Elance vs oDesk
A Contractor’s Perspective

The number of people working in the comforts of their home rapidly increases every year. Freelancers opt to pursue a career that they think are more laid back than having to commute to the office and back, reporting to managers, attending meetings over caffeine-overdose, staying beyond working hours in their cubicles trying to run after a deadline, and worse, even bringing unfinished jobs at home. For most of us independent contractors, the feeling of just being around a comfort zone can be rewarding, irrespective of the fact the we still just might need to do the work routines at any given time.

Basing our review on this premise, we will notice that over three quarters of freelancers are signing to two of the most in-demand and popular online job marketplace, oDesk and Elance. Greenhorns and veterans in the freelance industry would not deny the fact that searching the best marketplace to get online jobs are most popularly offered on these rather popular channels.

We must recall though that neither of these may be top of the line. How they meet our expectations are dependent on varying factors. Between oDesk and Elance, either has its pros and cons to contractors signing up. You may just need to have a closer look at the membership terms and conditions, together with their membership plans, guarantees on payments, number of job adverts posted and recommended for you, professionalism, your potential to earn, career growth, and support staff.   

On a superficial point of view, both oDesk and Elance seem to be a magnificent hub for quality contractors to make money. They appear to be the greatest place for businesses to save and get the services the require for their operations. But how does one really differ from the other?

In terms of longevity in the freelance industry, as an online job marketplace, Elance is older, yet oDesk seems to catch up and grows faster. As a freelancer, a wise decision to choose a site that better suits your needs is important. The goal of signing up to any of these platforms is to earn and practice the skills that you believe you’ve got, together with additional applied knowledge. Having said that, you may begin to evaluate what one has to offer more than the other.

Personally, I have an existing freelancer profile on each of these platforms. However, I wouldn’t strongly recommend it to others as it would just be a little too much for you, especially if you are pretty new in this alleyway. In the beginning, my freelance endeavour started out with oDesk and just in the year that passed that I signed up on Elance, as encouraged by a new peer in the business. If you happen to have signed up on both, I would suggest that you stay active in one of them at a given time.

One other important aspect that freelancers must remember is their focus on the platform’s feedback system. If you happen to already have excellent feedback on one of them, you may need to begin from scratch with the other – which means your achievement in oDesk may not prove much on Elance, and vice versa.

In terms of marketplace growth, Elance looks to be growing fast. Elance Research was quoted to have answered CNN’s question as whether 2013 is the age of freelance jobs. Research has shown that freelance contracts cater to everyone, not just the young and unemployed, but also those who have already established a fruitful career.  


In any freelance job marketplace, they quality of job postings are always considered a top priority. Not a single person would want to land on a rubbish kind of job, otherwise they would have just stayed right where they quit. When it comes to overall quality of job adverts, Elance has an advantage over oDesk in most cases. It has been observed that oDesk started to lose a significant amount of quality job openings and has been consistent since in the past several months. However, this is just a general observation on trends, there may just also be particular fields and job categories that are getting better.

On a more personal note, the “spam” job postings on oDesk has outrageously increased from the time I started in 2009, whilst I have barely noticed them in Elance. Someone in the support teams may just need to review a few processes and policies.

If we are going to have a look at the bigger players and small businesses, Elance seems to be a  preferred marketplace. These bigger companies do not seem to mind having to pay more if the quality of products delivered to them are exemplary, beyond their expectations. I have personally noticed that the jobs I have been doing on oDesk seem to get paid at a 150% difference on Elance. This has caused me to consider signing up for a contractor profile. On the other hand, if you are only getting started,  it may just be easier to break into oDesk.


Elance and oDesk obviously would not grow if they did not implement a scheme to charge their members. The fees they are charging are not a one-off charge and as a contractor, you need to give up a percentage of your income. This is like a jobs board where you pay a flat rate to access available jobs. These fees are significant part of what you earn, particularly if you tend to be more serious about freelancing.

For a few years of sitting on oDesk, I have not minded what I am not getting in terms of income. Submitting an application lets me bid a $4.00 an hour job whilst oDesk will charge my “target” employer a ten percent on top of my bid. However, what’s good about this is that I did not have to pay for anything to create a profile – and there is no concept of a premium membership at all. This is why I recommend oDesk to beginners and those who are just “playing” around.

 Elance, on the flipside, seems to be more complicated in term of fee structure. From the website itself, the fees per assignment is placed at 8.75% for standard Services for relationships less that $10,000  and 6.75% discounted rate for relationships over $10,000 and every new relationship referred to the site. Of course, compared to oDesk‘s free profile sign-up, Elance has an individual membership fee of $10.00 for a premium profile. Segregation of small and large businesses are also implemented. Do not fret though, as there is a free yet limited membership level for freelancers who are just looking to start earning.


The main objective of working is to get paid. Both freelance portals have programmed in their systems a payment scheme that ensures compensation for freelancers. However, each vary from the other.

At Elance, Escrow Payments have been made available where the employer sets aside an amount for the project with Elance and Elance releases it when the job is completed. Should a dispute arise between the contractor and the employers. Elance will not release the funds until it is resolved. This ensures protection within both parties, and is quite reasonable as no one gets away with the money, irrespective of the completion and quality of the project. This is usually implemented on person-per-project contracts. As I signed up on Elance and have explored the Help pages, I noticed that there is also a guaranteed hourly work (that comes with a tracking system).

oDesk has a payment guarantee for hourly assignments. The job is being monitored through screenshots, and mouse and keyboard activity. This guarantees the contractor payments for the jobs they have been doing. However, on fixed-price projects, there is no Escrow system placed. Most employers do not agree to pay a percentage of the project cost in advance, placing the contractor at risk of losing out. This may seem a little unfair as fixed-price projects make more sense (and money) for a lot of types of projects and it is a pity that they are not protected as much.


A freelancing marketplace’s heart is their feedback system as is separates the good workers from the bad. it also serves as a way to build trust and a good relationship between contractors and employers.

oDesk‘s feedback system looks more to be sticking more to reality and more transparent whilst most good workers at Elance seem to have a 5 or a closer to 5 rating. Although a lot of oDeskers do that too, I have heard that there is a difference between them and that’s one thing I have yet to see for myself. I will write about the difference in feedback systems when I get my first Elance feedback. As you can see, I have not been hired yet for any project on the site, being relatively new.

In a nutshell, the battle between Elance and oDesk is something nobody wins or loses. The popularity and reputation they have established for themselves is the result of hard work their people have put to it and they amount of people trusting them.

If you are a freelancer that looks to earn a significant amount of money by taking on online jobs, what I would suggest would be to ask feedback from your peers and compare it to what you see on the site itself. The Help and FAQ pages of both platforms are truly helpful and serves its purpose. Each offers us the same opportunity for career growth and earning whilst on different terms.

Remember that career choices you make are not based on an absolute standard of right or wrong but on how you view the end-results. Whether you sign up on Elance or oDesk, or both, your fulfilment will still depend on how you felt after having done the jobs you applied for.