Top 5 Elance newbie mistakes of 2012

Posted by on Jan 4, 2013 in Getting more business on Elance | 3 Comments

Every contractor on Elance was a newbie once. Everyone starts out confused, overwhelmed, and wondering how on earth they’re going to get started. And many end up making painful—and sometimes costly—mistakes.

I visit the Elance Water Cooler regularly, and I see a lot of messages posted by new contractors. Hundreds, in fact. And with that many messages, patterns start emerging. The same questions, the same complaints… and the same mistakes.

So what are the top newbie mistakes of 2012? Read on to find out…

Not waiting until escrow is funded

This year, dozens of contractors posted messages to the Elance Water Cooler asking what they can do when a client doesn’t pay. Usually, someone will respond by reassuring them that if their client funded escrow, they’ll have no trouble claiming it eventually. (Unless the client files a dispute, the escrowed fee will automatically be released 30 days after the contractor marks the job complete.)

Unfortunately, most of these contractors didn’t realize they had to make sure escrow was funded in order to guarantee payment. They started working and handed over their work, only to discover that without escrow, they have absolutely no recourse.

It’s awful when hardworking writers and other contractors aren’t paid for their labor, and what’s even more tragic is that the problem is so easily prevented.

The takeaway: Never, ever start working until you see that green check mark next to your project milestone. For reference, here’s what it looks like:

Taking tests or providing samples for free

Many contractors posted messages complaining about being promised work on Elance in exchange for taking a time-consuming online test or created a custom work sample for a prospective client. They spent an hour or two completing the test or working on the sample, only to have the client disappear once the task was complete. No job awarded. No money earned. “How can anyone make any money doing all this work for free?” one of these newbies angrily demanded.

The simple answer is: nobody does. Smart contractors know better, and they earn a good living on Elance. But all too often, new contractors fall into the trap of delivering work for free. Not only is it financially ruinous, it’s also against the Elance terms of service, so you could end up having your account suspended or even being banned from the platform.

The takeaway: Never work for free, and be very wary of jobs that require you to “take a test” before you’re awarded the job. Chances are, these tests are simply ways to extract free work from you, or a means of collecting your email address or other sensitive information.

Worrying about the cost of connects

I’ve probably read a hundred posts complaining about the cost of Elance connects—those virtual tokens contractors use to bid on jobs. With a free account, you receive 10 connects, but to purchase additional connects and bid on more jobs, you’ll pay about USD$0.50 per connect.

New contractors complain about “wasting” connects on jobs that never get awarded. They petition Elance to return connects that don’t lead to a job. And they complain bitterly about the cost of connects.

It makes me wonder whether they’ve ever tried marketing their services in the real world, where a single business-card sized ad in a trade magazine can cost hundreds of dollars—with no guarantee that it will yield any results.

The takeaway: Elance isn’t going to change their policy on connects, so complaining is a waste of breath. And spending fifty cents or even three bucks to making a connection with a client who might represent thousands of dollars in business is the steal of a century.

Posting before reading on the Water Cooler

I’m a caution person, and I tend to look before I leap. So I spent a week or two just reading posts on the Elance Water Cooler before writing my first post.

But many newbies seem to jump in feet first without having read a single word of the thoughtful conversations and excellent advice that preceded them. So they end up asking questions that have been asked (and answered) a thousand times. They offend other nationalities and ethnicities by complaining about “those Indians who work for pennies and take the jobs away from us”, not realizing that “those Indians” read the Water Cooler, too. They demand free critiques of their profiles and tips on winning jobs without realizing how angry that makes Water Cooler regulars who worked hard to get where they are and don’t see why anyone should get a free ride.

The takeaway: Read, read, read before posting on the Water Cooler. Not only will you learn a ton by reading posts written by the smart, successful Elancers who have generously shared their wisdom there for years, but you’ll avoid ruffling feathers and win the good will of experienced contractors who can be invaluable in helping you build your own success.

Not reading the Elance terms of service

Ok, I’ll admit it. I probably spent three minutes scanning the terms of service before I started blithely bidding on jobs. But I don’t recommend skipping this step: my inattention cost me money in those first few weeks, and judging from the tales of ignorance and woe many newbies posted in 2012, it’s a costly omission for most contractors. Some lose money. Some have their accounts suspended. Some are permanently banned from the site.

It’s very easy to do something that breaks the rules when you don’t know what the rules are. And the rules are there to protect you.

The takeaway: Please, take 10 or 15 minutes and read through the Elance terms of service. Just the User Agreement at the top of the page will do. Yes, it’s long. Yes, it’s boring. But it’s better than losing money, being taken advantage of, or finding yourself banned from Elance before you had a chance to launch your career there.

If you’re new to Elance and want to jumpstart your success, you’ll find lots more useful tips in my book, available for just $9.99 in the Kindle store.

Ray Colon
Ray Colon

I've been on Elance for just under a month and it's been an interesting experience. It was almost three weeks before I landed my first job -- I've had three so far.  Most of the time prior to that first proposal acceptance was spent on completing my profile, adding items to my portfolio, reading all of the information and watching videos on Elance U, bidding on jobs, and taking skills tests. (Not by request, just on my own.)


Freelancing is hard. The accounting and programming work that I do isn't the difficult part; continually searching for jobs to bid on is. Some clients take weeks before they make a decision, so it's best to focus on writing a good proposal and then forgetting about it, because it could be a long wait before it's awarded.


I agree with your recommendation: New freelancers should read the information that Elance provides, because the investment of time to get up to speed will definitely benefit them in the long run.

Hayden moderator

 @Ray Colon You're absolutely right: the hardest part of freelancing is continually seeking out new opportunities and new clients. Very few of us are naturally good at marketing: we're "good at what we do", whether that's design, copywriting, programming, or some other valuable skills. 


It takes hard work and discipline to keep the pipeline full of work. If you've been awarded three jobs in your first three weeks on Elance, you're doing something right! Congrats on your success.

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