Elance - Bidding, Client Interaction and Project Award Policies and Mechanisms
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Bidding Process and Policies
You must complete Elance’s basic signup and verification process, and pass an orientation test to ensure you understand the basics of the site, before you can bid at all. You may also need to submit proof of your country of residence, and fill out at least the basics of your profile. Once these requirements are met, you can submit a bid on a project if you have a membership that includes the category that the project is listed in, and if you have a sufficient number of connects. The connect cost is mainly a function of the budget of the project. If you don’t have enough connects, the Elance site will give you an opportunity to go straight to a page to buy more (except for basic members, who cannot buy connects).
The bidding process itself is pretty straight-forward. A form on the right side of the project listing screen allows you to enter a proposal to the client directly without having to load a separate page. After you enter your proposal, you are taken to a confirmation page, and then the bid is submitted.
At one time Elance had separate mechanisms for real bids and for pre-bids. In an April 2011 update these were integrated: if you enter a bid price (or hourly rate) then you submit a bid, whereas if you put in no numbers, the comment is sent as a pre-bid. For actual bids, you must give an estimated timeframe for completion (for fixed rate projects) or an estimated number of hours (for hourlies). It is possible to add attachments to a proposal, if needed; this allows more detailed proposals to be crafted, or past work samples to be provided. Bids and pre-bids cost the same number of connects.
One problem with pre-bid questions on Elance is that they are often ignored by clients who receive many actual proposals, even when those proposals are clearly based on inadequate information. Elance does not pre-screen job listings, which allows projects to show up that contain scant information. They don’t appear to encourage clients to answer pre-bid questions either. And the update I mentioned above also made it impossible for contractors to follow up on pre-bids: if you submit a question and the client doesn’t respond, you cannot contact that client again. This was supposedly done to cut down on the number of messages clients had to deal with, but I consider it a great disservice to contractors, who now have no way to clarify a pre-bid, nor to find out if they are still being considered for a job.
Elance once supported both open and closed bidding, but seems to have done away with the former. This was a good move: open bidding was rarely used, often featured dummy bids like “please see private message”, and when real proposals were actually placed in the open, unscrupulous contractors would often steal them. Open bidding also tends to lower bids, which is bad for freelancers.
The aforementioned April 2011 update also marked the end of public message boards on Elance. There is now a “public announcements” board, but only the client can post to it. With this board now “one-way only” it is arguably of little value, since clients have always been able to edit project descriptions to put in extra information.
I consider the removal of the public message boards a step backwards in bidding functionality for contractors, and a flat cop-out by Elance. Sure, there were issues with the public message boards before, such as clients ignoring questions, or contractors begging for invitations to jobs to avoid spending connects. However, Elance charges healthy fees, more than enough to cover the cost of having customer service personnel deal with those who abuse the system. Instead, they took the easy way out by removing the ability to use the public message board for everybody.
One consequence of the removal of public messaging is that when contractors encounter a project that they are interested in but that is vaguely described, they must now spend connects on pre-bid questions instead of being able to ask on the public board for free. On top of that, the lack of a public message board means clients will likely be faced with duplicates of questions from multiple providers, which runs contrary to the entire stated goal of simplifying the experience for clients.
There are two sponsored proposal slots, which a contractor can select by clicking the check box if at least one still remains at the time the proposal is submitted. This puts the contractor’s bid “on top of the pile”, but doubles the connect cost.
It is against Elance policy to offer to work for less than the Elance project minimums ($50 for fixed rate or $5 per hour), or to offer to work for free or in exchange for a favorable review. You are also not allowed to attempt to take a project off-site to avoid paying Elance fees. Elance also prohibits giving clients free samples of project work, as this has been a frequent source of past abuse (samples of similar past projects are acceptable). As you might expect, the site works pretty hard to deal with fee avoidance, but enforcement of other policy violations has been more suspect.
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Last Site Update: October 21, 2011
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