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I've always been curious about trying out online freelance sites... it would be nice to work from home, feel independent, get to choose what I want to work on, get to work on different technologies, lose the PHB, etc.

However I never really gave them a chance because I'm used to American rates and assumed that I would be competing with people from India, Russia, China, etc. that would severely undercut me, and it wouldn't be viable for me.

Am I correct in this assumption or should I give it a shot? What kind of hourly rate would I be able to expect on short-term programming work?

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When I set out to try working freelance, the first thing I did was to make a list of 100 small design and web companies in my area. I put together an informal email introducing myself, saying what I did and explaining that I was local, linking my portfolio site and suggesting that I might be a good person to pick up any spare capacity on a freelance basis.

Before I had got a quarter of the way through my list I got enough work to fill in the gaps between other projects. People liked having someone who was competent and close enough that I could go and meet them in person to demonstrate stuff or talk through projects. You don't need a lot of hits, just a few that can consistently put some work your way.

In the end I quit freelancing because I hated all the stuff that isn't about programming- all the invoicing, accountancy and other necessary administrative elements and I realised I'd be happier contracting or working full time, but if you're in an area where there are a fair number of businesses you can work with and you've got the skills ( and financial cushion ) to do the job, then it's quite feasible.

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This approach has worked quite well for me as well. Sites like and it's ilk are OK to build up a portfolio (if you don't have one already) but you need to consider that you're practically working for free (by western standards) – Dean Harding Nov 29 '10 at 8:15
@glenatron I understand how you didn't like certain admin aspects of it, but all-in-all did you make more per year? or was it difficult to manage things and ending up working more and billing less that first anticipated? – user1361315 Nov 7 '12 at 18:35
I would say I probably made less per year- a best-case would have made more had I been doing billable work for all my work time, but practically I needed to charge more to cover lead times, admin and the other necessary non-development tasks. Also people are really bad at paying freelancers on time, so I lost a lot of time to chasing up invoices and had times when although I had money on the balance sheet I didn't have money in the bank. That kind of instability was offputting. I have made more money and enjoyed the work more contracting than I did freelance or full time. – glenatron Nov 8 '12 at 10:08

I just started doing freelance work (in order to build a portfolio) and I have noticed that many of the tech freelance sites (Project4Hire, Elance, etc.) have rates that are sub-(American)standard because of the bids from places like India and Pakistan. The one site that I have noticed that offers decent wages and definitely local work is Craigslist. I always keep an eye on the "Computer Gigs" in my area and it seems that the majority of the time people are looking for local freelancers so that they can actually meet face to face. While it is more hit or miss (projects range from "real" projects to helping somebody with their homework) I have seen more local stuff that would allow you for better wages.

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The ratio of garbage to actual opportunity is pretty high but if your willing to dig through you can find some ok projects that can turn into good long term clients. – Gratzy Nov 10 '10 at 14:42
was refering to craigslist in comment above – Gratzy Nov 10 '10 at 14:49
That is true...another thing I should add about Craigslist: If you just want to work on desktop apps, you should look elsewhere. I would say (in my area at least) that the majority of the opportunities posted on CL relate to web design/development. The most frequent desktop app I see in my area is for C++ and trading applications (not sure if that is your interest or not) – Jetti Nov 10 '10 at 14:54

You are absolutely correct. Most people who look for contractors on freelance sites seem to look for a top-notch quality at a low-most rate.

It's ridiculous. And yes you will be competing with individuals from a lot of countries who seem to have absurdly huge skills portfolios, sometimes it seems they include everything in range from FORTRAN to HTML5.

Re: pay rates - from ($5-$25)/hr.

If you would like to try it out, go and try out just don't quit your day job yet.

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You have to start off slowly. Work on a contract or two and see how you like it. Eventually you would want to build up to doing contract work directly for a company, where they come to you. – Jeremy Heiler Nov 10 '10 at 14:05

I've been freelancing online for over 5 years now and have learned from experience, you get paid what you're worth. Others undercutting you becomes a moot point when you know what you're doing, so just concentrate on providing top quality. That's what gets you the rates you deserve (and sometimes some pretty bonuses too!). Try appealing to clients in Canada, the UK, and other well-developed countries. In my experience, they sometimes pay better than Americans. :-o

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What sites do you use? – JoelFan Nov 30 '10 at 22:19
Do you do it full time? – JoelFan Dec 1 '10 at 13:52
SplashHit, I use vWorker, sometimes part time, sometimes full time. – Just Outsourcing Dec 4 '10 at 4:49

My recent experience with Elance in particular, seems to suggest that there are a lot of developers based in Asia who are prepared to undercut western developers to get the work, but they all seem to target the popular technologies, such as PHP and C# development. As soon as you move into less popular technologies you start to find fewer people bidding, and those that do are prepared to pay much more.

A friend has used Elance a number of times to find work. One job was testing applications to ensure they were suitable for use by children, and she was being paid more for this than she earns in her day job.

I have posted a few jobs on Elance expecting to be flooded with cheap offers of $5 an hour, but received no such thing. These were jobs involving web design and an iPhone application involving voice communications. In the first case I received offers far higher than I was prepared to pay, and in the second I received no bids at all.

In both cases I would have been happy to except a reasonable offer from a quality developer rather than the cheapest offer, but in both cases I simply was not receiving these.

I think you can make money freelancing on Elance, you just need to specialise on a less popular field so that you are not competing directly with the Asian developers.

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Is the "reputation" system on eLance reliable and trusted? – JoelFan Sep 20 '12 at 15:38

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