How I made over $4,000 in my first month on Elance (Upwork)

published by Bren

Last updated: July 15, 2020

Update: Elance has now merged with Odesk to form Upwork. The platform is more or less the same, and operates in the same manner. The advice below is still applicable. Good luck!

Surprisingly, the world of freelancing had eluded me until recently. It was by complete accident that I stumbled across a website called Elance – a kind of eBay for freelancers. Fuelled by enthusiasm and a rapidly declining bank account I dove in headfirst and was astonished at the earning potential of the online freelance market.

Below I’ll detail how I went from an empty Elance profile to making over $4,000 in my first month working as a writer online, all without an ounce of freelance writing experience.

What is freelancing?

Freelancing is similar to contract work. It’s basically marketing yourself as an individual, offering your skills to businesses to do a task. You have no boss, no office hours and no public holidays. You work for yourself and it’s up to you to find work and pitch yourself to clients.

Elance is an online marketplace for freelancers. It’s a place where both freelancers can find work and businesses can find freelancers to work for them.

As a traveller freelancing is an ideal income source. If you have any desire to travel long term and get out of the office you need to start building a freelance income. You can work anywhere, anytime with just a laptop and wifi. This is where sustainable long term travel starts!

How I started

As soon as I surfed on into Elance I signed up and created a profile. I used to be an accountant, so naturally I starting browsing the jobs in the Finance section. Most were bookkeeping jobs and the type of crap I hated that caused me to quit my job in the first place. Not only that, every job seemed to have hundreds of bids from Indian freelancers offering to do the job for $2 an hour. $2 an hour! I wouldn’t even sit through Gossip Girl episodes for $2 an hour! (I wonder if Blair Waldorf has received my fanmail yet…)

So there I was, so easily uninspired and seconds away from clicking the big red X in the top right hand corner when I caught sight of the “Writing and Translation” category. I vaguely remembered someone telling me about people making a decent wage working as a writer online and decided to check the listings out.

I had no idea what I was doing, but a lot of the jobs seemed interesting and I knew I could do a decent job. I turned to my best friend (his name is Google) for a bit of advice. Pretty much all my searches about becoming a freelance writer on Elance came back with the same message:

“Indians and Filipinos are highly skilled, more dedicated, and spend 18 hours a day on this site bidding for literally every single job that comes up. What’s more, they offer to do this work for $1 an hour. You simply cannot compete. Forget about it.”

One thing about me is I’m super stubborn. When someone tells me I can’t do something it really annoys me, and no matter how stupid it is I’ll generally do everything I can to prove you wrong. What!? You said I can’t eat a whole bag of french fries through my nose?! That’s it. McDonalds, now. You’re driving.

Bidding for jobs

So with my stubbornness in hand I started bidding. Unfortunately for me what Google had told me was true. Every single job was being swamped with lowball bids from India and the Philippines. Truth is, I did want to give up at that moment, willing to accept the fact that they were all probably smarter, more hard working and more experienced than I was, not to mention they were much, much cheaper than me too. Nonetheless, I soldiered on, bidding for about 15 jobs and getting awarded exactly zero of them.

After thinking about this for a while, I realised that the most likely reason people weren’t interested in hiring me was because I had no feedback. I also looked like a hamster in my profile photo. But without at least one feedback, there was no way that they could tell whether I was a rockstar writer or a complete illiterate idiot. On every job that I bid for, the writer who ultimately won the job had at least a couple of jobs completed and at least 4/5 star feedback.

So I asked myself, what do businesses do when they’re trying to build up customers? They give stuff away for free!

The next 3 jobs I bid for, I decided not to write my usual “I have an accounting degree and I’m a very hard worker and I love a challenge and I won’t let you down and please hold on while I think of something even more boring to tell you”. Instead, I decided to do part of the job for free as my proposal.

My first job

The job posting looked like this:

Accounting blog

I had no idea what a ‘creative brief’ or ‘SEO’ was. I still don’t.

But that didn’t matter to me because since accounting is my expertise, I knew I could kill this job. However, if I just wrote my typical “I work really hard” proposal I would just look like another amateur writer with no experience, probably even a homeless one bidding from a stolen laptop. Therefore I decided to actually write a blog post for one of the requested topics as my proposal instead. That way he would know that I could write a blog post in good English and also would not be left wondering whether I really knew anything about accounting. Here’s what my proposal looked like:

Accounting blog proposal

I also bid quite a high price. I bid $250, which amounts to $25 for a 250 word blog post. For a new freelance writer that’s a very high rate. Most writers when starting out work for around $3-$5 for a 500 word article. Why did I do this? Simple – to stand out. Buying psychology 101 – high prices give a perception of high quality. Also, I’m from New Zealand where the minimum wage is $13.75 an hour. If I’m supposedly a qualified accountant willing to write for $3 an hour in a country where any other job would earn me 5x that, then the client will probably conclude that something is off, i.e. that I’m a moron.

To my surprise, the whole thing worked perfectly. Within a couple of days I was awarded the job and it’s embarrassing how proud I was. I really couldn’t wait to get started. I was now officially a freelance writer, and had a client to prove it!

celebration dance

Lesson: Bidding high helps you stand out, and tells the client you’re not some desperate wannabe (even though you are). On this job I could see that the majority of the bidders were only bidding $3-$5 per post, and many were from India and Pakistan meaning they probably weren’t native English speakers. The highest bid on the job was around $300, so I bid just under that, making me stand out but not making me look extravagantly expensive.

After 10 days I had completed the job, been paid $250 and received my first feedback:

feedback accounting blog

I also need to stress that you must get a 5 star feedback. A 3 star feedback is probably worse than having no feedback at all. So how do you do this?

Firstly, strive to be the best freelancer your client has ever worked with. Submit work before the deadline. Write 700 words when you only needed 500. Make it clear that you will rewrite and edit your piece until they are 100% satisfied. Put effort into your writing and make your articles the best your client has ever read. In other words, exceed every expectation.

Then, make it clear you need a 5 star feedback.

“Hey Joe,

I’m glad you liked the final article. If, for any reason, there’s still a part of it you’re not quite 100% happy with, please let me know and I’ll rewrite it until it’s exactly what you’re after.

If there’s no further work to be done, I’d really appreciate it if you could leave a 5 star feedback for me on Elance. This would be so helpful in me securing further work and continuing to write. If you feel any aspect of my work wasn’t to 5 star standard, please don’t hesitate to let me know and I’ll do everything I can to fix that.”

Remember, finding good writers on Elance is a complete headache for most editors. Well established freelance writers earn up to $500 an article, so for $20+ they don’t tend to expect too much. If you’ve been blowing their socks off with your professionalism and commitment to quality throughout the project, they really should have no problem leaving you the 5 star feedback you’ve asked for.


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The ball starts rolling

After that everything became exponentially easier. With my first 5 start feedback behind my name I landed my next job a couple of days later. Here’s what the job posting looked like:

Indian job

My proposal:

Proposal indian job

While I can’t see the other proposals, I can see who the other bidders are. There were 13 bidders for the job, which I have listed below:


As you can see, of the 13 bidders 4 are from Pakistan, 7 are from India, 1 is from the Philippines, and 1 is from New Zealand (me). Assuming the job poster was looking for a native English speaker, he can choose either me or…me.

Lesson: Don’t get disheartened by a large number of people low bidding on jobs. While many of them may be great workers, Elance is renowned for having a large number of English second language speakers submitting poor quality writing that can’t be used. For this reason many job postings explicitly ask for native English speakers only. In this case I was the only native English speaker that bid, and eventually I was awarded the job. Funnily enough, almost every other bidder was also a Chartered Accountant and some had CFA’s/MBA’s, making them far more qualified than I was (probably way smarter, too). They also were cheaper than me – my bid of $550 was far higher than the average bid of $180, which reinforces my earlier point of bidding high and not selling yourself short.

Trying a different niche

After completing this job and getting another 5 stars, I decided to see if I could land a job outside of accounting and finance. I did this for fun more than anything else, and to get some experience in a different niche. Pretty much all my proposals went along the lines of:

“My background is in financial writing but I can apply my skills to a variety of topics….I work hard blah blah…I’ll be happy to write the first article at no charge as a trial to see if it suits your audience.

After submitting around 10 bids for travel articles, food articles, fitness articles, sports articles and pretty much any job that got listed, the one I got a hit on was a collection of articles for a mens lifestyle blog (hooray). 10 articles at $11 each. Granted, a significant paycut from my previous gigs, but was a job nonetheless and I actually had a lot of fun doing it.

Because the article was outside my niche I had to put a bit more effort in to ensure a 5 star feedback. I read through the clients blog and a lot of similar blogs to get a feel for the right writing style, I made sure the writing was delivered way before the deadline, and of course I offered to rewrite it as many times as he needed. Out of the 10 articles, only 1 needed to be rewritten, and he seemed very impressed with the work:


Lesson – You can land jobs outside your niche – you’ll probably get paid less and need to offer a freebie for the first few, but it’s worth it for the extra experience and feedback. Research well and strive to submit the highest quality work that your client has ever seen. Soon you’ll have a good amount of experience in different niches and be able to command higher prices.

My first “big” client

The next job I landed ended up paying me quite a bit more than the others. It was for writing Chartered Accountancy teaching notes, which is:

  1. A crap job that nobody wants to do
  2. Requires a very specific skillset

Those are two ingredients for a high paying gig. Here’s what the posting looked like:

accounting notes

My proposal:


In my proposal you’ll see that I made sure to address every requirement listed in his posting. What you can’t see in the screenshot is that the job budget was up to $5,000, so I knew he was willing to pay good coin for the right candidate.

I spent most of the evening researching and putting together the sample notes requested in the posting, as I knew that would most likely be the deciding factor. I wanted to submit something exceptional. The client emailed the next day saying how my proposal and sample notes had really stood out from the rest, and awarded me the job. The first job was a trial, which involved writing a single chapter of notes for $230. I did everything I could to make it the first set of interesting accounting notes in the history of mankind (I failed, it’s not possible), and he later offered me a full 10 chapters, for which I negotiated a price of $2,900.

Lesson – Don’t be afraid to spend time on your proposals – it’s like preparing for a job interview. I’ve found that the clients who ask for specific samples in their listings are generally the ones that require writers with a very specific expertise, and if you can deliver on this the payday can be pretty good.

Earnings for the first month:

Job 1: $250

Job 2: $550

Job 3: $110

Job 4: $230

Job 5: $2,900

Total : $4,040 USD worth of work awarded in just over a month.

Disclaimer: While I managed to “win” all these jobs within a month, it actually took around 2 months for me to complete everything. This is because those were the deadlines I negotiated. I did this because:

  1. I was travelling at the time
  2. I’m lazy

I was probably working around 10-15 hours a week. Had I been working on them full time this could have been easily completed in around a month.

I was earning around $25-$30 an hour on average, which is not far from what I was earning when working full time as an accountant. The interesting thing is, this is considered peanuts for a writer! Many established writers earn closer to $100 an hour, some substantially more. While I’m a long way from those rates, the potential itself is exciting.

Things to remember when starting out on Elance:

Bid for jobs within your expertise (particularly for writing). This will be your best shot for producing quality writing and building up your feedback. If you’re a personal trainer bid on fitness articles; if you’re a banker bid on financial articles; if you’re a nurse bid on health articles etc. You don’t necessarily need to be a professional – you could bid on parenting articles, travel articles; I’ve even seen several jobs for gamers to write articles and reviews on Playstation games, so there really is something for everyone.

Take whatever jobs you can get at the start. You get 40 bids on Elance when you start out – you should use all of them. With my first 40 bids I got awarded 3 jobs, and then I paid the $10 fee for another set of 40. If you’re serious about building an income, you’ll need to put a decent amount of effort into marketing yourself and bidding for work. Once you get some decent feedback you will be able to be more selective with the work you accept.

Don’t limit yourself to writing – Writing can get boring, so it’s nice to have something else to work on to give yourself a break. For web developers, programmers and IT nerds in general, the freelance world is a goldmine for you. I’ve flirted with the idea of finding accounting work but I can’t bring myself to do it just yet. Still gives me nightmares. Another great moneymaker is translation – if you speak multiple languages there are people that will pay big money for accurate translation work.

Write for free – I’m a big advocate of writing articles for free and including them in your proposal, at least when you’re starting out. If anything, it’s a great way to practice your writing and if you don’t get the job you can still add the piece to your portfolio. For example, if the poster requires 10 articles on the benefits of green tea, research and write an article on the topic. Even if you don’t win the job, convert the file to pdf and add it to your portfolio as “Green tea article written for established health magazine”. Win win!

Look at other successful writers. See how their profiles are laid out and what they include in their portfolio. Look through their resume, their photo and the profile layout in general. Use this as a model for your own profile.

So anyway, that’s how I started out in freelancing and I was pretty satisfied with my results. What’s been great about it is that I’ve developed a new stream of income that I can earn while travelling, which is always the goal for me. I’m sure there are many different strategies that people use to freelance and if you’re willing to share I’d love to hear them! Also, I’d be keen to hear how the above strategies of mine work out for you if you decide to use them. I’ll probably write another post on the topic in a few months, hopefully with a new and improved approach to share with you all. Hopefully this post has showed you that it really is possible to make money on Elance; maybe not millions, but enough to make it worth giving a try.

My challenge to you:

Set up a free account at Elance (Upwork) and spend some time creating your profile. Then, start bidding like crazy on any writing jobs you think you can do a decent job of. It might be writing about parenting, about working out, about dieting, about insurance, about cars, about computers; anything! At the very least you should use all of the 40 bidding credits that you start out with. With some effort and a little bit of luck, you should be able to land at least one job.

Then, do an unbelievable job. Exceed every one of your client’s expectations. Let them know that you’re committed to quality and will produce exactly what they need in order to get a 5 star feedback.

Finish the job, get paid, request a 5 star feedback and blow the payment on something to reward yourself.

Congrats! You’ve just built yourself another income stream 😉

Happy freelancing.

Ready to start your freelance career? This in-depth guide shows you real proposals to real clients that have landed real jobs, complete with the tools and resources you need to get started.

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  1. That was a great piece of advice Bren, though I’m quite happy with my office work as of now, but it pulls the thrill in me on how one can earn extra income by working few hours online. Looking forward to read this type of articles from you soon sir, will surely try freelancing one of this day’s.

    Just came across your blog today and was totally blown with your post, I was just so amaze how powerful God is that he blessed you with that skills to write, not just for you to earn but to shape minds and touch hearts.

    You rock
    Chad from the Philippines

      1. Yeah I was thinking what a great article and was getting all excited (as I’ve also been struggling to make any headway at Elance) until I spotted the Elance affiliate link and was thinking hmmm. Went to Elance to check and yep they run an affiliate program. This is what gives Internet Marketers a bad name. Most of the time it’s just a scam. Anyway the article was still useful in other ways even if it’s not representative of the actual Elance experience..

        1. That would depend on what you consider an “actual Elance experience.” This article is perfectly representative of my Elance experience, which I would certainly consider “actual” and real. Also, I make no secrets about affiliate links on this blog – they’re clearly disclosed in my Disclosure Policy in my footer, on my Resources Page, and in several other places. I write with 100% honesty, and with or without affiliate link, my experience on Elance and this article would be exactly the same. Do try my approach – many people have had success with it. It works!

  2. Hi Bren! I came across one of your posts (10 reasons why The Philippines should be your first stop in Asia) and was inspired by those kind words you said about our country. Thank you very much!

    Regarding the above post on freelance work, I would like to apply those tips you have up there once I’ve finally decided to leave my current full-time job. I’ve already started out my luck with freelance jobs during one time I was so down with work and wanted some distractions. I actually got one and now I’m writing for (plus the fact I get to travel for free :)). Maybe, in the future, I will be referring to this post again. 🙂

    Anyway, thank you very much for the encouraging words about the Philippines and I hope that next time you’re here, you’ll enjoy not only the beaches but also the mountains and the festivities in each province. Your enthusiasm for work and life is contagious. Keep up the good work!

    1. Hi! Congrats on getting your first writing job! Once you get the first one it all becomes so much easier, as I’m sure you’ll find out. I can’t wait to return the The Philippines and Filipinos all around the world have flooded me with suggestions of places to visit. I’ll be sure to squeeze in some festivals and mountain climbs for sure.

      It sounds like you’re taking your life in a new direction so best of luck, I’m sure you’ll do great 🙂 I’m no expert, but if you have questions don’t hesitate to shoot an email my way. Thanks for reading!

  3. Wow, this is really good! I’ll be sure to take some advice from you. I’ve been on elance for a few months now but I’ve never gotten a job on it, but I was never sure why.

    I’m a native English speaker and an excellent Writer. I have been crushing it on, but on Elance, nothing. Now that I’ve read this lovely post of yours, I will certainly give it another try.

    Thanks Brendan,


  4. this is some really great advice! thanks. i’m also from NZ (BIG UPS) and have been travelling for the last couple of years..I have the bug like you, my family live in both Europe and NZ and I know that what I really want in life is to have the freedom (and money) to be able to travel back and forth (ideally six months in one place, six in the other! what a life). I’ve been looking recently at ways to earn money that mean I can continue travelling, being creative and doing the things I love, without being sat at a desk all day, which is what keeps happening to me in-between travel times. I’ve been thinking about going into freelance translating but i also enjoy writing so I’m pretty stoked that I came across your website. btw you missed stoked off your post about kiwi slang 😛 that made me laugh and made me hardout homesick! thanks again and happy travelling.

  5. Hell i wish came across your blog, especially this post, while i was still jobless last year!! regardless, earning kachings consistently while NOT sitting in an office had always been my dream. & hell, i speak and write 2 languages with native proficiency, & had actually did translation work before!! & now, you’ve just shown me specifically how & where i can make use of my talents without keeping myself chained to an office. for that alone, i can’t thank you enough. even though my current lifestyle leaves little time for freelance work, i’ll keep your guidance here at heart and somehow squeeze time to start. hopefully, i’d be earning enough to confidently quit in three months.

    1. Yes starting out in freelancing is a bit of a grind, you can spend quite a bit of time at the start and not earn very much at all which can be quite discouraging. However if you stick at it I’m sure you’ll get to where you want to be. One last piece of advice I can give you is to set up your own website as soon as you start landing clients, this makes you appear a little more professional and will get the snowball rolling even faster. Your aim should be to get off Elance, not stay on it. Here are some good examples to get you going –

      If you need some guidance as to how to set up a website just shoot me an email and I’ll see if I can help you out. Cheers and thanks for reading!

    1. Hi, if English is not your native language I think it would be tough for you to demand high rates for writing, unfortunately. Perhaps you could try alternative jobs such as transcription or typing – if you could do these jobs at a high quality and with a fast turnaround, you may be able to do very well. Transcription pays very well for those who can do a good job of it.

  6. Hey there,

    It was based on this article alone that I jumped on to Elance three weeks back, so kudos to you for compelling writing. I’ve been applying to stuff within my main areas of expertise (Economics and games), as well as stuff tangential to that. Even got my first assignment ($10 woo) and first five-star feedback.

    Now, having been involved in it this long, I wonder how much time you personally spend on searching for and curating proposals. There’s a big opportunity cost involved, I find. Where I spend an hour or two a day searching for jobs and curating proposals, over the week it really catches up.

    Hopefully once I build additional profile I can start getting more of those invites.

    1. I spent a lot of time on proposals when I first started out, I was working on them almost non stop, doing it on my iphone on the train, waiting in line, lying in bed, pretty much any time I had a moment free. Plenty of new jobs go up every day so you really have an endless supply of jobs to apply for. You’ve just got ur first job and 5 stars, so I imagine things will get much easier for you now. That first client will probably have more work for you, and once you have 3 or 4 clients you probably won’t even need to use Elance at all! Remember, this is a business, and it will take a good investment of time and money before you get profitable. Anyway, grats on your first job!

      1. Mmm, having given it a real shot this past month I’m going to have to go and say that your experience might not be typical for others. I followed your advice and ultimately found it a waste of my time: lots of initial interest and enough invites to keep you tided over, but also lots of competition and flaky clients.

        Ultimately, eLance is just as fruitful as most job searching is. That is to say, not very, even when given a great amount of scrutiny and care.

        1. Hi Gabocha,

          Sorry it hasn’t worked out for you. Have you developed a portfolio and were you giving free samples? It helps to market yourself as an expert in a niche (for example, for me it was accounting). I’ve had some great feedback on the above approach, so I know it’s working for many others. It’s a grind, but gets easier. Good luck if you decide to continue on!

          1. Yup, given out free work, underwrote hours – even bidding for unpopular work in the Economics space. Even an established portfolio of pre-Elance writing work, it hasn’t proven worthwhile.

            At least 40 hours of pitching over a month netted one $10 job, one disappearing client, and another person misrepresenting themselves and their rates. Sorry, but mileage totally varies.

          2. Not doubting that at all. I joined some freelance writing forums, and found people there that went months without getting anything, even after setting up their own websites etc. It does take time, more for some than others, and obviously some are not natural writers so need to take steps to improve, but if you stick at it you can definitely make a career out of it. It’s like any business, profits can be slow to build but once they do it’s totally worth it! Thanks for taking the time to share your experience, and best of luck if you do decide to continue.

  7. Wow bro, this is another great post about your freelancing experience!

    I’m more into looking for a great writer, rather than wanting to write for others.

    From your post here, I get to know how and what to look out for a great writer, thanks for sharing the tips.

    This is going to save me tons of headaches to weed out those mediocre writers that’s gonna bid for the job.

    Thanks heaps for the tips! 🙂

  8. thank you so much for this post, I found your website by accident searching elance in google, and im glad i found this website.
    and your supportive way of writing gave me the boost i needed and confidence, i just felt like i can get a gig on elance, i tried a year ago and did not get one job.
    after i read your article i got the faith that i can do this, and i got my first gig the second job i applied for! yay !
    i was complicating it before thinking no matter what i do im not “experienced” enough, well no one is! but your article made me feel that i have as good of a chance as any of the experienced ones
    the gig is only 100 dollars but to me thats a big thing from elance ! i felt like i got a 1000 bucks lol , anyways i just want to thank you and if things go better i will post here as well,
    thank you Brenden!

  9. Nice post Brendan, it motivated me again 🙂

    I am a software developer (develop iOS(iPhone/iPad) apps), I have tried Elance, few months back I got just one project and completed it successfully. Got 5 stars but after then I didn’t get any job till now. I have tried a lot by giving low quotation and average quotation but I don’t know why I am not getting even a reply.

    While I develop well performing apps without any crashes or bugs. I am not getting that how can I let people know that I always provide quality work and get jobs on freelance and live my life freely and become boss of my own.

    Any suggestion?

    1. Hi Omer,

      Obviously I’m not well experienced in that niche, but my guess is you’d need a decent portfolio of apps to help sell yourself to clients, just like I needed a decent portfolio of articles.

      Do you have a collection of your apps that hirers can sample? Otherwise offering free work is usually a great way to get your foot in the door.

      Like I said, not my niche so things may work differently for you, but that’s my best guess. Good luck!

  10. I’ll give you one better on the “write for free” part. Set up a free account at Then, as you bid for jobs on Elance and write freebie articles, the ones that are not chosen can be converted to PDF and saved to portfolio, AND THEN added to Constant Content to be sold (eventually.) No matter what, you can get paid and build your credibility. Win-win-win!

    I’ve been doing this for about three years now. 🙂

      1. I have had a really good experience on the site. There are some submission guidelines and editors who will request changes if there are misspellings or grammar errors in your articles, but I actually like that.

        I have sold all but one of my 48 submitted articles, but the timeframe for them to sell can be anything from a day to four months. That’s why it’s a great place to submit your unsold freebie articles so you aren’t sitting around biting your nails and waiting for something to sell.

  11. hey it’s helpful to me. I’m a graphic designer.I’m really tired of the nine to five office workers now i’m trying to be a full time freelancer,cause my ideal way of working is the side travel while working.but it just a begin,i don’t know if I succeeded, but I am now working on this. But the problem is, I quit my job and there is no source of income, I use the previous savings, current life stress is relatively large. So I gave myself three months, if not reach the goals set, i have to still looking for a job then to be a part time freelancer, and step by step towards a full-time freelancer,but it’s too long isn’t it? so do you have any suggestions for me?

  12. Giving free samples is a direct violation of Elance policies. Listed under policies for proposal submission. What cannot be included – “Offer or submit free work such as samples or mockups.”

    It’s simple enough to create a portfolio of writing so the client can see that you are a capable writer. I personally always chuckle when I see a job posted that states must provide “samples that relate to my niche.”

    While it may be an innocent request, certain clients will gather up 10 samples from 10 bids and then never award the job. Why would they? They just received 10 “samples” they can use for free.

    I personally never give the client anything free and haven’t had a problem getting jobs off Elance that pay very well. My bid is consistently near the top or the top bid amount as listed in the “high-average-low” window at the top of the bidders.

    Granted there are a lot of jobs I don’t bid because they simply won’t pay what I charge. But there are other ways to get jobs on Elance instead of violating policies and giving away free work.

    1. I think you’ve got this backwards. That’s applies to Employers not Freelances. I’ve had an Employer ask me to write a sample article on a specific topic. Then I never heard from them again – the contract was never awarded but he got a bunch of free content. This is a cheap way of getting content from the Elance Board and they’re not supposed to do that (but it happens all the time). I’m with Bren on this one – There’s nothing wrong with writing a sample as a Freelancer. There can’t be – they let us post samples on our profile – they can’t control what topic we chose for our samples.

      1. It actually applies to both employer and freelancer. Employers are not to ask for free samples or mock ups and freelancers are not to offer or provide free samples or mock ups. You can find this in the Elance code of conduct.

        A portfolio is a sample of your work. Sure, you could have a sample in portfolio that is specific to your prospective client.

        That’s completely different from writing something for the client for free to try to get the job. Hence the reason Elance specifically forbids it in their policies.

        The bottom line is Elance owns the platform and they make the rules. Freelancers and employers should follow them or find another way to generate business or hire freelancers.

  13. Hi bren this one is a nice post…you got lots of jobs because u think Indians are not good in English…I agree your words but just I want to say one thing is …dnt underestimate the power of anyone…do u know how much am earning from Elance daily?I don’t want to disclose those here but just when try to post these kinds of articles pls try to avoid the name of nations…your post was good and u r doing a great job…may god bless you

  14. Good post.

    I was a little freaked out when I saw 500 word articles going for $2 on Elance. That’s less than 0.5 a penny per word. I don’t mean to be rude to other countries – but $2 is a lot of money in some places – not in Canada where I’m from.

    I try to get at least $100 for a post of 500 – 1000 words. That’s $0.10 – $0.20 USD per word – $0.10 in my minimum but if you charge that in Elance you never get a job, so I tried an houry rate. As a Urban Planner, which I am, I get $100.00 / hr. for writing I take $25.00 – $50.00 right now. Again, with Elance I will probably be lucky to get $15.00.

    I was on Elance in 2012 and I got a few decent contracts – I made about $500 in 6 weeks. But I gave up in disgust because I was only getting 1 project out of every 20 and I felt like I was wasting my time. I just signed up again at Elance – I like your strategy and I will try bidding what I’m worth (or what I think I m anyways.) and writing free articles to get work.

    Best, Sam

  15. Great artice. I just graduated with a degree in Spanish translation, and have recently begun trying my hand at the various freelancing sites- one of these beng Elance. I have bid like crazy on multiple jobs, to no avail. Hopefully your advice will work! The article, including your responses to some of the negative (& poory written) comments, makes perfect sense to me!

        1. Hi Michelle, that’s great. I would advise that you close the job asap, get the 5 stars, and then negotiate a higher rate going forward. It’s imperative you get the 5 stars first though, so that can’t be held over your head as leverage. And also imperative you do an amazing job – no mistakes, submit early, respond super quickly to emails etc. Getting the first job is the hardest part, so grats!

  16. Hi Brendan,

    I’m new to eLance and came across your article while looking for tips on how to improve my profile and earn jobs. Thank you for sharing, there are some great ideas here and I will definitely try them out.

    I have to say though, I’m tired of the generalisation that all Indians bid too low and speak English as their second language. Why? I’m a writer from India, English is my first and only fluent language (I would definitely fall under the native category), and I would never work at the rates you mentioned, but I’m guessing that I’m probably getting overlooked simply because I’m from India and these preconceived notions exist. I’m not for one second saying I deserve all the jobs I bid for, but I’m not sure I stand a fair shot either. Any thoughts on how I can stand out? I’d appreciate a little advice since I’m striking out with every proposal.


    1. Hi Shivani,

      This is a little black hat, but if you’re up for it, I would say your best shot is to change your location on Elance – put on your profile that you live in The UK or something. Elance does require verification though, so you may need to be “creative”. You are right though that you’re getting overlooked – when I did hiring on Elance I immediately filtered out all the India proposals – I had over 50 of them and I just didn’t have time to go through them all. It’s a tough one and not a problem I’ve really had to deal with, so I can’t speak from experience on this one unfortunately. Best of luck!

      1. Your idea is certainly different, but I’m not sure I could do that. If it ever came out that I lied about my location my credibility and reputation would be ruined, and I would certainly be banned. Plus, it’s dishonest, and I don’t want to go down that path. But on the bright side I did get two invitations to interview on oDesk (didn’t work out for various reasons), so at least there are some potential clients who are willing to consider writers from India. I’d say right now my best bet is that the first few lines of my profile should be just so good that people can’t ignore it, geographic location notwithstanding.

        1. You’re right, it’s far from perfect, but in the end the important thing is that you produce quality work. Location, in reality, is largely unimportant. For example, my profile says New Zealand, but I probably only spend one month a year in NZ. The rest of the year I spend working from other various countries around the world. Of course, you should do whatever feels right to you. Good luck!

  17. Hello Bren, your article has been very helpful! I honestly wasn’t sure where to start from and how the hell to get my first job to get going, but the tricks with offering free work, how to set a price and analyse your competition are awesome. I just made my first proposal, for a very easy job.

    What I don’t understand, is: if you don’t get paid, how does Elance charge their fee?


  18. Wow great article. Thanks for sharing with us. Sir need advise from you. I am in SEO field and 2 Year experience. Also have data entry exp. Sir today i make my account on elance but still dont have knowledge that how to take project.


    If i bid on your project i select. Then how i know that i am select. and how you give me project on elance. and what about payment. How can i withdraw my payment on my account from elance.

    Please provide me full detail as i am beginner and really want to do work on elance.

    Thank you sir.

  19. Bren,
    You god-damn genius you. I’m currently in college studying economics and work a solid job at a major bank. My interest/knowledge in finance, economics, and business only gets me so far. I have been stimulated by the entreprenurs that have made a solid living or have been extremely successful in affiliate marketing, freelancing, online businesses etc. I want to break out of the standard normal US life and travel abroad while making good money on my own time. Using your tips on this site after researching ‘ways to make money online’ the past few weeks this seemed the most viable! I already have a skype meeting set up tonight and I literally signed up at 2 A.M. this morning. Thank you so much for giving me that extra push i needed.

  20. Hi Bren

    I love your article. I gave up on Elance a while back but your article is giving me new hope really. I’m a native English speaker but I’m not a writer. How do I sharpen my writing skills to get good paying jobs? Are there any resources you recommend? I am trained in media (specifically radio broadcasting) but there isn’t anything really that matches that specific skill set on Elance.

    Any input would be greatly appreciated

    1. Hi Shaun,

      Writing is just a practice and usage skill so to improve I would just recommend writing as much as possible. Write a daily journal (or blog) and use a thesaurus to edit it and improve your vocabulary. You could write for media blogs/schools or write for anything that you have an interest in. I didn’t “study” travel but I’ve written for various travel sites and blogs. Just a matter of writing content, grinding it out and finding clients!

  21. Hey Bren,
    First thing first, wowww!!…Not only impressed by your writing skills but your selfless way of sharing out your little secret to be successful in the world of web.I am a web developer and quite new to elance.While doing some research on elance I accidentally crashed in here(Didn’t knew crashes can also be joyful) and just want to share my thought in much more broader way and would love to learn from your experience.
    During your lazy hours if possible can you mail me personally on my email…love to connect with you..
    my [email protected]

    Last thing last, wowww!!… 🙂

    thanks and regards,

  22. I know you wrote this forever ago, but thanks so much! It’s more helpful than anything I’ve read so far. I did a search for “trouble winning jobs on Elance” out of desperation, and found your blog. When you can’t read what another person posts as their proposal, it can be hard to know (aside from price and their experience level) what you are actually competing against.

  23. Hey Bren

    I am Kulojeet from Bangladesh.Today I learnt many things from different point of view.I am a freelancer but I am not a writer.I am a graphics designer at Elance.Like writing,designing is an another creative work,specially logo designing.I did my 1st logo at odesk and I was paid $7 for that.I submitted 14 different concepts and finally got 5 stars rating.But after reading your article I have come this point that I did mistake.I submitted 14 concepts but why?The answer is my concepts were not that much good.Again, why!!! Because It was all about $7 and its the worst prize.I know I deserved $70 but I didn’t asked and that was my mistake.I couldn’t give faith to my skill then how could my client?

    Thanks for your advice.I will follow your instruction in my next bid.As I am not a writer may be I did some mistakes in my comment.I apologize for that.

    Good luck.


  24. Cheers for this article Bren. Am finally making myself an Elance profile and wanted to hit you up for advice on a small point: do you think it matters whether you A. use your full name in your username and profile name display or B. choose a username without your surname and go for ‘display last initial only’? Ordinarily I’d prefer to err on the side of anonymity in online endeavours, but am wondering if it would be advantageous in this case to use your full name for the sake of professional credibility/building a name for yourself. Since I can’t tell what people are doing until I actually make the profile, do you have thoughts either way on this? Cheers!

  25. Hi Bren,

    I just wanted to let you know that you’re still helping people two years later. I’m so grateful to you for writing this article. I set up an elance profile a couple of weeks ago, and have been pretty successful without even bidding that much. I followed your steps exactly and got my first bid at $15 bucks an article. I have never had to bid below $15 so far, and I recently got my first $30/article. I’m excited about continuing to raise my rates. I did have one question though. What are your thoughts on having your earnings displayed? Do you think it’s more beneficial to have them set to private, or does it even matter?

  26. Great article, thanks for sharing!

    However, please bear in mind that being a native English speaker is not a guarantee that one’s English is perfect. In this article alone, I found more than a few grammar and spelling errors.

    Oh, and you really should take the time to proofread your proposals before hitting the submit button. In one of them, you wrote:

    “..and have a knack for writing though provoking, easy to read articles.”

    You forgot to add a letter and to hyphen compound words. This was for a writing job, so write properly.

    All the best,
    Not-a-native-English-speaker 🙂

    1. Being a native English speaker certainly does not guarantee your English is perfect (nobody’s English is perfect), but it is a guarantee that more people will hire you. I’ve hired people for two or three writing jobs and I only ever considered native English speakers. There might be a chance there’s a great non-native English speaker somewhere out there, but the odds are so low that I don’t take my chances. I think most clients feel the same. It might be unfair but it’s the way it is.

  27. Hey Bren,
    I had found this article a few weeks ago while browsing on web via my mobile. So I could not submit a comment at that time.

    I’d been reading a lot of articles about freelancing on elance these days. So one thing I could say, your piece is by far the best article I’ve ever read in this topic.

    I could not believe that you posted here the exact proposal you submitted! Not many posts like this, because proposals are their trade secret. You made my day, man. Looks like an article that would probably change my life.

    Thanks for being super awesome 🙂

  28. Hahaha…your description about Indians bidding at dirt cheap prices and driving the competition out of business…I’m a gosh-darned Indian myself, with a level of fluency over the English language and an understanding of Latin-based languages at par with most “native-speakers” – and I still can’t get work! How in the name of Dante’s 9 Circles am I supposed to finance my dream of becoming an author, if I can’t financially support the scrawny internet connection I have!

    Someone gimme money! I want a Booker!

  29. Hey Bren. Have just submitted my first ever proposal on Elance! Thought I’d pitch in to let other readers know about some things I’ve noticed about Elance that seem to have changed since you wrote this article:
    -The amount that other freelancers have bid on a job is no longer visible unless you upgrade to Elance’s premium account for $10 a month. I’m considering this as it’s pretty difficult to price your bids when you have no idea what others are bidding.
    -You now only get 30 free ‘connects’ (bids) per month, not 40
    -I have noticed there are a lot of other native (US, UK) English speakers bidding on writing and editing jobs. Perhaps this is because I’m looking at more ‘generic’ areas of expertise than you were, or perhaps this Elance thing is catching on more and more…
    In any case, this article is still super useful! Thanks for the encouragement it has provided 😀

    1. Seeing other people’s bid information was also reserved for premium members when I wrote this. I was able to see it because I paid the $10 upgrade, not so much to see other people’s bids, but just because I needed extra connects to submit more proposals (like I said, I submitted alot). Not surprised also that it’s becoming more popular. Congrats on your start and good luck!

  30. Hi Bren,

    Excellent article, as noted by all of the previous commentators. Your approach appears straightforward and I will certainly be testing the waters on my own behalf. However, I am curious at what point in your proposal you present that you are willing to do part of the job for free? You note that you obviously don’t sell yourself short and your proposed rate is just below the highest proposal, but that you also are willing to do part of the job for free as part of the proposal. So, are you referencing your example of your writing skills within your proposal as the “part for free?”

    Any elaboration on this would be greatly appreciated.

    Many thanks!

  31. LOL, Looks like some Indian people are really pissed about their behaviour on marketplaces. I am surprised that they are even defending their behaviour here. Fortunately! (or unfortunately) elance & odesk has marged to upwork. And on the new platform there is a more strict bid limit per month.And for more bids you need to spend quite some money which those so called freelancers can’t afford. Plus upwork hides the bids if they think the freelancer is unskilled about the job. Things been better there. Although I see thousands of Indian fake profile with pornstar’s avatar on bidding to win a bid (They certainly don’t have no idea about google image search I think).

    And of course, Very inspiring article 🙂

  32. Thanks for being SO detailed on what you did and exactly how you did it, including the emails you sent prospective clients. I am so excited to give this a go. I really want to make money as a freelance writer, optimally writing personal essays including my byline, but I also would love to consistently make money somehow.. BTW I found your blog post by searching “how is elance to write for?”

  33. Great article. I am from India. I agree that people from developed countries may not be able to compete with the rates that we would offer. But, even with such rates, we could still make a decent living. Here in India, cost of living is not very high.
    The purpose of this comment is not to defend the rates that Indians offer. But I have observed some things in the blog which probably any Indian would. In your section “The ball starts rolling”, i noticed that out of the fourteen that you have applied for the gig, (granted that only you were a native English speaker) but, there was one of the contender who had graduated from IIMB. IIMB is the best institution in India. Its probably like how Harvard is to the Americans. Every Indian knows this. Now, considering that the clients were also from India, I am amazed that the lady with a degree from IIMB was not awarded the gig.

  34. Hi Bren, This is the best article on Elance (now an Upwork company) that I’ve read. You’ve nailed the pricing question on the head. I wish I had read your article when it first came out because it would have saved me a lot of time and made me a lot of money. Now I have a nice collection of repeat clients on Elance and Upwork (they are still operating two separate platforms) that pay a fair price but it’s always fun to stretch for other areas (and more money). My latest gig is writing 3 ghost stories. A nice change from the standard travel, food, real estate, fitness and health niches.

    Also thanks for the airline tips. We just nailed some super cheap tickets on JetStar through Kayak down to Christchurch. Plus a great deal on a Buzza and whoa, thank you NZD exchange rate!

    I have one to add: If you get up to Honolulu (JetStar from Auckland) you can take advantage of the AAdvantage European travel award. Buy the points on sale from (usually Oct/November and February/March they have bonus sales) and then trade for the European Award. For the purposes of this award Hawaii is considered part of North America! What! The best deal is to stretch it all the way to Greece. You can fly on any American Airlines partners including US Airways, Air Berlin, etc.etc. We like to avoid British Airways because they add fees to your reward ticket. Right now you can get from Honolulu to Greece and back (or anywhere else in Europe) for about $1,000.

    The rules change from time to time but as of our most recent trip using this trick ( 2 months ago) you also get a free stop on your first North American stop on the return leg.

  35. Amazing advice Bren. As a blogger, I just happened to stumble upon freelancing opportunities that aligned well with my blogging experience. I can relate to much of what you stated, especially not fully knowing what to do in the beginning as a freelance writer but always providing my best work. I’d never considered writing for free to build my portfolio outside of my own blog (which I use often as a reference for my writing ability). This is great advice that I will return to often. You are such an inspiration. 🙂 Wishing you many more travels to come!

  36. Next time someone says that it is impossible to make money on Upwork, I will just send them the link to your article. I have started in a very similar way to you, by putting a lot of effort into my proposals, and currently I am winning about every fourth of my bids and getting very good feedback most of the time (my rating is 4.99 after 40 jobs with 98% job success score after about two month).
    My advice is to take a look on the proposals/interviewing/hired stats at every job and don’t bid if someone is already hired. It is strange but a lot of jobs will remain listed even after someone is hired on them. Create a good search filter and bid on new jobs as quickly as possible (but take your time on writing a good proposal). If the client is still online when you place your bid then you have a great chance to get a message right after bidding.

  37. Hi Bren,

    Just came across your article today. It was truly informative and I did get plenty of tips. I hope implementing them can overcome the prejudices of job posters. As an Indian writer, fluent in English, I find it frustrating to be filtered out only on the basis of my location. Indeed, and I am not talking about jobs that explicitly ask for native writers — I haven’t bid for any of them, even though I’m fluent enough. In your experience do prospective clients look at skill tests on UpWork? Besides building up a portfolio, would decent performance on skill tests improve one’s chances of getting a job? I am looking at ways to overcome this issue.

    Like Shivani, I would be extremely uncomfortable lying about my location — lying about who I am and where I’m from smacks of giving in to prejudices and passive acceptance of the inferiority of Indian writing in English. I have thankfully, not reached those depths of desperation 😛

    Also, merely wondering, are you still doing freelance work on UpWork?

  38. Hi Bren,
    Thank you so much for your article, I just bumped into it. I’m fairly new in upwork and never made a kill despite submitting many proposals. I’ve realized jobs are quite competitive. I haven’t considered writing until just now when I’ve read your article. I’ll definitely try it. I’m hoping with all your tips I’ll be able to get somewhere and hopefully make an income like you did in your first month or more! Thank you.

  39. High Bren,

    I saw somebody say you are advertising. BIG NO! This article gives only room for hard work. I second you on the fact that some of us are good at jobs, others are yet to get there. Learning and improving on ones skills is very important.

    You say the truth and yet take no credit for it. Do you know someone would be selling your advise, yet you give it us for free, and I love i, we love it. The fact that you stress the need for effort and commitment is very encouraging to me.

    My fellow upworkers, hard work pays.

    Kind regards, Bren.

  40. Bren,

    I am reading this nearly 3 years after you wrote it, but the ideas you present here still stand on their own. I guess I have been living under a rock as I am just now setting up an Upwork account now. My plan is to jump in with both feet just like you did and go above-and-beyond to get those first few clients to take a chance on me. The idea of giving away free/sample work is a great one! Thanks for all of the solid advice here.

  41. Hi Bren,
    I am from India and I can tell you that what you said about us Indians and the Filipinos is absolutely true! In fact at one point, even I had tried my hand at freelance writing. Though I failed miserably, I can’t deny that I had bid as low as I could for every other writing job that I could find (I know…. Don’t even bother asking me what I was thinking).
    To be honest, I loved your application of the age-old strategy of Skim Pricing (penetrating the market by providing a premium product at a significantly higher price). I envy the fact that you applied one of the most trivial (and usually by-hearted) concepts of Business Studies, in such a beautiful manner, and actually made something out of it. Congrats to you on that!
    Nevertheless, I enjoyed your writing style and the way you have expressed your experience and how you went about the career change from Grant Thornton to Freelance Writer. It was a truly enriching read and I was able to relate to you and your experience very much. That may be because of the fact that I am also a part-qualified accountant by profession. The fact that I work in the Indian counterpart of the firm where you worked, may also be a contributing factor.
    It is a shame that I am reading this article nearly 4 years after you wrote it. Wish I had done so earlier.
    Now, that I am done boring you with praise, I’ve got a couple of questions for you.
    1. Though I am an Indian, the one language that comes to me naturally is English. Given that I’ve been brought up in a bunch of places (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and various parts of India), my primary language has always been English. In this case, I’m curious as to whether my nationality would become a barrier for getting jobs that require English to be a native language of the writer. What do you think? What would you suggest?
    2. I am told that I have an innate ability to write articles, but personally I prefer to write poetry. So I was wondering if you have ever come across any such “Write poetry and get paid” opportunities, either on Elance or any other web sites. If you have, could you suggest something of the sort?
    Also, I know a 422 word comment is a bit too long, but I really couldn’t help it. Either way, thank you in advance, for the advice.

    1. Hi Artin,

      Poetry, like most art forms, is particularly difficult to get paid to do. Most people on Upwork will have no need to poetry. To monetise that sort of endeavour, you are best to start a blog of some sort, and see if it is appreciated. As for your nationality, honestly yes it will probably hinder you a bit, although if you write excellent proposals you will probably land some work. Have you read my article about building your own niche sites? If you’re a good writer, that’s probably a better option – write articles to build your own business, rather than someone else’s. Good luck.

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