How to Make oDesk Work For You

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.

Image representing oDesk as depicted in CrunchBase

oDesk Tips and Tricks

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.

I’ve written a one year update (click to read)!

*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.

SolutionFill 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!

SolutionIf 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.

SolutionOnly 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.

Freelance Writer for Hire

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).

7. Practice writing kick-ass cover letters. (Some tips: oDesk guide to Cover Letters, and an eZine article on oDesk Cover Letters.)

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.

+Rachael Cleveland

Rachael Cleveland is a freelance blogger and content writer, who beats up sadness and eats crappy blogs for breakfast. Rachael is paid to help people de-stress and simplify their blogs and lives, and that makes her incredibly happy. Currently, she lives across the water from Seattle, but grew up around the world as a military brat.

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  • Duncan

    Thanks for all that advice. I’m looking at using oDesk to get a little money on the side through design and was daunted by stories of low pay, bad communication and whatnot.

    I’m going to take a look and sign myself up since reading your article. I feel a bit more prepared. Thanks.

    • Rachael

      Thanks for the read! I do not have experience using oDesk for anything other than freelance writing, but it IS possible to achieve some success. Hopefully these tips will help you. It can take some time, and you might want to consider using another site (like Elance and Guru) in the meanwhile. Everyone seems to have one site in particular that helps them the best!

      I wish you the best of luck, Duncan! Please let me know if you have any questions or need help at any time. :)

  • Patrick

    Long, long ago on a computer far far away, I started out with Odesk too. I then upgraded to Elance as soon as my portfolio allowed and the difference is remarkable. You still see junk projects on Elance, but the level of clients and their professionalism is much higher. They’re also more willing to pay an actual liveable rate to capable freelance writers. I’ve even found some of my best recurring clients here. Even so, I only log on here to fill out dead time if my regular clients aren’t giving me work.

    I do go back to Odesk once in a while, just to skim for interesting jobs or if I get invited to a fun project (my Odesk profile seems to have driftedtowards the videogaming niche for some reason).

    • Rachael

      That’s awesome, Patrick! Perhaps I am still at that intermediary stage where oDesk works and Elance doesn’t. I’m glad you found the right place for you. Do you read a lot of slack about bidding sites like I do?

  • Patrick

    Well, I found that whatever works for Odesk usually works for Elance: well-written and thorough proposals, good samples, and fast response time. It’s just that the competition is a little fiercer and you have to be more confident in your rates and the value you deliver. It’s a lost cause in Odesk because everyone’s looking for a bargain, but if you can walk the walk then you’ll find decent Elance clients (its not an easy or fast process, but it does work).

    Bidding sites do have a lot of haters, and I can understand why. Just finding jobs is slow and time consuming, and the jobs you pick up are usually worth just enough to pay back the amount of time you spent trawling through Odesk in the first place. But for those without any alternatives/just starting out/with free time between clients, sites like these are a good way to keep money flowing in.

    • Rachael

      Patrick, I agree, and your words have been chewing through my mind for the past few days. I even logged back in to Elance to check for jobs there. Although I haven’t found anything I wanted to apply for right away, I’m going to keep my eyes peeled over there thanks to you. Great advice!

  • Linda Bradshaw

    Why oh why, if Odesk is so horrible, are you promoting them and encouraging bloggers to sign up with them? There ARE other companies out there that will pay REAL bloggers with GOOD content REAL money! Are your blogs so terrible that they have PR0? Companies like Odesk should be shunned by “good” bloggers – they are the equivalent of large corporations outsourcing American jobs overseas for pennies on the dollars!

    • Rachael

      Thanks for your comment, Linda. I understand what you’re saying. For me, oDesk is a completely worthwhile endeavor. It was one of the few places I found work when I first started writing, and it is a great place for other beginners to get some skills. I work with many US-based companies, mostly small businesses, in need of quality content, and they pay me very healthy rates to do so.

  • Bailey

    Point one. You really hit the nail on the head with that one. For every listing that I have applied for, I scoped out the “competition”, and found that it was mostly Indian, and Filipino contractors who had either worked previously with the client, OR had beat me out for the contract.

    It is a little disappointing, but I’ve just started out, and apparently the average “oDesker” has at least 60 rejections, before someone hires them, so I’ll take it as hazing, and be on my way.

    Thank you so much for the tips, and I have already augmented my profile accordingly.

    • Rachael Cleveland

      Bailey, I’m so glad these tips were helpful! oDesk definitely is a beast of a site, but it can be worth it if you’re open to digging. Fortunately, all of those cover letters tend to teach you the ins and outs of writing a successful one. I don’t know if I applied to 60 for each job I earned, but it was definitely more than 10. I sincerely wish you good luck with this endeavor!

  • unnouinceput

    Oh, I’m sorry to dissappoint you BUT IT’s INTERNET. People DO get by with $3/hour and give perfect outcome to the project they are hired. Not everyone is living in US, you know. So suck it up and either become faster or maybe go politics. You get better payment when you decide what country US should do the war on. After all, the companies that are involved in Afghanistan and Iraq are making billions each year

    • Rachael

      I appreciate your thoughts and input. Thanks for reading!

  • Pingback: One Year Later: An oDesk Review - Rachael M Cleveland

  • hitmeasap

    Have you tried SEOClerks Want to trade & Want to buy Section?? It’s way better than Odesk imho.

    • Joe

      Agreed. The jobs at SEOClerks are fast and easy ways to make money compared to the bloat of Odesk.

      • Rachael Cleveland

        I’ll have to try that out! I walked away from oDesk, as discussed in a later post, but still like having access to job postings. Thanks, guys!

    • Rachael Cleveland

      Thanks for the tip! Will definitely check out!

  • Fayz Mohammed

    HEy..Thanks for the TIP..I am hoping to follow them as I am a newbie in this field…

    • Rachael Cleveland

      You’re very welcome! I hope they help.

  • loot lo india ko saalo

    cool tips even for people who are not content writer

  • almost-free-of-charge

    Now, if I were very disciplined I would put the timer on right now and hit the keyboard while subliminally noticing the increasing rate of my heart beat.

    I think what impresses me most, and not for the first time I might add about Oh-desk!, is the quality of English in the advertised jobs there.

    All potential employers ask for a minimum above average standard of English and yet their own descriptions do not at all necessarily reflect that. Well, of course, I hear you say. They don’t have to because they’re the ones offering the work. Moot point. You can demote me to lieutenant if it be your wish.

    My Einsteinien light bulb has just lit up. Aha! Maybe that’s precisely the point. This is exactly the reason why they are looking for competent writers.

    And now I wish I had started that stopwatch running.

  • rachele92

    Recently I was extremely low on cash and debts were eating me from all sides! That was UNTIL I decided to make money on the internet! I went to surveymoneymaker dot net, and started filling in surveys for cash, and surely I’ve been far more able to pay my bills! I’m so glad, I did this! With all the financial stress these years, I really hope all of you will give it a chance. – j57l