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For new writers looking for work online, Elance and oDesk are among the two most popular freelancing websites.  And then there is Freelancer as well as Guru.

So I thought it apt to do a quick comparison to help ascertain which site among the 4 was the best bet for someone looking to start freelance writing. Here’s how the 4 sites compare:

  1. Year established in: Elance and Guru are veterans in the game with both having been set up between 1998 and 1999. oDesk was founded in 2003, followed by the relatively new kid on the block Freelancer in 2009.
  2. Number of assignments in the writing category: oDesk was the clear winner here with over 7800 writing jobs as of the date of research, versus 2900 for Elance and about 500 on Guru. Freelancer had fewer writing jobs and is perhaps more suitable for people looking for freelance jobs in website development, IT, Software, mobile phones & computing.
  3. Average number of contractors per job in the writing category: oDesk was the leader with only 33 contractors per writing job versus 62 for Elance and 159 for Guru.  Even if  50% of the available contractor applied for each of the open writing jobs, your chances of successfully bagging a project vary from  6% on oDesk to 3% on Elance.
  4. Total freelancing job categories:  Guru has the maximum (17) job categories while Elance had the lowest (5).  Freelancer has 11 job categories and oDesk has 9.
  5. Membership fee: Once again brownie points for oDesk with no membership fee; contractors get a weekly job quota that increases over time basis client reviews and test scores.  Elance has a free membership plan for 40 job applications and the paid plan starts @ $10 a month. Freelancer has the basic plan free and paid plans which are between $5-$45 a month. Guru also has a free plan and a paid plan @$25 per month to $150 per year for individual contractors.
  6. Transaction fee (charged by websites as a percentage of the project value): Elance has the lowest transaction fee @ 8.75% of the project value.  oDesk charges 10%. Guru has a lower transaction fee of 7.45% for paid membership versus 11.95% for the basic membership contractors. Freelancer’s fee structure is complicated; a combination of flat fee or percentage of the project value depending on the value of the project and type of project (fixed vs. hourly jobs). Most contractors include the transaction fee as part of the project fee to pass on the cost to the client.
  7. Payment Guarantee: Barring oDesk, all websites offer payment security for all jobs via an escrow or an advance payment account.  oDesk offers payment guarantee for only hourly jobs via ‘ Verified Work’; there is no payment guarantee for fixed price jobs on this site.
  8. Dispute resolution support & drawbacks if any:  Once again oDesk fails to deliver with dispute resolution support only being offered for hourly jobs. Elance and Guru score on this point versus the other two sites. Freelancer also offers limited arbitration support. The one aspect about Freelancer that made me uncomfortable was that the website prominently displays ‘ Only pay if you are 100% satisfied with the job done’, which I think leaves the freelance writer on a weaker wicket.

Overall the chances of bagging a writing project are higher on oDesk.  But in terms of payment guarantee and dispute support, Elance and Guru are better.  Elance is better in terms of per job transaction fee. In my personal experience, Elance offers higher paying  projects in the writing category  and since I prefer working on fixed price projects versus hourly jobs,  Elance works better for me (than oDesk) as it offers Escrow payment and arbitration service.

Now that you have all the facts in front , choose the website that best works for you! All the best!