Freelancers

Hacking Elance: How to Make Money Freelancing

When people ask me what the best ways to make money are, sometimes I laugh.

Not because the question is stupid, but because, well, there's no “right” answer. The truth is that almost anything can make money. But first, you have to change your mindset. You must start viewing your skills and experiences as bankable, valuable resources worth paying for.

You (yes, you!) can help someone with skills and knowledge that you already have. And the easiest way to do this is by freelancing.

All that being said, I have good news and bad news for you.

The good news: There are several online freelance marketplaces -- Elance, oDesk -- that allow you to offer your services, get clients and start making money quickly, even if you're a complete beginner.

Now the bad news: These freelance marketplaces can be extremely competitive and overwhelming. If you don't know what you're doing, the competition can be very intimidating.

But don't let that discourage you. Here's how I made more than $23,000 on Elance in just four weeks designing simple Wordpress websites.

Related: 3 Legal Precautions in Hiring Freelancers

1. Use sneaky research on your competition

Before you start, you'll need to know what exactly you're getting yourself into.

Specifically, you need to know exactly what strategies your successful competitors use to stand out in the crowd and how you can completely obliterate them by being ridiculously over-prepared.

To find the answers to these questions for myself, I posted a fake job to see what types of responses I would get. I recommend you do the same.

Here's what I posted on Elance:

Screen Shot 2013-05-22 at 2.25.03 PM

My goal was to attract my competitors and see what types of proposals they sent me -- then use that knowledge against them.

2. Analyze the results

Within 30 minutes, I received almost 100 proposals -- and I learned two very valuable insights:

  1. More than half of the applicants were non-native English speakers.
  2. Most people were submitting "canned" proposals without any personalization.

Once I figured out these critical pieces of info, I knew I had a unique angle. Most people hiring freelancers are from the U.S. or U.K. -- which means that there's often a language barrier. People are always more comfortable communicating in their native language.

And because of this language barrier, most proposals were very dry and uninteresting. Here's an example. 

Elance 1

See what I mean? What a snooze. You can do much better. 

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Hiring a Freelancer

3. How to stand out and start booking jobs

To stand out against a sea of freelancers, you have to show that you understand your potential client and give them a reason to take a long look at your proposal. Your approach should feel warm, engaging and, above all, personalized.

Nobody wants to feel like they're number 573 for the day. Research your prospective client's profile beforehand and look for these details:

  • Purchase history: Do they regularly hire on Elance? If so, this is a good sign they're serious.
  • Feedback history: What type of feedback do they have for freelancers they've hired in the past? What have they liked/disliked?
  • Personal details: Name, interests, location, etc. Anything you might be able to relate to and build some rapport.

The knockout punch: video mini-pitches. Once you've rounded up all this information, use it to create a short mini-pitch with an unlisted YouTube video. Your mini-pitch should:

  • Be 90 seconds or less
  • Introduce you and give a very brief background
  • Tell them why you like their specific project (so they know you actually read it)
  • Offer a simple call to action to get in touch with you
  • Bonus: If you can include some relevant personal details that you have in common, it helps

From there, the process is simple. Rather than sending a regular proposal like everyone else, just send them a quick message with a link to your custom video. This method works shockingly well because it differentiates you from the crowd and shows that you truly care about what they're working on.

And you can't fake that.

Related: How to Prepare for the Future of Work