I am a web designer/developer in the US and I am very interested in obtaining freelance work via the Internet. However, sites such as ODesk and Elance seem unfavorable to freelancers who need to charge more than just two or three dollars an hour in order to even justify the time. Is there something I am missing that would allow me to be competitive and still earn enough money to make it worthwhile?
My advice: do not waste your time on freelance sites once you are a competent developer. I've been on Elance for 3 years, year on freelancer before that, year on rentacoder before that. Not once have I been in a stable financial position or earned over $25k/year as a sole freelancer. To note, I have MAX ratings on all these sites, over 300 projects to my name.
I have since outsourced work to someone else and I hire this dev on almost every project, like a psuedo-team mate. This is just so that I can take on larger projects, but it still hasn't helped much.
Best project I've secured so far is $18k, while av. for my level in employment is $60-80k/yr, other web shops (away from freelance websites) are charging upwards of $3k/wk per dev!
I have never ever ever regretted anything more in my life than wasting years of my career on Elance! Worst thing is, the clients you meet who refer you to other clients are usually only interested in cheap/affordable work too! You will never get paid what you're worth.
I'm writing this after 4 years freelancing, without a car, can't afford my own place, live with my mum, been up for nearly 32 hours working my ass off, fingers cramping..seriously..you do NOT want to be in this position. Do yourself a favor, and pretend these freelancing sites don't even exist.
Build a portfolio on your own domain, start a blog, network (linkedin), get involved with the community you're targeting (startups, for eg) and build a business. Don't build a freelance profile and pretend it is any kind of sustainable business model.
I am not sure about sites aimed at developers but you might look at designer-oriented sites like Behance.net, authenticjobs, smashingmagazine, etc. as they often have front-end developer positions and many US firms looking for local talent. Don't be discouraged, I think many firms prefer the proximity of local talent in spite of the higher costs.
Neither oDesk nor Elance charges by fixed fees, but a percentage. About 10% should be fair. It also has nothing to do with anyone's competitiveness as every one is facing the same. Yes, there are lots of low quotations there, but not all project owners will pick the low ones, and not all bidders can provide quality work. You can pick some good ones (the owner knows his stuff) and try some bids to see if this working style fits you.