oDesk - Bidding, Client Interaction and Project Award Policies and Mechanisms
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oDesk’s very different approach to online freelancing, such as its emphasis on hourly work and its marketing itself as a source for virtual employees, has a big impact on how its bidding, project management and client interaction mechanisms operate. Many parts of the system will seem familiar if you use other sites, but others are quite distinctive. And while the system is well-designed overall, it is not without its quirks.
There’s a lot to cover here, so let’s get started.
Project initiation on oDesk consists of writing up a project listing and optionally inviting specific contractors to bid on it. This can be done in either order. Most clients start by writing up and posting the project, and then decide later if they want to invite contractors to bid; some prefer to look for contractors first and then write up a job description.
To start a new project, the client clicks on the “Post a Job” entry on the “My Jobs” menu that can be accessed from the top oDesk navigation bar. oDesk then displays the single-page oDesk new job form. This is fairly straight-forward, containing fields for specifying most of the information one would associate with a freelancing site project.
Clients must choose a category and subcategory for classifying the project. There is also a field for a job title, of course, and a free-format text box for the project description. As I mentioned in my look at project quality, oDesk does not provide any real assistance in filling out the project description, leaving clients mostly to figure out for themselves what they want to say. There is also no list of prohibited projects, nor a link to where they are specified.
Following the project description is the “Job Type” radio button selector, which controls several of the fields below it. For hourly jobs, clients are required to provide an estimate of the project’s duration (length of the job) and workload (roughly how many hours are wanted from the hire per week). For fixed rate projects, these fields change to an estimated budget and due date. It is to oDesk’s credit that they request a budget for fixed rate projects: this is an essential figure that serious freelancers use to screen out projects worth too little to bother with, but many sites don’t even ask for it.
oDesk offers the ability to make projects visible to search engines or to hide projects from them. It is also possible to make a project invite-only, which causes it not to be displayed in oDesk’s own project search function.
Below the main data fields is a hidden box containing advanced options for the project. Most of this is taken up by a set of qualifications that the client can specify for the project, to try to indicate what he or she is looking for more clearly. A client can, for example, request only contractors with a certain average feedback rating or higher, ones in specific countries, or freelancers who have achieved a certain number of billed hours on oDesk. For hourly projects, a client can also indicate a preferred hourly rate range (minimum and maximum). These preferences are listed in the job’s description, though they do not prevent contractors who don’t meet the requirements from applying.
There is no option for choosing between open and closed bidding because all bids on oDesk are closed. No information on specific bids is shown to other contractors, though the site does report the average hourly or fixed rate bid received by the client in real time.
Somewhat oddly, there is no confirmation phase: clicking “Post a Job” at the bottom of the form causes the project to be immediately posted, as long as all of the mandatory fields have valid values in them. This is a poor design, in my opinion, though a client who posts a project by mistake can cancel it.
The amount of help provided on the job listing page is quite limited. Clients get a small amount of help on-screen as they move through the various fields, but there’s not much. The site does prominently display a pop-up window offering live chat assistance for clients filling out a new job, though, which is smart.
The alternative way of posting a project is to start with a contractor search, via the “Find Contractors” option in the “Find Contractors & Jobs” menu at the top right. This brings up a list of clickable links for all of oDesk’s categories and subcategories; choosing one shows a listing of all the contractors in that category or subcategory. Advanced search options allow a client to filter the results in a variety of ways, such as searching by keyword or filtering on the basis of location, feedback score, hourly rate, feedback score, self-reported English proficiency, and more. Once one or more contractors are identified, the client can select to “contact” them; the site will then bring up the “Post a Job” form as described above, and the selected workers will be invited to bid on the new project.
I’m not sure how many clients actually use the provider search capability; it seems to me that the majority of clients don’t seem to bother with specific contractor invites at all. My guess is that this is at least partially because the contractor search engine seems to return results in a rather random order, making it less than useful. I did a sample search just now and got a rather eclectic assortment of contractors on the first page of results, including some with thousands of billed hours, and others with very little work history.
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Last Site Update: December 13, 2011
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