This is a post that I've had in mind for awhile but wasn't sure I should post. But, in the interest of sharing useful information and helping other freelance writers, I feel the need to write it. Let me preface by saying that I don't mean any disrespect to any one site, nor do I think that there's anything wrong with any site or its intentions.
There are those who visit freelance writing sites that post jobs regularly and apply to the many jobs that are listed. There are several interesting jobs sites that post jobs daily or every few days. I have heard from several people that they get most of their clients from those sites. I also hear that there are people who have gotten lucrative gigs from them. However, that has not been my experience and I don't think it's the norm. I believe that the people like me who have had nothing but bad luck with them are afraid to say anything because it will make them look like a loser. Well, so maybe I'm a loser, but here's why I don't see those sites as worthwhile for serious freelancers:
There are one or two sites that I visited every single day for close to a year. Every day I gathered the urls of the jobs I would apply to. I spent literally an hour or more a day just applying to those sites. Sometimes this would take several hours. It took months of this before I was offered anything from a client that I found through the site, and even then it was extremely low paying.
About 90 percent of the time I got no response whatsoever from the people I applied to. About five percent of the time I got a form email saying that the position had already been filled. These emails were often sent within one day, meaning that the jobs were assigned very quickly and with little consideration for quality. The first person offering a cheap rate was chosen. After talking to countless freelancers, both people on the jobs sites and those who had gotten jobs through them, I found that this was certainly the case. Most of the ones who had gotten gigs got them within hours of them being posted. So, to even be considered for many of these, it's necessary to apply immediately with the cheapest possible price.
Compounding that problem, I later found out that many of the people applying were offering to do the projects for even less than was offered, and the prices offered weren't that great in the first place. And even worse, I found out that the jobs listed on one of those sites had hundreds of people apply to them the first day they were listed. So, to get them, you had to check the jobs sites constantly, since there was no set time that the jobs are listed. Then, you had to offer as little as possible immediately and compete against hundreds of people doing the same thing.
What happened the other five percent of the time? I got scammed over and over again. I either got a form letter inviting me to pay to join some job list or I got added to a newsletter about working at home. The jobs that looked like they paid a lot, the ones that I was most interested in, were most often scams. When I did hear from someone about a project, they either asked me for free work as a "test" and wouldn't accept the samples I already had (scam), or they would offer me much less than they'd advertised because, as they said, so many people had applied with cheaper prices.
After about a year of this, I'd had enough. I can't count how many hours I'd spent on those sites, looking for jobs, sending hundreds of cover letters, resumes and samples. I can't count how many times someone had made it sound like I would get a project, only to find out that it was a scam.
There are people who get projects through freelance job sites. I know there are. But, I'm no amateur. I have a four-year degree in journalism and years of experience in print and Web writing. I have a good resume, countless references and a nice writing sample site that offers hundreds of Web article samples. If I couldn't get one decent project in all of that time, there's something wrong. After almost a year, when all was said and done, after the communicating and emailing and checking and trying, I got one paid project. That project was extremely low paying and I did it only briefly because the pay just didn't make it worthwhile. One. Project.
Meanwhile, at the same time I was spending an hour or two a day looking for projects on Elance and RentaCoder. I got countless projects through those sites and got clients that stuck with me for months or even a year or more. I bid a fair price, not always the lowest, and competed with far fewer people. A lot of competition for a project was about 20 or 30 people, a far cry from the hundreds that competed for each of the job site jobs.
So, why did I even both with the job sites? I certainly wish I hadn't bothered. I wish I could have seen how useless it was and how much time it wasted. I wish I had that time back and could use it for the actual paying work I got through bidding sites. I think part of the problem was certainly that I heard from so many people that they got great projects through the sites. I never heard a bad word about them and never heard people telling stories like mine. I thought there must be something wrong with me and that I should try harder, apply faster and keep going. I'm over it. I think there are a lot of people out there who had similar experiences with those sites and were too afraid to admit it. They're afraid it will make them look like bad writers who couldn't score a project because they were terrible. Let me tell you, I'm no Dickens, but I'm far from terrible. And, I've seen some terrible writers talk about getting projects through there.
So, I don't think it has anything to do with being good, bad or ugly. I think it's simply a skewed supply and demand system that is no longer worth the time for a serious freelancer. Perhaps it once was, before everyone found out about the sites and rushed them, but no longer.
This isn't to say that smaller job sites aren't still worthwhile- some of them are. But, for the larger sites, their useful time has come and gone.