oDesk vs Elance: Why It’s a Battle YOU Won’t Win

On the surface, Elance and oDesk look like they’re great places for quality contractors to make money. They also seem like they’re great places for businesses to save money and get the services that they need.  Yet there are a lot of horror stories out there about these sites. In many cases, each party is having to accept “good enough” because of business necessity.  While there are quality contractors on Elance and oDesk, a lot of that is attributed to the fact that they are the biggest players in the freelance market. While comparisons of oDesk vs Elance vs Freelancer vs Guru continue to grow as the online job market has skyrocketed, we’ll delve into a couple of problems of the current freelance model and potential solutions.

oDesk vs Elance? Is there really a difference?

Here’s how it is supposed to work:  A company crafts a highly detailed job description for a specific project.  Contractors write highly detailed and attractive cover letters to capture the attention of the company.  The company chooses a contractor from the field of highly qualified, well written contractors.  The contractor accepts the job and performs up to spec and within the time frame. The company pays the contractor a fair price for the job in a timely manner. Good reviews of each other’s performances are given out. Everyone is happy.

Here’s how it actually works: Companies cobble together a low balled job description which has been cobbled together using previous job descriptions from other companies.  Contractors send out equally cobbled together job responses because they have no idea what the company is really wanting – and they are forced to lower their standards because of the competition.  The ones who get the jobs are the ones who spent half an hour replying to the job proposal, and even then they might not get noticed because there are so many unqualified applications to sift through.  Because the company wanted such a low price, the contractor feels that they don’t have to offer quality – after all, quality costs money. Company and contractor struggle back and forth to produce the product, and hope that neither party will screw the other. Nobody is particularly happy, but they are willing to accept the ‘good enough’ situation as it is because they don’t want to go through the dance of bidding and selection again.

Companies who have never hired an IT professional, web developer, copywriter, or graphic designer have difficulty knowing what they should be asking for in the first place.  They have been advised that Elance and oDesk are the places to go to find people who can do the job, and so they go there.  Being that they don’t entirely know what they’re looking for, they borrow text from the other requests in the hopes that the contractors that they find will hit the nail on the head. Another tactic is to write something as vague as ‘I need a website.’  These companies are pressed for time, so they usually do not put the emphasis on specifying exactly what they want, cobbling together a job description from other companies.

The contractors themselves immediately know and understand that the companies didn’t want to take the time to understand what they were asking for.  Being that the contractor doesn’t want to waste their own time explaining and clarifying the company’s needs (both are busy, you see), they use a boilerplate job response which they sincerely hope covers all of the needs that the company is requiring.  Being that it’s easy to copy/paste a boilerplate answer, many contractors, some of whom aren’t qualified for the position in the least, will apply for the job.

The company is forced to read all of these crappy boilerplate responses, and hopes to find someone who is willing and able to decipher what was asked for in the first place.  This takes up more precious time, and is usually found to be fruitless.  After all, who wants to pay a contractor who doesn’t care enough to actually pay attention to the job requests in the first place?  When the company doesn’t find a qualified applicant, they are forced to go through the process again – made to create another job description, and left to feel frustrated that they cannot get what they want.

Because the company has no idea what they want, they have no idea how much the project is really going to cost.  They want to get the lowest price and the highest quality, and read some of the other (what they feel) similar job requests which have low rates, and offer those same low rates because they consider those rates to be normal.  The good freelancers become insulted with the low pricing, and the ‘good enough’ freelancers stay but don’t feel that they have to provide quality because the price is so low.

One person asks on Quora, ”How does a business person hire a good developer/programmer/engineer on Elance or Odesk?

Many answers echoed the same sentiments, here are a few highlights:

Yishan Wong, CEO of Reddit answers:

You shouldn’t do this; it will probably result in failure.

I have a friend who is a designer (so, closer to technology and implementation than a business guy; about as close as you can be without being outright technical yourself), and he was hiring developers via eLance.  Even with consultation from friends of his (e.g. me) who were real engineers, it was extremely difficult to find decent engineers who could do the things he needed, deliver reliably, and iterate according to ongoing testing/customer feedback.  The end product was merely “okay” – kind of slow, with little glitches here and there.

If you have total technical ignorance and no local (friend) resources to help you, hiring from eLance or oDesk is almost impossible to do correctly.  I would recommend trying another route.

Mircea Goia, another Quora power user adds:

I second what Yishan says…my biz partner, being a business guy and having some ideas in mind, took the eLance route…lost some money, got some bad days…this mostly with Indian developers (he is trying now Russians).

It’s very hard to find competent AND reliable ones (even if they have 5 stars and lots of projects on eLance – maybe those who gave them projects have low standards?). Reliability and work integrity matters a lot when the developer is 10,000 miles away.

And it’s not just Quora. A question with a similar theme was asked on YCombinator’s Hacker News, “Are Freelancer Sites (eg. oDesk vs Elance) useless?

Like Quora, Hacker News members can vote on answers, “jasonkester” owns the honor for the most upvotes with this answer:

As a rule, you can toss every response you get in the first hour. As you’ve noticed, there are tons on people on those sites who send out the same canned proposal to every single listing. That level of attention is a good indicator of how the rest of your project will go if you’re foolish enough to take one of them on.

Wait a few days. If you’ve written a good project description (and if you’re a bit lucky), you’ll start to see a few qualified proposals trickle in.

This is the main problem with freelancing sites. The race to the bottom finished years ago, and the result is that there are simply no good developers or designers left there. It’s actually an opportunity waiting for talented newcomers, since a single person showing up and acting professionally would get the job described by this poster (and everybody else who goes there seriously looking to build something).

Examples like this are repeated from site to site, where the general consensus is that there is a competition over who can give the lowest price rather than who can do the job with the highest standards of quality at a competitive price.  As the competition continues, both contractors and companies feel that they cannot get what they need and turn to other sources for their work.

Final Recommendations

This leads us to our final thoughts and recommendations, note that this post isn’t designed to dissuade you from using Elance, oDesk or any of the other popular freelancing services (Freelancer, Guru, etc.), rather I wanted to give you a clear expectation of what to expect from both sides of the table.

There are new companies aiming to disrupt the freelance marketplace, Fiverr is one example, recently allowing services up to $500 (up from $5). Fiverr differentiates by allowing freelancers to post their services as a “gig” (eg. 100 word article for $5, Illustration for $5, etc.) and let businesses come to them, albeit at a higher fee (20%). Fiverr does boast over 2,000,000 services, and they’ve raised over $20M to date, but a quick glance at their home page, and you’ll see that most offerings aren’t related to business services. And the business services you do find, are often not what you would expect. This Fiverr review expands a bit more on that topic. There are, however, a few business gigs worth checking out.

Another company I’ve had my eye on is Ziptask. A Techstars company I noticed covered by an article in Forbes and TechCrunch, they are a “fully managed outsourcing platform” that allows you to capitalize on the lower cost of labor in developing countries, while leaving issues commonly found in freelance marketplaces (communication, negotiation, management, etc.) up to a project manager. This is intriguing because I think anyone who has used outsourcing websites (even successfully) can agree, there’s a process of trial and error. And it isn’t until you’ve wasted a lot of time and money, that you realize that you could have used a project manager. This, on paper, should eliminate language barriers and ambiguity in assignments.

Lastly, as the founder of a consulting company (SorianoMedia) based in the United States, we have a higher cost of living than developing countries – I tend to stay away from Elance/oDesk as a contractor. The only time I use them is to locate companies who are posting jobs out of my region (Las Vegas), businesses tend to appreciate a local contractor and are more apt to hire if I can explain to them in a local setting why I’m better than the other applicants who are offering services as low as $2/hr. What are your experiences in with Elance, oDesk, et. al? Let me know in the comments below!

Comments
  1. This is a really good explanation and exploration of the issues behind oDesk and Elance. I say this as someone who started her entire freelance writing career THROUGH these sites. I do think there are ways to use them wisely and responsibly, but the more experience and knowledge I gain, the less time I spend trying to find clients through these sites.

    I’ve been extremely blessed to find wonderful projects and clients, and I’ve learned a lot in a very short time because of my use of these sites (oDesk mostly). But, I am SO glad to be moving beyond the oDesk portion of my freelancing career!

    Again, fantastic job. You really explored the problem holistically and with extremely convincing arguments and evidence.

    • Hi Rachael,

      As a first response on this article from a few years back, things have changed somewhat in the industry… but there is still the wild-wild-west of freelancer situations out there to deal with… as such… I would love to ask your input. What do you think about Ziptask? http://www.ziptask.com. Do you think it solves the headaches of outsourcing by placing the project manager in the middle to help facilitate the transaction and work through all of the little details with the developers? We have worked hard on the platform and feel it’s coming close to really nailing it. Would love to get your input.

  2. Great title and great points. Thank you for this and I’ll be sure to make a profile at launchatartup.com. I’ve run into a downtime with finding local clients, so I’ve tried to hit elance and odesk. I have yet to find a job. I’ve even tried bidding on $5 + $10 jobs in hopes of being able to build a resume. But after hours of search and 50+ submissions, I only had 1 lead. And that lead ended up cancelling their job request.

    Along with your points, I wanted to add the following, from a contractor’s perspective:

    1. The international market creates a very unprofitable bidding war. I keep seeing these $1-$3 an hour bids from the Phillipines. I’m not questioning their quality at all, but for an American, there’s no way I can compete because most contractees will be looking at that range.

    2. It’s hard to build a profile. As I’ve mentioned, reputation is important. I knew that when I first became a freelancer. I have a very decent portfolio of works, but none of that matters on these sites because with all the bids (mostly spam bids) that go out, a contractee can quick filter by looking at how many jobs you’ve gotten.

    3. You lose a lot of time on these sites. One job for $800 is probably 10x more profitable than finding 8 jobs at $100. There’s just so much administrative time put into for every job: searching, clicking, typing cover letters, interviewing, getting rejected, etc.

    I have no doubt there are quality contractees out there, but I’m starting to realize that my time would be better used in other ways than trying to find them.

    • Vince

      Good point. With regard to the Philippine bids (between $1 to $3), that is understandable considering that the minimum daily wage required by Philippine government stands at $12 per DAY. At $2 per hour, on an 8-hour workday, the contractors can actually make more money than if they get a job that pays the minimum (and get taxed) for the same amount of time.

      This is comparing apples to apples – meaning, this is an oDesk/eLance virtual assistant job being compared to an assistant/clerical/encoder job in an actual office.

      Unfortunately, as you said, those in the US will find it hard to compete especially since you have a higher cost of living and your minimum wage is at $8 per hour if I am not mistaken.

    • Roy

      Nope. In practice the “they’re competing at $3 an hour because their cost of living allows it overseas!” argument is a silly one. Just because people put in bids at $3 an hour doesn’t mean that bid is meaningful on a practical level. I receive mail for people claiming to be princes of Nigeria with a great deal for me all the time (well, in my spam folder).

      There may be some very silly employers who imagine they can get what they want (working software) from someone charging $3 an hour. You are winning the game by NOT having to work with such employers! It’s silly to complain about such spam any more than complaining about spam in someone else’s email inbox.

      These freelancing sites democratize telecommuting, so you can’t just compete with people in your town for the two tech jobs that might exist there. Instead, you have to reverse your tactics and compete on the merits of your quality, instead of price. And in that arena, it’s easy to stand out.

    • Mia

      Well, here in the Philippines, you can buy Starbucks at $2.00/cup. A decent lunch is $1.50. I have started with oDesk for a month and have landed with 2 jobs already starting with 3.00/hour as a graphic and web designer. I get higher with my regular job before but decided to get take this roite so I can spend more time with my kids.

      So, it is a win-win solution for my family. I have worked with an international company here but for most Filipinos like myself, we work in the same amount of quality and excellence as long as we are happy with the job and still have time with the family and a daily dose of Starbucks. :)

      • Allen

        Very good point. I used to work for a cruise line that employed a lot of people from the Philippines as well as Indonesia. Many westerners thought that the hour and pay for those employees was abusive and the company was taking advantage of them. Of the many of them I interacted with a good number of them owned a nice place, sent money back to the family, had a car and even a driver as well as housekeepers.

        Some people don’t understand how just a modest western salary is a fortune to some people. Best wishes to you.

      • Stan

        But do you realize you’re not behaving rationally? You’re making “enough” this way, but if you are truly good you could go out west and be earning upwards of $100/hour (you can even find this telecommuting sometimes). After you retire you can spend all the time you want with your family. By taking such ridiculously low pay you’re hurting the market for yourself as well as others.

        Remember: your salary is a price like any other, the value of it is the perceived value, not how much you can live with. Market rates for software development are over $100/hr and how much you can survive on has nothing to do with anything.

        • Peter.

          Stan is correct in saying it’s not rational, but stan also needs to understand that there is a lot more to moving over to the western “paradise” then just deciding to do it.

          First you need a metric ton of cash (especially if yo uwork for 3$/h) and then you have to sever all ties and hope you find a good job where the western employer won’t treat you like his slave… I know the last one sounds far fetched, but you try going somewhere with absolutely no lifeline and you’ll start to think the same.

          Stan should also realize that western employers are not gonna pay a guy in the Philiphines a 100$/h. Not going to happen… Simply won’t (but it can get decent).

          P.S. I’m from southeastern Europe…

        • Kino

          Yes, talent truly pays. Though please see it this way. The only reasons Filipinos work abroad is because of FAMILY. If they can work here and take care of their families properly, they will. I am not questioning the family values of other nations, far from it. What I’ am saying is that, a college graduate here will most likely stay with their parents and provide FOR them allowing their parents to retire early. Also here, no one bats an eye when a couple gets married and stays with the parents of either the male or female. Relatives stay in one place, and such examples. Home for the aged here are also rare.

          So in terms of behaving rationally, it’s a simple question of what Filipinos are used to doing. A high paying job away from family is the last course of action for most Filipinos to take.

  3. Christine M

    Thank you for the analysis. It was good. I am particularly offering services on Elance but sometimes I have been led to wonder at the really low bids that are placed by mostly Asian contractors. Much as I also stay in a poor economy, but the bid prices placed by Indians are sometimes very ridiculous. I registered with oDesk but I feel like I cannot offer services there. Contractors can bid as low as $1!!!!!! This keeps me wondering, if a professional in those countries can work for as low as that, how about the non-professionals?!?!?!?!

    • Nirmalya (India)

      I’m fully agreed with you, Christine

      Not only Indians, many Pakistani, Bangladeshi also bid a project with $1 or $2. It’s not a matter of Country. It’s totally Unprofessionalism and they are just destroying the market. Now, many people, who submit a Project/Job over there, also want a very low price $1-$3 max and they got minimum 50+ applicant. How is it possible???

      I personally request all these type of contractors, please wake up guys. You are not beggar… you are professional. Don’t place a bid like this. By placing this type of cheap bid, you are just make yourself down as well as your country.

      • php programmer

        I am a wordpress developer. Once upon a time I worked in odesk at 20 dollar per hour. But now you know the truth. I am from bangladesh. And I know some freelancers from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Philippine are destroying the freelancing industry.

        I have quitted odesk already because of the low rate and I think very soon I will have to leave elance and freelancer too.

        • Mia

          Wow! How immature. Don’t generalize. I almost got scammed by those in your country pretending to be an employer in the US but just wanting his contractors to download a scheming app than have full access on a mobile phone.

          There will and always will be scammers in any part of the world.

        • I’m agree with you at least about ODesk. I’ve been working on it for 4 years, but nowadays, it’s very difficult to get a contract. Once you’re above $10/h, it’s a real challenge to find a mission.

          If some contractors for indian subcontinent or Philippines break the prices, the responsibilities come also from the job providers that directly request very low prices : ie to make a full website for $25.

          Personally I can’t. I prefer to focus in quality of work. And you ?

      • Dharmendra

        Yes, you are right. I am also an Indian, and when I look at the $1 for 500 words, I am surprised to see after all how these people are surviving. Because of these beggars, most of the qualified and professional people are left unemployed. Fully agreed with you!

    • Shaun M

      I don’t charge less then $10/hour on ethics alone,I can’t work on freelance work for less then that.Work that involves having to code or design and think and come up with
      solutions.

      I suggest prior to hiring a freelancer there has to be a screening process where you can make sure the person can do what he or she says they can.(Skype or Phone Call face time)

      • Taari

        Ziptask screens the developers and project managers each time. The benefit of having a “fully managed outsourcing” experience, is that the project manager does all of the heavy lifting for the customer, making it more of a full-service experience.

        For the freelancer, this experience is even better, since it means you don’t have to hear all of the nonsense from the customer, and you can work with a more reasonable, knowledgeable project manager to help work through the technical concerns or challenges that may arise.

  4. i agree with the sentiments re oDesk and eLance – i’m surprised at how many inadequate job descriptions are written by the clients – i thought they were afraid to give away too much – until i saw some very thorough job descriptions

    i think most of the problem begins with the sloppy descriptions

    i hope that the clients are given tools to filter the bidders quickly – certain jobs can get into the hundreds of bidders – some people clearly aren’t qualified – but bid because it’s easy

    • I agree on the sloppy descriptions. I was burned on a job because the detailed description was incorrect and the job was immensely larger. Now I ask lots of questions to clarify scope and generally don’t get a response. My attitude is to help educate these people so we can work better in the long run. Maybe I’m ambitious, but better that than jaded.

  5. I am considering to post jobs onto both sites oDesk and eLance. I wonder whether this kind of placement services is rather a one time biz for most of the orderers/employers because once they found sb with whom they are happy, they wouldn’t contract them over oDesk or eLance again, but commission them directly, wouldn’t they?

    Wondering,
    Thomas

    • JaySoriano

      It’s really up to you. Freelance websites offer a layer of protection, at a small fee. It’s best to go direct when you’ve established a layer of trust, then you can discuss reasonable payment milestones. Also remember that when going direct, if you’re paying through any online service (eg. PayPal), they collect a fee as well. Plus, you have to manage payments, commission new contracts, etc. But if you’re hiring for long-term, it could certainly be worth it.

    • well, it depends. I have my company (Agicent) listed as mobile apps development agency on Elance, guru, odesk all and have had done some work via that; at the same time I had employed few people from Elance in the past too – so I think I can have both side views.

      As a development vendor – I’ve always found jobs on these sites to be mostly low-price game; and hence since our 99 % focus is on generating customers organically (via SEOs, social media, attending conferences in the US, references etc.); having said that – clients with lesser $ of work tend to use Elance/ oDesk only for the engagement (probably because transaction fees doesn’t hurt much, and also they need to build their good buyer profile too since they keep on having $ 200- $ 1000 jobs every now then to post, and a good buyer profile brings more proposals). BUT, companies/ start-ups having some decent work and looking to pay adequately for a quality vendor company – I’ve seen they sometimes (not often) use Elance etc. as source of meeting vendors, and once they’ve made some good shortlist, they take that forward for by-passing these sites.

      As a buyer – The same thought of buyer as I mentioned above; If I’m offering a few $ jobs mostly and to a freelancing individual (who can’t be as accountable as a company largely) I prefer to keep using Elance only, even for the 50 th Job of mine; but if I have a project which involves more than thousand $ and I need a team/ company to do that via elance and if they do it fine with good accountability, I may hire them outside elance (for more flexibility at my side too, and of course to avoid bigger payment cut) and create an ongoing relationship (which is a traditional outsourcing model, and this model is still accountable for 90 % of outsourcing transaction despite we have sites like oDesk, Elance etc, since in bigger and strategic relationships, significance of Elance’s or oDesk’s payment protect/ review system etc becomes negligible.

      Feel free to ping on me if you need to discuss any more.

      Best regards
      -Sudeep
      Agicent – One of the Top 100 Mobile Apps Development Agencies

  6. I’ve used odesk (mostly) and freelancer countless times as i’m a acommerce guy. Im from the UK and living in the Philippines operating online retail companies back home in england and also the Philippines. When i first tried odesk i got horrible responses. BUT, to be fair, looking back it was my fault. My descriptions were bad and clearly had no effort or time applied to the job offer.

    When i started being more precise and showing that i have some technical knowledge i started getting good results. I’ve had work successfully completed on odesk for $100 that ive been qouted $2000 by independant companies. So i think these freelancing companies are awesome, ESPECIALLY FOR START UPS, you just need to learn how to use them.

    Oddly, even though i live in the Philippines, all of my employees on the freelance websites have been from india and pakistan. The Philippine workforce are often confused, seeing what americans charge and then they think they should be charging the same. Shame really.

    As for American and european designers, becareful, they for absolutely no reason play the ‘we give higher quality’ reason behind their rates which are 4-5 timers more per hour. This is usually absolutely not true. They are simply more expensive because of their cost of living, not because they are better designers. Many of them are bitter about the fact they have chosen a profession such as graphic design which has turned out not to really be a profession and something that most people around the world can learn in a month.

    I was too busy last month to install and test google conversion code on one of our sites, something that takes 30 mins. I put the job (to install conversion tracking & test it quickly) on odesk and several western freelancers qouted me $100 – $200!!!! I ended up going with a pakistani developer who did this simple job in 1 hour for $5 to full satisfaction.

    • And you, sir, are part of the problem.

      I don’t know about coding and graphic design etc. but I can tell you that the cheap foreign bidders for copywriting projects (English-based writing) absolutely massacre the content they create. I’ve been hired multiple times to “fix” things that these bargain basement folks completely screwed up.

      And even if these people are the best option out there, by bidding so low they are screwing both themselves and everyone else involved in the freelancing game. A) they should be getting paid more–no matter where they live, B) their low prices convince buyers that’s the norm C) those prices convince other freelancers their rates need to be lower. It’s essentially reverse inflation.

      I started out charging $10 to $12 per hour (many times less than that) and I was glad to get those rates in the beginning but now that I’ve built a portfolio I charge $30-$50+ for most types of writing. That’s still a lot lower than I should be charging (According to all of those stuffed shirts –Bob Bly et al–that market their guidance and leadership so “helpfully” to newcomers in the industry.

      You really do get what you pay for and one day something is going to happen that will make you realize that.

    • Fair comments, but not when it comes to graphic designers. Most people around the world can’t learn graphic design in a month – that’s a myth. Those people are hobbyists, not designers. When you see the real deal from a seasoned professional who knows how to keep up with trends, over the hobbyist who is creating stuff that was cool twenty years ago, you know the difference.

      I’m not a graphic designer, but I do know the difference :)

      • Rob

        +1

        Most people around the world can’t learn graphic design in a month – that’s a myth..so true.

        It takes a lot of learning and skills to be a proficient graphic designer. Not to mention that you have to become expert with the tools like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator to produce the acceptable ‘output’ to customers usually find it hard to describe their requirements.

    • Mike

      Your ignorant comments do not even deserve an intelligent response from me. I’ll just say that you’re a huge part of the problem and you should be ashamed of yourself for the role you play in destroying the freelance community. There are professionals who spend years perfecting their craft (and never stop learning) that are well worth the rates they charge not only because of the quality of work, but the quality of service as well. At the rates you’re bragging about hiring people at, your expectations of what’s considered “good” must be incredibly low. I’ll never understand people like you and your backwards thinking mentality. Good luck with your “business” sir. You’re a disgrace.

      • Rob Tantoco

        Offshore Cheappos who value capital over human labor are immoral and a disgrace to all human beings in the planet.

        Graphic design CANNOT be learned in a month. ART and CREATIVITY could never even be learned in a formal institution. One may learn the basic skills but never the eye for aesthetics which is either honed culturally or through exposure or via innate talent which no book could ever teach you.

        Shame on Offshore Cheappos. Freelancers should learn to get away from their kind as fast as they could. Not only will they make impossible demands but they really don’t value you and your life as a human being. People should simply try their best to avoid being hired by these types of people.

      • Dave

        Unfortunately, this is the world we developers live in. It is now a global marketplace. If he can INDEED get someone to build an entire website complete with Javascript/PHP/Perl/Flash, etc. for $25 rather than $2500 and get it with the same quality? That’s free market, bro, plain and simple. And, if he is really that genius to FIND someone who can do that then MORE POWER TO HIM. Eventually, as this market expands, and contractors get more ‘world savvy’ final contract prices will even out.

        • Kibitzer

          “Eventually, as this market expands . . . contract prices will even out.”

          Or, as John Maynard Keynes’ put it, “In the long run, we are all dead”.

    • Stan

      This person clearly lacks any experience with what quality actually is. He’s likely writing cheap one-off garbage, not enterprise software that large organizations depend on. If he did, he would quickly see the *major* difference in quality you get for $5/hr vs $150/hr.

      Wages are a product like any other. If you buy $5 shoes don’t expect them to feel as good or last as long as $100 shoes.

    • my 2 cents

      As long as you adapt when the prices stabilize worldwide due to deflation in Europe and inflation in Asia (or when there is a NWO with a brand new world currency) , you’ll be fine.

      Otherwise you will be one of those bitter entrepeneurs who thought Asia->Europe import/export due to currency mistmatches would last more than a decade ;-)

    • Dave

      lol, Kris. Your full of crap.

    • Mujibur R.

      You are so right! I spend about 4 years in my study under graphic design and work graphic design industry around another 4 years. But till now stand with empty cup I think.

      An illusions or what? How astonishing! Even you don’t learn graphics program in this time period. Insult some ones profession is not a good options for debate.

      I am form Bangladesh? So what, in present day’s I don’t wish to work in Odesk or Elance because now this days it is near to impossible to get a professional work in such a low price-$3/hour.They award this sums for there bucket work not your time consume in the bidding and research (may be your kind of designer do not need research) about there jobs. Ultimately it is go under $1/hours. Now I get much more form inland work so why I do a jobs form some one who use to spend more. There is many company spend $1000 for there logo, Why? You think you do your logo in $20 or $30 and it is same result as $1000 one?

      I know there is so many provider forms my region, they provides graphic design service in low price tags. Why? They are maximum are unskilled and actually nothing to know about Graphic Design. They mesh up with colors and shapes and get relatively good review because of if some one spends not more than $2-$3/hour then what is he expected? There is some clients are known about the quality and understand what he will need to do. They are really ready to spend smart numbers.

      And you need to understand there are difference between a Real Graphic designer and your defined Graphic Designer. I wish to you visit 99designs.com then you will see what is difference between your so called Graphic Designer and a Real One.

  7. Emeka

    I understand the problem you mean to solve but I’d like to know how purchasing a freelancer’s services vs. bidding on a project lead to better results if at the end of the day the customer still only wants to pay the lowest price available for the service? Also, how can I be certain that the contractor is worth the price they are quoting? References and examples alone won’t do it as these can be gamed.

    • JaySoriano

      When you plan to purchase goods from Amazon, how do you know the product is worth the price? Especially when anyone can leave product reviews?

      Even when there are good intentions, any market is susceptible to unscrupulous behavior. oDesk, Elance, et. al can all be great places to work, but when you reach their scale, driving revenue is lot easier than maintaining quality. That isn’t to say you can’t find quality contractors on there, because you can.

      Right now, we (LaunchAStartup) vet every contractor who’s interested in posting a service. We retain less than 20% who apply. We won’t scale as fast as Elance, but we believe it’s a model that works in the long run.

  8. Oliver P.

    As someone who spent six months on odesk trying to build a resume, I concur with all that has been written here. I would only add that I find it utterly disturbing that foreign contractors are able to bid as low as $1/hour. As an American, it is impossible to compete at those levels, so therefore I question the overall agenda that is at play here. I closed my account when I found out that much of their operations are in the Philippines, a primary source of contractors who are driving down wages. Odesk is economically unpatriotic and I advocate a boycott of their website. Based on the hours spent compared to the money earned, I made not much more than $1/per hour. A complete waste of time!

    • Kashif

      I am from Pakistan. I am a programmer. Back in mid 2011, I started at 6/hr and in a month or so started to work at 15/hr. In another couple of months I raised my rate to 20/hr and then 25/hr (this happened two years ago). During the past 30 months, I have been able to get a work of about 1000 hours.

      However, as the time moves on, I have started to notice that my rate of 25/hr is no more competitive, as I am getting less and less work. It might be due to my niche going out of favor (WPF is not a vary good choice for freelancers, I guess!). I have now started to turn my focus on HTML5 and web development using PHP.

      Overall, I think for a competitive fellow with good eye on the trends it is not very difficult to get jobs at $20-40 per hour.

      That being said, I agree that the rates are falling overall.

  9. Gene

    I’ve been hiring on various forms of outsourcing sites for over 10 years now. Craigslist was the place to go, but now Elance, oDesk etc.

    I agree with most of the article. It’s very very tough to find someone good.

    However there is ONE thing I’d like to know. If not those sites, then WHERE does an employer go to FIND talented FREELANCERS? Which site? Or is it just personal connections? How does one find out about local skilled designers / developers, etc.

    • Dorothy

      “However there is ONE thing I’d like to know. If not those sites, then WHERE does an employer go to FIND talented FREELANCERS? Which site? Or is it just personal connections? How does one find out about local skilled designers / developers, etc.”

      It’s simple: go to Google, and type in the kind of freelance service you need and the city where you are located. For example, if you require a copywriter in Miami, type in “Miami copywriter” or “Miami copywriter freelance”, if you want to hire a single person and not a large company that will charge you fees per hour similar to that of a lawyer’s. If you want a freelancer from Texas or Washington (maybe Canada?), then the same rule applies.

      Most reputable, decent freelancers with knowledge and experience have their own websites because they need to be visible to clients. This is good for you because you can see the type of services they perform, their rates, their portfolios (or samples of what they do), etc. Best of all, being local, you can meet in person or at least have the knowledge that they are located in the same time zone as you (beneficial if you need to call them).

  10. Valid, Valid, and Validated. If you are worth more charge more and find the area that you can compete. Foreign freelancers do not understanding all aspects of the American day to day culture. Designers and Marketing specialist, writers, etc that have good creative skills will be able to level the playing fields for truly professional employers that are serious about their product or goods. A Pakistani who has never attended a major league baseball game has never felt the crowd or smeared mustard on his hot dog.

    That said, As an American that has not been to Pakistan or any of the “Stans” for that matter would never try to write a travel log about various aspects of a Pakistani’s life. Nor would I try to run a marathon and hope to beet a Professional runner from Ethiopia. My point is compete in arenas that your can surface as a competent freelancer at the value you expect and deserve. They say that you only earn what you think you are worth.

    Cheers and good luck!

  11. Rahul

    Elance is not good comply thy run with my money and closed my account without any resign i didn’t like Elance now who are run with money in short thy are theft thy only available on net for stolen money of ever new user. personally i advise no one work with elance thy are big fish available on web who rune with with money of new user how start a account on elance. if you mail elance about it and request for reactive your account thy didnt do that and give a region below:

    Hello Rahul,

    During a review of your account, we determined that you are not meeting the minimum standards for our community with regards to managing job opportunities and active projects. Specifically, the number of proposals you have submitted without job award falls under our minimum requirements.

    After a full review of your account closure response, we unfortunately will not be able to reinstate your account. You do have access to withdraw your current funds and complete any open jobs.

    Regards,
    Elance Trust & Safety

    I just advise you about it to know about elance realty. how thy run with money.

    • Cedoville

      I’m sorry to say this Rahul, I’m just being honest. Your poor use of grammar goes a long way in explaining why your account got suspended or deleted.

      • Jose Lourenco

        I think this is Borat in disguise.

    • Carrie

      Rahul,

      Elance did the same thing to me. No explanation, I had three jobs I was working on and they just shut my account down! Luckily, the three job owners also had accounts with oDesk and they rehired me through oDesk (and they left Elance :-) . I have most success with oDesk. My niche is Administrative and I do get a lot of work. My hourly rate is $15 per hour and I have logged over 3500 hours in less than one year. Sadly, I just found out oDesk and Elance are going to be merging sometime this year, yikes! I highly recommend avoiding Elance. Best of luck to you from NY!

  12. I agree , having worked on Odesk and Elance both as a developer and as a business user I have seen both sides of this coin. As a developer I have been able to keep my clients happy the feedback has always been good which probably explains why I havent been able to find decent developers on Odesk. My expectations relect the standard I set for myself when I am a developer and so far Odesk hasnt delivered. However Elance is three for three. The only problem I have with Elance is it gets too complicated to manage work i.e post jobs , hire people or pay them.

  13. Crystal

    I think this “article” is slightly bias, no? Elance and Odesk offer the same risks and hassles as any other employment. Employees want to be paid what they deserve and have their work appreciated for its merits, and employers want as much as they can get for as little costs as humanly possible. I’ve used Elance and Odesk and found the same issues with them as I have found with any other employer.

    I found that what Oliver said is the biggest hurdle with obtaining work on these sites. Wanting cheap labor has universal appeal but $1 in America is not the same as it is in India. I’m not trying to jack up my wages to keep any “lifestyle”, I’m using this site to try to get money to eat and $1 isnt going to cut it. The only plus side to this is that lots of American clients on there want American freelancers and are willing to pay as such. The same goes for employers from other countries.

    I am not an IT professional, I’m more of the writing and admin type of freelancer so, of course, some of the things said here dont apply to me. Just like with any other hiring type situation, competition is stiff and everyone is trying to get over. It’s a crap shoot whether you do this on Elance, or in the corporate world.

  14. Markus W

    I have employed, and tried to employ on oDesk for multiple jobs, and I found this article instructive, though to those freelancers who complain about low bidders, let me provide some perspective.

    Realize that the reason I am looking for people on oDesk is because I believe that my own time is more valuable than what I am willing to pay. In addition, in the US or UK, the competition for the top people is overwhelming. I am hoping to find exceptional people who live in environments that don’t offer them the same opportunities that I can. In theory, I should be able to find brighter people than I can find locally. Thus, I am likely to ignore bids for ridiculously low sums because it isn’t worth wasting my time on them. That said, there is real global competition in this process, and it becomes a tradeoff to working with someone local vs the lower cost of working with someone far away. As a reference, I normally expect the price/hr should be somewhat higher than the amount they would earn in their field locally to them. That seems fair is it is a short term commitment.

    The end result is that I ignore both ridiculously low and high bids. Price is not the ONLY factor. For reason’s I’ve explained, it isn’t even the 1st factor. But it is a factor.

    My frustration comes from how often after you hire someone, they simply don’t show up. This has happened to me countless times. I wish I knew why. I’ve found a few great individuals to work with, but this annoyance of irresponsible bidders makes it far less appealing.

    Further on that point, I have specified very specific requirements such as “previous experience passing function calls between C++ and Excel” and I will even include a sentence saying “if you have not done this, please do not apply as it is more difficult than would appear”. People still lie. People still send bids saying “I have analyzed your requirements, and we can build your website.” I.E., they aren’t even reading my text. These are my complaints that I have been willing to put up with, because the prize of smart people working on my project for a good (local) wage is still compelling.

  15. I came across this blog looking for good tips for hiring writers and I felt I had to say something.

    I mostly use Elance and I usually have very positive experience with freelancers there.

    In my opinion, as long as you know how to choose the right people and how to communicate with them, those sites are absolutely fine.

    There are a few things I always do to make sure I find the right freelancers:

    1. I write very specific job descriptions. If you don’t know what you want, how can you expect freelancers to do what you want?

    2. In the description, I always say what I want the bidders to write in the proposals. In this way, it’s very easy to filter out those who don’t read the description. It’s also very useful to see if somebody pays attention to the details.

    3. I usually give them a very small assignment before hiring them. I find this critically important, especially when you hire programmers. When I hire programmers, I usually give them timed tests.

    I think it’s fair to say that I had some bad experience too but it was always when I didn’t follow the things I described above.

    • Tommy

      Your number 2 in that list is a pet peeve of a lot of good freelancers. If you assume we don’t pay attention right off the bat, you’re not someone we want to work with. I understand why you do it, but trust me when I tell you that a lot of great freelancers are hitting the back button when they see that.

      • michelle

        Actually, I’m a freelance writer and I think #2 is a good thing. I really would like to know what is expected in the assignment so that I get a good idea if it’s a fit for me and be able to tailor my response accordingly. I don’t see it as an assumption that we don’t pay attention, rather as an attempt to hire someone who does and is qualified.

    • Josh

      As a developer, #2 really irritates me. I can solve any problem, and I get paid well to solve some very big ones: but I don’t always have the exact answer in my head at any given moment, and being put under the gun of a timed test blasts my adrenaline and makes my brain work less efficiently. And it pisses me off. A guaranteed way to reduce someone’s IQ by 30 points in 10 seconds is to turn on a timer.

      “Calculate the sum of powers of three given a random number of inputted integers, and you have exactly three minutes to do it. GO!” … “I don’t know, fuck you!” When the pressure’s off, the answer always comes in under three minutes, of course.

      I bet you’ve turned away some really good candidates who simply weren’t great test-takers.

  16. Leroux Kazmire

    Looking at the job and provider postings, I’m concerned about quality on these sites. A graphics designer in the industry is going to have no less than a 2 year computer science degree in graphic design. Web developers, the same. I am a designer, an instructional designer. The process to design quality instruction is a science. It’s not a hit or miss attempt. I perform the job task analysis, determine appropriate interventions, design how a lesson is constructed and how the content is presented. I don’t have time to make the graphics and program it as well. Just because you know photo shop does not make you a graphic artist. Just like knowing how to write well doesn’t make you an instructional designer.

  17. Hi, and thanks for a great article. Having worked as a freelancer on Elance for almost a year, I second almost every point that was made. The general picture about freelancers and clients doing a dance to try to figure out what’s really needed for a job–that has been my experience too. I’ve also been dismayed at how many low-quality providers are there, bidding way too low, and clogging up the system. It gives the impression that excellent work can be had for peanuts.

    I do disagree, however, with the suggestion one of your sources made to throw out every bid that comes in during the first hour. I often bid early on jobs, and I never submit a boilerplate proposal. My thinking has been to make a good first impression before the rest of the pack.

    • German

      Agreed. I tend to bid fast. It’s not that I rush it either, but and hour is a long time. Keep in mind the project listing as sorted by time so when we open it we get just posted projects the first, and we get invitations directly to our mail. Maybe what he says is true, but it would apply to the first 5 minutes for bot/scripted responses.

  18. Paul G

    I am new to these sites but I am amazed what people will bid on. Job descriptions that are so vague you have no idea what the job entails. I am of the opinion that many job postings never actually happen, they are just looking at the market for budget or to use a low price to negotiate with a local vendor.

    That said I have gotten some low paying jobs from these sites. My proposals are clearly written with terms, descriptions, and client responsibilities. This is essential as I already had a client ask to do something more then agreed and I simply replied that was not in my proposal and anything outside of that would be additional cost.

    I have hired a freelancer through a site to do some translation work. They had a good rating and delivered the work at the expected time and without issue. So there can be success stories.

    I do have a part of my proposal that is boiler plate, it begins “I am not the lowest price” I sell value, if its only about cost then you are not a client I want to pursue.

  19. Tommy

    Spot on guys. Although there’s already sites like yours. Task Army comes to mind. I don’t see how you guys are different. If you are, my bad.

  20. Odesk and Elance, I don’t think they are bad. I have a small business and sometimes I outsource and then do some contracts on these two sites. In my opinion, I think it depends on an individual. As an individual, you’ve to be honest. For instance, there is a project which requires the skills of web designer, you know that you’re not a designer but you apply for that job thinking that you can research and do the job while the client wait for you? If you do the job badly, the client will get pissed and give you a bad review. My main place is elance and most of the people I work with are happy with my work even contact me for subsequent jobs without posting it. I don’t spend so much time on these sites because of my offline job but whenever I’m there I always get job because I’m honest and tell the truth always. I don’t do pleasing, I tell each client the truth, if what the client requires from the job is unrealistic, i tell them you can’t do that with that info. and before you can do that you’ve to be well versed in your field. I am statistician and for that I can tell everyone that when it comes to research, I am also a master in my small corner. So master your profession and be bold to tell clients the truth and they will be happy to work with you.

  21. This is one of the few times I read an article and the comments in entirety. Nice and very informative post I have to say.

    After reading the article and the comments, I felt the itch to comment because i’m a freelancer myself and has been in this line for three years running now. I am from the Philippines and yes, I use odesk mainly although I also have accounts with Freelancer, Elance, Guru, and Grenlight articles.

    In my almost three years with Odesk, I have only 14 feedback to show. Yes, that few because first, I could not stomach the rates being offered to writers by most principals. Second, I earned the trust and confidence of a a couple of principals and I now write for them directly so I have my hands full of assignments most of the time. This somehow allowed me to choose easy jobs in Odesk during my spare time.

    Why rates are going down is basically because of “supply and demand.” There are now a lot of new freelancers wanting get a job online. A principal could easily get as many as 70 applicants for a job that he/she posted. Out of the 70, there could be a few really good contractors fit for the job who at the same time are willing to do it for loose change. I know this because I also have an employer account with Odesk.

    It is already a given that North American contractors have almost no chance to get decent rates from Odesk and other platforms. Why? because even contractors from the Philippines, India, and Pakistan could not get a decent rate from Odesk and others. Nobody from India would be happy with $1 per 500 words article and this is also true in Pakistan and the Philippines. But $1 to $3 is the going rate so what can a freelancer do?

    Why there are still contractors applying for such pittance? Because most principals want to pay as little as possible. That’s the reason why they went online looking to outsource their job requirement in the first place. They don’t go online to look for local contractors actually because if that is the intention, they can do it using local sources and there are plenty of such sources I’m sure.

    They went to Odesk because they know that by using a foreign contractor they can save on costs. If a native speaker is willing to accept a low rate, well and good but if not, its also okay because there are others that can do the job.

    It is a dog eat dog environment when it comes to working online.I also used the forum of odesk writing and trying to convince contractors not to accept peanuts for their work. But although there are a lot of contractors who agreed with me, still the the rock bottom rates continue. Offers actually go for as low as $5 for ten articles of 500 words each. When I checked out of curiosity, I saw many applicants applying for the job mostly from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and also Philippines. So what can I do but to move on and just give it a smirking laugh.

  22. While I agree with most of what’s been written here, I don’t think it’s quite as black and white as you say.

    If you’re really tight on the criteria on which you will bid and have a great portfolio (I’m a writer) then you’ll get work.

    And if you know how to sell yourself effectively in the proposal then you’ll be able to get a half decent rate. I currently sit at US$25 for a 500 word article and I’m getting plenty of work, with a lot of it being repeat stuff.

    Elance can work.. but it’s a grind for sure.

    John

    • Hannah

      Wow. I’ve been working as a freelance writer for nearly a decade now. I’ve never ventured into the world of freelance sites like Elance or oDesk, and I guess I’m glad I didn’t. $25 for a 500-word article? That comes out to 5 cents a word! No one who can sell themselves and can write a decent sentence should have to work for those slave wages. John, you can do better, and I sincerely hope you look into other markets. From what little you posted here, you seem like a good writer. If you can sell yourself effectively as you say, stop working for peanuts.

  23. JD McKinstry

    Just to throw my two cents in. I WOULD NEVER HIRE ELANCE FOR ANYTHING!
    Why?
    I was handed a job when it was “near complete” by my boss. The job was a side project he hired elance to do using typo3. I came in near the end and don’t know typo3. Trying to learn it with what i was given made things worse. It wasn’t until he hired a German from a Typo3 company to give me some pointers that I began to understand it.

    Even now i’m still trying to clean up the mess! It’s very obvious at least 5 different coders of 5 different levels of experience worked on this. Only one seemed to understand Typo3, the rest obviously had no clue and threw in more band-aids and popsicle sticks then you’ll find in a daycare.

    The php code that was done is beyond ugly as it showed at least 3 different styles, of 3 different skill levels. One was very obviously a complete beginner taking advice from someone and getting it horribly wrong. Who writes a 472 line if statement? or a 3160 line switch statement?!!!

    This has by far been one of the worst clean ups I’ve preformed in my 6 years professional and 20+ years personal experience. And I’ve cleaned up some whoppers before.

    I could go on for another 40 page essay on how bad it is, but for now i’ll cut it back down to, quite simply, DO NOT USE ELANCE! As for oDesk, I have no idea, tho i assume it would probably be the same.

  24. As someone who has done over 425 projects on elance I would like to bring out some points. The number of providers have increased drastically as they have allowed 40 free connects (as compared to 3 free connects around 3 years back). The minimum hourly rate is lowered from USD 5 to USD 3. Overall, I have observed that when you make a bid with near USD 15/hr you face rejection as when a client sees almost 50 bids in the range of USD 1-5 he would not be willing to pay USD 15. Most of the contractors from Indian subcontinent (I am also from India for that matter) and Philippines are not well versed, they just bid for the sake of bidding even if they cannot complete the job. Overall, in the last couple of years I have see the standards and rates on elance going down and it will continue this way if elance does not adopt new ways to protect providers who are quality oriented but charge a bit high.

  25. Mike V.

    Unfortunately, it appears the companies/people who post the jobs on the online communities come from the vision that, “Freelancers are a dime-a-dozen”, especially when it comes to masses like “writers”, “coders”, and other such disciplines. It’s like the factory worker who loses his job, then goes out and buys a tool belt, and now he’s suddenly a freelance construction guy. It just doesn’t work that way – but many of those low wage bottom feeders on these sites try to get away with it.

    In reality, I feel that REAL freelancers who know what they are doing actually practice their craft and just got sick and tired of working as an employee at an unrespectful company. Or the company got rid of people in order to save money and dumped all the responsibilities on the poor souls who are still there. :-)

    On the other hand, I’ve seen some profiles on both Elance and Odesk where people had minimum wage requirements of over $100/hr for marketing programs, business analysis, and corporate accounting — and they have plenty of jobs and tens of thousands of dollars recorded. Maybe it’s because those positions are more specialized and those positions are not viewed as “a dime-a-dozen”. But still, true technical writers and programming coders should be given the same recognition if they are legitimate — at least in my mind.

    Thank you for your time.

    ~~ Mike ~~

    • JaySoriano

      Spot on Mike – 100% agree.

  26. Elance, Odesk etc. can do an OK job when projects are tangible like designing a logo or website. However, for jobs like Statistical analysis or predictive analytics where both parties need abstract thinking, they have hard time to deliver (IMHO). That is why we created Statlance to solve that problem.

  27. Matt

    Obviously you get what you pay for. So when you (i.e., tightwad US-based companies) outsource a $2000 project overseas for $100 or less, I’ll be happy to take that extra $1900 when you come looking for a professional to actually get the job done.

  28. b.sharman

    I am an experienced copywriter and creative director from Chandigarh/Delhi, India. Having worked for the biggest names in Advertising industry and media, I am presently into different projects.
    I would wish to work for any agency in USA or any english speaking country. Alternately, online jobs are welcome where payments are assured. Can I expect help from you in this regard please?
    With best of regards,
    Sharman

  29. Guy

    I have 20+ years as an IT recruiter and from graduate level to senior enterprise architects, project managers, etc, etc. So I have experience which is atypical to the majority of hirers on Odesk.

    When recruiting a developer recently I hired an Indian national however, I very nearly hired a US national charging x6 the amount because his communication skills were excellent. However, I decided with 20+ years IT recruitment experience I would have the ability to select the right person (in India) for the job. Without my experience I would have hired the US national.

    I have then put energy into building the professional relationship with developer I hired and since hired an SEO Specialist and done likewise with him. I’m pretty happy with the results I am getting and my contractors know I respond to their needs as a high priority.

    At the same time, this article hits the nail on the head. Most hirers don’t know what they want and their first step as in any IT project should be to get a Business Analyst to elicit the requirements. However, most hirer’s probably either don’t know or have the experience to value this work. Hence the quality of job specs listed on odesk, freelancer, elance etc are mostly inarticulate verb-age.

    I am not convinced of that the premise of the new service will result in anything different from the established listings on odesk, freelancer, elance because the issue is a lack of education, experience and a lack of ability or commitment to document requirements. It’s a great ideal but will it create a behavourial change?

    • Jake

      way to sell out your own profession.

  30. Pat

    As Gene said above, where does an employer find freelancers? I’ve hired at Elance for about 7 different jobs. The only reason I went to them over odesk was because a friend had a positive experience hiring there.

    Below are a few rules I adhered to when looking for a freelancer:

    1. I start with a keyword search on the freelancers. I use the buzz words based on the project; jquery, json, logo, facebook profile, twitter profile, ios, android, responsive design, map, etc. You’d be surprised how this limits the competition. Most freelancer’s don’t put an ongoing effort into their keywords.

    2. I never do open bids, only private invitations, based on my keyword search results. I then go through their portfolios. One time I accidentally put out a job bid, that went public. The person I hired turned out not to be very good. I blame myself, since I should have quizzed him more about that topic. This one experience only affirmed my private invitations only rule, which has worked for me on every job.

    3. I also only do a fixed price. My mobile app project ran into additional costs, but that was because I’d request another feature beyond the original design. An hourly figure makes me feel out of control. On Elance I ask what will this cost to do the job, when the invitation is sent. I guess if the price was really high compared to the other responders I might pass on that freelancer.

    4. I only like hiring individuals and not a big company. I like knowing who is doing the job. I may bend a little on this in the future.

    Reading all of these comments really gives me a different perspective on freelancers. If you are on Elance, please check your keywords.

    Thank you, for all the fine work you do.

    Pat

  31. Zach

    “As a rule, you can toss every response you get in the first hour. As you’ve noticed, there are tons on people on those sites who send out the same canned proposal to every single listing.”

    I hope people don’t take this advice to heart. I try to be first on the boat for bids so that the contractor will see my reply before it’s buried under 40 more proposals. The jobs I bid on usually end up with 40 to 50 proposals total, and we all know most contractors will check 20 or so.

    Regardless, most of the proposal is really about the user’s portfolio and reputation. The proposal itself just has to sound competent.

    So please don’t throw out the first hour of proposals. I worked hard on mine and Elance lists jobs chronologically, from newest to oldest, so that’s the order I bid in.

  32. It really depends on the contractor. I started with odesk offering $1/hour jobs. I was happy earning $20/month. i was doing book covers for $2 each… I took jobs that takes me 2 days to finish because of the requirements but only earned $5 and i was happy because I understood that its not always going to be like that. PLUS i truly love what i do. How lucky was my previous clients… and I DID NOT DO A CRAPPY JOB. I was BUILDING MY PORTFOLIO during that time and I was focused on doing a really really great job so i can have a clientele and a good reputation… and i understood that 70% of my future jobs would be from referrals. I built my way up… now I charge $16/hour on book formatting and covers. It took me almost 2 years to go from $1/hour to $16/hour. Living in the Philippines with low standard of living makes me considerably rich.

    Even if you say that most contractor offer low prices and clients don’t know what they want, hence they both get crappy deals… i think this is a SECTION or a GROUP of users of the site because in my experience, even if I offer a low price for a job, some clients would take someone charging waaaaay higher. I don’t exactly know the mentality of the client. Probably he thinks that higher bid means the contractor is a “pro” but when i check out their portfolio, I don’t see anything special at all but my portfolio wasn’t as strong but I was capable of the same output. So now with a strong portfolio, I don’t even apply for jobs. People offer me jobs. I sometimes have to decline.

    It’s also true that some clients of mine had such a horrible experience with odesk contractors… really really bad graphics that have seemed to be done using MS WORD. Really laughable stuff. And I am thankful to those people because once these clients find someone like me who is dependable, responsive, pretty good (LOL), they never let you go.

    I take care of my clients, so they refer friends to me… I am now part of odesk’s top 10% contractors because I had a plan and I really love what I do…

  33. (Sorry for the impersonal writing… I’m on a beach right now living the 8 hour work work)

    Hi,

    My name is Aaron, and I’m from Vancouver Canada.

    Two years ago I took my credit card and the knowledge I had from my sisters very successful recruitment company and created an account on Odesk.

    Then I found many internet-retarded business owners that needed things like websites, magazine ads, Tshirts, business cards, etc etc.

    After that, I looked on Odesk and successfully found many contractors that could do these jobs at a very minimum cost.

    Win win situation.

    The problem with oDesk and eLance are the companies posting jobs. You guys don’t know how to look. You use the same attitude for find a person, as you do coming up with a low ball douchbag offer.

    Do your research , find out the average wage of those professionals in the country you are trying to source from. Add the 10% odesk fee. That should be the minimum offered for the task you want to hire for. Don’t be a lowball douchebag…..

    If you want quality work ,you need to pay a little more for quality people. Or find new Contractors with great portfolios and zero hours logged on oDesk: take advantage of the fact that they dont have any reviews yet. Lowball those guys, but you better make sure you give them an amazing review (make sure it’s clear and precise), and MAKE SURE IT’S HONEST.

    My Odesk account is currently billed out $6000USD for two years of business that has generated me approx $26,000USD. And I’m STILL saving my clients money on their projects.

    I am a firm believer in empowering the hird world. So I give praise to websites like elance and odesk.

  34. It is not as simple as you say it is. There are guidelines which are simple to follow though – in finding the right freelancers. It might sound racist, but if you decline all – ALL – Indian and Pakistani bids on your job, you will be left with an easy to manage number of proposals from relatively civilized countries. I would recommend hiring someone from Eastern Europe – of – as I have been doing recently – from the United States (it is much more expensive, but it gets the job done).

    • Kashif

      This is outright racist and a disrespect to humanity. I am from Pakistan. I have worked for American and EU companies over the past couple of years. A couple of them were so happy with me that they wanted me to come to their places to become their permanent employee. It did not happen as I am not yet ready to leave my place; but you see my point.

      Please stop being racist. There are more than 1.4 BILLION people living in India and Pakistan and we are just as human (one can prove that in LAB!).

  35. Lindsay

    To all the Ladies and Gentlemen here who are respected in their respective fields of expertise, all of you have a point. I would like to share my opinion about the topic that \you will never win in this battle between Odesk and Elance\.

    It’s not about which site offers good pay to talented contractors and vice versa but rather how you use these tools to land on the job that you want and find someone who can perform the job for you. I firmly believe that these sites were founded for a good reason however, there are some people who does crap over this great avenue of opportunity.

    I am a 5 year licensed professional turned freelancer who went out of the corporate rat race and went to virtual freelance jobs in both Odesk and Elance hoping to find a decent employer that values quality over money. Recognizes my skills sets and able to fairly give a decent fee, unless this is a volunteerism setting, why not, I will offer my services 0 cents but this is not the case.

    What I obsereved in this \battle arena\ is that all sides, the employer, the contractor and the site, have their own shortcomings. This is addressed to people who does not respect other peoples dignity and worth ethics. On the other hand, high hand salute to the few people I’ve known who had a successfull long-term (3+ years & counting) business relationships over these sites.

    Corporate, freelance or virtual, it does not matter. What matters is how you RESPECT other people and be RESPECTED in return. And let us accept the fact that we are still in this rat race winning each battle. Let us not blame each other but rather take full responsibility in our actions.

    For Elance, Odesk and other freelance site, maybe they could develop more on their screening process to keep things in balance, since they are the foundation where the balance beam is placed for the employer and freelancer. Not that I am saying they are not doing anything about it but maybe they will be able to formulate a better system for both, for sure they are looking at it right now.

    For some of the employers who are so ever busy, looking for the right person for their team and most in a tight budget, please…please…have the decency to provide what is needed from you. If other employer on your same level or even lower could provide those things from proper job description posting to fair compensation and trainings, I don’t see any reason why you can’t. Unless you think, that freelancers are beggar bots that would take even bread crumbs for a pay to feed 5 or more households, then, PLEASE…step out, you are just making this green pasture a dumping site.

    And to my fellow freelancers, be it beginners or experts, who values the work ethics, don’t let anyone degrade you. It’s easier said than done but let’s think of it this way. You won’t like being bullied at school right? So you fight back to those big bad bullies. And if you are the type of freelancer that would take anything, like way cents low, well THINK! THINK HARDER! Find a place, not here.

    With that said, on a lighter note (I think)….why not build a separate site for employers and freelancer that would agree on bread crumb level of payment, dishonesty and uncertain job decription and another site for both professional employers and freelancer who RESPECT each other only? :-) Maybe, in that way, we will win in our battles :-)

    We are HUMAN BEINGS and let us act as one. RESPECT and everything follows.

  36. +1 on ziptask. Great bridging of the gap.

  37. cyberpine

    We’ve had great success getting IT development work completed on Elance. We’ve met some great developers and learned a lot from them. Some of these freelancers had $0 job history when we contracted them.

    IMO, the key is having an in house developer spec the job and work with the Elance Contractor. Agreed that the job description must be very clear and detailed. It’s also important to dialog first and get confirmation that they can really do the job. If you know the technology, you’ll know if they are not legit.

    I think we can get more done with a $20k Elance budget that we can get from $200k for two FTEs sitting in office space w/benefits waiting for work.

  38. Sean McElligott

    Unlike most of the other commentors, I am a fan of freelance sites. They appeal to my sense of equity (helping out someone living in far more difficult conditions than I), and I’ve received some good product (LOL, and also some really bad stuff, but I would find that locally as well).

    I start out all of my well-articulate job descriptions, with \please read the entire brief BEFORE responding,\ and I conclude with \send me no more than X samples of relevant work, your hourly rate, and your estimate as to how long this job will take.\ The inability of many to follow these simple instructions, earns them an immediate decline (after a somewhat sarcastic response of \My apologies, I am only considering those able to read job descriptions at this time.\).

    From those that do read and respond appropriately, I usually try to make a quick decision so that I am not wasting time of authentic service providers. As soon as I have 2-3 reasonable responses, with some talent, I accept one. Communication will generally be a challenge, but I find that through the professional and friendly tone of my communication and by asking them to use my first name, and not \sir,\ I often am able to create an environment where I can get from them the best work they are able to produce.

    Another important step is creating milestones. I generally ask to see some work product after no more than four hours. If they are completely off track, I may re-direct them to key points of the brief, and I give them another hour to make changes. However, if they are simply veering away from my vision, I give them another four hours, and clearer instructions as to tone, look, and feel. I cancel jobs, and leave realistic feedback, if no progress has been made, but if we are heading in the right direction, I create more significant milestones, and ask them to take some responsibility in managing their time and work product. I generally am happy with the work I get in the end, and believe the freelancer enjoys his/her work because they are given some autonomy after earning it.

    This can be a time-consuming process, but it can also be quite rewarding. I have occasionally been told by freelancers, that I have treated them with more respect and trust than most/all of their other employers.

    So . . . I believe that if you know what you want, write a clear job specification and manage the process, you can help make a difference in someone’s life, and get some very good work product at a reasonable expense. If your goal is to exploit an impoverished workforce, I’m guessing you’ll come up short.

  39. Interesting to read everyone’s experiences. I’ve bidded for hundreds of jobs on odesk and never got a thing. I don’t hold much hope for getting any valuable jobs from it. By comparison, I’m working hard to network in real time locally where I live (Australia) which has netted me a great deal of work. I’d love to see oDesk and other sites thrive but I don’t think they work well, unless, as other have said, you’re willing to charge very low rates. I also see lots of aggressive job postings which make you feel very despondent – one last week said, “Don’t bother quoting more than $0.75 an hour…blah blah”. Not good!

  40. Rana

    I have a account on Odesk and elance. I need more information.
    Thanks

  41. Rana

    I am finding Odesk experience better than many other companies.

  42. Hi,

    Thanks for this article and the various comments on it. I spent time and effort putting together profiles on elance, freelancer and Guru when my company suffered multiple blows due to the recent recession(s). Part of my reason for joining these sites was because a friend managed to start a pretty regular and lucrative freelance writing career through them, and I thought it might be a good way to pick up some artworking/simple design jobs to tide me over as I develop some more serious and regular clients.

    Maybe it works for writers but for me as a designer, It’s a mistake. Firstly I’m based in the UK and cannot compete with the prices, especially after commission and currency conversions. Worse still, lots of the potential ‘clients’ are wanting jobs for less than $50 but expect you to submit concepts – a creative pitch for a job that ultimately will probably pay less than £30? I write every pitch properly and supply genuine portfolio examples, but it’s a total waste of time and effort, you don’t even get the benefit of constructive criticism or feedback. You have no idea what the winning pitch might have consisted of.

    I think people spending real money and wanting to build real relationships on Elance are using people who already have very established profiles – which is fair enough. But really, if you’re looking to work regularly with a designer, do some research, find the right person, get to know them and work together. There’s not need to shovel a cut of your budget into an agency which is literally just acting as a middle man. There is no sense in paying that commission after the first job.

    Like reverse auctions, these sites lower the standard of work at best and lowers the value of the industry at worst. Plus it’s really really bad for motivation. I’m going to close down all my accounts because they’re just a miserable distraction, when my time could be spent on building real relationships and doing quality creative work that people will actually value.

    Perhaps that’s where my first mistake was – I want to build valuable and mutually satisfying relationships, but the freelance websites seemed to have fostered cultures where the supplier (which is the only perspective I can offer) is immediately set on the back foot.

    Hmm, anyway, goo luck to everyone who’s made it work for them – but I think on currency alone, I can’t make it work.

  43. Nice insights, please allow me to share my meandering experience as a contractor. I started working at Odesk at $5/hour, I tired $2.5/hour not because I bid for it but because that was the only amount the employer could afford. right now, my rate is ranging from $10-$15/hour and I have already a job at elance as well. I can hardly express my gratitude (for the lack of the better word)having that convenience in working from your home/anywhere. Most of all building a great portfolio and online reputation.

    I am living here in the Philippines and I earn the same salary if not more than as those managers or others with higher positions working locally but it wasnt an easy way. its very hard for us, contractors to prove our worth for those employers who are in the other side of the planet but when we get a chance (generally speaking) we try to go beyond their expectations. Whether the project is big or small, we need to empress our clients because one negative feedback will quickly ruin our entire profile in which it took a hard time for us to build.

  44. Dalai Dolly

    I’ve been working with ODesk for about 5 years. What all of us have to recognize is that notions and legalities regarding intellectual property, journalism, and publishing are in a tumultuous period of evolution. Elance and ODesk are part of that and have been emerging as the leaders.
    They represent the new face of hiring in general, not just freelance IT, Design and Writing. As a Scenic Artist by trade, staffing agencies are de rigor for brick and mortar jobs,as well. EVERYTHING is being done by contract, rather than ‘employment’.
    My experience with the two sites has been that it was simpler to get hired on ODesk. And thus, I have built my history there and consequently, gotten more jobs.
    My original rate for writing and editing on ODesk was $12 per hour. It is now $20…and I get it. I simply do not accept jobs that pay less. The work WILL be devalued if we contribute to that. My rate is enough money for me, here in the US, and I’m happy if I’m making that. I make no bones about replying to an employer that offer ridiculously low rates that they should be willing to pay at least what they pay their yard guys.
    This is a difficult time for publishing of any kind…and, yes, we are competing with people that will work for chicken feed. US companies are particularly cheap. But what they find when they hire ‘overseas’ workers, is that there are so many misunderstandings with instructions and agreements, that they are better off paying a bit more and wasting less time.
    I recently was operating in a recruitment capacity for an ODesk employer. It’s pretty easy to spot a boiler plate response from the slug in applications. Discarded immediately. A considered response and consistent followup from the applicants was the deciding factor. I hired a mid-range Indian developer for a trial with mixed results. Got the job done, but it took longer than expected with some language related misunderstandings. Next time I will make better efforts to ensure that language won’t be a problem.
    I think we all have to be patient with these new means of competing and working in this global market. The beauty of it is that WE have the capacity and potential for SHAPING it. Establish some ethics and value for your work and stick to them. You might not get rich or famous, but you just might make a decent living doing what you’re good at. As Kurt Vonnegut might ask, \If that isn’t nice, what is?\

  45. To hire the draftsmen I needed, I took an recent set of pdf plans and posted it as a job. Then, I hired 7 people and told them I needed it in 3 days. Three of them achieved the quality I needed. The first, an American, got hired full time after the first job. The second, a Ukrainian, fell ill and is currently hospitalized, though I’m sure to use him again. The third, from the Philippines, is very good. I’ve hired him several times.
    Initial investment: $300.
    Savings over recent jobs: $900
    Yes, I had to train up the Filipino subcontractor. Now, I pay him a little more than what his other clients pay. And, I push for my projects to be completed first. I pay immediately, as soon as project is delivered.
    And, I also receive the CAD drawings, something an American drafter would never give.
    It has been a valuable decision.

    • All of these websites have contracts that massively benefit the employer, and they all require that the contractor turn over all the IP upon payment.

  46. Nada

    KRIS is weary wrong it really made me angry reading his post!
    Design is learned for years, I have 4 years of design school, 5 years of Fine Art Academy, 3 years of Post graduate studies. And that helped me to have one of first profiles among others when you type in book cover design on O desk.
    It allowed me to double my income (my country has same average pay of 12-20 usd per day as in Philippines) . Also I get offer every day for jobs at Odesk. When I got overwhelmed by work, I wanted to hire someone from Odesk to share work with. I looked for persons who charge less then me and I wanted to cry how poor their design skills were. Over 35000 profiles. I found one average and professional person from India only one over so many of them. Then I browsed more and finally when I found one which works were same and some better then mine I couldn’t hire him because he charges 50usd per hour and he is from US. I do not want to judge but people from Asia have weary poor guilty of design. Even their prices are great for employer. At the end I hired my colleague from Academy, I do not earn anything hiring her but at least I deliver excellent design to client for affordable price (I work 20usd per hour) and keep them coming back.
    I even accpet to work some deigns cheaply when I have time, because it is hard for me to reject design (I am specialized in book design and that is my passion), in my country is almost impossible to find job as designer due of 60% unemployment, and I am happy that I have chance to work what I love from home. For example I would work some boring job in office for 20 usd -30 usd per day, and for 30usd I am cozy in my home and working on art even commercial art like design that I love.

  47. Robert

    I have been and still going through a nightmare with oDesk, having being badly burnt by one of the programmers here and not being given any work or proof of work from the contractor I of course refused to pay. I have explained the problem and sent prrof of this to oDesk so many times now. They are still writing to me to ask what the problem is and on Top of that keep attempting to charge my account every single day. This morning on the 45th attempt.
    I am not sure about the other Freelance sites, but I would definitely want some assurances from them if I do this again, I have had no understand backup or support from oDesk.
    Be aware that if you do have a problem you will get no help from them

    • Shaun M

      I’m a programmer and a drafter (Java,PHP work in Autocad 2012),I never bid less then %10/hour and I am looking at a change of profession because of what and how many people I have seen bid on jobs.It is disgusting having to earn a degree or 3 year diploma and then see people bid $5/hour for professional work.

      I have had more luck on Elance then Odesk

  48. C. Van Herrin

    I started using Guru and Elance back in the old days, around 2004. I found steady work through these sites for a good six years, and I have them to thank for my continued success due to repeat clients. I don’t even maintain a website anymore.

    Although I sometimes lost money due to underestimating the amount of time an editing project would take, I think it was about being in the right place at the right time and earning top-notch accolades because I always tried my best. I can’t speak for the industry now, but it was a great launching pad.

  49. Anthony

    This is exactly what eKast in NZ is tackling. They interviewed over 1000 developers and asked them what they liked and disliked regarding these platforms. According to the founder (who I have coffee with regularly), she said that they no longer let any developer just \sign\ up. Now they have a curated list of developers who have been screened across multiple facets (communication, skill, reliability, ect…). They charge a bit more (I think 10-12%) but at least you know its quality.

    I have used elance and odesk and they are good but I have had some VERY bad experiences. Not to say you throw the baby out with the bath water but I like the peace of mind knowing that I am getting quality and paying only a few % more. I also like that eKast will for a small fee – handle the project for you – using their core/team developers.

    Cool platform. Will be interesting to see how the whole human cloud disrupts normal ways of working.

    Great write up by the way. :)

  50. As a US-based contractor who has made their ENTIRE living from freelance websites the last few years, I find this a fascinating discussion. I also come at it from a slightly different perspective than others who have commented because I’m a medical device/mechanical engineer and not in IT, Writing, or Graphic Design. Nevertheless, there are often $5/hr bids next to my $20-$40/hr bids–and more often than not a $10/hr bid gets the project. I would guess that the “race to the bottom” on bids probably costs me a minimum of $5/hr and up to $20/hr on all of my jobs.
    That doesn’t bother me too much though. Sure it would be nice to make more, but overall I have no problem making half as much as I’m worth because I can work from anywhere, anytime—and completely for myself. It enables me to make $20/hr minimum (albeit part-time) from my homestead in the middle-of-freakin’-nowhere Southern Utah where my entire town of 300 people shuts down for the winter. In that way I also drive the “race to the bottom” in that I can work for much, much less than an equally qualified engineer who has the expense of living in suburbia.
    This whole article and the comments that follow are funny because there is a very common theme: If you spend less time writing your job descriptions than you spend on the toilet everyday then you are going to have difficulties no matter who you use or what service you use to find them. That is, unless you hire a highly qualified candidate with experience vetting out vague ideas into concrete objectives and superb communication skills–in that case you can be just fine. But you won’t get that for $2/hr, and if you think you can then you simply get what you deserve for being a fool.
    Overall, these sites are amazing tools for regular, everyday people who have ideas and want to make them a reality. Sometimes you need a Harbor Freight tool and sometimes you need the best tool money can buy. If you don’t know the difference between them or don’t know when each kind of tool is appropriate then you probably have no business using them in the first place.

  51. Derrick

    I have done work with Elance, Odesk, and Freeelance and still do. As an Architect I skip past 99% of the postings because most are from employees who have no idea of the process involved in doing the kind of work that is needed to produce the packages they are looking for. A building.. namely a house in the US has far different building code issues from a life safety point of view than in the Philippines or hungry yet people from those countries profess to doing the work for 2$ an hour. Herein lies the real problem. Many of these people claim to have the education and expertise yet there is no way to factually prove it unless one asks for certificates. Still an individual with an \architectural degree\ from the Philippines or hungry or Russia could never perform those services in North America because it is illegal to practice architecture in the US without certification and without continuing education and exams in the US they would never be certified. Some states require seals on drawings for houses some don’t.
    Also to digress a bit companies and individuals are farming out works to foreigner’s who do not have to declare a 1099 whereas any Americans who take on work for these freelance websites must by law. These freelance companies know this and put up disclaimers to skirt US tax laws.
    As I understand it there is legislation under foot under motivation by the IRS to start forcing these companies to start collecting taxes at point of fee receipt.

    Also I have disputes with Odesk and Elance in terms of collecting. The dispute resolution mechanisms are flawed to the point of utter nonsense. Individuals deciding who the money in escrow goes to in the event of a dispute are not qualified in many cases to mediate these issues simply because the sheer number of professions all have different nuances that involve someone with experience in those professions to digest what actually transpired.

    Odesk is the worst with Elance following closely behind. In short you bust your behind working for low trodden wages then have to argue at times to be paid.
    Once again we have companies outsourcing work to 3 world countries and undermining our own economy in the process. Sooner or later we will knock enough blocks out from under our foundation to collapse this house we call the US economy.

    These jobs and associated payments fall under the labour laws of the US and their are grossly missappropirated with complete disregard for those labor laws. Odesk and Elance have many lawsuits in small claims court.

    It is my hope that we have forced legislation in place to enforce the IRS taxation laws on everyone that uses those services and they are effectively enforced. Also that litigation with respect to labor laws is also enforced.

  52. I come at this from the business side. I have used Odesk, Elance, and others over the years for everything from development to writing to simple assistant tasks. Like anything, there are good contractors and bad ones. It doesn’t matter where you go to look for contractors. The experience will be the same – a mixed bag – and price per hour has very little to do with it. I’ve worked with crappy $40/hour contractors and awesome $10/hour contractors and everything in between. The challenge I have had over the years is keeping the good ones around. Every time I have found a good contractor they typically only last about a year at the most. Then they get bored, find better projects, find full time jobs…whatever…but they just disappear. I’ve come to the realization that the only way to find quality talent that you can truly rely on is to hire them outright as an employee. I haven’t been able to afford to take that step yet but it seems to be the only answer.

    Travis

  53. Andy

    As a web developer based out of India. and have been freelancing for the last 15 years started with guru.com and now on elance. What i have seen most of the times are projects that are being outsourced by individual contractors based in the US and they need the lowest amount. So if they have a contract for $3000 and they are looking for a bid close $300.. now i am not sure if they are stupid or not but i think its mostly greed and odds.. So they may end up giving an advance of 100$ and loose it tooo.. but in their minds its stil lteh odds they can still afford to get scammed a another few times before it starts hitting them.. and all because of the lure that they can ge the project completed at 10% of the cost…. i have seen it happen a million times …but greed is omnipresent…. the clever employer knows that even if he is paying 12-15$ he is atleast getting work done cheaper by us standards but more importantly the guy is not doign a runner…

    there is a saying if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

    Please also note that the guy who probably ran away with your $50 not because he was scamming you its just because he got a better paying gig..

  54. After being on elance for about a month, I’ve found that being extremely detailed in proposals has helped me to land a few great jobs. While my hourly rate isn’t particularly low ($33/hr), I am able to get hired by emphasising the importance of clear communication to my clients and remaining punctual throughout the bidding process. As someone who has also hired on odesk, I’m familiar with the level of communication that happens between contractors and clients when working internationally (language barrier +desperation=quick and dirty) . I hired a developer through odesk at a low hourly rate who ended up breaking my site during a 10 hour (his estimate) project. I fixed it in 1. There are way too many WordPress and SEO \experts\ out there these days so it’s important for people who are hiring to do their research. If you’re asking for guaranteed page 1 position 1 placement for less than $500 dollars, you’re going to have a bad time.

    (btw) worst spam verification ever! c’mon LaunchStartup!

  55. Max

    Lucky me. The only time I hired a .NET developer from Freelancer, I found a great one from Syria, and since then he became my developer for many more projects, always delivering great solutions. Now I need a SEO expert….I hope I will be lucky again!!

  56. I have been working in oDesk since the last 4 years and have seen plenty of good and bad clients and contractors. The problem is when a new client came on oDesk they think that they can get the job done as they wish with a low budget. Which is not possible. A well trained professional will charge you almost same in anywhere of the world. So, the better way for you to look at the reviews other clients gave and the portfolio section. There are a lot of section in the contractor’s profile from where you can determine the contractors ability. So, it shouldn’t be a problem if you know how to choose them.

  57. August Teleg

    Hi! I am Augusto Teleg! I have been with only for two months but I have earned twice that salary I used to get by working in local companies here. Canadian, UK, USA, Singaporean employers have hired me and gave me rates higher than the minimum in my country. I feel lucky, but I guess it”s because of how I presented myself in my resume, and how I lived up to what’s written there. These websites have a very small window of opportunity for people from the developed countries and if you think these aren’t working for you, then do not sign up or delete your account. Eventually, everybody on Odesk, elance, etc. get’s filtered. Employees who offer low rates but do not deliver, get no jobs. Employers learn to hire not only based on the cost but quality.

    If you have spent so much time and have not gained anything from these sites, then the right place perhaps is not these freelancing websites. You have been filtered.

    I love that my work, my talent, my dedication, my passion, my skills, my English, my designs, my ideas, my intelligence and me are all admired, seen and appreciated by people from all parts of the world.

    I do not feel like working. There are jobs on odesk that I would have never encountered had I only looked in the grounds of the Philippines.

    I have been underpaid and abused by my country and I have never felt more noticed, and rewarded.

    Sometimes, I want to give a refund to the people who hired me and paid me because they do not know how much learning and how much enjoyment I gained by working with them.

    I deserve what I get. The world deserves to see my talent. Bow.

    If you agree, hire me. hahaha

  58. Sam Manlosa

    I like this article, although I am compelled to say that this does not present the whole story when it comes to Elance and oDesk. I am a freelance writer from the Philippines and I’ve been on both sites for about 4 years now. This is relevant because it touches on something that became the underlying argument for most of the article: that clients/companies are not likely to get good service on these sites because of the \price war\ between freelancers that eventually drive the quality of the work down to unacceptable levels.

    To understand my point, you only need to look at the dynamics of global business today and how the US and many other Western economies are losing jobs to China. Apple, for example, wants to outsource to FoxConn in China because labor and materials are cheap. Unfortunately for Apple, doing business in China does not come without hassles; the issues about labor exploitation, for example, has cast Apple in some bad light and has attracted unwanted attention just when Google is gaining market share. Simply put, price isn’t the only thing one should look at to get work done. Everyone knows that quality work comes with a price and if you’re not willing to pay the price, then expect to receive shitty work from shitty freelancers.

    The way to fix this is to come with a clear expectation of the work that you need done and then correlate that to what would amount as fair price for that type of work. Don’t just hire freelancers; hire freelancers who charge higher pay but also deliver the best work. Likewise, freelancers should also learn not to lower their standards just to earn a few dollars for a day’s worth of work. What I’m saying is, the system itself isn’t broken; it’s people’s expectations that are totally not in line with reality.

    I agree that the sites as they are currently designed aren’t perfect and horror stories happen everyday. I’m also sure there are ways to fix the problem from both Elance and oDesk’s perspective. But these should not be reasons for clients to move away from outsourcing; rather, these horror stories should become reminders of what happens when you want great work but hate to pay the price.

    I mentioned that I come from the Philippines but I don’t personally accept $3/hour rates. Heck, I don’t even entertain $10/hour jobs. I know what I bring to the table and I do a damn good job of convincing clients to return and hire me based on the quality of work that I deliver. I may cost more than other contractors but they know what they are getting from me. From my experience, one only needs to deliver top-notch work and even at higher prices, there will be no shortage of contractors/jobs to work on.

  59. I am a
    freelancer at odesk comes from india.I can see most of the people get annoying of bidding lowest by indian employees and they think that \They are not professional and destroying the freelancing\ .Are you out of mind? everyone want to survive in
    this world,everyone need money.When i searched for my first job in odesk i almost rejected in every job,even i bid a decent price among all.I got my first job only when i bid low for 2$!.You know our economy level, for us 1$=60Rs .The first job i had was only an hour,So i easily made 120rs in an hour.Most of the employee here in india getting the same amount as their daily salary.We can provide more professional work like other people from different countries.May be some of them among us do scam or not being professional. But don’t compare it totally with everyone.Now am continuing the freelancing,I am getting 10$ per hour for the decent job am providing.Most of my clients are satisfied with it.
    The clients who are not-professional and not want to spend too much on money that
    it actually take are the guys welcoming the lowest bid.Its not only about freelancer its also about Contractor.

  60. lchenhz

    I am a professional artist working in the game industry in the UK, mostly.
    I think most of the freelancers out there complaining about the low wages online should know:
    - If you are professional, and if you are up to the standard, you won’t even be in a position to bid jobs on these sites. Freelancers in my industry are outstanding professionals, they are not hobbist or inexperienced newbies by definition. For a good artist, there are tones of good local companies hiring, who are willing to pay good salary, temperary or permanant roles.
    Also, for an artist/design role, if you are not up to the professinal standard… Then, you are only worthy of the money you get paid, be it $1 or 3. Non-professional artsits/designers would never be able to make a living anyway.
    The general concensus in the industry is , outsourcing is a very risky thing, it needs to be properly managed, with an outsource manager, also it should be a strategic desicion, rather than just based on the price. So in a way, it won’t upset the current market anyway, it’s merely a new global specilisation. Of course, the bitter problems is, it is extrmemely hard for a newbie artist/ designer to break into the industry, only the best can get in and survive. Dreaming of getting in with a degree and get a comfortable salary is a long gone dream.

    • Derrick

      Online freelancing will not survive as a mainstay of outsourcing because people are using it to skirt taxation. Revenue administrators from government taxation administrations know this and are about to make sweeping taxation changes to fix this little black hole.

      So all these countries working for a dollar an hour be aware…unless the address of the online freelance service is outside of a commonwealth country or the US..good luck you will be forced to pay a outsourcing tax or it will be levied on the .com company itself. So much much for the slave labor rates…(way overdue).

    • Abir

      Good point ! Agree with you.

  61. Wow! I can’t believe all these years later there’s still tons of people trying to get something for nothing. In fact, they’re trying to get a Roll Royce for the price of a Pinto. It ain’t gonna work, at least not for long. The kind of RFPs you see on these sites demand an insanely high level of talent and dumb ass business people think that finding creative and technical talent is akin to shopping at Wal-mart. In their feeble, greedy, little minds, people who do real work are less than they are, just like the scumbags in wall street believe they deserve a bailout while the homeowner shouldn’t.

  62. DB

    This just made my day – \Mircea Goia, another Quora power user adds:\

    I know Mircea Goia personally (in person) and we bumped heads before. He is a pretender.

    He likes to think of himself as a quality something, I can not integrate him in a specific niche. He is a pompous A hole who likes to talk and think about something that he has no F’ing clue how to do.

    And how can you comment in the name of you \business man\ friend?
    Do you know his capabilities to formulate the requirements?
    Did he provide enough information?

    If his so called BUSINESS MAN wanted quality, then why in the world went to Elance in the first place?. Why not hire locally (at least you have more control)?

    There are a lot of factors that are in play here and you cannot stigmatize all providers on either platform because one project was unsuccessful from the first try. And please stop referencing a power user just because he is a power user somewhere, the thing that he is a POWER USER does not mean he is also right, he has a very low pool for his opinion (and I do need to emphasize that is only HIS opinion). I would take his opinion in consideration if it would be a result of a test pool of Z business mans who make posts according to a specific job description and they got only bad applicants or bad results.

    It’s impossible to base the performance of the entire platform on a single unsatisfied customer.

    • Dave

      Good grief. Were you flaming or is your English really that bad? Read your post again. Choppy.

  63. Kimberleytin

    Be it Odesk or Elance – most of the Freelance sites on the web can’t simply help you when you need a complex, abstract project done in those domains. They are good in tangible services like web development, logo development etc. For abstract works like statistical analysis or economics homework, Statlance would be a good option.

  64. Bic

    Ouch Sam, I work at $10 an hour as a writer in oDesk, and I hope you don’t look down on me. But I do agree on some points raised by this article, except that, if you stick to your guns – insist on your rate and deliver quality results consistently – you can win the battle. I’m very picky with projects and that really helps me build my
    ‘brand.’ Out of every 10 invites I receive, I usually only entertain one or two, but what little I get, I get quality and long-term engagement in exchange. I haven’t fully tried Elance, so my perspective is somewhat limited, because I’m getting more than enough jobs on oDesk to bother chasing for more. I think my ‘luck’ stemmed from choosing the right projects and clients who feel it is a steal to be paying someone half or a third of the price for quality comparable to what native speakers could produce. It took me three years however to jump from $5 to $10 an hour, but it was all worth it. I’m equally ‘lucky’ to be residing in the Visayas (despite Yolanda and Bohol incidents) where cost of living is much lower than Manila, so I only need to work 20 hours a week for two months to get covered.

  65. Elancer

    I’m from India and I’m a new member on Elance. I was told that this would be a great place to find work but I’m a little disappointed. I have never sent a canned response to any project but I’m finding it difficult to get contractors to even notice I exist. Unlike most freelancers from out here, I speak English fluently and I can understand the job’s requirements clearly. I didn’t come here to become a programming monkey. I’m skilled enough to suggest better options to the contractor so they can get their job done more efficiently. I thought I had an advantage over most of the other Indians on Elance but it seems we’re all looked at the same way.

    On almost every project I’ve ever bid on, there’s a bid from another freelancer for just $20. I can’t understand how somebody can work for so less unless they plan to do a half assed job. A lot of my bids were rejected saying the bid amount was unreasonable. So I took the bait, did a few projects for $20 since I was just starting out and the only thing I cared about at that time was to build a reputation before I can ask for reasonable rates but nothing’s changed.

    I’ll try it for another month before I move on to something else. I think I’m better off contacting the local companies directly.

    • Dave

      Welcome to self-employment, on a WORLD scale! I have been reading a lot about this online and what seems to be apparent is that there ARE companies who will pay a reasonable rate for good developers, but it takes a long time to build up reputation on sites like oDesk. And when I say long I mean more than a month…probably minimum of 6 mos to a year of working at below standard wages in order to build up your profile. If you can afford to do that, fine. But if not…well…good luck!

    • Kibitzer

      Elancer, I don’t know anything about your technical skills, but your English is definitely first rate. Since the language barrier is one of the difficulties of working across national boundaries, I would be surprised if you don’t do well.

      • Jay Soriano

        You can’t make that assumption based on one qualification… English should be one of MANY qualifications.

  66. I agree with many of the comments, especially about not going with the boilerplate responses. I’ve gotten some very high quality contractors on oDesk by specifically *not* hiring the lowest tier of prices responsible. I then typically allocate a small portion of the task and farm it out to 3-4 contractors. Usually you can cull through 80% of the responses by the attention paid by the applicant and then identify the really solid folks with a small amount of money at risk. It does take work though. I’m not sure how many people expect that from the start. I think it is absolutely in not being able to define your tasks well up front and then a lack of understanding on what to expect back. I’ve found it very rewarding *if* you put the proper amount of controls in place up front. My thoughts.

  67. I registered on both Elance and oDesk; I’ve found Elance to be useful, but not oDesk. The level of pay most employers are offering on oDesk is too low for me. In my opinion, it is possible to find decent clients on Elance, especially if you work in a specialist area of writing. For example, I have an expertise in academic writing, which a lot of other contractors don’t have, so that helps a lot in terms of competitiveness.

  68. Freelance sites have created a certain niche. This niche has its positives such as the affordable work and a wide range of talent. However, the shortcomings are becoming more apparent as time moves on. The lack of quality assurance and the “open source” structure of sign-ups and bidding leaves much to be desired.

    When we built our site we looked for a company that would be able to get quality work done at a reasonable price. We didn’t expect to cheat the cost, quality, time triangle but we knew that freelancers would be too risky.

    There is a New Zealand group thats is entering the opposite niche (www.ekast.co.nz). They have created a platform that allows you to post your job. The developers that work for them are ISO certified and they apparently don’t allow more than a 1:3 client/developer ratio to ensure saturation (and its ill effects) don’t surface. When we signed up and posted, it all remained semi-private (although they have a private feature). And we were contacted both by eKast support and developer – which is a bonus.

    The only downside I can see is that they don’t have the automated system such as elance or odesk. As in, you can’t post your job then have hundreds of people bidding on your job. They essentially control it all in house. This is a downside if you are trying to find a massive amount of bids. But then again, we weren’t.

    This is a great blog post, the information here has really made me think differently about our next project.

  69. Dave

    BTW, kudos to whoever came up with the idea for the SOLVEmedia advertising. Playing an ad to get the human verification code: very smart idea! ;)

  70. I’m not sure how old this article is, but I just had an insane month on oDesk.

    I have signed up for most of the different freelance sites, but before I could finish filling out all of my profiles, I got so busy I had to let them go. In the last two weeks I’ve turned down so many invites to apply for jobs that it just kills me!

    In case you’re wondering, I’m an American by birth and lived there for 50 years. I currently live in Mexico. I charge $25-$30/hour for web development.

    I wish I knew why this all happened so I could write an ebook about it, but the fact is that once I got my first job feedback and logged at least one hour of verified work, the invitations started pouring in. Most people quickly figure out the value of native English and similar time zones vs. cheap labor. So don’t let articles like this scare you. Reasonable bids, good work. You can do this.

    • Jay Soriano

      But $25-30 is on the low end for American talent, especially for a web developer. And if you’re even more specialized (ie. Ruby on Rails) that certainly helps in your favor.

      After all the unbillable hours and after taxes, you’re looking at $10-15 an hour.

      I don’t question your success at your rate, but once you start wanting to charge $100+ an hour, you might find it a little more difficult to find work.

    • What you think about Ziptask?

  71. Anonymous

    Odesk recently stole money from me.

    When the work was not done I reported the contractor and requested a refund. Contractor replied and admitted to Odesk that they did not do the work. Even though the contractor said they didn’t do the work Odesk still kept the money. Their excuse was I shouldn’t have hired someone hourly on their website! That explains the 85 complaints on the BBB!

    • You should really try Ziptask. It’s way better.

      • I actually have 2 projects on Ziptask now. One is almost done. There’s a slight learning curve, so not recommended if you are a complete idiot. The balance is steered towards those who know enough about what they’re doing do speak intelligently about it to a project manager. That project manager is what you could also hire yourself through oDesk or Elance, but I find it takes too long to train them, which is what I tried to do. Skip it and pay the fee. It’s worth it. Ziptask is my friend/lover now.

  72. Deke

    A Few Thoughts. 1.) I think this – the post and the replies – is seen somewhat shallowly. We freelancers in the West can’t compete with offers made by folks who think a few $/day is fair AND normal, just as blue collar workers can’t compete with the cheaper labor elsewhere, (sometimes elsewhere is in this country!). So folks in the west go where labor is plentiful and cheap. But where is this all going?Someday the cheap labor will want more out of life, like we did back when unions & child labor laws were fighting for a footing; someday the cheap labor will be far less plentiful and the rich folks will have to dip a tad deeper into their stock options and Yacht Fuel fund – until the actual labor can be done by machines ,computer, convicts and there will really be a job shortage!
    2.) The presently cheap labor is getting more jobs, raising unemployment and enhancing the profits of the large companies that are firing/downsizing/mechanizing, (lower production cost & higher sales profits with a fairly predictable future of expense increases and tax benefits. We have long seen it in America, the land of the consistently raised ‘debt ceiling’. And SURPRISE! it’s ‘destroying’ the Freelancers’ world – among others. Our vaunted technology is enabling the poor to make a weeks’ salary in a matter of hours – and they’re grabbing it. The well-off West have a supply of eager, increasingly able ‘dirt cheap’ production units – and they’re grabbing it. The skilled, educated masses caught in the morass/middle are left with fewer income-producing choices paying fewer useful dollars, uncertainty, confusion and a lifetime of direction — rationally explained and backed by a fairly (recent and brief) history of assured ‘advancement’ that led them to where they are now: something of a Lost Generation II.
    3.) Even if you do get a gig at Odesk, Elance, Fiver, Guru, People per Hour, etc. you aren’t really in control. The buyer may refuse payment, the company may be a scam, companies may merge/close . . . and your time and effort at prepping a gig, finding a buyer, completing the gig – hoping it’s what they meant – and getting paid in a reasonable time and with not-too-unreasonable fees deducted by the (site/middleman/escrow agent J.G.) owners who are the most successful gig getters around . . . are you certain you’re making anything near what you offered after all this stressing, (ignoring the continuously decreasingly valued dollar)?
    4.) Look around folks!

  73. For two and a half years, I used elance.com. As an advertising copywriter with 30 years of experience, I had some great work from some great clients. During my use of the site, I earned $7000, money that I would not have earned ptherwise. However, even though I had trouble finding local work for even a fraction of street rates in Canada, I simply grew tired of feeling exploited by the Elance system–plus paying $10.00 a month for the privilege. I can’t calculate all the hours and effort I put in just to win those assignments that added up to $7000. I resented putting out quality work for less than than what the bag boy earns at my local grocery store.

    • Fred, I could not have said it better. After all the non-billable back and forth to earn just a few honest dollars, it felt like a schmuck.

  74. Mike

    This is a GREAT article. Thank you. I have had GOOD experience with Odesk. I have a lot of programming experience but I am not a, “Programmer”. I am more of a systems guy who dabbles top-to-bottom from Web UI to embedded systems. When I have some new-fangled idea to pull together I might rough a good bit of it in, but individual technologies (like a compliant Joomla component) or some ancient ASP code that needs fixing, or any number of items that would require book-work by me are BEST contracted out via odesk.

    I ECHO what you write above: because I am technical and can not only specifiy but also debug and often GUIDE fixes once code is delivered I am able to run a good contract.

    I have enjoyed “meeting” people from many places and working with them. Funny though, on oDesk I hired a graphics designer for some branding material who lives 30 miles from me.

  75. I have only used fiver and oDesk.

    The two simple jobs I had done on fiver were delivered exactly to the quality and style I was promised. I used people with consistent good ratings and a clearly defined product or service.

    On oDesk, I have had a mixed results. If I was time constrained, I would probably use different options. However, I was seeking value for money through lower wage countries for medium difficulty jobs. The good has outweighed the bad quite well.

    Website work: Both an Indonesian and a Vietnamese programmer were quick and professional, and took pride in what they delivered. I was very happy with them and was charged $7 and $10 an hour. One of them was very exact with how much time they took and did not in any way try to make their work look more difficult or time intensive than it was. The other tried a little to milk things, but only needed one link to a website explaining how to do a particular bit of programming for them to play it straight.

    Comic and Manga Art: I got very mixed results, but also two people who have been a real pleasure to work with. I mostly focused on beginning artists with a good portfolio linked to on another website. I got each of 20 people to do a draft panel in a style they would do throughout the comic. I paid each for the panel as it gave me a good indication of their capabilities and gave me possible material I could use in other ways for advertising etc. After the screening I contracted 7 people. Of them, only 3 finished the comic. One who did not finish had good quality and style, but, because she made a mistake by not meeting my specifications, suddenly stopped communicating. I think she thought she might have had to start again. If she communicated we might have found a way to make things work. I had to send a legal communication to two who did nothing after stalling me off. Both returned my upfront payment (I never pay 50% up front, but pay a smaller amount with more frequent milestones and a reasonably large payment after completion. The latter is to get the less motivated to complete their work). One who did not get much work done had a personal crises in their life. She apologized and returned the money. One talented young lady did some beautiful work for me. I was so appreciative, I connected her with my network and she did a lot of work while she was on oDesk. Another who completed a comic, I helped by building her style through feedback and recommendations as she was open and honest. She is building her portfolio in an area that suits her style. And one person has been a real delight. His work is consistently more than I ask and he has been consistently open and honest with me. So, I am employing him for 6 to 12 months at the median wage in his country (significantly higher than he would be getting normally) so he can develop his talent, while he works at home with his young wife and 6 month old baby. In return, I have a talented, passionate, open, honest and energetic young man working with me. I f he continues to meet expectations, I will build a part of my business with him in a profit sharing arrangement.

    In summary, if I was a big business or time constrained for complex work to be done, I would probably use other strategies. However, for medium level coding work and art, my approaches, with time and effort, have found me some great go-to people and colleagues.

  76. +1 on ziptask. Ziptask is actually what I would consider the closest solution there is to being best of breed.

    • odesk, elance, ziptask, and freelancer. They do mostly the same thing right? Why do you say best of breed?

  77. I used Ziptask last month. I had a good experience. We built 2 WordPress websites, Both of which were from bootstrap HTML 5 based themes. Project manager was great. He basically functioned as an architect and a project manager in one. He had three guys working for me. He fired one of him and hired a new guy. The project got delivered three days late but I did not lose any money. It was a great overall experience and I am using them again on another project for the company I work for.

  78. Actually use Ziptask along with freelancers that I had already hired through another portal. Their project manager basically took over where the other guy had left off. They did a pretty good job, although I had to pay for project management hours, it’s way better than doing it myself.

    I do agree with Deke, in his comment about expectations being unreasonable and people in the West being fairly shallow. It’s unfortunate that there is quite a learning process when you start outsourcing work.

  79. Taari

    Ziptask ‘looks’ great… is it real though… ? seems to good to be true.

  80. Even elance jobs with verified clients or have paid one contractor can still be a scammer. Check out for tips on detecting verified elance clients as scammers and also search starwritersgroup@gmail.com on Google search and you will see that this company Star Writers Group is a fraud / scam.

    • Just search the email address and don’t click it unless you are going to investigate them.

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  84. Simple solution here to build tools that give you a headstart over the Freelancer market.

    Your competition is canned bids by les than experienced developers. If you have the tools they you can really do well.

  85. I’m extremely pleased to find this site. I wanted to thank you for ones time
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  86. Great read and I can vouch for the fact that more times than not, your oDesk scenarios are very true. I have found another provider that is planning to disrupt the oDesk model called at http://www.workshop55.com. They hand pick selected qualified freelance developers and work closely with client and freelancer providing a bridge between the two markets of freelancer and client.

  87. Shellie

    odesk or elance or anything in between, so long as they’re freelancing sites, are not worth it!

    companies posting jobs there are just looking for the lowest bidder and they expect the job to be squeaky clean and high-quality, but they pay and even haggle if the amount is above $3!

    the struggles of most freelancers from southeast asia is the competition among themselves because some of them agree with the $1 per article or $1 per hour…which is CRAZY!!!

    i just wish there is a standard amount regardless of location, but based on true value that the freelancers offer… but the best thing to do is avoid these sites coz they’re NOT WORTHY!

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