The Inconveniences of oDesk
In my previous blog post, I wrote about my experiences on oDesk, and what worked for me to be able to get a relatively steady stream of clients. As I mentioned, oDesk seems to have a less-than-stellar reputation, particularly among software developers. But as I've been able to discover, it's also a place where you can get good gigs if you work on it (and, of course, are able to provide great work).
However, it's not all rainbows and unicorns on the oDesk platform. While I have experienced a lot of good things about oDesk, there are a few things that I have to deal with while working on the platform. None of these are deal-breakers for me, but I've spoken with people who don't want to use the platform because of these things, so I wanted to point out a few of these things.
If you do hourly work, you will be watched
On oDesk, there are two types of jobs: hourly work (where you get paid for the time you work) and fixed bids (where you get paid a flat fee for the work). So far, all my experiences on oDesk are for hourly gigs, since the fixed bids are typically really low (sorry, I'm not interested in creating a full AirBNB-like clone for $1000).
The drawback for jobs that pay you by the hour on oDesk is that to receive your payment, you must use their app called the oDesk Team app. This app will keep track of the time you're putting in for a specific project, and also has other extras like messaging and being able to handle multiple contracts as well.
The issue here for a few people is that they might find the required use of this app to a bit invasive, since it counts your keystrokes and mouse movements (not what you type, just how many times you pressed a key or moved your mouse). It also takes full screenshots of your entire screen at ten minute intervals.
The reasoning behind this is that the client is able to see that you're not goofing off while they're paying you. Some people might not like this, even if they are working hard. It took me a while to get used to this to not let it bother me. I haven't asked any clients about this feature, but I'm 99% sure that no one even checks this unless there's a problem, so it's more of a "cover your ass" thing to have.
I've also had an issue once where my internet at home stopped working entirely while I was working on a job that required no Internet, and about 25 minutes passed before I realized I was not logging any time on oDesk. I do have the ability to manually add any time not logged in to the app, but I didn't want to deal with it at that time to I let it go - probably something I wouldn't do now that I know better.
The app does have one major strong point - you're guaranteed payment for all the time you log in the app. So for those who have been burned in the past by a client not paying them for their work, this is definitely something to appreciate having, despite being a bit Big Brother-ish for some. I also noticed that I tend to focus more deeply on my work, knowing that there are screenshots and keystrokes and the like. It's not that I would immediately jump on Reddit or Facebook as soon as I start working, but I admit that when it's time for a break, I would stray to those sites instead of pausing the app and taking a break. It's just a small side effect that I noticed with myself.
oDesk fees can be a bit high
In case you were unaware, oDesk is not entirely free. Sure, it's free to create an account, browse jobs and post jobs too. But oDesk does take a cut of the money passed from client to freelancer - 10%, to be exact. So it the client paid you $1000 for a gig, oDesk is going to keep $100 of that and send you the rest of the $900. And this doesn't even count things like paying taxes for that earned income (I don't know why I continue living in states with the highest taxes...).
Just about everyone I spoke do thinks this is too high. oDesk does have to make money and they're providing an otherwise free platform, so I'm not complaining too much, but the fees can be a little bit high. I try to compensate by slightly raising my fees, depending on the work that's done, but that might put my rate out of reach for some clients.
There's also the possibility of getting the gig outside of oDesk or getting paid outside of oDesk to circumvent this fee, but this is a big no-no in their policy. If you get caught doing this in some way, your oDesk account will most likely be suspended permanently, so you decide whether this is a risk you're willing to take or not.
The land of competition
oDesk is awesome in that it provides an easy way to jump into freelancing, either as your full-time job or just trying to get some side income outside of your day job. You simply create an account and there's all these job postings and clients looking for awesome people like you. You don't have to spend time networking or getting referrals on your own. It's awesome that it's this easy!
However, as easy as it is for you, it's also easy for just about everyone else, meaning that there's a lot of competing bids for the work that you want. Not only that, you're competing with people who can afford to bid just a few dollars an hour, which you won't be able to do unless you don't have bills or rent to pay.
I've spoke with past clients and others who have posted jobs on oDesk in the past, and every single one of them mentions that it's hard for them to deal with posting on oDesk most of the time, because they have to wade through over 50 applications whenever they post a job. Even worse for them, the majority of those applications are either under-qualified for the work or have simply not read the job description and are just automatically submitting bids. It's taxing for clients to spend time on this, with the added pressure of wanting to hire someone who will provide value and not cost them more money down the road.
I have been able to deal with this issue somewhat (again, I'll point to my previous blog post for more information on this). But in my short experience on oDesk, I never receive any responses when I submit a bid on a job that already has over 30 applicants. Getting in early helps.
Haggling to the extreme!
Haggling from clients to get a lower price for your work is just about a given for this line of work. I don't think I still have gotten any gig on oDesk where the client has either made a side comment that my rates are really high (they're really not) or outright asking if I can lower my hourly rate just for them. I don't mind the haggling, but I know what I'm worth and I know how much value I can provide them so I stand firm with my pricing. There are some exceptions, but I'll write about those another time.
Even though this is a part of business, I noticed that it's much higher on oDesk than in real life. I get my fair share of invites to interview for a job on oDesk where they want to pay less than $15 per hour - despite my profile having my current rate. My main pet peeve on oDesk has been when someone posts a job indicating that they're willing to pay higher rates for more experienced freelancers, and then after reaching out to me, say that they can only afford about a fraction of what I asked for.
One thing I did notice lately is I've received a few messages from people on oDesk asking me for advice instead of hiring me for something. Now, I don't mind giving out advice on something that I know about and feel I can help with. But in all of these cases, there are people who have an idea and are essentially trying to gauge my interest to see if I would build their idea for them. I've had a few feelers in the Bay Area looking for companies in need of a CTO to build something for equity, but that is not my interest at all. I'd much less do it through oDesk, especially when it comes from a random person on the other side of the country.
Hopefully these things don't deter some people to not jump on oDesk. They are minor annoyances on a platform where you can get solid work. No platform out there is perfect, even getting work by referrals. It's all about the pros and cons of each, and I still believe that oDesk offers more pros than cons. As with everything, if you navigate the platform carefully you'll find some success. You just have to work at it.