It seemed impossible. How could I compete as a newbie on Elance when I was up against premier providers with their flawless ratings or desperate cheapskates willing to work for next to naught? I felt like giving up. Eugene Yiga gives four tips on how to survive an Elance gig.
But then I saw a job posting that looked like a dream come true. The fact that I was uniquely qualified meant I could be chosen at a fair price because nobody else could do it better. And that’s exactly what happened. I was hired and about to start what looked set to be an amazing long-term working relationship with a leading professional in his field. It was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Except it wasn’t. Little did I know that Vincent (not his real name) would turn into the buyer from hell and that our work together would soon spiral into an uncontrollable mess. Herewith, I present the autopsy in an attempt to make sure this never happens to me or another provider again.
If you want to avoid an Elance nightmare like mine, make sure you do the following:
1. Investigate the job
Before starting a job, make sure you’re qualified to do it. Like, duh! This may sound obvious but it still amazes me how many times dozens of bids are placed for jobs that require an unspecified number of “high quality” and “keyword dense” articles on a variety of unspecified subjects that will be only supplied when the project is awarded. What is this, the CIA? Unlike The Secrecy Bill, this is one of those times when we really do have a right to know!
My advice is to stay far away from any job that doesn’t have the decency to spell out what is required. In my case, I had concerns right from the start. The vague description made it seem like even Vincent (still not his real name) didn’t know what he wanted. I mentioned upfront that the work seemed a little too sophisticated but he assured me we’d be fine. “It’s just an exploratory pilot,” he said. “It doesn’t have to make perfect sense.” Silly me for buying such bull.
2. Investigate the buyer
As a new provider, I didn’t think who I worked for mattered much. As long as anyone would take me, I was grateful. Big mistake. A quick look at his profile would have given me second thoughts. His award ratio was 0%, which meant he’d never actually seen an Elance job through from start to end.
It turns out both jobs he posted previously were never formally awarded because he simply did them outside the system. That meant interviews over the phone, communication through personal email accounts, and funds released via PayPal once the jobs were done.
Rather than fall for his undeniable charm and trust that he’d come through, I made sure that telephone conversations were summarised in the Elance workroom and that all emails were copied there too so we’d have a permanent record. Good thing I did.
3. Lay down terms (and don’t do ANYTHING until they’re accepted)
Unfortunately, I still made the mistake of proceeding with work before terms were finalised. A few weeks later, I finally got him to officially award me the job. (I had to send him a link showing him how given that he’d never done it before.) But that didn’t help because he still hadn’t accepted the final terms, which meant we continued despite being in freelance limbo.
Things were now getting out of hand. I was constantly barraged by BlackBerry emails (which were more like annoying tweets) asking me to change this, that, and the other. In some cases, work I had already submitted and he had already approved was suddenly rendered void, not because it was poor quality but because he’d suddenly come up with a better idea he wanted to try instead. The job had extended twice as long as initially planned and we were fast approaching revision six even though we only planned on doing one. It was always a case of “one last request” to satisfy his capricious whims.
4. Be direct in your communication (but always remain calm)
That’s when I knew things had to stop. I suggested we amend the terms to take into account the fact that the project had grown in scope. He turned around and said it was all because my work wasn’t up to scratch. And yet there were numerous times he’d mentioned how thrilled he was with the way things were coming along. Clearly, as was evident upfront, he didn’t really know what he wanted. And given his refusal to offer clear feedback on how I could improve, he didn’t really care.
I amended the terms by increasing the cost of the job and providing for one last round of editing. That’s when he exploded. In the next hour, while I was stuck in a meeting and unable to reply, he sent five emails:
- Number one blamed me for the delay
- Number two made a counteroffer to my bid
- Number three said he wanted out of the project
- Number four justified his request to walk away
- Number five threatened to have his legal team handle this if I put up a fight
In the end, I was really glad he responded as angrily as he did. That’s because all the messages acted in my defence when the job was sent to Elance Dispute. The fact that the workroom stored the entire conversation meant I had more than enough proof to get the payment he promised.
Funds were released less than two minutes after I caught him in a blatant lie about communicating with Elance when it was clear from his login history that he hadn’t. Vincent (did I mention that’s not his real name?) had fallen into a yap trap; by keeping my cool, I avoided falling into my own.
I hope this story hasn’t put you off Elance and other freelancing websites. There are a number of great buyers out there who are prepared to make it worth your time. Here’s hoping you find one of them so you don’t have to deal with a nightmare instead!