Freelancing online... impossible to make money?

I’ve been looking at doing a bit of freelancing on the side but looking at eLance and rentacoder, what the hell? All the projects I found were ridiculous. Someone wanted a design + build for a site “with the functionality of” for $500. Even worse, there were bids at this price!

This one’s fun: $200 - $300 for a semi-complex site and wants someone to work for 6 months?

At first I thought people were just unrealistic but a lot of these are getting proposals!

How does anyone make money working for these kinds of projects? Even the ones with slightly more realistic pricing had proposals at the very low end.

I agree with you TomB. Although I have no realistic coding experience, it seems that this has been an issue for years. I have in the past been pretty much into blogging, minor website building etc and have made minor pocket change. I believe it takes a few years to break into the biz of making major bank or a majority of people move to working for corporations to make a substantial paycheck and do moonlighting jobs via web forums etc.

I think the bids you see come from shops located where the price is actually great pay according to their standard of living. In USD, I often see projects that I would quote at 3 - 10K with requests for 500 like you said. Crazy, but that’s enough to pay them a nice payday, especially because they’ll use “off-the-shelves” parts like WordPress or other packages that are 80% built and just need some customization and more configuration than anything.

My recommendation is to make some projects of your own and find work with word of mouth and direct promotion. I am still able to charge 3 - 4 figure numbers for different types of websites because I handle everything for the client. A-Z, the cheap elance projects are great for you and me, where we can bill 3K for a site and have someone build it for 400 or less for example. But word of mouth will get you what you are worth. Also, even though you are “global” just by virtue of being online, focus on your local market. I litterally pitch to stores and businesses that I visit or are close by and it seems to work a little better than trying to get someone who is across the world, to buy my website.

Find the value add that you can bring to a client and then the “feature” loaded and cheap projects don’t have a leg to stand on. i.e. support, great hosting, updates, etc.

I was speaking to an experienced business man recently who assured me that neither he nor anyone he knows would ever consider cheap work like that—where the service provider is probably on the other side of the world and living in goodness knows what circumstances. So you can safely leave clients of that sort with their cheap services, and focus on people who are serious about their business. There are plenty of them around. As ziggydigee said, focus on local clients, with whom you can develop a trusting, face-to-face relationship.

I meant 4 - 5 I think. My projects run from 3K to 25K and as 2lpstong said, the face-to-face goes a long way. Also, don’t be afraid to turn down people that want to cut your prices too low. To setup your prices, honestly evaluate your work and see who else does that kind of work in your area. The more people you find, the better your work has to be in order to charge more, or about the same. Find their deficiencies and build upon those and then you can start charging more. Make every client happy, and never underestimate their network. Stay in touch with them.

Also when setting up pricing or negotiating, have a “first time” discount set somewhere on your site or somewhere so you can offer that right-off the bat. It shows seriousness and intent to do business. And you start the negotiation process. I offer 10 - 20%. Then if they want more or they say my bid is too high I ask them what they are willing to pay. If I like their budget, then I might come down to it and eliminate certain features from the quote and re-bid. This way, they stay under budget and you give them the best number of features they can afford. If their budget is really low, then I may offer them yet another less feature-rich option, or tell them that I can’t have them as a client. Have a network of other people that you can refer them to that might do work for that price.

I totally agree with going local and making connections. However, I do have a full time job. I’m not looking to freelance full time just for some extra work on the side but the money there… I’d be better off working in a bar or something!

Perhaps it’s just the people who use those sites… the people posting the work mostly have either little understanding of how long things take or simply want things done very cheap. If it was as simple as people bidding too low then it wouldn’t be as much of an issue.

[FONT=verdana]I did actually get some very profitable work from RentAcoder several years ago. It was an excellent client who understood what he wanted, was reasonable in his expectations, and was prepared to pay a good price for the work.

But this was very much an exception. I’ve often perused the work on offer at RentACoder since then (or vWorker, as they now call themselves), and I’ve seen nothing remotely as good. The vast majority of it consists of a vague spec, with no clear indication of what is required, and a maximum price that is ridiculously low.

A particularly bad experience I had was with a legal practice. They wanted all bidders to sign a non-disclosure agreement before even seeing the spec, and insisted that the signature had two witnesses. I went to quite a lot of trouble to do that. But after I sent back the signed document, I never heard another word from them.

My advice would be to avoid any kind of mass-market intermediary service when looking for freelance work. Rely on your own circle of contacts and associates, or look for requests from individual clients that you can talk to face to face.



Exactly, so these are not the clients you want, you shouldn’t look for work there. Too hard to compete at those prices (as stated) Bet bet is word of mouth. A full time job doesn’t prevent you from treating this like a business, just have to do less than a full time business. Still maintain a schedule, establish prices and find the local customers or dedicated people that might just need a little bit of education to understand your pricing.

Know what you mean. I have a full time job as well and was looking to branch out to some freelance work. Started looking around the “freelance” sites if it can even be called that. Anyway, long story short I just gave up. I make a steady pay check so no need to whore myself out <snip>under the most vaguest of requirements, absurd dead lines and what would seem like mostly difficult “clients”. I don’t think using those “freelance” sites is the way to go.

Indeed. It does seem bizarre that those sites aren’t really worth it. However, how does someone build up word of mouth starting from a position of zero clients? Where do I look first?

The unreasonable price is caused by the fiercer competition. If you don’t do it, someone else will take your place, it is also reality.
Low price could heip you win customers at first, and if you do your job well, you’ll be paid more in the future.

[FONT=verdana]Or, the client will be accustomed to paying the low price, and will resist you attempt to be paid more in the future.


You might have to start off by doing something in exchange for links to your website or for credits about being the webmaster. Sometimes one of these is enough to have something to show, but 2 - 4 would be better. Non-profits are always in need of sites, you can easily whip something out in WordPress, oooh and aaaah them, wow them and be done with it, setup a nice little about this site page, describing your glorious and grandiose efforts and how someone might contact you to get a website “just like theirs”

If you keep everyone happy along the way, this takes no time.

That’s one of many channels to start with. If you really can’t get anyone else to pay you, exchange a site for a service. Calculate what you want to do on the site and how much you’d charge in cash, add about 30% and convert that to products or services and ask for barter deals on craigslist or forums. Expect about a 90% failure rate, but the 10% is worth it sometimes. BE SURE to establish an actual $dollar amount to your project and how you expect their services or products to add up to the total amount for you to be compensated. I’ve used this quite a bit with great results one-on-one with local businesses.

I hate to say it but such services are designed and created for second-world countries (e.g. Asia) and are not really created for the modern world. I live in a country were our cost of living highly outweighs that of many modern countries, including the States, so settling of such services would only really fuel more economic problems.

Most of those bids are from the developing world, and not from developed countries. Realistically only somebody who’s learning would place a bid in there. Let me illustrate, I’ve just sent a proposal today for a CMS website. I included cloud hosting, SSL, hosting, domain registration and annual support. All that on it’s exceeded the 300 USD yearly.

Now a custom website is anything from 1.500 EUR upwards. I tell my clients that there is no two ways about it. Recently I have had clients sending my power-point slides wanting them converting into a website. I never back down and always explain to them that this is not a possibility.

I CMS website needs to have support, needs to be hosted by me for that support, needs to have SSL for it’s login pages and as an added extra might need cloud hosting and GZipping for performance issues. Clients need to value this support in order to ensure they don’t have problems.

It’s possible to make a job freelancing, but even though ‘cheap’ jobs often deliver sub-quality products. The cheaper deals are never the ideal deal.

Avoid the online market initially. Look at the your ‘real’ world. Try going out of your comfort zone and going to exhibitions and conferences, mingle with individuals. Don’t advertise, as this hardly works, focus more on real world connections. Now online could also work, but you have to stay away from cloud-sourcing websites like this, unless you’re doing it as an added extra. Build relationships on-line.

From experience I already have people I work with online, respect your connections and learn to handle your clients properly so they are profitable to you without disappointing them.

Yep, but you’re the boss, so just let them know you gave them a discount. Ultimately you are in-charge of what you do,which seams to be the case if you work for yourself like I do.

I recently turned down a client because he demanded very cheap work and even told me that he can get it done from India for half the price. On that note I informed the person that I don’t live in India and it’s not fair to compare what I do to somebody in India. I then asked him to explore those offshore avenues in India. Now professionally it might have not been the best thing to do, but in light of the negotiation methods carried out, I really don’t feel it was going to be a good working relationship.

The work in India is cheap, but the product always reflect’s this. I’ve worked with many many people, and from all the people I worked with were, people from the US are better in such services. I’ve found people in the developing world to be seriously over-pricing for their cost of living and delivering sub-standard work whilst suffering issues with communication. Some might have the talent, but the language barrier makes work a lot more difficult.

Nothing new under the sun. These projects and bids were present 7 years ago when I was using freelance sites and they didn’t go anywhere. The bids you see don’t tell half the story. The real negotiation goes on privately almost always so you’re best off not paying any attention to them whatsoever. If you’re interested in a project, make contact with the buyer and make your proposition. Whether you get the job and how much you get paid depends on your ability to sell your service, not on the public bids. My average winning bid used to be on average ~10x the next highest bid.

If you want Freedom and $$$ then start your own business.

I also second what Ralph said above.


When people ask me to freelance, the very first question I ask is ‘What is your budget’. If they say ‘$500 - $800’ I always politely say you can find many people and places around the world that will do this for you and you may hit the budget you want, however I will not work for this.

When they inevitably ask why? I say,

I have invested the last 10 years in web development, and 19 running a business. I don’t believe that giving people a site that won’t help them make ROI is not even worth spending your budget. Your budget does not allow for high quality design, content, targeting markets effectively or functionality. I have helped many other business to make money or ROI from their websites. They trusted that I am an expert in this field and have paid for my services accordingly.

Then they say,

" But you haven’t even listened to what we want yet". I say, "There is no need to, because if this is your budget I respect that you understand why you have it, and am not going to try to influence or up-sell. You should look for somebody else.
I will rarely get these types of customers that ever agree to a reasonable budget, so I don’t waste their/my time. Sometimes these same people come back a year or so later and ask what a reasonable budget would be for me to work on it. They then describe the nightmare they experienced for their small budget.

Most of my business now comes from the clients that understand the value/expertise of a Web expert and they influence their friends and associates, so more referrals start to grow. With these clients we never have this same sort of conversation. When I say what’s your budget they give a number where we have to decide which areas we put the most effort into to wisely spend their money; they have reasonable or above reasonable budgetary expectations; so finding the right type of clients is key.

I know building up customers can be hard. Join your local Chamber of Commerce, Provide advise to business that you frequent; especially about their website/ twitter / facebook, and let them know if they are interested you have some available time to contract your services. Point businesses to your username on Sitepoint or other social sites so they understand that you are confident in yourself and don’t have anything to hide. Make sure you have a well updated LinkedIn account and portfolio.

Just because one freelances it is still a business and needs attention to details and marketing efforts, plus the advertised skills.


Just because one freelances it is still a business and needs attention to details and marketing efforts, plus the advertised skills.

Ye, completely agreed! In fact I feel that freelancing is how much successful businesses should start off as. It’s not what you do, but your connection to those customers.

Me too! Tired of finding freelancing jobs. Its also getting difficult to find sites providing freelancing jobs.

yes, m completely agree with you. but you can starting with low price bid once you have many clients. then you get paid high in future…My friends make good money via elance, they working with elance with 3 years.