Category Archives: Writing

Writing Tips

Writing Projects on Outsourcing Sites

write for outsourcing sites
Picture by Raúl Hernández González,

Outsourcing sites offer writing opportunities of every possible type. It is usually the way the writing is used that is different, rather than what is written. Also many of the writing projects are ghost writing projects where writers give your employers full copyright to use the material however they wish. This applies to articles, website content and to projects that involve the compilation and production of ebooks.

Here are some very basic writing tips.

Freelance Categories

All the established and reputable outsourcing sites offer freelance opportunities in a variety of categories. Writing is one category on its own and is commonly combined with translation. While some projects might combine photography and/or design work – like designing ebooks or supplying photographs for web sites – employers more commonly post these jobs in the design and multimedia category.

Guru’s writing category is titled Writing, Editing & Translation (though this is set to change soon to just writing and translation) and there are usually between 500 and 600 jobs available at any one time. Elance’s writing category is titled simply Writing & Translation, although editing is also included in the category. There are usually 750 to 800 of these jobs available at any one time.

Generally project types include:

  • writing articles of every conceivable type, including articles for Internet “magazines”,
  • copywriting,
  • sales writing,
  • technical writing,
  • creative writing,
  • press releases,
  • writing of resumes,
  • grant writing,
  • proposals,
  • writing for children,
  • writing web content for Internet sites, including articles,
  • writing blog posts,
  • writing, editing and rewriting ebooks,
  • producing newsletters,
  • creating speeches,
  • editing all types of writing done by others, and
  • translation from many different languages, for which there is a big demand.

Guru’s four most popular sub-categories (in terms of employer needs) are creative writing, web content, articles and press releases, and ghost writing and books – in that order. Elance’s two most popular categories are article writing and web content, followed by ebooks and blogs.

You don’t necessarily have to register with outsourcing sites to see exactly what jobs are on offer. You can browse sites and search for jobs and then click on some that interest you. This is an excellent way to get a feel for different sites, and ultimately decide which particular outsourcing site meets you personal needs.

However some sites do have restrictions. For example, while you can access all projects on Elance and some other sites, when you click on projects posted on Guru, you will need to sign in to view complete details. This means you will need to register, which is quick and easy and doesn’t cost any money. Once you register you will have access to all standard projects. Some employers post jobs for Guru Vendors only, which is a paid membership option.

I found it very frustrating when I first registered with Guru, because the vast majority of writing jobs were for Guru Vendors. I wasn’t prepared to opt for a paid membership without establishing whether or not the site worked for me. This is one of the reasons I have done much more work through Elance, and ironically now have paid membership with them. However in the past year the pattern on Guru has changed, and now most of the writing jobs are open to all members. Only a small number are for paying Gurus only.

But at least there is choice – and lots of it!

How to Write Job Proposals

Compile a Compelling Proposal for Online Jobs

winning business proposal
Write the best proposal you can – whether online or on paper!

Writing job proposals for potential employers who have posted projects on outsourcing sites is a very similar process to writing job proposals for any other new prospective employers. The most important factor involves selling your skills and convincing the employer that you are the best person for the job.

There are several things you need to cover including:

  • who you are and why you are the best person to employ for any writing job,
  • how your skills relate to the project that is being advertised,
  • how you can meet the employer’s needs, and
  • how you will ensure that you will be able to meet the required deadline.

Present Yourself

Whatever job you choose to bid for, you need to introduce yourself and show prospective clients who you are and what you have already achieved. If you have previous experience, and you have training and employment records, then it’s a good idea to draw up a convincing CV (curriculum vitae) or resume. Whatever you choose to call it, this is basically a document that outlines your educational and professional history, and it is commonly required when people apply for jobs. A good CV will set you apart from other freelance writers bidding for the same project. Many providers include a CV in their portfolio, so if you’re not sure, have a look to see what other writers do.

If you don’t have experience or reasonably impressive qualifications, then you need to approach this part of your proposal in a different way. If you have the ability to become a successful writer, this shouldn’t be difficult – but be honest. For instance, you could simply write a paragraph that describes your commitment to a writing career. Just don’t make claims that you aren’t going to be able to fulfil; that could be the virtual death of you!

Show What You Can Do

It is always a good idea to show potential employers what you are capable of. But you also need to be sure than any samples you provide are relevant to the job you are bidding for. You may be able to do the job better than anyone else, but the employer won’t be convinced unless you can do something to prove this point.

I know this can be incredibly frustrating for people with loads of experience.

One solution is to prepare a sample of writing that might meet the employer’s needs. But be careful because you could shoot yourself in the foot, so to speak, by guessing on specifications.

Some outsourcing sites, including Elance, do not allow employers to demand or even ask for samples of work to be done as part of the bid. It stands to reason that if an employer was to list a job and ask each bidder to provide a sample piece of writing that meets the job criteria, they could get the work done for nothing. If you see this happening, be aware. Elance and some of the other sites have a violation policy to safeguard people like you and me. If you think there is a violation, report it.

Meet the Requirements

If you are a good writer you will be able to get work on outsourcing sites. The very fact that some employers require bidders to mention a phrase or specific word in their bid documents shows that there are many more bad writers than good writers. Employers need to protect their interests just as much as you do. So if an employer asks you to quote “caterpillar lovers” in your bid, do so, even if the job involves a technical report dealing with oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

Not all employers have specific instructions in terms of their bid, but most do say what they want. What you need to do is show exactly how you will be able to meet their needs. If you do this, you will be well on your way to a successful bid.

Good luck!

Establish a Good Reputation

How to Establish a Good Reputation on Outsourcing Sites

establish yourself outsourcing your writing
A handful of profile photographs and logos from South African writers registered with Elance. Mine is on the far left and has remained the same since I first registered in 2009.

Newcomers to outsourcing sites may be forgiven for being intimidated if they have never tried to get work this way before. It can be especially difficult if that person doesn’t have a lot of experience freelancing. But it is essential to establish a good reputation, particularly to be in the running for repeat work from clients.

In my article on how freelance writers can benefit from using outsourcing sites, I said it was a good idea to familiarise yourself with the different sites that offer outsourcing work. If you like the look of one or more of them, sign up. Most have free membership so you don’t have anything to lose. While they all have slightly different features, the approach you take to establish yourself on any of the sites is the same.

Sign Up

Signing up with an outsourcing site is really pretty simple since they all provide step-by-step instructions.

Elance has a simple entrance exam or test to ensure that potential providers have some idea of what working on the site entails. It is in the form of multiple choice questions and covers procedures and terminology, for example what ‘connects’ are. For the uninitiated, these are like virtual coupons that you use when you bid. The more a job is worth, the more connects you will need to use when you bid. Elance also has a policy of phoning new providers before a new account is generated. While their call is an auto-response, you have to be live at the other end of the phone to prove that YOU are in fact real.

Promote Yourself

Once you have signed up for any of the sites, you will have the opportunity to create a profile. Most also allow you to upload a portfolio so that potential employers can evaluate your work. If you are a published writer you can upload samples of your work. But even if you have never had anything published there is nothing to stop you from uploading examples of articles that you have written. Or you can establish a portfolio later, once you start getting work from employers on the site. Lots of writers who don’t have portfolios get jobs.

Familiarise yourself with the format of the site’s profile pages and have a look at the profiles that other writers have uploaded. Imagine that you are an employer and looking for someone to write for them. Clearly different approaches will work for different people, so you will need to decide whether to upload a photograph of yourself, or an image like a quill or a logo of some sort. I like to see a good, honest photograph of employers (which doesn’t often happen), and I think a lot of employers like to see what the person they are working with looks like. Some won’t care and will be drawn rather to the promotional words you add to your profile.

Unlike social media sites – Facebook in particular – it’s best to stick with your profile picture because it becomes part of your long-term strategy. If you keep changing your photograph or logo, clients will become confused.

It is interesting that the South African writer currently (January 2014) rated top in Elance has a logo (the green one, second left). I am currently rated third (after being rated fourth last week), and I have a photograph.

Do the tests

Some of the outsourcing sites, including both Guru and Elance, have tests that you can do to show how good you are at certain things. These are really rather vast and varied and might include creative writing, online article writing and blogging, along with many other skills.

Elance has two ways of evaluating skills, and you don’t have to pay for either. You can either self-rate yourself or you can take the test. Self-rating is fine, except that it doesn’t give potential employers any proof that you really can do what you say you are able to do. But if you don’t do well in the test, you won’t want to show your results. Fortunately you don’t have to! According to the powers at Elance, clients tend to favour providers who have been tested. Looking at writer profiles and the volume of work people get, there is no clear proof that this is true. It might be, but I earned my first US$10,000 on Elance without doing any tests. If you do decide to take tests, and do badly, there is an option to delete the results and then try again in a given period of time. So don’t be afraid of trying. Just be warned that every time you try the multi-choice question will be different – so you can’t cheat!

Guru generally only makes free skills tests available to paid members, known as Gurus. From time to time they offer basic (unpaid) members free testing. I’ve never done one of their tests.

Get Good Feedback

Feedback is a vital element when it comes to promoting yourself on outsourcing sites. It’s like a personal recommendation or good reference. Both Guru and Elance have five star feedback systems; some sites have ten star systems. All are basically the same in that clients rate freelancers once the job is complete.

The Guru feedback, or review rates:

  • technical skill
  • communication
  • creativity
  • timeliness
  • overall

Elance feedback rates:

  • quality
  • expertise
  • cost
  • schedule
  • response
  • professional

Even though there are six different elements that Elance clients rate, the result is still shown according to five stars.

It’s a wonderful feeling getting awarded five stars. It’s awful when clients aren’t prepared to give full marks, especially when the remarks indicate they are 100 percent happy. Be warned, it does happen, because it seems some people have a teacher-type mentality that believes 100% is impossible. The biggest problem is that some employers don’t realize how damaging it can be to rate a provider poorly as it can affect their rating. So if you have a good relationship with an employer, and you know they are happy with your work, don’t be shy to ask for a five star rating.

Bidding for Jobs

Bidding for Projects on Outsourcing Sites

Bidding for JobsOnce you have registered with an outsourcing site and set up some sort of profile, you’re ready to start bidding for jobs. Finding jobs to bid on is really easy, and the principle is exactly the same with all the sites. Basically all you do is browse the jobs that are available and decide which ones appeal to you. Then you place your bid or quotation.

Winning the bid is not quite as easy! You need to get your proposal right (which I will talk about in a future article on compiling a compelling proposal) and you need to pitch your price at a level that will be accepted. Just remember that it isn’t always the lowest bid that makes it. While it is generally a good idea to bid low until you build up a reputation, it is also good advice to avoid employers who are looking for very cheap work (there are lots of them and they seem to happily accept sub-standard work). Good employers want good providers. If you are a good writer, you want a good employer, not a cheapskate who is going to rip you off. So be selective from the start.

Finding Jobs to Bid On

New projects are posted every day on all the good outsourcing sites, and so you need to keep going back to search for updates. When I first started using this vehicle to find work I tried to do regular searches (at least once a week) to see what was on offer. If you don’t do this you will find it incredibly time-consuming wading through thousands of jobs. While you don’t have to check out every single job, if you don’t, you might miss something that is perfect for you. Of course, once you have the kind of work load you are comfortable with, you might not need to check daily especially if clients give you repeat business. Once you have established yourself you will find that you start getting invites to jobs (see the image at the top of this page). Nowadays I rarely have time to do anything other than invite and repeat jobs, though I do check out the offerings at least every few months and usually pick up some very worthwhile projects.

If you don’t want to check out all the writing jobs, you can focus on specific writing categories, like creative writing or press releases, or even editing or proofreading for example.

Once you find a job that appeals to you, click on the job title and read the message that the employer has posted. If you like the sound of the project, check out the employer as well. Not every employer is good and there’s no point in working for someone who treats providers badly. You can see from the employer’s profile how many jobs that person has posted and how many have been awarded. You can also see what each employer normally pays for projects. This is important, because it will help you to set your fee. If the employer doesn’t have a history (in other words this is the first job posted) then you will have to take your chances if you decide to go ahead and bid.

Cost of Bidding

While bidding is technically “free”, if you opt for a paid membership you are in effect paying to bid. Different sites have different plans, and the more you pay for membership, the more bids (or in the case of Elance, “connects”) you will be awarded. The two images below will enable you to compare the differences between Guru and Elance as at January 2014. Both have changed certain structures within their organizations over the past few years, so it’s always wise to be aware of updates.

bidding for projects on outsourcing sites
From this you will see that the basic Guru membership plan allows you to bid 10 times. All the paid plans give you 50 bids per month. You will also see that only the more expensive professional, business and executive plans allow bids to “rollover”. If you have a basic plan and don’t use all your bids, you lose them. Also, when you bid, that bid point is “lost” irrespective of whether you get the job, or even if the job is not awarded to anyone.
bidding for jobs on outsourcing sites
Elance allows 40 free bids (or what they call connects) with their basic (free) membership plan. This number increases the more you pay. My current plan costs US$15 a month because I am registered in two categories, and pay an addition $5 for the second category. All but the basic connects rollover monthly, and I find I sometimes have more than 100 to “play” with. However, unlike Guru that charges a flat 1-bid per bid, Elance charges more for certain more highly rated jobs.

Assess the job

When you browse your chosen outsourcing site for open jobs, you will see how many other freelancers have bid on individual jobs. You will also see how long each job will be open for. Both these factors are important. For example:

  1. If only a few people have bid on a job, and you are a specialist on the subject, you will have a greater chance of winning the bid.
  2. If a huge number of people have already bid on a job, then your proposal will need to be really special for you to get a place amongst those who have already bid. If you don’t have a track record, back off and look for jobs with fewer bidders.
  3.  It can be a big advantage to be at the top of the list of bidders. Elance allows three providers per project to get listed first. So even if someone else gets there first, for additional “connects”, they get to be higher.
  4. If you wait until the job is about to close, you might find that some of the other freelancers’ bids have been rejected, and so your bid is still near the top of the list.

Assessing How Much to Bid 

When employers post their projects, they are given the option to specify a budget. This will give you some idea of what they are prepared to pay.

bidding for job on outsourcing sites
Elance suggests budget ranges for “fixed price” projects, but also gives employers the opportunity to decide for themselves either below or above the rates given here.

Elance also has minimum bid rates ranging from US$20 for jobs posted at less than $500 to $7,000 for projects that are advertised for $10,000 or more. If employers try to elicit bids below the minimum it is considered a violation and the project is likely to be cancelled. If providers (freelancers) bid lower than the minimum allowed, they are also penalized.

Elance also allows hourly bidding and this can be as low as US$5 an hour. Also be warned that by posting a project that requires a large number of articles, employers can easily manipulate the system. This is another good reason to investigate what they have previously paid other providers or freelancers.

While the majority of projects on Elance are below US$500 there are often jobs offered in the US$500 to US$1,000 range, and higher, sometimes up to US$25,000. When you bid for a job you can propose a higher or lower figure if you wish.

Guru bids start at “less than US$250”.

Once you have chosen a bid price, you will have to choose a timeframe that meets the needs of the employer. You will also need that compelling proposal for an employer who doesn’t know you. The proposal shown at the top of this page was for an Elance employer I have worked for on and off since 2009. It was an “invite-only” job and I was the only person who was invited; so I didn’t need to convince him. The one below is for a person I don’t know who invited me to bid on Guru a week ago. How opportune I went onto the site for the first time in four years to research information for this article!

bidding on outsourcing sites
My proposal on Guru to edit and restructure a South African Business Book.
Giving links to work you have done increases your credibility as a writer.

Make Money Outsourcing

How Much Money Can You Make from

Outsourcing Sites?

It is possible to make a substantial amount of money online writing for employers who have registered with outsourcing sites. The amount you can make, however, depends on the type of jobs you bid for and your level of bidding success. It also depends on how much time and effort you are prepared to put into the work.

The different sites all work slightly differently. Most show what freelancers earn, even though some of them do give freelancers the option to hide this information.

Analysis of Guru and Elance

Money from outsourcing
The top three writers ranked on Guru in January 2014 earned between US$64,244 and US$44,120 each per annum. They advertised their hourly rates at between $25 and $45.

In my article on the benefits of outsourcing, I mentioned that two of the most popular sites are Guru and Elance. If you visit the Guru website and search for writers, you will immediately see what all the writers have earned over the past year. It also shows how many reviews each person has had from employers and sometimes their minimum hourly rate (Guru writers have an option to block bad reviews). This in itself doesn’t accurately show what writers are earning. This is because they are not all doing the same number of jobs or spending the same time working.

money from outsourcing
The top two freelancers on Elance in January 2014 chose to keep their income private.
money from outsourcing
Rated fourth on the Elance site in Writing & Translation in January 2014, this provider had earned US$52,409 since January 2013: at our current rate of exchange, this amounts to more than R557 946 – an average of R46 495,50 per month. Not too shabby!

If you visit the Elance website you will see similar information. It also shows whether writers are working on their own or whether they have a business and employ or sub-contract other writers.

Here are two examples of top earning writers that will give you an idea of what some people do earn. Both were top of the two respective web sites in July 2010, in terms of earnings for the past 12 months. This doesn’t mean that they are necessarily consistently the best paid writers.

A “Guru” who specialises in ghost writing books, earned US$57,368 in the 12 month period, and US$174,515 in his Guru lifetime – about 5½ years. Charging a minimum hourly rate of US$20, and setting a minimum budget of US$500, he had completed 141 jobs in all, with 38 in 12 months. His most recent payment showed that he had been paid a whopping US$6,000 by one single employer whom he had invoiced 12 times. A closer look showed that he had been working for this particular author/publisher for a year, so had been earning an average of US$500 a month from this one source only.

The Elancer at the top of that outsourcing site’s list of freelance writers had lifetime earnings of US$537,943. A member of Elance for not quite four years, she had earned US$206,058 in the 12 month period. Unlike the Guru writer, she had a team of 14 people working with her, so they clearly shared the income. Having earned so much more than the top Guru writer, it is not surprising that she had completed many more projects – a lot more than 1,000, including 506 in article writing, 399 for web content, 268 ebooks and blogs, and 77 ghost writing jobs. The list goes on…

How Much do Employers Pay?

It is impossible to give an accurate guide in terms of what employers will pay. For this reason it is impossible to tell you how much you will earn. But if you are serious about earning money writing for clients on outsourcing sites then you will need to learn how to assess clients and how to bid efficiently. I aim to give you some excellent advice in future articles.

I have to admit that when I first signed up for Guru and Elance in 2009 I was a little shocked at how little some clients paid. My initial bids were far too high because I tried to compare the needs of online employers with those I had worked for in the past, in a different world. Also, the fact that I had years of experience writing, meant little to employers in an environment where I was a complete newcomer.

I had to stop comparing and get on with concentrating on ways to make money in this new world, with different opportunities.  I also had to re-establish a winning reputation.

Eventually I fathomed that whichever route you take, it all has to do with whatever you put in you get out. Offer quality and you can bid high, and if you build up a good reputation you are much more likely to get the job. The good news is that even if you don’t get the job (and you certainly won’t get every one that you bid for), there are hundreds of other jobs you can bid for.

money from outsourcing
In January 2014 I was ranked fourth in South Africa in Elance’s writing and translation category, even though I had completed more jobs than the top three. I was on Level 9,having dropped from Level 10 in November because I had not been bidding on jobs over Christmas and New Year.
money from outsourcing
Although my free account at Guru is still open, I haven’t used it for more than three years, so I am no longer ranked.



Outsourcing Your Writing

How Freelance Writers Can Benefit from
Outsourcing Websites

My own workstation is small but it’s all I need.

Not long ago freelance writers were limited to working either with publishers, various advertising or public relations agencies, or with businesses that needed specific writing work done. Unless they had previously worked for the company concerned, most writers needed to identify a need for the kind of work they had to offer. Traditional avenues were employment agencies, newspaper advertisements and word of mouth.

Then along came the Internet, and all this changed.

It wasn’t long before businesses of all sorts began to use the Internet for marketing and communication. Amongst these were the first outsourcing sites which not only offered work to freelance writers, but also to specialists in many other fields, including software development and website design.

The two oldest and most successful outsourcing sites that I am aware of are Guru and Elance (both of which have www dot com websites). Both offer what is commonly known as work-on-demand for freelance writers and other providers. Other similar sites include PeoplePerHour,, and oDesk (which announced in December 2013 that it would be merging with Elance).

My Own Work Outsourcing Experience

The first outsourcing site I stumbled across wasn’t nearly as respectable as these established sites. By pure coincidence it was brand new and was in the process of being launched by an IT specialist called Bill or Bob, who was a keen fisherman turned Internet entrepreneur. He allowed me to register, but none of the jobs I bid on were available. If I’d known what I know now, I would immediately have realised that this was not the norm, and was in fact quite fishy! Well he was a fisherman…

Why You Should Consider an Outsourcing Site

Whether you are an established freelance writer, or an uninitiated writer who wants to break into the industry, good outsourcing sites offer opportunities that you won’t find as easily anywhere else. Unless of course you’re lucky and find that:

–        a company has advertised and you happen to spot the advert and get the job,

–        you go to a recruitment agency and they know of suitable freelance writing opportunities, or

–        you know someone, who knows someone who has the need for freelance writing.

Otherwise where do you go?

While outsourcing sites don’t generally offer get rich quick opportunities, they do offer genuine possibilities for writers to make money. Wherever you live in the world, if you get it right, you can make a good living from jobs advertised on these sites.

How outsourcing sites work

Generally the one thing that outsourcing sites have in common is that they provide a platform for employers and providers. Employers post jobs, and providers (who are the freelancers) bid for the jobs. Employers have the right to set a minimum and maximum budget and it’s up to the freelancers to set their own price. As you will see in my article about how much money freelancers can hope to make from jobs that are outsourced online (which I will post next), it isn’t necessarily the cheapest bid that wins. In fact very often astute employers will choose from the higher bidders simply because they clearly present themselves in a better light – and usually it means they will get better quality work.

All the good sites have concise instructions that you can follow to register and then set up some sort of profile. But some are more user-friendly than others.

Elance has what they call a “university” where you can “study” quickly to see what the system is all about. Then you have to pass an entrance test before they will accept you as a provider. This, in effect, should prevent really inefficient and uneducated people from being allowed to offer their services (though in truth it doesn’t). But it’s an advantage for providers generally, since it does have the effect of cutting out people who aren’t professionals. At the same time it doesn’t cut out talented writers who simply don’t have experience and who probably wouldn’t find their first clients anywhere else – and can’t get jobs anywhere else.

The Best Outsourcing Sites

Finding the best outsourcing site for your needs is largely personal preference, and you may find that you need to register with two or three and then decide which works best for you. The good sites don’t charge freelance writers to join, although some – including both Elance and Guru – do have paid membership options that give you specific benefits.

My advice is to join for free, bid on a few jobs and then decide which site you like the best. You may even decide to bid on more than one site, though at the end of the day, you’ll do better to persevere with one and build up a really good reputation.