oDesk - the good and the bad side for freelance writers

oDesk is a popular site for freelancers

I first joined oDesk some months back having heard a lot about it. As a freelance writer I am always looking for more jobs and I was told this site is a good place to look for them.

I signed up but it took me a while to pass a test you need to take before you are classified as oDesk ready. Well, finally I got through it and had filled in all my profile and portfolio details so made a start at looking for jobs.

The problem is that unless you have already worked for employers on the site and have got plenty of good feedback posted on your profile then it is very difficult to get anyone to take a chance on hiring you. I was told that at first you need to work for low amounts just to get started.

Steve Andrews looking smart

Steve Andrews/ Bard of Ely looking smart
Steve Andrews/ Bard of Ely looking smart

What oDesk offers

oDesk basically offers a site where would-be employers can advertise jobs and contractors can submit letters and bids to apply for them. There is an hourly rate and fixed wage options employers can use. The hourly rate is safer because it can be monitored and oDesk can take action against employers who do not pay up. With the fixed rate it is between you and the employer.

It is by no means limited to freelance writers though because there are plenty of jobs for website designers, graphic artists, bloggers, creative writers, reviewers, personal assistants, translators, ghost-writers, and also for voice-overs and other recorded work. The turnover of jobs being posted is very fast and there are hundreds of jobs advertised.

There are clearly marked jobs boards and also forums where both employers and contractors can post threads and comments.

As a contractor you can create a profile and portfolio where you can show off your talents and any past work you have done. This is where you help convince employers to take you on instead of all the other applicants.

In the profile section there is a space where employers can offer feedback and rate how well or how badly they think you performed with whatever the work was you did for them. You get the chance to return the feedback and ratings for the employer too.

It is possible to take all sorts of tests in languages, ability to proof-read, creative writing, graphic and web design etc, and you can display the results afterwards, or hide them if you don't get a good result.

The good side and the bad side

The good side of oDesk is that once you have got through the procedure of getting set up and passed the oDesk readiness test there are plenty of jobs to apply for, and there is ready money available. Fellow hubber Sufidreamer has been using the site for some time and he has managed to get some good jobs out of it. One of the best I have had there was reviewing a self-published book for $30.

The admin and Support team for oDesk are really excellent too. Each time I have submitted a query it has been dealt with very promptly.

After getting that initial job you are likely to get feedback and that will encourage more employers to take you on. I must admit when I started it took me a few weeks and I was getting frustrated, especially because I had passed a number of tests with excellent results and had put a lot of examples of my work as a writer in my portfolio.

I had posted in the forums complaining about not getting any work and someone who had a look at my profile complimented me by saying it was one of the best they had seen and the employers should be queueing up to offer me work! This was very encouraging but I still had to apply for a lot of jobs and accept a very low rate of pay.

That is the bad side of oDesk: most employers there are offering a pittance of a wage and what can best be described as slave labour online. Some of the adverts are an insult to professional writers because they are asking ridiculous amounts of work for very small amounts of pay. I have seen ads wanting writers at $1 an hour or worse and stating that unless you are prepared to work for this amount don't bother applying.

Sadly many people from poor countries do apply for these jobs. Many of the employers specify "Filipinos only need apply." It gave me a real taste of how poor many people really are out there and how desperate these people are to get work and earn money.

The next problem I encountered is that the employers often cannot write or speak very good English themselves, and yet they have the nerve to criticise what you have done and ask for rewrites and make suggestions even when they are only paying some small amount like $6 an hour. Some do not explain what they want properly either so it becomes a matter of guesswork.

One of the worst jobs I had was some guy who wanted a bio for his client a singer and songwriter done. I got taken on easily enough because they could see I have had a lot of success in music and knew what I was talking about. However, I then discovered that the artist I had to write about hadn't even decided on what name he wanted to be known as plus he was unable to give me any useful information such as gigs he had played, or name drop any famous people he was associated with. I said could he give me any magazines you have been in, recommendations from people in the music business, radio stations that have been playing your songs etc but got nothing really in response. There was nothing special about the songs anyway - just typical hip-hop style material - and it seemed to me that I was dealing with an unsigned novice with very big dreams but no idea how to achieve them .

I had already pointed out to my employer and his client that it was important to choose a name well because many acts such as Elton John, Marc Bolan, Cliff Richard and The Stereophonics became famous after they did this. They agreed with me that this made a lot of sense.

Weeks of time went by with an interchange of emails in which I was giving my advice for free before I got to start to writing the bio. I mailed it to both the employer and the singer and then heard no more. I then got worried I was being ripped off. Finally I got a reply from the employer saying his client wasn't happy with it so they had tried some other writers and they were no good too so in the end the singer had written his own bio. Because of the work I had done I was told I would get paid $5 anyway.

Of course I accepted it but I felt like I had been dealing with idiots who hadn't a clue about the real music business and an average singer with a massive ego if he really thought he was the next big thing with what he had recorded!

I also worked at a low rate for a magazine in Asia and that was OK getting started and to get some feedback, but they contacted me again privately and asked me to do two more articles for which I would be paid the same rates. Although I was given very poor instructions as to what was wanted one of the articles even after a rewrite was deemed not what they wanted.

I have yet to find an employer on oDesk that will pay me anywhere near as much as professional rates I have had from other publications but I have made some income from the site. I know that Sufidreamer and others have had much better luck there so it is possible to get good pay.

My advice is that oDesk is fine to look for work but be prepared to wait a while to find any and to watch out for the sort of situations I have described.

Update

Since I published this hub I have decided that the bad points about oDesk far outweigh its good and have not visited or used the site for several months. Most of the employers are offering slave labour pay for our work and my answer to this is to not accept.

The rates of pay are an insult to anyone who is any good as a writer or other profession that can look for work on the site. I have also been approached by employers but have not accepted their offers. Until rates of pay go up a lot I will not be using oDesk.

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Comments 45 comments

lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

The global sweatshop... I have seen some of their ads and ran away. Some of the rates worked out to less than .01/word. Good write-up. Lynda


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, I have just started on a site like this called Myams.net, you have articles that you pick and you can start with a 300 one, and that will pay you 2 dollars! but it only takes ten minutes, and you don't have to know a lot about the product only make sure you add the keywords! I will have to see how it goes!


queen cleopatra profile image

queen cleopatra 5 years ago

"My advice is that oDesk is fine to look for work but be prepared to wait a while to find any and to watch out for the sort of situations I have described."

Mr. Bard of Ely, these are golden words. And so very true. Since oDesk is a market, expect to find some haggling. lol

Seriously, focusing enough time and genuine interest to your oDesk endeavors will bear long lasting fruits for your career.

Thank you for such a shining hub about oDesk! It made my day today! :D


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for your comments, Lynda, Nell and Queen Cleopatra!


Julie 5 years ago

Hi Steve,

As you know, I am an Odesker. In the interests of fairness - especially given the first comment you received there - I'd just like to reiterate your point that Odesk works out better for some than others. I have regular work there and I feel fairly paid for it.

As an international community Odesk does attract some cheap-skate employers who are happy to exploit people willing to work for $1 an hour. That wouldn't feed my rabbit so it goes without saying that I am not working for those kind of employers on Odesk.

There is also another way to look at it. The screensnap utility on Odesk enables you to work for employers all over the world on an hourly basis. I have both received work directly on Odesk and have invited employers to join Odesk for ease of admin and accounts.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Hi Julie! Thanks for your comments and yes, that is a good point you make about the screensnap utility. I just wish I could find more proper jobs on the site! I have this year had two paid jobs not found at oDesk at 250GBP a time for long articles but at oDesk I could get $25 for the same amount and quality of writing! I recently got paid €50 for writing a 600 word hub about a Tenerife business and that is the sort of work I like. When I look at the latest jobs they are nearly all at ridiculous rates and I just wish I could get some of the ones for a decent rate of pay now I have established myself on there.


Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 5 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Good Hub, Steve - That sounds like a pretty typical start for a freelance writer on oDesk! I haven't worked on there for a while, so I am not up to date with the latest rates - I hope that there are still a few good assignments on the boards.

One little tip is to develop a niche and try to become a 'go to' guy - I used to go for academic work, for which you can charge a higher rate. Your experience as a musician and traveller may well be good starting points.

Best of luck and I hope that it gets better - with the recent Google changes causing a drop in income, I might have to start looking on there again!


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thanks for your comments and advice, Sufi!


DaveL profile image

DaveL 5 years ago from UK

I regularly employ Freelance writers and find you get what you pay for. As enticing and good value as finding cheap overseas writers is, in my experience the quality is never good. Most of the info is badly paraphrased from other online articles, which is bad for the site's SEO. The readability is often dicey and simplistic, and there's little personality in the work.

It's been a long time since I've used anyone like that, and to be honest, I won't in future as I think it rubs the readers up the wrong way too. There's no substitute for local knowledge and understanding of the culture.

Unfortunately there are too many out there who are happy to put up 3rd and 4th rate content which costs next to nothing, because as we all know - content is what Google wants and why there's so many cruddy scraper, low grade adsense sites on the web.

If you're looking for more freelance stuff, word of mouth is often the best way to get it. My current freelancers are there either from word of mouth or because I'm aware of their skills as a writer. Drop us a line with some of your pricing and areas of expertise, I may be able to send a couple of interested parties your way.


Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 5 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Cheers, Steve - another thing I just remembered (after posting on Sunforged's Hub) is that it is a good idea to buy a domain name and set up your own freelance writing site, because you can charge higher rates privately. Even if you just throw up a couple of pages until you have more time, it will give the search engines something to get their teeth into. :)

Good post from the other side of the equation, Dave - I liked the point about 'personality.' That is my main selling point as a writer, and I think the same applies to Steve - his warm personality shines through in his articles :)


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for your feedback as an employer,DaveL! I have seen no end of the sort of work you describe. I thank you too for your offer and will be in touch!


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thanks for posting again, Sufi! I had a wonderful bardofely.com site when I was back in the UK but lost it because it was hosted by ntlworld. I learned from that site though that unless you got the traffic it didn't much matter how high the quality was of what I had there. I hope to get another personal site going again but in the meantime have been using hubpages as my main site to showcase my work on and earn a bit while I do so.


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Impressive writing as always - I am just learning about all the places that offer these free lance jobs - I am surprised at how little pay they want to give you all for the creativity and entertainment that you give back! I also read all the comments and picked up some interesting bits there as well! Thank you for the info!


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thanks as always for posting, RealHousewife!


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Thanks as always for giving me something interesting to read while I sip my coffee:-)!


Sophia Angelique 5 years ago

I don't like any of these sites because writers have to compete against each other and that means it's an employer's market. Worse, because there are so many writers, and many writers are prepared to work for pittance, the odds are that one is never really going to earn a decent wage from these sites. In major magazines, one earns between $1 and $2 per word. There the work lasts only as long as the life of the edition. On the web, the lifespan of the article is - for life! :)


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for your feedback too, Sophia! I agree with what you are saying but sadly it is very difficult to get regular work in major magazines, which is why in my case I can go from 250GBP for such a publication to a pathetic $25 at oDesk and it is very depressing, and it doesn't make much difference whether someone says my profile should have employers queueing up or not if they are not doing so!


Sophia Angelique 5 years ago

@Bard. I spoke to several writers in LA about 3 years back about what was happening. They worked for major publications and they were compelled to take enormous salary cuts. I also spoke to the manager of one of the TV stations in San Diego. He said that writing jobs had dropped 30% in three years and that the major TV stations had dropped their news writers - and if one was competing against writers like that, one might as well forget it. I don't know what the answers are but I personally believe that we're back to a feudal system by another name.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I don't know what the answers are either! As for the "feudal system" conspiracy theorists would agree that that was part of the game plan of the elite who run the show!


gajanis786 profile image

gajanis786 5 years ago

It is indeed a fact that some of the Odesk assignments are very cheaply paid ones which can only attract people needing that type of income......there is another such site elance.com which offer such tit bit jobs for the freelancers.....


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Yes, there are loads of places where you can work for a pittance or nothing but I am not going to!


Sophia Angelique 5 years ago

@Bard. We are agreed on that. If I am to work for a pittance, it will, at least, be my own pittance! I'm not making someone else rich at my expense. Huffington made all her writers work for nothing and now she has sold the Huffington Post for millions! And none of the writers got a blue bean for it.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

There's a newspaper I have written for in the past for money but they no longer will pay me so I said I am not writing for nothing! It seems to be a trend! Who do these people think they are and why should we work to make money for them?


Sophia Angelique 5 years ago

Americans are taught at school and at university that if they want a job, they must prove their ability first and that the way to do it is to work for nothing. Business people are taught that if they want to make a lot of profit, one of the major ways is to get people to work for you for nothing. Writers are taught to believe that a byline will gain them attention. The truth is that an experienced editor will read through two paragraphs of your writing and it will tell him whether you can write or not. That's the way it was done in the old days. Many people write for nothing because they think it will lead somewhere. Yes, it does - it makes the people they write for rich!


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Tenerife has a lot of business people and some of those that make a lot of money in the media business expect writers to work for nothing as I have found out but I won't do it! In my time I have done far too many gigs for nothing and written far too much for nothing but praise but praise does not pay the rent!


Literary Geisha profile image

Literary Geisha 5 years ago from Philippines

voted up and useful. didn't know you and sufidreamer were hubbers, would have been your fans earlier than today. :)


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you, Literary Geisha!


teresa8go profile image

teresa8go 5 years ago from Michigan, USA

I'm glad you wrote this hub. And I love reading all the comments.

"As for the "feudal system" conspiracy theorists would agree that that was part of the game plan of the elite who run the show!"

While I do believe this to be true the question remains is what we can do about it? The only solution I have ever heard of is to become an entrepreneur. Yet how many of us can actually do that?


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

It's not easy, Teresa, as my efforts have led me to find but some people succeed so I know it is possible!


PaulGoodman67 profile image

PaulGoodman67 5 years ago from Florida USA

Useful and very interesting read, Bard. Thanks for posting this hub.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

You are welcome!


Express10 profile image

Express10 4 years ago from East Coast

Very useful Hub. My worst experience on ODesk was my very first project. I was then hired for a second project with a different client and that went well. Then the second client invited me to do another project for which he quickly published (online) the 1st of the 8 articles I wrote and has yet to pay me anything. Even if I post the articles, it will only help him as multiple articles for sales of a relationship how to series. He stopped responding 6 days ago and this makes me 1 for 3. Never had these issues on ELance.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 4 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I have given up bothering with the site. Thanks for posting!


Arien 4 years ago

I have to say... you hit the nail right on the head.

Getting paid 1USD per hour and sometimes 1USD for every 500 words is really insulting. 1USD is about 43 Philippine Pesos. It does not even let you buy a burger.

In my case, I've been contacted by many employers offering me 1USD per hour. Probably because I'm Filipino.

It's really insulting and very discouraging.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 4 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I haven't bothered using the site for many months. It is crazy and as you say "insulting."


Ceres Schwarz profile image

Ceres Schwarz 2 years ago

oDesk sounds very discouraging. People shouldn't have to work for such very low pay. And it also appears that it even takes quite some time to really get started on oDesk. But what about Elance? I heard that this was similar to oDesk. Have you tried Elance? Do you think it's better than oDesk?


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 2 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I have tried Elance and not bothered with it for some while. I had very little luck there either. It is there if you want to work for very low wages but who does? You might be lucky but I haven't been after putting in a lot of work passing tests and building up my profile.


wabond profile image

wabond 2 years ago from England

It seems the problem is that there is too many people who will write for nothing, who are only interested in people reading what they have written. The only writers who seem to make money are journalists and successful fiction writers.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 2 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

A big part of the problem, William, is that there are vast numbers of people from the Philippines, for example, who have a very different standard of cost of living and so for them what is a pittance to you and I is decent money for them. So these people are naturally taking on these jobs at low rates. I have come badly unstuck by being in a country where the cost of living is high but having to look in an online market for jobs that pay very little but with plenty of rivals for this work who will accept these rates.


wabond profile image

wabond 2 years ago from England

I suppose that is what is called globalisation, Bard. Great for the employers, not so good for the employees.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 2 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

It is certainly no good for me and yet more evidence, not that we need any, of what an insane and corrupt world this is!


youngblaze 2 years ago

I prefer using SEOClerks instead of Odesk. It's much easier and i love their services. Have you heard of it? You can google it, they are far reliable.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 2 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I have not heard of it until today so thanks for letting me know!


sbuatte profile image

sbuatte 2 years ago from Marissa, IL

I'm trying oDesk, now. I'm finding the same issues as you. I just wrote a hub on it, as well.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 2 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Good luck there, though I haven't been back!

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