oDesk vs Elance: Comprehensive Guide

oDesk vs ElanceoDesk vs Elance is an important question to ask because they are two of the biggest freelance marketplaces online today. If you want to start your freelancing career, both oDesk and Elance are good places to start because they have a good supply of employers looking to hire you. In the long term, however, you would probably be better off searching for projects by yourself. However, when you are starting out, an established platform definitely helps.

Elance is older, but oDesk is faster growing. They both have their own strengths and weaknesses. As a freelancer, you should be able to choose the site that better suits your needs. Ultimately, you want to earn more money, in a consistent manner and get paid as high as possible for your skills. With this in mind, lets look at oDesk and Elance and evaluate them based on different aspects of a freelancing site.

I wouldn’t suggest joining all the freelancing sites at once simply because it can overwhelm you. I would suggest being active on one of them. Another important reason to concentrate on one of them is the feedback system – if you have excellent feedback on one of them, you will still need to start over at the other, which would be equivalent to underselling yourself.

Freelancing is growing fast. Quoting statistics from Elance research, CNN recently asked whether 2013 is the age of the freelancer. It’s not just the young, unemployed people looking to be freelancers. In fact, boomers are booming as freelancers! If you want to be part of the action, choosing the right freelance marketplace to get started can be a crucial decision.

oDesk vs Elance: Quality of Job Postings

Quality of job postings is a very important aspect of any freelancing marketplace. No one wants to work on crappy assignments with low pay. In terms of overall quality, Elance beats oDesk in almost all cases. oDesk has seen a drop in quality job openings and this decline has been consistent. Of course this is a very general trend I am talking about – there could be certain types of jobs where the quality is getting better. Unfortunately a criteria such as this one is hard to quantify.

If you look at major players and small businesses, they seem to prefer Elance. These bigger companies are more likely to look for better quality providers and also willing to pay more. If you own a small business generating a million dollars and looking to post freelance projects, chances are, you will go for Elance. I think the main reason is because it is old and has some good freelancers working on the site for a long time.

Of course on the flip side, if you are just getting started, I think it might be easier to break into oDesk. More on that later.

oDesk vs Elance: Fees

Freelancing sites like Elance or oDesk charge you money for using their services. These are usually not a one time charge but you need to give up a percentage of your income. This is unlike a jobs board, for example, where you pay a flat rate to get access to all the jobs. Fees can actually be a very significant part of what you earn, especially if you are looking to get into freelancing more seriously.

oDesk has a flat fee structure: you pay 10% of your gross income as fees. Thus if the employer pays you $100, you end up with $90. However, the good thing with oDesk is that there is no fees to join. There is no concept of premium memberships at the site. Therefore if all you are looking to do is play around and take a look at how things are, you might find this attractive.

Elance has a more complex fee structure. From their website,the per assignment fees are 8.75% for standard Service Fee for relationships less than $10,000 and 6.75% discounted Service Fee for relationships that exceed $10,000 and new relationships referred to Elance. Then there is membership fees. Individual membership is $10/month for premium membership. There are other levels for small and large businesses. There is also a free membership level but is very restrictive in terms of what you can do.

oDesk vs Elance: Payments and Protection

Of course at the end of the day you want to get paid. Both Elance and oDesk have systems in place which ensure that buyers pay freelancers. However, they go about it in very different ways.

At Elance, there is the concept of Escrow payments – the buyer puts aside money for the project with Elance and Elance releases it when the job is completed. If there is a dispute, Elance will not release the funds, so freelancers cannot ‘take the money and run’. This is quite a reasonable system and helps protect both buyers and sellers.

oDesk on the other hand has a payment guarantee for hourly assignments. oDesk monitors workers through screenshots, keystrokes and mouse clicks (more on this later) and above a minimum threshold of activity, oDesk will guarantee that the freelancer will be paid. However, on fixed price assignments, there is no system of escrow payments. Most buyers will not pay a percentage of assignment in advance. This means freelancers are at risk and if the buyer is dishonest, they lose out. Fixed price assignments inherently make more sense for many types of projects and it is a pity that they are not protected better.

oDesk vs Elance: Privacy

Elance wins hands-down. This is a no brainer. oDesk has the policy with hourly assignments where you have to install a software that takes screenshots of your screen at random intervals and sends it to the employer, making sure that you are working on the project at hand. In addition, the software collects keyboard strokes and mouse click information. This is an extremely intrusive method of monitoring workers and frankly doesn’t even make a lot of sense. Did anyone hear about “thinking” while doing a job? Needless to say, this is still a controversial thing.

I know a lot of freelancers don’t like to be monitored like lab rats every waking hour of their life when they are working. After all, as long as they get the job done, they are entitled to some time off while working too. No company in the world monitors workers in this fashion anyway.

oDesk vs Elance: Feedback System

Feedback is an integral part of any freelancing marketplace because it distinguishes the good workers from the bad. It is also a good way to establish trust with future potential employers.

oDesk feedback seems a little more transparent and truer. Most good workers at Elance seem to have a 5 or near 5 rating. Even though many at oDesk do that too, there is a better differential. This differential is important, after all, if you want to distinguish yourself, which is the very purpose of feedback to begin with. If everyone is a 5 star, there is nothing you gain by being one yourself.

oDesk vs Elance: Customer Service

Both Elance and oDesk have good customer service. This is an important aspect because the sites handle all the administrative tasks for freelancers, like getting paid, invoicing, money transfers, etc. I tend to like oDesk customer service more than Elance. I think they are more prompt with their replies and provide good solutions to your problems. both sites have a good amount of information in their help pages, so you can find most answers there. Again, I tend to like oDesk help pages more.

In addition, oDesk has a whole Community – forums, which can be immensely useful for freelancers and employers looking for solutions or voicing their complaints or ideas. This is a great feature to have and can be very helpful especially to the people new to the site.

Learn More
There is a great book on Amazon about freelancing on Elance that is equally applicable to oDesk. It’s called The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Elance
Check it out, and may be you’ll learn something new!

Know more about these by visiting Elance and oDesk and comparing them yourself. I hope this review was useful. Feel free to drop a line in the comments and share your experience with others, so we can all benefit.

Photo Credit: Ionics


  1. Amit Kumar says:

    very fair comparisoon. Amit

  2. NotShared says:

    The problems with odesk is:
    1. No minimal payment system.
    Anybody can ask for ninja developer,superstar coder But hardly pays 3$. 😀 😀 😀

    2. literally almost 80% jobs with those titles are funny.
    Which included words like ninja,superstar..
    Payment to really quality coders receive from odesk in a month is hardly 100$ = 5000 INR.whereas almost unknown company in India can pay 15,000 – 20,000 to freshers.It’s not the cost of education,skills. Its cost to survive in India.

    Those who know 5th grade maths,please divide your income from months you worked.
    Earning 300$ for one month and not getting projects for 2 months .So your monthly earning is 300/(2+1)=100$

    3. Literally If you are working for odesk. You can’t afford a house rent in good city.Bangalore’s 1 smelling BHK cost 5000 INR. Reason you will hardly find any qualified developer from Bangalore, pune.

    4. They are using spyware to track qualified peoples like lab rats

    5. This site is claiming for 100% payment guarantee. Readers beware whenever you read these lines be prepared for exploitation.What is the meaning of guarantee for 5$ ? It may be ok for countries like Bangladesh / Philippine but Does It have any value in India. Travel in Mumbai even auto – riksha wala will charge this amount form you.
    Make sure gurantee’s are included in that products or services which hardly gets attentions from main stream sellers.Its purely marketing.Nothing bad in marketing but frauds / spammers generally use this.

    6. You can not survive if you have kids. Entry level kids schools which is teaching abcd (play school) charges 1000 / month in small town 2-3k in bigger cities. Means if you are working at odesk and have kids. You may understand why your kids can’t afford a play school

    7. Bad language. Odesk allow any body to post any thing. You can see offensive language. You can easily expect why odesk is increasing slavery.

    8. If you are experienced person. Odesk buyers thinks you are duffer. They most qualification on odesk is odesk hours.

    Trust me odesk buyers there is a really big world outside odesk.Where employees annual salary is bigger then your annual turnover.

    9. Odesk test score who care’s outside odesk ?
    Odesk test score is not shareable. So when you want to get out of trap you had done nothing. Think yourself what you will going to tell any qualified HR about your test score. HR who hardly read any resume for 1 minutes. do you think they will care for your totally unsearchable test score.forget dude

  3. languagedan says:

    Why I walked away from both…

    On oDesk…
    After typing a long, detailed description in Spanish about a Spanish editing job, my post was immediately removed. “English only” was the reason given. Fair enough. I just wished they would have explained this more professionally (or preemptively if possible), rather than calling it “inappropriate” and threatening to terminate my account, forget about giving me a chance to go back and revise it.

    On eLance…
    Dismayed, I head over to eLance. There website is actually localized into seven languages, which makes me think they are more in touch with the world around them. But as I try to create a new account, I encounter an error that says I can’t use a certain word in the password. Ok, they must have their reasons, but I have mine and if I want to include a word in my password, then by golly, let me do it. There are other ways to ensure password strength.

    In the end, I walked away from both. A company putting themselves in the shoes of the customer for just one moment really is the most difficult thing.


    • Sid says:

      Thanks a lot for sharing your experience and I am sorry this had to happen to you. I wasn’t aware of either issue. I am sure you can do better without both of these, though! All the very best.

  4. Evorus says:

    I use to use ODesk, Freelancer.com and Elance at the beginning of my outsourcing career. In the end, I found Elance to be pricier (still value for money) and genuinely better quality of workers, which resulted in less disputes and poor quality work. As a result, I have found as a contractor spending around $6,000 on Elance, with most jobs going very well.

    However, I would say that no matter which site you decide to use to outsource work, you will need to invest time in macro managing projects to ensure you get what you really want. Cheapness comes at a price.

    – Evorus

    • Sid says:

      Thanks a lot for sharing your experience.

    • Teajara says:

      Your comment is fair enough to understand that we just need only to be careful and aware on all freelance website, It is not about their advantages or disadvantages its about individual responsibility to make work done and get paid better.

  5. moi says:

    Odesk and elance are really good provider of online jobs for me. I also love my job staff.com which works like odesk and elance.

  6. I have use both Elance and Freelancer and i have to say neither of them worked for me.. I really like the comparison you made.. The site i currently use is Peopleperhour.com.. Has anyone else used it?

  7. delanah@delanah.com Honaker, OTR, PhD says:

    As an employer I found this analysis very helpful. I have used elance for two jobs – an awesome admin asst who works hourly for me and an iOS programmer from h@ll who took six months to create a non-functioning app. I’m looking for a new programmer and wondered whether I should check out odesk but after reading this I think I’ll stick with elance but macrmanage more. Thank you.

    • Sid says:

      It is always nice to hear about employers’ experiences on these sites. Establishing trust can be hard, but once done, you can have a great experience. I wouldn’t shy away from oDesk as an employer – perhaps you should start a smaller project to see how they perform and gauge their ability/fit.

  8. Rubel says:

    Odesk is finished…..most of the jobs says…*** for 25$ etc where the job should have a value of at least 250$…I think this is the end of odesk..

    • Sid says:

      Quality of jobs has definitely been on the decline at oDesk. It takes much more time to sift through to the good jobs.

  9. Marie says:

    I liked how you compared elance and odesk in different aspects. I have used both of them and at some point I agree, especially about odesk replying more promptly and odesk monitoring all you do. Staff.com also uses monitoring tools but the great thing is it’s free both for jobseekers and job posters. I have been using them for quite a while now.

  10. jonathan says:

    An interesting range of views with differing perspectives.

    From a providers (employers) perspective it highlights just how much of a lottery it is when trying to recruit professional,quality staff.

    On a number of these review sites there are adverse comments about Indian / Asian freelancers, and we are no exception to having been on the receiving end of some howlers, but, to put this into perspective we have had just the same experience of American and UK based freelancers, so, in conclusion,we see no distinction between gender,race, colour, religion or location of potential and actual freelancers.

    We simply want to employ the best freelancers we can afford, no other criteria applies. But, the main problem is, where do you find them?

    The following is an alternative view from the providers perspective; as a provider we have used O’ Desk for a number of years for our project and have always paid good rates in the belief that we will engage the more able contractor. We have spent many thousands of £ on various projects.

    The major complaint we have with O’Desk, is that there is NO protection for the provider for mistakes / damage a contractor inflicts on your project.

    Their dispute system is heavily weighted in favour of the contractor. We experienced a number of contractor incidents of incompetance; but the most recent destroyed our db and took our site off line for 4 days and cost us a lot of money to have the db reconstructed.

    O’ Desk simply state that they don’t care about the circumstances, and the contractors hours must be paid as they have been tracked. So to add insult to injury, not only did we have to pay to have the db reconstructed and any bugs resolve, but we had to pay the contractor for the hours she spent destroying the db.

    So, providers beware of O’Desk, they are NOT employer friendly.

    We have terminated our account with O’Desk.

    We are about to try Elance.

    • Sid says:

      Jonathan, thanks a lot for sharing your experience and I am sorry to hear that you had such a bad experience at oDesk.
      I wouldn’t completely agree that oDesk is not employer friendly. Did you try to create fixed price projects instead of hourly ones? oDesk offers payment guarantee only for the hourly assignments and not fixed price ones. In fact, even as a freelancer, I would probably prefer to go the fixed rate route because I am usually good at what I do and do it faster than most people, so effectively I get paid more per hour. Of course in this case I take the complete risk as an employee if the employer doesn’t pay – oDesk is very clear on that aspect.

      It is interesting to note that you don’t distinguish between people of different geographic locations – I know a lot of employers do.

      I agree, finding the right people can be challenging. The feedback system definitely helps. I am not sure whether the people you hired at oDesk had a good feedback.

  11. jonathan says:

    Hello Sid

    Thank you for the prompt reply, I guess that we have spent over £30k via O’Desk, and to answer your question, we were selective about our Freelancers and we interviewed them plus looking at their portfolio’s. As with the freelancers employing a lot of time searching for suitable employers and projects, we, as an employer also invest a lot of time in vetting potential employees.

    We can understand and empathise with freelancers that have not been treated fairly by employers because the converse concerns apply to employers, we are employing freelancers and until they start work we have no idea about their competencies and are potentially putting our projects at risk.

    It is not until they have completed 1 or 2 tasks that we can see their true expertise; as the buyers we provide exceptional documentation and support for the freelancers, but have grave concerns when the completed work either is riddled with bugs, has not fully implemented the supplied documentation and it is obvious has not carried out thorough testing ( we do not mean simply running a test script) we end up having to do the testing and provide the feed back reports.

    What is particularly galling, is, from our experience, the lack of honesty to admit what they have done, we are a tolerant employer and will work with freelancers to resolve issues, but our experience has shown this to be one sided.

    Because of the latest incident and the lack of support from O’Desk and what can only be described as a belligerent attitude, we believe we have no option but to terminate our account and take our business elsewhere, quite where has not been decided; which means that the O’Desk freelancers will not have the opportunity to apply for our next project that is ready to be started which has a budget of $4K > $5K.

    So, in conclusion, the reason for this post was to place an alternative view of O’Desk, which is one from the employers view.

    • Sid says:

      Thanks so much for such a detailed reply. You make very fair points, and now, I think I should write a post about reviewing these sites from an employer point of view. You seemed to have been involved in several oDesk projects, so definitely you know what you are talking about. I am just curious if you found any freelancer there with whom you have an ongoing relationship.

      Again, sorry to hear about your experiences. I am a freelance writer, and I suppose it is easier to vet writers than programmers.

      Elance is definitely something worth checking out. I am not vouching for them, but have you visited PeoplePerHour? I wrote about them at http://geeksmakemoney.com/comprehensive-peopleperhour-review/ – I think they are worth considering as well, although relatively new. It seems to have more serious freelancers.

      Do you think I can quote you on another post that I write about this issue?

  12. jonathan says:

    Yes you can quote me, it wuld be interesting to have a comparative view of O’Desk, the comparison being Freelancer and Employers pros & cons, I think you will be surprised at how many of the issues / topics are the same, which means that both parties have the same concerns.

    O’Desk has failed to provide a balanced platform whereby both interested parties can meet and conduct business. In our experience O’Desk is biased toward the Freelancer.

    I have noted in previous replies to this thread, comments about the decline of decent projects. Which, from an employers perspective is understandable, as I imagine, most employers that have been on the receiving end of O’Desk once, simply will not return, they will take their business elsewhere, as we are.

    As O’Desk is financed from the Freelancer commission, then it is only reasonable for them to inst that O’Desk totally reviews their strategy and procedures.

    Yes, I will be happy to provide past developer contacts.


    • Sid says:

      Thanks again for your reply. Let me get back to you with more – I would like to get some input from your side as well and write a more detailed post from the employer’s perspective. Do you have any ideas how oDesk should change their procedures without being unfair to freelancers? After all, you cannot tilt the scales all the way towards the employers either because unfortunately not employers are honest in their dealings

  13. jawad says:

    now days odesk very slow for hiring thats why there job not filling and job post increase to 13k

  14. prasad says:

    Helpful Info… 🙂
    Thank you…..

  15. Peter says:

    I for one, am happy with oDesk. Spent more than $30K for the past 2 years.
    Yes, I’ve been burnt, but as soon you get the hang of it, you’re quickly can separate
    good developers from the ugly ones. I too have met a developer from h=ll.. 🙂
    who run away with my $150. But, I have met and hired good and honest ones,
    that are sincere and really tries to help me out. Strangely enough, my luck
    seem to have favored me, I now have 5-6 team members that I trust
    my website, admin password and even my reputation and money.
    I would even recommend one for you

    I strongly think oDesk tries to be fair with buyers and contractors. So if you’re a
    new buyer, then you have to start doing something small and gauge their ability
    to follow your way of doing things. You have to be patient at start, and pick up
    the pace once you think they got the hang of it.

    • Sid says:

      Peter, thanks a lot for your comment. I am glad that you could find honest and trustworthy remove workers at oDesk, and if I am looking for developers, I’ll take you up on your offer of connecting me with them.

    • fs says:

      >more than $30K for the past 2 years
      >now have 5-6 team members

      $30K for 6 people for two years.

      Is it a joke?

      If it is true, I can’t unerstand why some guy, who have something in his head choose to be the coder. There are many other more attractive possibilies even in India.

  16. Matija Baric says:

    Hi Sid.

    Great comparison of both sides. I would like to apologize in front if I missed it, but Elance has also Work View System established and the hourly jobs are tracked with Tracker program that is similar to oDesk Team application, but with ONE big difference, it doesn’t monitor your mouse clicks and keyboard strokes which is really really ugly by any means.
    Any way I must say that I worked on both of the systems, everything you stated above I confirm, and just like to say, that oDesk is really nasty with NINJA, SUPER CODER jobs which should be removed by algorithm by default. Another thing on oDesk recently that I don’t like is Cover letter policy, people be aware of that, I got my second strike with explanation that my cover letter is pretty generic, so when you apply for the job make is as unique as you can (I’m talking about oDesk). Just an advice. On elance had no problem at all with that.

    • Matija Baric says:

      One more thing doe on Elance NO withdraw fee, and od Odesk I guess 1$, but really must check that, not an amount to mention, but just for the record

      • Sid says:

        That’s true, thanks for mentioning that. At oDesk, a direct deposit ACH to your back account is free (US banks) but if you withdraw by other means, I think there is a fee.

    • Sid says:

      Thanks for confirming many things. I didn’t know about their new cover letter policy at all, that’s an interesting development. It’s true – the monitoring of keystrokes and mouse clicks is kind of creepy honestly and I would prefer to work at my terms. For the employer, it really shouldn’t matter how many times I click my mouse to get the job done.

      • Matija Baric says:

        Hi again,

        As we are all here IT developers I assume, we all heard of that fact that if we have 10 devs working on a solution, everybody of them will come up with different solution, that is really a fact. I’m trying to make a point here with the monitoring of mouse and keyboard, somebody needs 1 hour to complete the solution other one for the same job needs 10 times more, so this also must be taken in equation. I also had some bad exp in freelance jobs I guess that cannot be passed in this sea of clients.

  17. hi! nice feature. been wanting to learn about elance or odesk. i wanted to start working online and just home based business sometimes. or just mobile or remote place. thanks for the helpful infos.

    for accounting needs, people can always contact me. also in writing for website contents.

    these are jobs i look forward to have in these sites.

  18. Hello,
    I do agree that elance beats oDesk in all aspects, competition in oDesk is fierce and the pay super super low. I have written about my experience in both odesk and Elance in a blog:

  19. Great post 🙂

    I prefer elance myself, I just feel it possesses a higher quality brand experience and has more genuine clients. I’ve been able to form some long lasting client relationships by finding clients on there and it helps pay for my travels.


  20. I first thought that they are owned by same company as the number of features and purpose of the website is similar.

  21. Rates are so low now on both Odesk and Elance. The sad thing is there is no shortage of freelancers, mainly newbies, who are willing to take on ridiculously low-paying jobs just to build credentials.

  22. thank for comparing, i wish freelancer.com also added for comparison

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