Make Money This Week from Freelance Writing

I live a location-independent lifestyle in the U.S. and I make my living solely from oDesk and Elance. Apparently it’s pretty rare to make one’s living from these two sites alone. I know why, and it has nothing to do with your capabilities as a writer. So don’t roll your eyes when the first thing I tell you to do in order to make money this week is to create a profile on Stick with this article, and you’ll understand how to quickly overcome the problems thousands of others are having and why they never get far enough to make a dime.

Elance vs oDesk. For the purposes of this article, I choose Elance over oDesk for three basic reasons: 1) Elance releases your money to you the second your client releases it; oDesk holds your money for 6 days after your client releases it. If you want to make money this very week, you have to use Elance. 2) Elance is more oriented toward professionals. If you know your writing is good, here is where you deserve to start, and 3) Elance offers you better protection for getting paid. I’ve been ripped off on oDesk, but never on Elance (you’ll have to read other posts and/or my upcoming book which is launching on April 11 to hear that story and find out how to avoid getting ripped off by a client.)

Elance/oDesk merger. Now that oDesk and Elance have merged, and are sister sites, oDesk is quickly bringing its policies and quality up, but for the moment, Elance is still the better of the two. It draws more professional clients and professional-style writers. A lot of what I say here applies to oDesk as well, so you can also do oDesk, but remember that it will take you 10 days to 2 weeks to get paid instead of having it in your pocket this week.

Let me quit kibitzing and get to it. Here are your steps to making money this very week with your writing, whether fiction or non-fiction.

Go to There are 12 categories of different kinds of work available on Elance. For our purposes, click on Writers and then click on View Jobs. Look down the left side under Writing & Translation, and you can see how to start narrowing down the field. However, you might just want to peruse it all at the moment to get a feel for it. At the moment I started this article, Elance indicated there were 3,595 writing jobs available.

Right here, at this point in the process, is where we start separating the people who truly want to make money right away from freelancing from the wannabes. Don’t get discouraged at this point. There are hundreds of low bidding jobbers, and hundreds of job offers for pay that might seem insulting. Get over it. You just have to plow through those to find the gems. In my household, these ads have become a source of humor for us. Learn to refine your search skills, and learn to refine the skills you are offering so that you get the types of offers that you want.

Register and create your profile. When the site says, “Complete your profile,” complete your profile. I mean really complete it. The first time I did so, it took me a full day, but I was rewarded for that almost immediately with contracts. Your profile is the core of your marketing—it tells who you are and what you can do for your prospective client.

Create your payment method. It will take up to three days to get this approved, so do it when you first register. Having the money sent directly to your bank costs nothing. It costs $1 to have it sent to PayPal. One problem with sending it to PayPal is that you will lose 10% to Elance (that’s the standard Elance fee), then you will pay $1 for the transfer, and then PayPal takes 4% of it unless you have a PayPal debit card.

Create your portfolio. Clients have to have some way of knowing that you can do what you say you can. If you have other published work online, whether paid or unpaid, link these to your Elance profile. If you have writing samples on your hard drive, upload them to Elance (with caution, be sure to see the caveats below on using unpublished work). If you have NO samples, create some. Generally, the prospective client only needs to see a couple of things to make up his or her mind. If you have top-notch writing skills, whether or not you have ever demonstrated that before anywhere online, as long as you can create something that shows your ability to spell, use proper grammar, and write compelling copy, you’ll get hired because you’re already in the top 10% of writing contractors out there.

Use specific writing samples. Obviously, the more versatile a writer you are, the broader range of clients you have from which to choose. Don’t know what you can or want to write about? Start perusing the categories under Writing & Translation, pick a category that sounds like it could work for you, and start looking at some of the ads. Once you have in mind what you could write about, create a couple of compelling pieces in that category.

Are you a fiction writer? Write a couple of pieces of throwaway flash fiction (by throwaway, I mean something you don’t care whether it ever gets published or not). If you already have short stories, etc. never send whole works. It’s best to choose an excerpt that shows your ability to write. Don’t give away characters or plots if they are works you want to publish. An excerpt is all they need to see that you can write.

Non-fiction writer? If you want to excerpt or create a sample for non-fiction, if you have a niche, be sure to have samples of writing from your particular niche. In using works in progress that you plan on submitting elsewhere, please follow the excerpt guidelines I’ve given to the fiction writers above.

Become an Elance member. If you possibly can, pay the $10 for Elance Membership. Everything works with tokens. You pay tokens to submit your proposals. The higher paying jobs will require more tokens, but also remember that you are new at this. Unless you find something specifically in your niche and have solid and specific (read: prior published) works to show them, unless you really sell yourself, chances are you’re not going to get the big bucks right out of the start gate. If you become an Elance member, you have some specific perks, but two of which will help you right away: 1) you get more tokens with which to apply, and 2) you can see what everyone else is bidding. That helps you to be able to bid. Having said all that, oDesk does not use the token system, and there is no membership level. But, you will still only be able to apply for 20 jobs until you jump through more hoops.

Find an ad that sounds good. Find an ad that sounds like something you can really do. If you want to get paid this week, find something that you can do in a 1 – 3 day turnaround.

Create your proposal and bid. Create a proposal addressing the specific points in the ad and how you can meet those needs. Attach a sample from your portfolio, or something you’ve created from your hard drive. Remember that your proposal is your chance to set yourself apart. When it comes to bidding, this is one place your Elance membership is really helpful because it allows you to see a range of bids already placed. It shows you the lowest bid placed, the highest bid placed and the average of all bids thus far. For tips on bidding, see my trade secrets article here.

Get hired. Be responsive. Respond to everything your client says, and ask good, clarifying questions to make sure this is the right contract for you.

Perform the work. Note: make sure the funds for the job have been put into escrow before you start work on the project. Sometimes you’ll get a new client who doesn’t quite know the ropes, and you’ll have to remind them (to avoid this, see my trade secrets article). Do a top-notch job. Go the extra mile. When you submit it, be sure to let your client know that if they find something that needs to be reworked, you’ll be glad to do it.

Submit your work. Once you’ve submitted your work, go to the Terms & Milestones page and indicate in the drop-down menu that your work is complete, and click on the button that says, “Request release of milestone.”

Get paid. If you’ve done a short job with a short turnaround time, your client will likely review it and get back to you immediately, and will release your pay shortly thereafter. If they don’t get back to you right away (within 48 hours), remind them with a polite message. If for any reason they don’t get back to you after you’ve submitted your work, Elance will automatically release the funds to you in 14 days. I’ve only had a couple of clients whom I had to remind, and NO ONE has ever made me wait longer than 3 days.

Success begets success. Once you’ve been successful with your first contract, it will bolster you for more success. Repeat steps 7 – 12.

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