How much would you charge to develop a stock ticker desktop application that connects with a Web site and downloads news and weather reports?

Some of your colleagues said they could do it for $800. Others said they’d charge $8,000. And a great variety of proposals were submitted that fell between those numbers at, a site that lets companies post projects so freelancers can bid on them. We’ll give you the lowdown on the site’s requirements and rewards here.

Get granular with project categories
The Sunnyvale, CA-based site lists several kinds of projects from companies worldwide. Project categories include graphic design, accounting and finance, writing and translation, legal, business strategy, software and technology, and Web design and development.

Among the subcategories in the software and technology section are:

  • Application development
  • Engineering and CAD
  • Technical support
  • Database design and development
  • Handhelds and PDAs
  • System administration
  • Training

It’s also possible to drill down within those categories. In the Web design and development section, for instance, you can find work under such headings as hosting, complete Web site, usability testing, Web programming, Web design, and Flash animation.

ELance also provides portfolio and credentials review as well as a system that lets clients rate freelancers’ work. Online collaboration tools include workspace file sharing and a global billing and payment system. According to the site, more than 250,000 businesses and individuals from more than 150 countries are registered to conduct work through eLance, and 40 percent of transactions are completed across international borders.

The company has formed an alliance with eBay to create a specialty site called Services for Business, which is designed to make eLancers available to eBay’s 22 million users. To garner even more visibility, eLance has also built alliances with companies such as Intuit, CNET, Sun Microsystems, Oracle Technology Network, Corel, Macromedia, IBM, and Novell.

Registration is free and so is bidding on many projects, but eLance will take a 10 percent cut of the overall amount you earn on each project. This “transaction fee” is immediately charged to your account when you accept work. The fee will appear as a negative balance in your eLance account, and you’ll have 45 days from the acceptance date to pay it. If you don’t deliver the project, you will still have to pay the fee. The company that posted the project is not charged.

How to join
To get started with, go to the site’s registration page. You’ll first need to choose between the Basic and Select Marketplaces. Bidding on projects in the Basic Marketplace is free. If you want to bid on Select projects, which usually pay more, you’ll be charged a monthly fee.

During the registration process, you’ll need to fill out a User Information page and select a username. Note that whenever you bid on a project, your username will identify you and provide a link to your eLance profile, so you might want to put a little thought into your username before you submit it. You create a profile by listing your background, education, credentials, services offered, and approximate rates. You’ll need to post a profile for each project subcategory in which you want to bid.

If you live in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, or an English-speaking area of Canada, you’ll have the option to verify your education, employment, and certification credentials through US Search, an independent third-party firm. Your first verification is free. Others cost $8 each in the United States; $14.50 each in the other English-speaking countries. For each credential you have verified, potential clients will be able to see a verification icon next to it in your profile.

You also can create an online portfolio with digital samples of your work. You can upload any type of text, graphic, or audio file. (Note: You must create an online portfolio if you want to bid in the graphic design or Web design categories.)

After you’ve registered, you can access a My eLance page that lets you manage all of your activity on the site, including editing your profile, tracking bids on projects, communicating with clients, and sending invoices. You can also create a Watch List that lets you monitor projects you may be interested in. You’ll receive e-mail when they’re posted in the marketplace.

Becoming a Select service provider
Select service providers are prescreened eLancers who get to bid on projects in the Select Marketplace, where bidding minimums and project values are higher than in the Basic Marketplace. The minimum bid and value for Select software and technology projects is $500.

You can choose to become a Select service provider during registration, or you can upgrade to this status later. You’ll pay a monthly subscription fee based on the Select Marketplace project categories you want to bid in. For example, the fee is $150 per month if you want to bid in both the Web design and development and the software and technology categories.

Note that if you decide to cancel a Select service provider subscription, you can’t do it online. You’ll have to talk with an eLance customer service representative at (877) 535-2623. The cancellation won’t go into effect until the beginning of the next billing cycle, and you can’t get a refund for part of a month.

Besides the monthly fee, you will also have to pay a transaction fee for each project you accept. For Select service providers, the fee is 7 percent. Select eLancers are authenticated through US Search or, if they don’t live in an English-speaking country, through SquareTrade, a verification and dispute-resolution firm.

After you complete a project for a client, he or she will be able to rate your services and supply comments about your work. Your overall feedback score, which will appear in your profile, will be based on both your client ratings and the value of your projects. That means service providers with higher-value projects will be featured more prominently in the online marketplace.

Obviously, I’ve provided only an overview of how works. The process is fairly complex, but the site’s pages do a good job of walking you through the various steps. For complete details, consult the site’s extensive help section and take the online tour. You can also send questions to or call (877) 535-2623.

Thomas Pack is a freelance technology reporter.

Have you found a great resource for IT consultants? Tell us about it! Post a comment below or send us a note.