I know our quality of service is far superior, and I know that all the people (or at least 90% of the people) pitching lower prices than us won't be able to deliver an end product that will be of much benefit to the client (even if they do manage to fulfil the technical requirements).
We want to actually talk to buyers to figure out how and if we can actually help them, but most insist on us just sending a quote so they can screen everyone based on pricing before proceeding to discussions.
You've received a great deal of success from working on Elance, but as your question implies, it's time to get into the real world. Clients are all around, and they need your expertise. Take the plunge, you won't regret it.
Might I suggest a referral program? If your service and quality are above your competition there, referrals should eventually take over as your main source of business.
Think of ways to encourage that behavior without being annoying. Offer some cool kickbacks. Give out some apple watches.
IMO, those sites are nothing but a rat race to the lowest dollar. Know your value and demand it before you take on a project.
I know this question is 3 years old now, but I’m new to Clarity and thought I’d answer it anyway as I think it’s a good question.
I’ve hired many contractors on Elance (believe it's now called UpWork). If you’ve ever tried to hire a contractor for a particular task, the majority don’t even read your project requirements and send in a generic description of their business credentials.
A huge mistake as typically I care about two things:
1/ Has my project requirements been read?
2/ Is this contractor(s) capable of meeting my needs?
You mention that most buyers want a price before proceeding to discussions. If you price higher than your competitors try to avoid giving away a price until you have further information.
As long as you can demonstrate that you have read the buyer's project requirement by asking intelligent questions, then they will most likely be tempted to answer your questions and engage in a dialogue giving you a higher chance of winning the project.
That is how my hiring process on freelancing sites always went. I would usually end up having an in-depth conversation with 2-3 contractors and selecting the one I felt could meet my needs.
In your question, you mentioned that price/timeframe are the primary criteria buyers use. I would also add reviews and the contractor demonstrating they understand my needs are also important factors.
I rarely went for the cheapest/fastest contractor alone (although price and lead time are important factors) but the contractor that I had confidence in to do the job correctly even if it meant paying more for that peace of mind.
For a limited time I’m offering free advice for 20mins.
VIP link: https://clarity.fm/robstephens/scale323