If you’re looking to hire freelancers (or rather, online 'elancers') getting to know popular websites for finding them is a must.

Elance and Odesk have quickly become two hot places for companies to hook up with freelancers. This has, predictably, led people to wonder which one is better. As is often the case, it is hard to determine which is “best.” It is, however, possible to look at the pros and cons and decide which one best fits your business’s needs.


Elance was founded in 1999 in Mountain View, California. Its name has become synonymous with online freelancing, lending its name to the practice as a neologism. Some of the positives of using Elance include:

  • You can maintain as many different profiles as you'd like with no limit.
  • Elance pioneered the field of elancing, so it has longer to work out the kinks and also has a deeper client base.
  • Potential employers have greater access to the previous work of their potential contractors.
  • Freelancers are allowed a certain number of free bids every month.
  • Elance handles all payment for freelancers, greatly reducing the risk of never getting paid.
  • Freelancers can receive direct bids from clients after submitting a portfolio.
  • Elance takes a smaller percentage of freelancer earnings than top competitor Odesk.

However, Elance is not without its drawbacks. Potential downsides of Elance include:

  • Freelancers have to foot the bill for a one-time sign up fee of $10.
  • Elance also charges monthly fees of between $10 and $40 for any part of its service that’s worth using.
  • New profiles are not activated immediately, meaning that you must wait before you can start applying for new jobs and hearing from prospective clients.


Odesk is the main competitor of Elance. The company was founded in 2003 in Campbell, California, but is currently headquartered in Redwood City. Some attractive features of Odesk include:

  • Employers can manage freelancer progress and time spent on task.
  • There are no up front costs for freelancers -- no paid membership is required.
  • Employers likewise do not have to pay to use the service.
  • You can register your profile in as many skills and categories as you like.
  • Odesk will keep track of your work for you, ensuring that you get paid for everything that you do.

Those with privacy concerns would do well to steer clear of ODesk.

Elance vs. Odesk

While both Elance and Odesk have their pros and cons it remains to be seen if they are truly a new way of doing business or just a flash in the pan. You can be just as successful connecting directly with a freelancer through job boards like Craigslist. Intermediaries like Elance and Odesk don’t yet seem to offer anything that direct links don’t, although they may offer competitive pricing. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide which approach is a better fit for your business.