For months now, I’ve used oDesk to connect with clients. It gave me my start in the freelance writing business, and has been very good to me. In fact, I recommend it to many others who are looking to work on interesting projects and create inroads with wonderful new clients.
But, oDesk is loathed across the freelance writing community. There have been times I’ve ended searches with my head in my hands, dejected and disappointed by the lack of respectable positions.
*Be sure to scroll all the way down for the best tips to avoid becoming a scorned oDesk contractor!”
The major issues most freelance writers seem to face on oDesk are as follows:
1. Despicably low prices
2. Unreasonable expectations
3. Low-quality job listings
4. Poor communication with clients
Those are my top 4 complaints as well. Let’s talk about each individually.
1. Despicably low prices
This is probably the worst trait of oDesk and other bidding sites. I’m not exaggerating when I use the word “despicably.”
Many, many jobs on oDesk will pay about $1-3 an hour, or much less. Recently, I saw someone offering to pay $0.50 per 500 words.
I laugh; sometimes I even come close to crying. As a person with a college degree, experience, and American-sized bills, I would have to work every minute of every day to work on those sorts of rates. Seriously!
For a fast writer like me, 500 words on a topic I know moderately well should take between 20-30 minutes. Let’s err on the side of 20 minutes. That’s $1.50 an hour.
To make $1,000 a month, I’d have to work 666.7 hours. That’s 22.2 hours a day. So, if you can work non-stop, survive on 1.5 hours of sleep a night, and go without any external life at all, it might be worth it.
Plus, freelance writers are independent contractors. We pay our own taxes. Lop off about 20% of that, and send it to Uncle Sam.
There are, however, some very good projects out there. You probably won’t be able to make exactly what you want to earn right away, but you can make over $10 quite easily.
The more experience you have, the higher the rate you can ask for. Don’t bid on piddly projects; only spend your type creating perfect cover letters for highly-worthy candidates.
2. Unreasonable expectations
Much of this stems right back to the despicably low rates. Sometimes, even I feel unqualified to apply for jobs when I first start reading. They want highly-experienced writers with perfect test scores, 100% availability and flexibility, and skin decorated with precious gems.
Then you read the price: $3/hour.
For people with those qualifications and experience, they’re going to ask at least 10 times that price. That’s a given.
Really, these low prices and high expectations exist because of the huge level of outsourcing in the freelance writing business. Many clients actually ask for Filipino and Indian writers in particular, because they have high levels of education and low rates.
The quality of the outsourced work does not often compare with homegrown talent in any way; I’ve checked. The natural flow of a native English speaker cannot be replicated in translation, and American readers can tell immediately.
Still, some clients don’t care about the quality as much as they do about having words on the page.
For many US and Europe-based clients, the job expectations are very reasonable and the pricing is healthy and competitive. Those are the people who pay my bills, and make this all worthwhile.
Solution: Fill out your profile as completely as possible, and develop a portfolio immediately. Even one item in your portfolio will make a difference. This will help you look even better to potential clients, and it will show that you’re as awesome as you say you are. Plus, clients search based on the skills you note in your profile. A complete, detailed profile will draw people to you, and help you cut the fat from the process.
3. Low-quality job listings
In addition to the previous issues, so many of these projects are for unethical work. It’s called spinning, and it’s basically modified plagiarism. As long as you can rewrite content with enough separation to fight the copyright laws, you’ll get paid.
Page after page of oDesk jobs are for spinners. Once you realize that, it’s no wonder why there are such low prices and why the work can be outsourced so easily.
There are real people on there, and there are real jobs. With some sifting, you can find your own little gem!
Solution: If you see the word “spin” anywhere, close the tab. If they say they accept newbies or beginners in the title, close the tab. If there are more than 2 spelling errors in the job listing, reconsider. Open a tab for each new job that looks appealing, and come back to them in an hour or two. Close the bad ones, apply to the good ones.
4. Poor or excessive communication with clients
Unfortunately, I’ve experienced this problem a few times. Someone hires you, everything seems right, and you do your work. You send over the content/pamphlet/article/post/ebook or whatever, and hope to hear back right away (payment is always nice, too). A few days go by, then a week, then weeks. You send emails to get in touch, and hear nothing.
Meanwhile, these people have your hard-wrought work, and they could be doing absolutely anything with it. You make no money, and are out-of-luck.
You can combat that by only ever working by the hour, but some people will take fixed-price work in the beginning.
The other side of the coin: picky clients who want every detail changed to the point where you’re spending 3 or 4 times as long working on one simple project. No one is paying for those extra hours of work-time. There is a huge need to moderate quality and make sure everything you produce is up to standard; your name is on it, after all.
At a certain point, you have to know when to call it quits. This is the same for all freelance writing work, but it can be especially notable on bidding sites like oDesk.
Solution: Only bid on jobs from clients with previous work history on oDesk. If they do not have experience but seem worthy, be sure to ask a lot of questions in the cover letter. They might not understand what you need to know as a writer, because they’ve never been through the process before. If they take forever to get back to you or do not answer your questions at all, consider withdrawing your proposal.
oDesk Tips to avoid becoming a scorned contractor:
1. Read each job listing very carefully, and do not apply until you’ve had at least an hour to think it over.
2. Fill out your profile completely.
3. Don’t apply to work for someone with any negative reviews.
4. Take as many tests as you can. If you don’t do well, hide the score, study up, and take it again.
5. Research the specific type of writing as well as you can.
6. Participate in freelance writing groups and forums (I love the ones on LinkedIn).
8. Scope out the competition. Check to see who else applied, what their credentials are, and how you could set yourself apart from the pack.
9. Never let rejection get to you. Each failure is a free learning experience.
10. Live up to your promises. If you say you’ll work 20 hours a week and send out all new work on Thursday at 8:00 AM UTC, work 20 hours a week and send out all new work on Thursday at 8:00 AM UTC.
11. Spell-check all emails, and re-read them to make sure they are professional yet friendly.
12. Always assume the best. Haven’t heard back in a week? Maybe they’re just swamped. Keep that friendly face up; they get to review you at the end of the project!
13. Don’t misuse the time or money. For hourly projects, stop tracking time if you need to answer the phone, go to the bathroom, pick your nose, or get a snack. They will notice!
14. Figure out what you do really well, and market to that niche. At the beginning, it’s okay to be a little broad in your focus, but begin to narrow it down. Plus, people will love to see a past experience in related work. Who wants a social media manager who has no experience as one?
15. Come up with a decent, catchy objective. That’s the first thing a potential client sees. Don’t say you’re looking for work!
16. Strive to be friendly and conversational without being overly verbose and chatty. Show you’re a human, make a personable connection, and prove you’re amazing. It’s not as hard as it sounds, but it takes work.
17. Never, ever, ever work for free.