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
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.
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.