oDesk.com is a website that brings together freelancers looking for projects to work on and buyers who need to hire such freelancers. The website features nine categories of work which include:
Networking & Information Systems
Writing & Translation (the area I use)
Design & Multimedia
Sales & Marketing
Each category is broken down into sub-categories. For example, within Business Services there is Accounting, Bookkeeping, HR/Payroll, Business Consulting, and many others. Just about any service that could conceivably be completed via the Internet is listed within oDesk, which makes it a good place for every type of freelancer and not just freelance writers such as myself.
As with any product or service, oDesk has its ups and downs. One good thing about it is that unlike many other sites which let freelance writers work online, it does not require any membership fees be paid and does not take a cut out of a writer’s earnings. Instead, the buyers who post job listings pay the 11% fee. Buyers post a listing of the job with information relevant to its completion and freelancers (who are called Providers) can sign up for an account and browse the listings for jobs they think they can successfully complete.
Of course, providers have to be able to prove that they have the credentials to be successful, and oDesk helps them out by offering 326 tests of all sorts that users can take for free. Some titles include Windows XP, U.S. English Basic Skills, HTML 4.01, Technical Writing Skills Certification, and Help Desk Certification. No matter what area you are looking to freelance in, it is highly likely that oDesk has a test you can take to prove you proficiency in it. Once you take the test, you can display the results of it in your profile. The Top 10% and Top 20% of all scores get a special badge to be displayed in the profile, and users with perfect scores get another badge in addition to this. Tests are a great way to spice up a profile to interest buyers and buyers can set specific scores on tests as criteria for their job listings.
Tests are not the only way to enhance a profile; a skills area is provided as is a portfolio. During the sign-up process, providers are highly encouraged to upload previous works that they have done that will be relevant to the listings they apply for. Skills can be typed in and an optional description can be given as well. Previous jobs can be input, and users can choose their hourly wage to be displayed in their profile.
This brings me to another point; there are two types of contracts offered via oDesk buyers; the first is for fixed price work, and the second is for hourly wage work. Fixed price work is self explanatory. Providers apply for a job and can view the buyer’s budget and then input the price that they would do the job for. A cover letter section is given with every job application and users are highly encouraged to write cover letters that are unique and captivating. Providers can also upload a sample of previous work to show the buyer, and many buyers ask for work samples.
There are a few negative things about oDesk. The biggest one is probably that you have no recourse if you do fixed work and your buyer flakes out on paying you. Those who work for hourly wages must run the oDesk Team application so that screenshots are taken of their work and cached on an hourly basis. Only one screenshot per hour is required for most jobs and four are taken per hour, so if one screenshot of you talking on a messenger or browsing Facebook accidentally slips in, you can delete it and submit a better one. Many people find this method intrusive but if you are truly staying on task with your work you should not have a problem with it and it protects the buyers which means more jobs are brought to the site. Everybody benefits!
At any rate, the hourly wage workers can file complaints with oDesk if their buyers do not pay them what was agreed to up-front and their screenshot logs prove they were doing the work outlined by the contract. Fixed rate workers have no such recourse with the only exception being buyers who can prove their providers plagiarized (which doesn’t help providers who get screwed). The best way to avoid this is to only work for buyers who have paid out money a few times already, have high ratings, and are considered trustworthy buyers by those who leave them feedback.
Because Indians and Filipinos are allowed to work via oDesk and will generally work for much less than what is considered livable wages for a US citizen, the rates on a lot of the projects are quite low. I avoid this by picking out a few well-paying fixed rate projects and making long-term relationships with buyers who will keep coming back for more. It is a strategy that has worked quite well for me; I do a few hours of work every day and put in a full day about twice per week, and I make $175 on average every week. I learned how to make the system work for me and perhaps some of you can too!