Elance Fails to Really Provide Buyers Choices

At GoldHat Group we’ve been selling and hiring on Elance for over 7-years. During that time I’ve seen the platform become more and more inundated with Indian and Pakistan based firms and freelancers. Now that’s great if you want to hire from this region. The problem is, what if you don’t? When you post a job in any category, but especially programming/development, often you get 25+ bids immediately from India/Pakistan firms. Now I’ve got a long list of reasons I’ll never try Indian or Pakistan firms again after dozens of failed projects, so I have to hide or sift through all these bids to get to the ones I’m interested in.

The reason this is an issue is that selecting the option to “Prefer Candidates from a Location” is a “preference” only and has no effect on preventing bids from regions you’re not interested in. It’s only purpose to notify the bidders that you prefer a given location. It does not restrict bids to the area(s) you choose, and Indian/Pakistan firms seem united in ignoring any preferences.

What if you really, really would like a freelancer who speaks English? No problem, every Indian/Pakistan based freelancer claims to have perfect English skills, which is often proclaimed by stating clearly “me speak the English perfect, no problem on project sirs”. Indeed, hiring them certainly won’t lead to massive communication problems and project failure.

Here is the big question, why doesn’t Elance just allow buyers to have the control they clearly want? If we want to hire in our own timezone so we can organize meetings and collaborate, only allow bids in the chosen timezone. If we require a minimum fluency in any language, why not have language testing on the site so we can determine who actually speaks at a “business ready” proficiency? And why not enable complete blocking of bids from countries/regions, so we can avoid seeing bids we never have any interest in because of a history of failed projects in that area?

The simple answer is Elance is dependent on it’s selection of low budget offshore freelancers, and in a sense feels it must promote these regions in order to remain viable. After all if the buyers from Canada and the US or Europe start hiring freelancers in their own regions or nearby, maybe we don’t need Elance at all? Maybe the result is smaller regional marketplace sites, or heaven forbid, companies putting out RFP’s and getting bids directly, bypassing any need to pay Elance fees. Speaking of Elance fees, their habit of charging fees on top of fees on top of fees isn’t sitting well with many freelancers and small firms who are finding they can get plenty of work directly without using Elance or another bidding site. So while Elance remains a major marketplace, it’s becoming a market that is increasingly avoided by serious developers and agencies. Let the Indian’s and Pakistani’s have it seems to be the consensus among most of the Canadian/American firms I’ve talked too.

I will add for any Canadian freelancers finding this post that the prevalence of Indian/Pakistani freelancers has actually helped rather than hurt quality bidders on Elance. Buyers are finding themselves forced to search the rough for diamonds. If that’s you, they are delighted to find someone who speaks English. Yes, speaking English and being able to communicate effectively about a project, once considered a basic skill to enter the market, is now a prized and highly sought after quality. You can bid $40+ on Elance projects against dozens of below $20/hour bidders and win, simply because you give the buyer confidence.

There needs to be a marketplace that provide geo-based options, and enables local/regional hiring while still supporting a globalized approach. More focus on quality assurance in the platform would also be a nice to have as a buyer. I’d like to see a platform that more actively helped us manage a remote workforce. Some of the elements of that are in place in Elance like timetracker, messaging, milestones. Yet it doesn’t always help. There is still a tendency for freelancers to get busy, forget about clients, and the platform doesn’t really provide any options in these situations other than dispute or fire. I’d like more tools around check-ins, like an integrated ticket-system where we could see the process of work and our freelancers would be able to show what they are doing and when via the platform.