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My CEO would generally work on a quote for 2 days at a time, but we never won a bid.
1. You check out their site, gee, looks nice, all kinds of projects.
2. You signup, paying $250 a month to become a "Select" member.
3. You find out that all that's really going on is you are competing against a bunch of low-ball Indian and Asian companies who are posting generic, impersonalized bids which are full of buzz words. Yay.
Even worse: eLance is full of scammers.
You may get a project or 2, but they are generally clients that will nickel and dime you to heck. Please, I urge you not to waste your time.
You will spend hours posting bids. There is no point in trying to compete against low-ball bidders.
If you want to get clients, talk to specialty store owners in your areas. You will be surprised once you start talking to them. Carry some business cards. (I carry small CDs that have an interactive demonstration on them, along with a business card. They are the little half CDs that have the sides chopped off and come in plastic slips. They really impress potential clients.)
empty portfolio? you won't get anything from elance or anywhere else with an empty portfolio. build the portfolio up. do free stuff. but a couple of personal sites or demonstration sites to show off your abilities.
got a couple of demo sites already? add a couple more. try to cover a range of talents and skills or if you specialise in one thing, show variations on that thing.
lots of stuff in your portfolio but no contracts? something could be wrong with your portfolio - could be sites aren't optimised to bring in traffic so nobody can see who you are. something could be wrong with your pricing. something could be wrong with your "visibility" in general. got visible links on your client / demo sites?
and if all the above is sorted, go for the business cards. do freebies to build up a portfolio. do more demo sites. there will come a point where you don't chase the work, people chase you.
I suggested don't discuss... show
Two months later this landed them (hand given) $75K & 80K contracts, and a few months later $300K contract by showing.
I got my usual 10% commission on each for just three words.