Prior to establishing my own copywriting business, I operated as a freelance contractor. The site on which I had the most success was oDesk. In contrast, Elance and other sites were overrun with low-quality copywriters battling ruthlessly for low-paid work (think $2 for 1,000 words, which is a disgraceful rate). Despite oDesk’s superior offering for reputable contractors, I noticed that writers were forced to be unnecessarily apologetic and overly cautious.
The Fundamental Flaw with oDesk
At the very core of oDesk lies a fundamental flaw: Inadequate communication. For any of you that have had direct experience with applying for jobs on oDesk, you will notice that most jobs provide limited information on which applicants can base their pitch. This makes life incredibly tough for contractors that like to tailor their pitches, and it can undermine the efforts of the contractor that eventually wins the job. These problems arise from a system that unconsciously encourages poor communication and a subsequent lack of clarity.
Hourly Rates vs. Fixed Rates
Imagine a very shoddy seesaw and you will instantly form an accurate picture of hourly-rate jobs versus those with fixed rates. There is a litany issues that conflict with one another, and the entire system should be altered.
In short, hourly work will offer you the security of guaranteed payment at the end of the workweek – fixed rate will not.
No Escrow System?
Escrow payments would completely iron-out the issue of fixed rate payments. oDesk could set the money aside until the successful conclusion of a job. At present, contractors can ask for a percentage of the fee up front, but would you risk asking for 50 per cent in advance?
Hourly Payment Tiers?
oDesk has a ghastly three-tiered system that starts at beginner, rises to intermediate, and finishes with experts. However, contractors never stick to these tiers and cause many contractors much of their own time while searching work.
The problem here is that oDesk users are safer applying through hourly bids because they can receive guaranteed payments each week. But, in reality, fixed rates make much more sense because contractors know exactly where they stand and won’t be at risk of wasting an application by over-valuing their pitch. The deeply flawed three-tier categorisation of hourly payments simply doesn’t work. Basically, clients simply don’t understand, with many wanting an expert but unwilling to pay over $20 an hour. Somewhere in this mess lies a superior solution.
Misleading Jobs and Communication
If I had a dollar for every recycled job description on oDesk, I would be a very rich man. oDesk seems to do little to help clients put together an effective job description that accurately communicates what they need. The end result is that the contractors suffer because they are forced into mistakes that aren’t even their fault, leaving them having to refund hard-earned money to avoid having their ratings damaged). Those mistakes typically arise from subpar instructions and lack of communication from the client. An experienced writer didn’t get to where they today are by misinterpreting instructions.
A Sub 4.5-Rating is the Kiss of Death
And the above point leads us to the bane of oDesk users’ existence: Protecting their ratings. Think about this for a second: How many 3-star, 4-star, or 5-star hotels have you ever stayed at? Well, even average contractors on oDesk are forced to strive for a user rating of above 4.5, otherwise the work will be very hard to come by. Fall below 4.5 or even 4 and you will be better off trying to find gold instead of writing work.
Lack of Differentiation in Ratings
The rating system is catastrophically flawed. Think back to the hotel example, because there is a clear gulf in quality between 3-star and 5-star establishments. This is a huge issue with oDesk, as high-priced international writers can be lumped into the same rating category as those that churn out 50,000 words a week for pennies. Provided that those users deliver on time, they can’t fail to command an impressive rating, and that is absurd.
Don’t Stop Apologising
No writer on oDesk is going to be able to avoid the instances when poor communication, which isn’t even their fault, comes back to torpedo their project. A client will inevitably complain about work, and it could be great work, forcing you to whimper as you try to apologise your way to resolution, all the while trying to keep your rating above 4.5. But when a client is unhappy, they will do considerable damage by rating you with threes across the aboard, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. All of that hard work that came before will count for naught once you slide under 4.5.
The Rise of Digital Nomads
oDesk recently unveiled research outlining that 74 per cent of professionals have made a change to in order to diminish ties to a physical workplace. As professionals, we are all playing into the hands of oDesk, as most of us will need sites like that to find work. However, I would ask you to consider the pressure and long-term stress of maintaining a successful oDesk account. You really are at the mercy of potentially uncommunicative and difficult clients, and oDesk certainly won’t protect you from the fallout.
Thankfully, I have had numerous positive experiences (and still maintain a 4.5+ account), but I do feel relieved to be running my own business now, free from constant apologising and fear. (Photo credit to butupa)
By Mike Porter