Success in Sweatpants Through Elance

I went from zero to 6-figure annual revenues in less than two years because of Elance. I started 4R Marketing in reaction to my corporate job-a dead end that limited my options to the point of screaming frustration. 4R-my second entrepreneurial venture and the first since the advent of the internet-would provide marketing consulting to small/medium service businesses.

My biggest barrier to success was the absence of a business network: I had no rolodex of contacts that I could tap for referrals. My second biggest barrier was the absence of a financial cushion to cover mortgage payments and living expenses for a few months while I got established. How could I manage these two hurdles effectively?

I recalled hearing about Elance, a web site that serves as an “eBay for services.” I checked it out, and though I was skeptical of the site as a source for long term revenue, I decided to see if I could earn some copywriting money while I ramped up the main business. In less than six weeks, I had booked $20,000 in jobs.

To my surprise, I found a rich lode of buyers looking for good, reliable writers in the global business market. Even more amazing, I acquired long term clients from Elance who are happy to pay the right money for the right provider. My strategy swiftly shifted, making Elance the core source of business for 4R, and less than two years later I broke through the 6-figure annual revenue mark.

Elance and similar sites have detractors in the freelancing world. Objections I have heard include:

  • Clients are “faceless,” with communication limited to email and perhaps the occasional phone call.
  • The competition for projects is intense and includes providers from all over the world.
  • Buyers want rock bottom pricing, and there are providers who will offer it, so a good provider can’t get a fair price for their work.
  • Buyers are not interested in quality, and are certainly not willing to pay for it.

These objections have a factual basis. Elance is a global marketplace and all transactions are virtual, so a provider is unlikely to meet clients in person. I am much more productive when left alone, so the faceless nature of virtual transactions is an advantage.

Yes, there is competition, and many buyers value price over quality. However, I find that the percentage of “bottom feeders” is about the same for Elance as for the local market I previously served. The Elance market is much larger, though, so even with the same percentage as the offline world, those pesky bottom feeders are more numerous and noticeable.

I believe that my great success with Elance is rooted in four key factors:

  1. I have a lot of business experience, which translates to an emphasis on customer service, an ability to discern good clients from bad, and clear terms and conditions that work for me as well as for the client.
  2. I have a robust portfolio that supports the bids I make. My samples cover the full spectrum of my content creation services.
  3. I have excellent testimonials on Elance and on the 4R site that attest to the quality and expertise we offer.
  4. Finally, my rate is not attached to my ego. I had no problem adjusting my fees on Elance when I started out because I understood the value proposition that the board offers.

This last point is, in my opinion, the primary reason that many freelancers fail to achieve success in the virtual market. They are too attached to their rate, emphasize gross over net, and are unwilling to adjust pricing to allow for the excellent value proposition that an online project board offers to buyers.

I think in terms of net, not gross. An online board saves me oodles of time (and money) looking for prospects. Elance provides me with a steady stream of leads that I can sell to, all from the comfort of my home. Without the marketing and sales overhead that my offline peers have, and without the overhead time and expense related to face to face meetings, I can charge a lower rate and still come out ahead on the bottom line.

I started out skeptical of Elance, considering it a short term means to an end. I am as surprised as anyone that this market is the main reason the 4R met its three year revenue target in less than two years, and why I haven’t had to put on a suit since I left the corporate world. Viva Success in Sweatpants!