XXX quickly to pay for xxxxx. I consider these type of projects as "bonus" projects. I never go looking for them and most often turn them down. But if I need a bit of extra cash I may do one here or there.

What I really want is long-standing, good client relationships. I want clients that have ongoing needs. Clients that will repeatedly return to me for more work. Clients that are continually exploring marketing avenues and different ways of pulling customers or clients and continually update, and improve their products or services. I want clients as invested in maintaining their brand and products as they are in making money.

Actual location means nothing in the digital age, especially for certain types of work. I live in a fairly small town and I constantly have enough work. If I had to actually survive on the local market here, I don't think I could.

All that being posted, the local market can be a goldmine for connections.

The key to this is learning to network without the online services.

If I'm doing a simple project and need support from a developer, I contact those I know. In many cases this leads that developer to retaining the client I initially needed support for.

If I'm in need of marketing and list management services, I contact those I know who do that. And again, often this results in that marketer retaining the client I needed assistance with.

I do this whenever needed and in turn, when they have a client in need of my services they contact me. This often results in my retaining their client for the services I provide.

Note I'm not referring to sub-contracting the work. I refer the client to these people for the work. I make nothing for the referral except "good will". I could choose to sub-contract these sort of things. However, if doing so I then become a project manager and am responsible for the work of others. I'm then dependent upon my ability to translate what the client wants into terms the sub-contractor can use and understand. It's much easier to step away and let the client deal with the service provider directly. I may be forgoing some income in doing this. However, I gain a lot of return referrals. Those referral greatly surpass any possible income I'd generate via sub-contracted labor. These referrals are not competing for my services, they are services which are needed in addition to my work.

If you don't know anyone in tangent fields, start looking. I'm in the US, so obviously this answer is biased in that way. I have no knowledge of foreign markets and what may or may not work in them. All I can post is what's worked for me.

  • Meetups or conferences.
    • These are a fantastic way to meet people in your general area of work but who specialize in other areas. If you attend something like a "developer conference" you will most likely meet a ton of individuals that work in areas you don't. These are the connections you want. I realize travel may be involved. These may take more planning and be more rare. However, when possible, GO!
  • Local organizations
    • The Chamber of Commerce or local business groups can offer a wealth of business in need of services without any idea who or where to look. These are business in the same position you are. If they don't have any connections they ultimately may try online services (and be disappointed and grow gun shy of those services). Connecting face to face with these people and business can turn things around very quickly.
  • Old connections
    • When I started out I got a great deal of work from people I used to work with in a company. I knew developers and marketers because they were in different departments within that same company. Provided this is an option, touching base with these people can yield work as well. Perhaps not for that company but if they are venturing on their own as well. Realize that many professionals also work "on the side" for other things. Letting them know that you would be happy to entertain things which use your services can open a few doors there. Although this does, admittedly, rely heavily on what those other people are doing with their careers.
  • Specialize
    • Build one great "plumbing" web site and other plumbers will notice. Or implement some UI design that gets great reviews/feedback and others will want it. Too often a freelancer can try and be all things to all clients. This isn't always a great idea. The more expertise and specialization you have the more in-demand you may be. Think of it as an artist with a style. If you have your style which works very, very well. Others will want that style. This makes you a commodity.
  • Stop "rolling steel" a.k.a Don't have one train of thought
    • In college the other students and I used the term "rolling steel." What this meant is if someone spends 12 hours a day at a steel mill, sweating, aching, and just hating their work, the last thing they want to do when they get off work is to go talk about "rolling steel". So you need to stop as well. If your only real venue is online, don't spend your time online hanging out in "developer" forums if you are a developer. No one there is ever going to need your services. Instead expand your circle. Hang out in small business forums, or in design forums -- places with other individuals that may actually need your work. This will lend to online connections that are not competitors for you. Put yourself in situations where others would possibly need your services rather than surrounding yourself with those that offer similar services.

Online services reduce you to a username, not a person. I know almost no one that feels any sense of obligation, loyalty, or even cognitive remembrance of a user name. Even reading this answer, you may remember the content of this post but a month from now you probably won't remember who posted it. This is where online services kill your business. You want people to remember you, your name, your work. Not that they "hired some guy on freelancer.com". Only direct, face-to-face interactions or specialized services tend to lead to this.

TL;DR: In short, you need to expand your circle. Look for those tangent services that would be used to support your work. If you are a developer, look for designers that need development help. If you are an app builder look for designers or developers who are in need of apps or look for marketing professionals who coordinate all this. Those are the relationships you want. They will lead to better clients who are repeat customers. And repeat clients are how you can effectively sustain a freelance business without the stress of constantly looking for work.

  • Excellent reply! Any chance you expand reply on networking. Do you, or others you know, use networking services like Linkedin or networking like get in touch with old college friends designers and programmer?
    – Peter MV
    Jan 31, 2015 at 7:24
  • I don't use online services Peter, that includes LinkedIn - I have a profile just in case, but it pretty much goes unused. :)
    – Scott
    Jan 31, 2015 at 18:03
  • Yes, I wrote about Linkedin and similar service, but when I read the reply again, I noticed you say that "we should not rely on online services". Again, great reply!!!
    – Peter MV
    Jan 31, 2015 at 18:18
  • Yup. I edited a bit to add some additional information. :)
    – Scott
    Jan 31, 2015 at 18:21
  • This is awesome advice. I have made some very close friends via online forums, but the investment in time and energy is HUGE. We are talking years and hours of interactions. (also a very tiny percentage of these relationships panned out into paying gigs -- so far)
    – Voxwoman
    Feb 2, 2015 at 14:37

This may not be 100% ideal, but one idea would be that you could take up some contracting work for a while in your local area. Have a recruiter (or search yourself) hook you up with one of those 3 month, 6 month, or 1 year long contracts for a company. It won't necessarily be freelancing since you would be sitting at some office most likely, but it's a compromise between dealing with those sites and still not being fully married to one office. I have had similar concerns like you about those sites. I've been spending a lot of time researching the possibility of quitting my full time job to do freelance programming work. I hear mixed experiences about sites like ODesk. It seems like overall if you're good at what you do and know how to foster and maintain relationships with people, then I don't see how you would have too much trouble on those sites. May not be ideal money-wise (at least for a while), but I can see someone earning a living if they are good enough at what they do. I am scared about the possibility of things like the account being locked or your Internet going down while trying to work, etc. lol. Ugh, what a nightmare that would be!

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