Adventures in Freelancing: oDesk

Today on Kathleen’s Adventures in Freelancing, I share some things I’ve learned as a virtual work virgin in the last couple months.

I signed up on oDesk in the last couple months, in the hopes of finding supplementary income. I am learning about being a virtual worker without having to earn a degree in it. I am getting exposed to software and other people who work in things I knew nothing about before, and those two things are PRICELESS and I am loving that.

SPOILERS/LET’S GET REAL: If you haven’t yet or were thinking about diving into online work, please be advised that these platforms probably aren’t a great idea to fund your wedding in 6 months, save for college next year, or other short term strategy to raise fat cash.

This is a slow burn. For a writer, it’s yet another delayed gratification income stream. That’s not bad, it’s just I am still adjusting from being a long-time “wage-monogamous” (so to speak) employee.

I’ll go ahead and warn you I am snarky with some of my commentary below. Now, on with the show.

I signed up on oDesk. After passing 4-5 multiple-choice writing-related tests (this is not the best determination of writing skills, mind you), I earned a 20+ job application limit per day. Unfortunately, after 2-3 hours of filtering through ads for work any given day, I can typically apply for maybe five legit jobs, tops. I wouldn’t suggest getting on there daily and spending hours scanning their ads. It will feel like a lot of lost time. It does for me, anyway.

Here are some reasons why:

  • PORTFOLIO LINK FRUSTRATIONS: oDesk has relationships with some portfolio sites, but not all of them. I am a writer, I have profiles at contently.com, clippings.me, and slideshows on my blogs. oDesk has a relationship with LinkedIn and Behance, but not Contently or Clippings. Behance is great for graphic designers, web designers, photographers, videographers, and other visual artists, however, they are not a one size fits all (OSFA) creative work showcase site. There’s a wide array of workers out there, oDesk, try to meet more of them halfway.
  • REAL-WORLD EXPERIENCE THAT DOESN’T TRANSLATE QUICKLY TO THE VIRTUAL WORLD: I have years of real-world experience, but I am new to oDesk. I make a point to put this information in my profile and every one my cover letters. A lot of employers on oDesk want seasoned oDeskers. They point-blank tell you they are discriminating against the newbies. Seasoned oDeskers have 4.5 stars, lots of positive commentary, lots of happy clients, lots of high test scores. I don’t blame any employer for wanting any and all of those things, but I suspect, like me, there are perfectly qualified people are out there getting brushed off for simply being new to this virtual neighborhood. I only apply if I know I could do the job; I want the work and need the feedback to build my profile. I think you should be able to get points for writing coherent applications so people can see your skills, energy and commitment in lieu of happy clients. Big picture, skills and quality performance should win out, not seniority on the platform, so I hope that’s what oDesk plans to work toward.
  • LOTS OF JOBS, NOT LOOKING FOR ANYONE IN PARTICULAR: Many job listings are written poorly, sometimes with one vague line: “Need a writer now, please apply” or something to that effect. This ad is far too general to be worth responding to and I don’t think it should be “post-able” at all. If the employer can’t take the time to say what their project is, what type of writing is needed, what language, and how many hours may be needed, I (nor anyone else) can apply with a good conscience. It’s a waste of one of my limited number of applications to respond to this half-a** job post. I thought about pinging them and saying “hey if you can tell me much more about your project I may apply” but then I decided against it because I’m not their mom and they probably aren’t listening to a lowly newbie like me anyway.
  • PAYMENT FRUSTRATIONS: Many jobs are “fixed-price”, which means oDesk can’t intervene if you did the work, but then didn’t get paid for it or get any feedback because the employer’s account magically disappeared. Sorry overeager, naïve virgins, life isn’t fair. If I hadn’t had my share of getting stiffed in real-life 15 years ago, I’d get burned here too, I’m sure of it. Again, I just don’t apply. But the minutes it took to review this post are time I’m not getting back. Perhaps jobseekers could click a “report this post” button on these type listings so they are marked for deletion.
  • PAYMENT METHOD  NOT VERIFIED FRUSTRATIONS: Many jobs aren’t fixed price, but a little question mark appears to the right of the screen in 9 point pale gray type (READ: easily unnoticeable) that says “payment method not verified.” Again, I don’t apply to these. If it were my job site, you couldn’t list any work until your bank account was linked and verified. Until you can pay people and plan to pay people for work performed, you’re not an employer, in the real-world or virtual-world. oDesk should police these employers better.
  • EMPLOYERS MAY BE COLLEGE STUDENTS DELEGATING WORK: Maybe I should just write these term papers that get posted on oDesk as long as the pay is coming in, who cares? But kids getting the degree but not doing the work cheapens the degrees of every student that did do the work and truly earned their degree. Sadly cheaters and slackers don’t get a special colored degree to indicate they cheated and slacked their way through college, and will probably resort to those same tactics in the workplace. Yeah, I’m old-fashioned, I just don’t like being an accomplice to this work.
  • LONG-TERM WORK MAY BE AVAILABLE, BUT NOT COMING TO YOU EVEN IF YOU DID A GREAT JOB ON THE SAME TYPE WORK FOR THIS EMPLOYER: Many employers post separate tasks and work assignments, and find workers that worked out great for each task. Everybody’s happy, right? Only when you read a new assignment, you scroll down to see what previous workers said. Mysteriously, it doesn’t appear experienced oDesk employers sought out their former oDesk stars to do repeat business. Don’t they want to be happy all over again? I just want to forewarn new and potential oDeskers that taking a low rate because you think this is going to be a longterm relationship is something you need to be wary of. They may say there’s more work in the future, but they could be saying that just so you lowball yourself. This could be a one-night stand and it’s probably safest to approach it that way no matter what. Do the best you can regardless, and rack up the stars, but never expect a long-term partner or oDesk soulmate, so to speak.
  • LANGUAGE AND NATIONALITY FRUSTRATIONS: Many  job postings are looking for speakers of languages other than English or residents of specific Asian countries. That’s fine. Until I become a speaker of those languages or a resident of those nations, I don’t want or need to see these ads, period. On the flipside, people who do live in those countries shouldn’t have to see ads seeking native US English speakers, Americans, or countries besides their own. It’s wasted exposure. oDesk needs to let its users conduct a more filtered search based on their background and skills, and furthermore (echoing previous bullets) seeking people who can and will actually pay.
  • SEARCHING FRUSTRATIONS: If I’ve clicked the “X” to the right to not see an ad in my feed, users need to have the option to not see it again, ever. Ditto for ads more than a few days old or ones with too many applicants or already interviewing “finalists.” I could be your dream applicant, but if I am too darn late to the apply, no one cares.
  • CHARGING FRUSTRATIONS: What a user charges on oDesk usually does not correspond to what he/she would charge in real-life, at least not at first. Typically, the user is lowballing his/her rates to get their profile noticed and get work and feedback. As the user applies for jobs, he/she adjusts his/her rate accordingly. I am not publicizing my profile on oDesk until I am charging more, which kind of makes the whole process seem like a wasted effort early on. I don’t think it is long-term.
  • OTHER PLATFORMS: I’ve signed up on other platforms. Elance expects me to pay if I wish to apply in multiple categories of work, which I think stinks when I’m a writer who simply wants to be available to type things for other people if they need it. Maybe the answer is to just offer admin first, they foray into writing on their site.  I also signed up on TaskArmy and have yet to hear from anyone about writing articles of various lengths.

When I hit snags in the freelance or virtual economy, it’s easy to reminisce about what it was like back in the old days of reporting to an office for a 9-5.

But really, it was just the steadier, higher pay that was better. The rest was limiting and frustrating. I had to dress up, look cute, and commute daily and sit in some insane traffic jams with hundreds of other people every day of the week doing the same things. I wasn’t paid for the time it took to do any of that primp, prep, and travel. Yes I was paid for the hours spent in the office, but there were wasted hours being onsite and being available but waiting on others, information from others, or paperwork processing. In government, what should take an hour can take weeks. And if its December, the people you need approval from are off for the rest of the year and you’re at work with almost nothing to do in the interim. UGH!UGH!UGH! And then there’s all the theatrics and mind games of getting along with your officemates, which really sucked during periods of downtime. I definitely don’t miss petty office dramas that were the norm in white-collar jobs. If I had to go back to work I’d take blue collar work or temp work. Why? Because let’s work or let’s go home cause there’s no work to do.

Nowadays downtime with one client means I can maximize my time in so many ways. I can look for other work, read a book to improve my game, take a walk outside, take a drive, go to a lunch lecture (which never was possible 9-5), go to a conference (which never was possible 9-5), write a blogpost, join an online discussion. Hooray freelance work and wage polygamy.

My spouse and I hope to hit the road and work from it very soon. ‘Fingers crossed.

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