Should I Outsource Myself?

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I’m looking at a few online hire-a-freelancer sites, including eLance and, and comparing the project descriptions and the winning bids. Most of the bidders are from foreign countries and the prices are amazingly low. Some of the finished projects are pretty awful, but many coders are obviously very skilled. With the proper manager mentality, a U.S.-based freelancer could probably arbitrage themselves quite easily. You’d have to coordinate things like taxes and confidential client information, but hey, don’t corporations do this every day?

Most of these sites have a mutual ratings system, much like the eBay seller feedback ratings. I get the feeling that some of the newcomers are so desperate to get a few reviews under their belt that they are willing to work for nothing. This is why I only take local jobs, where I can get personal referrals and offer better service in order to justify a higher price. Has anyone used one of these sites?

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  1. i have used for over 2 months and have not won 1 bid. I wish I got my money back.

  2. Bryan C. Fleming says

    Go for it. Even though the bids are low as you gain the client’s trust you can charge more money.

    Here’s the thing: A lot of companies want someone to do stuff for next to nothing. They find out you get what you pay for. If you do good work, you can slowly build up your *hourly* rates…

    – Bryan

  3. We use elance all the time, since 2002. In fact, we’re just finishing up another elance project today. However, we’ve been on the other end of the transaction, as buyers. Our projects have ranged from websites to graphic design to simple data entry, and we’ve used both domestic and international freelancers. We’ve had only two less-than-stellar experiences, and a some impressive ones. Overall, we’ve been really happy with it. The hardest thing is to make sure the objectives are clear and measurable. I guess it’s no different online than in person, but obviously there are differences in communication between face-to-face (or even phone-based) and online interactions. Would love to hear opinions from the bidders’ perspectives…

  4. I used successfully for about 3 years (since they were I have also had success with Guru charges a membership fee ($200/year) which is well worth it if you don’t want extremely limited access to the website and bidding. Guru will take a 5% chunk out of all your invoices and an additional (3-4% more if your client pays with a credit card). is free to join but takes a flat 10% of your invoices.

    I probably submitted about 20 project bids during my time with Guru and won about two clients. For about a $550 investment over the years it was worth it. I established great long-term relationships with my Guru clients and still do work for them now. Because I developed a working relationship with my clients, I quit the site. The fees became burdensome and unnecessary after a while since I worked with the same trusted client. If you are looking to have a lot of client turnover (or constant full-time work) I would use Guru and pay the membership fee. If you are looking to find a few clients or get your feet wet – use and avoid the membership fee.

  5. JumpTheSharky says

    They are terrible… most of the clients (or at least the contacts) on the site are foreign and don’t understand English very well. And like you said you have to do a few pretty cheap ones to get a decent rating before you can get a job.

  6. I’m in the process of using eLance for the first time right now to outsource some work for my ecommerce website. Within one day, I got a phone call from a firm in NY about my requests. I’ll update you on my experience with elance when the work gets done.

  7. I used elance as a buyer for about two years. Some of the early projects were not so great because I wasn’t specific and demanding enough.

    I’m used to having an onhand staff where a lot was expressed outside of the project documentation in an informal setting. With elance you project must be detailed, you must have a contract with specific payment termsn and milestones, and you must review the project periodically before completion.

    I don’t put a lot of faith in the “scoring” system. It’s kind of like ebay – everyone has a PERFECT score, except the scammers.

    I agree with the language barrier, at least for coding projects, since the low bidders are overseas. I had a few marketing pieces done with a guy out of NYC – tremendous work.



  8. I used Guru last Spring (as a trial). There are tons of projects on there daily, if you like to do SEO or tacky Herbal websites. If your talented and charge reasonable rates, you’ll find plenty of work in your neighborhood. Contact all the realtors in your area, offer small business websites, and consult with as many people you can. Word of mouth is exponential. Besides designing, you can also manage web marketing, etc. since most designers know where to look for successful marketing programs and stuff. eLance I’ve heard is much better. There’s nothing wrong with Craigslist either!

  9. I’m not sure if I expressed myself correctly in the original post. My idea of ‘outsourcing myself’ was to for example, take a job locally to do A,B, and C. If C is grunt work, then I could put C on one of these sites, get some cheap skilled labor, and then do A and B myself. I would need to disclose that I am hiring subcontractors, much like house builders do. This would ideally make me more efficient.

  10. I think the subcontracting idea is great. Obviously, you are taking on the risk of the subcontractor’s work (and that you may have to re-do it yourself), but with time, you can probably get a few reliable subs that you can go to regularly with much better certainty of their work. Particularly early on, make sure you have time to re do a subcontractor’s work before your deadline to your client, just in case you have to.

  11. Jonathan, instead of putting in those sites, why don’t you put right here.. Let me know what kind of work you are expecting. I am ready to do the work and earn some extra bucks.

  12. There’s a great story of a programmer who outsourced himself for a couple of years in the late 90s, but I can’t find it right now. He worked one to two hours a day checking the code that his outsourced-self coded every night.

    Finding a good programmer might be tough. Good luck!

  13. I looked at doing some articles for elance bidders, but the money just wasn’t there in most cases. I was seeing offers in the $100 range for 20 articles on a subject. $5 for a 750 word article just didn’t seem like a very wise use of my time. I could use either the time, or the 750 words in way that would be much more beneficial.

  14. Our company has used one of these services in the past although it was British companies I think tendering for the work. We posted our ad then it went to a bidding system for who would do the job for the lowest quote. I have to say that its made up appreciate that you get what you pay for.

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