Review: Elance v.s. oDesk - a freelancer's perspective

July 21, 2016
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As a freelance writer, there is one activity that takes up as much of my time as writing does and that’s looking for work. Once you find work, your next concern is whether or not you’ll get paid. And if I do get paid, how long will it take?

As a freelancer, there are numerous sites to choose from on which you can bid on projects. Two popular sites today are Elance and oDesk. From the homepage, you might think that these two sites are pretty similar. After all, they both state that there’s guaranteed work with guaranteed payment. A freelancer’s dream come true, right?

Let’s compare the two:

Elance Guarantees both Hourly and Fixed Price Work

All fixed price projects on Elance use escrow. Escrow is pretty straightforward and it’s safe for both the buyer and the provider. The buyer funds the account and they release it when the project is completed. If for some reason they forget to release the funds, they are automatically released 30 days later. It might take some time, but you’re guaranteed payment.

Elance is also able to guarantee their hourly projects as well. This is done by the provider using Tracker with Work View. Essentially Work View takes screenshots as you work on a project and hours billed must correspond. Your hours are also automatically paid when timesheets are sent, unless a client identifies certain hours as not being related to the project.

I don’t typically work on an hourly basis; it’s still good to know that your hourly work is guaranteed. And since 99% of my projects use escrow, I like having the security of escrow.

oDesk Only Guarantees Hourly Work

Although oDesk does guarantee that you will receive payment for hourly work (and it is tracked in a similar fashion to Elance), they don’t have escrow. This makes oDesk great for providers who do work on an hourly basis, but if you work on a project by project basis, there’s no escrow system to guarantee your payment.

Communicating through Elance

Elance offers a variety of tools to assist you in communicating with your clients as well as ensuring that the project flows smoothly. Once you are awarded a project, you have access to a Private Message Board with Real Time Chat, File Sharing with Version Control, Project Terms with Milestones and Comments, Status Reports and Timesheets, Autopay on hourly projects and Escrow for fixed price projects.

All of these tools allow you to document the project and all details associated with it. You can discuss the project prior to the award and after on the private message board; business terms are then set up with the necessary milestones and escrow is funded. Throughout the entire process, everything is documented so you can refer back to any messages to ensure you’re both on the same page.

Communicating through oDesk

oDesk offers the Work Diary, which tracks the amount of time you spend working on a project, but that’s about it. You don’t have the many tools that Elance offers you to help you work. In fact, there’s not even a private message board. Communication must occur through personal email, telephone or chat, whichever the provider and buyer agree upon. In some ways this is easier, however, emails can get lost or go to SPAM boxes, chats get turned off and phone calls can be missed. And there’s no communal workspace where all the communications are tracked. There’s ample opportunity
for miscommunication here.

Quality of Projects

As a provider, the last thing you want to do is spend hours communicating with a potential buyer, who may not even have a whole lot of potential. Emails, phone calls, and chats all take time that you could be spending on your current projects or looking for serious projects. One way that Elance ensures quality projects is by testing the committal level of buyers. They do this by charging a $10 activation fee to ensure that the buyer has a legitimate form of payment to pay providers for the work they perform. This must be completed before the buyer can post any projects.

On oDesk, buyers can post as many projects as they want and communicate with all of the providers that they want and never even award a single project. They advertise that it’s “free to post jobs and interview contractors,” but that’s not necessarily a good thing. There’s nothing worse than talking with a lot of buyers who are just testing the waters and never result in a paying project.

Granted, there is nothing that requires a buyer to award a project on Elance, but it seems to attract a higher quality buyer and higher quality projects.

Another indication of quality of jobs are the budgets allowed by both websites. Elance has a minimum bid of $50, while oDesk actually has an estimated budget level of $5! Unfortunately, there are a few projects that most providers can do for only $5 and quality providers charge more than $5 per hour.


I am certain that there are numerous providers on oDesk that are doing well for themselves and that’s great. However, from my perspective and I’ve been doing this for several years, oDesk just doesn’t provide the level of security that I need as a provider. If my business is to be successful, then I have to know that I’m protected through the site that I choose to work through and pay a membership to. Elance offers me that security. Sure, there are times when projects go awry and I don’t always come out on the better end of the deal and I may lose money, but at least I know that the decision we came to is a fair one for both provider and buyer.

Escrow is the main focus of importance for me and the support system that surrounds it. Anyone that is venturing out into the freelance marketplace, either as a designer, writer, administrative assistant or other consultant, should consider the payment security system of any website they choose to work through long and hard. Sure, you can always charge half up front and half upon completion, but there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get that second half. Escrow ensures you get all that you’re due.

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