Elance Experiment

9 Jun

Last year, I tried a little experiment.

Since I was working on developing my own site at the time that would feature my work, I decided to give Elance a try.  What is Elance?  Well, it’s a place for customers to hire freelancers.  That includes cartoonists.

Eh, why not?  Seemed legit.

I put together an online portfolio with all the bells and whistles featuring my best work.  It looked good, if I say so myself.  Yeah, I spent some time on it.  Didn’t just toss it all on there like a Jackson Pollock.

How the site works is, once you have your portfolio and personal stuff up there, they “verify” that you’re a  real person by doing a quick Skype interview.  That took a second and then I was an official Elancer.

From there, you can view projects.  For example, I would type in the keyword ‘cartooning’ and it would pull-up all the people out there looking to hire a cartoonist for something.

“Great!” I thought.  “This could be fun.”

When you find a client and a project that looks like something up your alley, you bid on it.  You quote them, basically.

Here, you can do it by an hourly rate or by a flat fee.  Or, the client sets it either/or so you don’t have a choice.

Sound exciting with potential?  Sure.

First off, I bid on a lot of projects.  I was very professional about it and bid what a professional should.  I wasn’t always cheap – but fair.

When I have a client, it’s not just about creating a pretty picture.  I ask questions.  I do MORE than just draw things.  I learn what the illustration is for.  Where it will be presented/displayed?  What is your goal for it?  How can this be the most effective?  I really dig-into my clients head so that I produce quality work.

Elance though, has a higher ratio of non-professionals.  And the clients can get someone much cheaper than me.  Some “cartoonists” will quote rates cheaper than what the 5-year-old down the street makes on her lemonade stand.

Lemonade Stand (1)

And so, people looking to hire a cartoonist tend to go that route – the cheaper.  Or, they would argue with me on why I’m so expensive.

My response is I’m not just a “for hire”.  I’m actually a partner with you on your project seeing the BIG picture of what all you’re trying to do.  I base my rates around my experience and professionalism.

Anyway, I think you get the idea.  It wasn’t for me.

I know some people out there can eek out a good living on Elance, but from what I hear, you must take a bunch of cheap projects first before making something of yourself and getting to the point where you can quote a bit higher.  I’m sure that’s not always the case, but generally, that’s what I’ve read via online.

You see, you’re rated on there as well.  Every customer can rate you 1-5 stars for your work and leave feedback.  So, once you have a dozen or more ratings, you’re a bit more established and can maybe quote more.  I’m not sure, but I’ve read a few things that basically say the same thing.

I actually ended up with a few projects.  And they were fairly quoted and after talking with the clients they realized who they were dealing with – someone who actually cares and doesn’t just want a job.  Again, that’s not every cartoonist out there on Elance.  I’m sure some are like me and really do care – and quote low.  But, if that’s the case, they should quote more if they’re professional.

The ONE big mistake I made was actually taking a per hour job once.

Why is that a mistake?

I saw a great cartoon awhile back that illustrated the point.  I might have the wording off a bit, but it was something like this:  It had an artist go up to a client and say, “Here you go.” holding up a completed illustration.  The client says, “That only took you about 15 minutes.  Why should I pay you?”.  The artist then says, “It took me decades to get to the point where I could complete it in 15 minutes.”

I can work quickly.  And professionally.  But, it wasn’t easy to get to that point.

So, back to my hourly job I took.

I took it because it wasn’t major – it was a t-shirt design.  Also, I quoted $28 an hour and got accepted for that.

HOWEVER, going back to how quickly I work.

I was able to execute this project at a pretty fast pace from conception of the gag to the actual illustration.

When you work hourly on Elance, you set a timer up that automatically takes screen-shots of your computer.  Which is kind of lame considering not much of my work was on the computer – only the Photoshop part.

I’m an honest person, so I didn’t just let the timer go while I didn’t work.  I took the job and that was that.

At any rate, I was able to complete this very quick and only made just a little chunk o’ change.

I go back to that cartoon I saw about working quickly and I’ll probably never do an hourly project again – unless it’s something like teaching or where it would make sense.

After a few months, I ended up deleting and cancelling my Elance account.  It just wasn’t professional to have – in my opinion.  I saw a lot of amateurs and clients that didn’t want quality over value.  Not saying some of these people that quoted lower than me couldn’t draw better than me.  Actually, a lot of them were stellar and could illustrate a lot better than I could on some parts.  BUT, for what they quoted, they’re not getting paid what they should.  And I’m not sure about the “extra mile” they go for clients as well.  I like having a personal one-on-one relationship.  My clients should have my cell phone number – and I believe they all do.

Is Elance a good starting point?

I’ve quoted lower prices to clients before if it was a long-term project or something that I felt was worth it.   That being said, I did have several clients that did pay what I felt it was worth on Elance also.  What I think Elance DOES do well is it gives you the experience of negotiating rates, handling clients and fine-tuning communicating with customers that you might work with.  I guess I don’t highly recommend it, but it might be a good place to get your toes wet as a cartoonist.

I just found it exhausting and not worth my time.  This was when I didn’t have a site of my own up and it was a temporary “fix” (I thought).

So, it might be worth experimenting with to find out if Elance is right for you – or not.  But in the long-run, I’d get away from it and create your own identity and not be labeled an Elancer.




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