I am team leader of a small team of graphic designers, web designers and coder. I have started my career with freelance websites and Elance and Getafreelancer (now known as Freelancer). They were the main two freelancing websites at that time. As for reliability, Elance and Getafreelancer, both are very reliable and have a good repute in the freelance market. You can see some scam reports about them as well but they are probably from some people who either had bad luck with their clients or had tried to scam their clients themselves.
Getafreelancer: If you are an individual graphic designer, web designer or web developer then Getafreelancer is best for you. You will be able to find a lot of small scale and easy to use project there and you won’t need to take care of project plans or documentations, progress reports etc. The projects on Getafreelancer are usually small or medium scale and small scale projects take only a week or so and you can quickly get the output of your work.
Your feedbacks and track record is important but the primary factor in project award seems to be the price. So even if you don’t have a brilliant track record, if you offer a competitive price, you are more likely to win the project on Getafreelancer. Due to low price appreciation, individuals are more successful on Getafreelancer.
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Getafreelancer is free to join and if you want to become a gold member, there is a very little fee to do so and an individual can easily afford. Last time I checked, the gold member fee was only $19.95 per month. A gold member has to pay only 3% commissions to Getafreelancer on every project but a non gold member has to pay 10% commission to Getafreelancer.
Instead of targeting individual freelancers, Elance is much more interested in corporate sector. The projects on Elance are often from medium to large scale and usually are out of work range of a single freelancer so Elance is probably not the best market for an individual freelancer. You should at have a small team or company in order to enjoy full benefits of Elance.
The average Service buyers on Elance seem to be interested in quality more than price. You previous reviews and feedbacks are much more important on Elance and you should have a very good track record in order to win medium and large projects. Elance fees are higher than Getafreelancer fees so individuals with low income might find the fees a little higher for them. Elance charges 6% commission on free membership, and 4% to 6% on paid memberships. Service providers have to pay per bid (indirectly “Connects are spent per bid”) however it results in high quality bids since every one have to pay for every bid so the bids make more sense.
Good project management skill are required in order to sustain a good position on Elance, you will need to prepare detailed project plans, documentation, milestone sheets, quotations and progress reports. Good communication skills are also required to put a professional impression on a corporate buyer.