oDesk - Bidding, Client Interaction and Project Award Policies and Mechanisms
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Bidding Process and Policies
As I mentioned when I looked at fees, oDesk does not charge money for placing proposals. Since bids are free, though, the company needs a job application quota to prevent contractors from spamming clients with huge numbers of chaff proposals. This quota varies from 2 to 25 projects depending on several factors that indicate the contractor’s quality and experience.
First, oDesk has a “readiness” test that is used to assess a contractor’s understanding of oDesk’s policies and features. It is possible to bid on a project without passing this test, but until you do, your application quota is limited to just 2 proposals per week. That’s pretty small, so obviously it makes sense to pass the readiness test as soon as possible. Doing so immediately bumps your quota up to 5.
New contractors with no feedback can increase their quota further by passing skill tests: 1 skill test pushes the quota to 10; 2 or 3 skill tests takes it to 15; and 4 or more bumps it up to 20. The quota is increased by 5 more for contractors who participate in oDesk’s ID verification program, so the maximum is 25.
As soon as a contractor has at least one feedback rating, the quota system changes to be based on feedback score and not skill tests. An overall feedback score between 1 and 2 sets the quota to 5; a score of 2 to 3 makes it 10; a score of 3 to 4 means the quota is 15; and 4 to 5 yields a quota of 20. The bonus of 5 for ID verification also applies, so again 25 is the maximum.
The oDesk application quota is based on a weekly cycle, and replenishes on a rolling basis as proposals are made. For example, suppose you have a quota of 15, place a bid on Tuesday and another on Friday, and it is now Saturday. You currently have 13 bids remaining in your quota, and assuming you don’t bid again, you’ll get the 14th back on the upcoming Tuesday, and the 15th on the following Friday.
It’s worth noting that the application quota is a bit different than the bidding systems used on some sites, because it is based on outstanding proposals, not the total number made in a period of time. On most sites, once you use up a bid it is gone and only returns either at the end of the month, or after the rollover period that the site uses. On oDesk, in addition to getting bids restored to your quota 7 days after they are used, you also get them back once the client takes action on the project—even if that is a rejection. Contractors can also decide to withdraw an application from a project if a client is not taking action on it, or just to free up quota to bid on something else.
This system is nice for contractors—perhaps too nice. The ability to cancel bids to free up quota theoretically means contractors could submit hundreds of proposals per week, and that’s a lot in a system where there are no membership or proposal submission fees. If I were an oDesk client, I’d want to see this restricted a bit more to cut down on the amount of junk I have to sift through.
To submit a bid, simply click on the “Apply to this Job” button that appears on any project detail page, right above your current application quota. This will take you to a simple application page, of which there are different versions for fixed rate and hourly jobs. For hourly, you are asked to bid an hourly rate for the project, and there’s a space to write out a “cover letter”, which is really the proposal itself. You can include an attachment as well. For fixed rate projects, the hourly rate is replaced by fields for specifying a fixed rate bid, an upfront (advance) payment percentage, and an estimated duration for completing the project.
oDesk requires that you click a checkbox for each bid indicating that you agree to be bound by the terms of service. For fixed rate projects, the site also brings up a big box to warn you that oDesk provides no payment guarantees or assistance on flat rate jobs. While I strenuously object to that policy, I do thank oDesk for at least being 100% clear about it to bidders.
oDesk does not have premium or sponsored bids.
oDesk is utterly lacking when it comes to pre-bid communication: there is no way to ask private pre-bid questions before submitting a proposal, and there’s no public message board either! oDesk is the only site that is so restrictive when it comes to pre-bid consultation. I’m sure that this is an attempt to prevent clients from being overwhelmed with messages from dozens of contractors, as well as to protect the application quota system from rampant abuse. But it’s just one more way that oDesk does not cater to serious freelancers, who often need clarification in order to bid intelligently.
Sure, you can get around this by submitting a “dummy” bid with your question, clearly specifying up front that the proposal isn’t real because you need more information. But to the client, this just goes into a big heap of applications, and may be hard to differentiate from real bids. Plus there is the problem of choosing a number: if you want to bid on a flat rate project but need more information, what do you put in as the dummy bid? If you bid too low, you risk the client just accepting the bid and expecting you to do the work for that amount (been there, done that). If you bid too high to be conservative, you’re likely to be rejected outright before your bid is even read (ditto).
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