oDesk - Freelance Marketplace Site Analysis and Review
oDesk is a bit of a strange bird in the online freelancing marketplace. By many metrics, it is now the largest marketplace site in the world, beating its competitors in terms of the number of projects posted and total billings paid to contractors. The site has a simplified and very reasonable fee structure, and equally importantly to freelancers, it is designed so those fees are borne by client. oDesk has many other positive benefits as well that cause it to be attractive to a freelancer: excellent customer service, a functional website, many fund withdrawal options, decent help files, a usable forum, and more.
Yet despite all of these benefits, oDesk has some serious flaws, many of which are directly related to how it is designed, managed and marketed. Where other sites seek to help clients and contractors find each other to work on projects, oDesk aims to set up “distributed workteams” for “employers”. Most of its projects aren’t from independent clients looking for expertise to solve a particular problem; rather, they are businesspeople seeking to outsource to semi-skilled workers, usually for as little money as possible.
The “employer outsourcing” attitude comes across in many aspects of how the site operates. oDesk is geared much more towards hourly work than any other site I cover in the Guide, and it encourages the use of tracking software to enable automated time management and billing on these projects. This does come with a payment guarantee that some may find attractive; however, there are no minimums for hourly work, and often dozens of contractors competing for the same tasks results in steady downward pressure on rates. Support for fixed rate projects is notoriously poor: oDesk is the only major site that does not have an escrow system for fixed rate work, forcing clients and contractors alike to take chances with their money and time. Equally problematic is oDesk also having no mediation or arbitration services for fixed rate work.
The end result of all of this is that while oDesk is very successful in the area where it has chosen to specialize, I cannot recommend it without reservations to the quality freelancers who make up the bulk of the readers of this Guide. It can be a great place if what you do fits its hourly outsourcing model, but for independent freelancers, it can sometimes feel like you are the proverbial square peg in a round hole. It’s certainly possible to be successful at oDesk as a traditional independent freelancer, but you really need to know the company’s quirks. Of course, that’s where yours truly comes in! :)
In this section I provide a full look at oDesk and how it functions, and give you all the details on its strengths and weaknesses. This review is broken down into the same thirteen criteria that I use for all of the big sites in this Guide, covering topics such as how many projects the site has, the quality of those projects, what the site charges in fees, how good its customer service is, and a lot more. For full details about these different factors, each one is discussed in a topic in the section Criteria for Choosing Online Freelancing Marketplace Sites.
As always, this review is based on my own personal experience using oDesk, feedback from many other users, and research both on the site and from other sources. If you find any mistakes here, or if your experience contradicts any of my opinions, please tell me. Also keep in mind that sites and companies change over time; what you see here was accurate as of when I wrote this material, but it is possible that something has changed by the time you read it.
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Last Site Update: December 13, 2011
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