Get Paid to Write: How to Break into the Elance Writing Marketplace and Earn Thousands per Month

The following is a guest post by Hayden Jackson.

Elance can be an intimidating place for writers. When I first signed up, I took a look at the profiles of some of the top-ranked writers. I looked at their long lists of completed jobs, their five-star feedback, and their thousands of dollars in earnings. And I thought, “How am I ever going to get paid to write for this site? How am I going to win my first job?”

Every Elancer starts in the same place: no feedback, no completed jobs, and just a string of zeroes where their earnings should be. Two years ago, I was no different.

How Much Can You Earn with Elance as a Freelance Writer?

Hayden JacksonBut today, everything has changed. Since I joined Elance in November 2009, I have earned almost $60,000—more than the writers whose profiles I studied when I first started out.

Over the past two years, Elance has become an integral part of a rewarding, full-time freelance writing career for me. In fact, I even wrote a definitive guide on the subject: “72 Insider Tips for Elance Writers.”

How to Make Money Writing for Elance: 4 Tips from a Freelancer Who’s Earned Up to $5,000/Month

How did I break into the Elance writing market? And more importantly, how can you make money writing for sites like this? Here are four essential tips that will help you stand out and find success in a crowded marketplace:

I. Polish your profile to perfection

So many writers complain that buyers ignore them on Elance, but when I look at their profiles, it’s clear that they aren’t selling themselves effectively.

To Make Money Writing for Elance, Fix These Top Profile Mistakes

Top profile mistakes include:

  • Failing to include a profile photo, or using a photo that’s out of focus, badly cropped, or unprofessional (this includes holiday snaps and family photos)
  • Including typos or spelling and grammar mistakes in your profile. Always proof your profile AND have another trusted writer proof it, too.
  • Including personal information. As with a job interview, a buyer doesn’t need to know your marital status, hobbies, or life circumstances.
  • Including information that isn’t relevant to the skills you’re selling. Unless you plan to establish a niche as a food writer, don’t include your job experience as a chef or your culinary diploma in your profile.

 I found that my job acceptance rate rose significantly after I gave my profile a “makeover” that included a better photo, a well-organized set of portfolio samples, verified credentials, and tested skills.

No single one of these elements will win you the job, but together, they present a professional, credible image to prospective buyers.

II. Bid more frequently

Did you know that at least 40 percent of all Elance jobs are never awarded? And that’s the official award rate—the real number of unawarded jobs may be much higher.

This means almost half of your proposals will never result in a job—no matter how talented you are or how brilliant your proposal is.

Most Elance writers are lucky to get one job for every 10 bids they make, so keep that in mind when you decide on your bidding frequency.

A few months into my Elance career, I really stepped up my bidding frequency, submitting proposals for 25 to 35 jobs each month. The more often I bid, the more jobs I won, and my earning started climbing quickly.

III. Don’t give up too soon

I have heard from many would-be Elance writers who gave up after trying to break into the Elance marketplace for two or three weeks. That’s just not enough time to establish yourself and start to see real results.

In my first few months, I struggled to make a few hundred dollars, and I thought about quitting many times. But I stuck with it, and today I can sometimes clear $5,000 in a single month. It takes time to build up to this level of success—and every writer will advance according to a different timeline.

As a general rule of thumb, give yourself at least three months before you decide that Elance is not for you.

IV. Go for the wow factor

When you don’t have fabulous feedback to vouch for your talent, you need to make the extra effort in your proposal.

How to Bid on a Job on Elance: Here’s Some Insight

Start with a well-crafted proposal template that clearly lays out your skills and experience, and take the time to customize your template to reflect the requirements of each job you bid on. If possible, take the time to research the buyer so that you can appear knowledgeable about their business.

This may seem like a lot of work, especially when you’re applying for a high volume of jobs. And it IS a lot of work. But keep this in mind: you only need to make the effort while you’re in the process of establishing yourself.

Once you’ve earned some feedback and credentials, you’ll find that you can submit a more straightforward proposal and still get a good response.

As an established Elance writer, I spend no more than 10 minutes on each proposal I submit.

Get Paid to Write: Gain Access to Clients Worldwide

Elance gives writers access to hundreds of potential clients all over the world at a minimal cost. However, it’s a crowded place, and it’s easy to become discouraged before you’ve given it a chance.

You need to treat writing for Elance like a real business to make it pay like a real business.

Invest some time in your profile. Invest some money in additional Connects so that you can bid more aggressively. And then give it some time—three months, at least. I did, and I’ve never had reason to regret the extra effort I put into establishing my Elance career.

Publisher Note: In a subsequent email when Hayden and I were corresponding, she added the following golden nugget, which I think is important. She wrote:

I know freelance bidding sites are unpopular with a lot of writers, and truthfully, the ratio of junk jobs to good jobs is about 100-1! But by filtering out the junk and focusing on the good stuff, I’ve been able to make it work for me.

About the Author: Hayden Jackson is a freelance writer and successful Elancer. She is also the author of “72 Insider Tips for Elance Writers,” a comprehensive guide to earning money and building a freelance writing career on Elance.com.

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    1. Glad it helped April. It took me FOREVER to write, because I wanted to give readers as much info as possible about the process. So thanks for letting me know that it did what it’s supposed to do 🙂

    2. Thanks! Though I’m not moving to Negril, your e-book was a huge help in wrapping my head around the move and not being overwhelmed with the process.

    3. April:

      You hit the nail on the head IMO re nicheing it. You must, must, must be focused in what you offer for not only do you NOT confuse potential clients, but it makes marketing that much easier to.

      Good luck with the move to Jamaica!

    4. This was a very helpful article for me. I tried Elance a while ago and got frustrated with no responses so I stopped. I am giving it a go again and focusing on creating a relevant and targeted profile. I think one of my biggest challenges is really niching down my focus. I want to be a travel writer, social media consultant, voice talent and a million other things and that’s probably confusing and distracting to potential clients.

      Creating an e-book has definitely been on my mind…going to pick a topic and just do it!

      Thank you all for sharing your experience and expertise. It’s definitely a tremendous help for me.

      Oh and BTW, moving to Jamaica for three months as the kick off of my new start! So excited!

    5. Thanks for chiming in with your expertise Hayden, and for “seconding” my suggestion to write an ebook. I think it’s something all freelance writers should do for themselves to boost their credentials.

      As I’ve said on many occasions, there’s just something about the words “Author of” that make ppl view you as more of a professional; maybe it’s because many want to write a book, but just think they can’t for some reason.

      Continued success to you!

    6. Hi Zelda,

      I’m glad you enjoyed my guest post, and I would encourage you to try raising your rates to see what kind of response you get. I get turned down regularly for bidding too high, but I don’t let it phase me any more, because there are always enough clients who are willing to pay a premium for good writing. Take a chance. Bid DOUBLE your current rate. See what happens. At worst, you will have thrown away fifty cents, which I think is the current monetary value of an Elance connect.

      And I second Yuwanda’s suggestion to write an ebook. It will allow you to add “author” to your list of credentials. It will also show potential clients you’re able to write more lengthy, substantial pieces, and looks great in your portfolio.

      I wish you the best of luck with Elance, and I congratulate you on the level of success you’ve achieved so far!

    7. Zelda,

      You can easily add “author” to your name. Just write an ebook — it only has to be 20-30 pages on a topic you know about. If it’s in the niche you specialize in in writing, then all the better. Voila! You’re an author.

      Glad Hayden’s post helped. I have no experience with job bidding sites, so this was really informative for me as well.

      Just goes to show, there’s more than one way to skin the freelance writing cat! 🙂

    8. I agree about Elance being a great opportunity! It was one of the first sites I turned to for freelance writing jobs, and it has remained one of the best. The main thing to remember there is that you have to choose your projects carefully. If you are a native English speaker and have experience and talent in the industry, you are not in competition with those who aren’t. You have to find clients who are willing to pay what you are worth, and don’t compromise when it comes to price. There really are serious clients there who will pay a good wage for quality work.

    9. Zelda Zerafa says:

      This is a brillianit post and very relevant for me this week. I have been present on elance for some time but see that I need to step up my game a little bit. I DID find the amount of rubbish jobs paying 1-5$ per article depressing and demotivating. So is bidding for jobs that never get awarded.

      I’ve done well so far writing cheaply and get good feedback but I still haven’t managed to make the jump into high paying jobs that I need to quit my job. However, I know deep down that my writing makes the grade and I’m good enough to get these jobs. What is sometimes intimidating on elance is that some people have editorial experience, have written a couple of books etc…

      Thanks Hayden for this post!