oDesk Review: Employer Perspective

oDesk ReviewThis oDesk review is aimed at prospective employers – entrepreneurs and small businesses that are looking for specialized skills at oDesk for short-term or long-term projects. If you are a freelancer and want to know if you want to join oDesk, read my other oDesk review which talks about the pros and cons of joining oDesk as a freelancer.

What is oDesk?

oDesk is a freelancing marketplace which brings employers and freelancers together, so that the employers can hire the freelancers for projects. A bigger and older site is Elance, but oDesk is catching up fast and is as popular as Elance today. If you want a comparison, read my comprehensive guide on Elance vs oDesk.

The advantages are quite obvious: you can hire specific skills for short term projects, thus enabling you to concentrate on growing your business. For example, if you want a professional logo designed for your business, you can hire a graphic designer only for this project instead of getting a designer on your team and increasing your costs. The appeal is immediate. But does it work in practice?

oDesk Review: Why You Should Care?

You are an entrepreneur or small business. You cannot afford to hire full-time employees for every skill that you need. You need a web-designer, a programmer, a graphic designer, a writer, an administrative assistant and want all the pieces to come together. You are concerned with the big picture. A marketplace like oDesk provides you exactly that – all the specialized skills that you need and people willing to work on your project on a short term without you having to hire them full time, pay health insurance or really any other benefits at all. You think it is perfect. Is it?

On paper, yes. The main problem is about quality. How do you know the person you are hiring is right for the job? What if he screws up the work? What if you have people you have to answer to – can you depend on the freelancers who live half way around the globe?

You should care simply because it is YOUR business. You shouldn’t hire blindly – after all it is the people who make your product what it is.

Cost Criteria: A Tricky Trade-Off

Obviously you want to keep your costs to a minimum when hiring freelancers. However, it could be one of your worst ideas ever and could end up in a costly experience.

Are you Serious?

A lot of employers I know at oDesk complain about the quality of workers. It is interesting to look at the prices that they offer. Forget about living in the North America or Europe, these prices are hardly enough to live a decent life in India or¬†Philippines. I don’t even need to offer you screenshots or “proof” of my claim – just go to oDesk right now, browse through jobs and you will see countless examples. Well alright, you are too lazy, so here is a quick sample that I got on the first page of writing jobs:

Really? The employer wants a writer with strong skills who can write on any topic and have “perfect” knowledge of English (a versatile writer with strong writing skills) and he wants to pay 50 cents for a 500 word article. I am a writer at oDesk too, and I wouldn’t take a second look at the job if he offered me 10 times of what he is offering in this posting. 50 times and I’ll probably consider.

So were there bids on this job posting? You bet. Will the articles be any good at all? Probably not. These employers then come and complain that the quality of freelancers isn’t good and have a negative oDesk review for employers. This of course is unfair. The right input would be when you offer a decent price and you are unhappy with what you got.

If you are a serious business, you need to understand that lower prices isn’t the criteria, it is about who provides value for the money. If you want to hire professional writers at peanuts, good luck with that. If you want to hire any professional at abysmal rates, you will probably have half-baked products that don’t meet your expectations. In this case, you cannot blame the freelancer or oDesk but just yourself. In the end, always remember that you get what you pay for.

You are paying for specialized skills. These skills demand a fair price. No freelancers worthy of her trade is going to work at these rates. If you really want good quality freelancers to apply to your jobs, you got to pay better.

Misconception about Countries

This is again a tricky topic but I want to address it. A few employers seem to think that people from the ‘developing world’ are unreliable and provide poor quality work. There is a reason for this bias and it is not rooted in truth. The truth is, you have good and bad freelancers everywhere (it isn’t just my opinion, talk to anyone who has really hired a lot of freelancers around the world and who knows what he is talking about). However, it appears to be higher in the developing world simply because anyone in the US wouldn’t take a second look at a job posting like above. These kinds of postings attract people who live in countries where the cost of living is much lower and the freelancers consider such rates. Obviously the quality can be poor. This isn’t a negative oDesk review or a negative feedback for some countries but rather a reflection on how employers want to treat freelancers.

That being said, if you are deciding between two very good programmers from India and Canada, both having a good feedback rating ¬†and proven experience in working and both quote you a similar price, I don’t see a reason why the Canadian should do a better job than the Indian. Treat freelancers fairly and you will get good quality from all over the world. The basic point of freelancing is to dissolve international boundaries, not to free-ride on cheap labor.

Use the Feedback System and Know its Limitations

I mention in my previous oDesk review as well that the feedback system at oDesk is a really great tool for employers. They can weed out people they don’t want to work with and shoddy workmen. You should use it when you post your jobs at oDesk. Many employers have a cut-off for the feedback rating. That shouldn’t be your only criterion though – also look at the number of feedback scores received by the worker. One-off feedback is more understandable than a consistently lower feedback.

While the feedback system is a great way to judge freelancers, that shouldn’t be your only measuring yardstick. This is especially the case with new freelancers who don’t have a lot of assignments to get the required feedback. If you are hiring a web programmer who has built a popular website and can show you the proof for it, that should be worth more than any feedback oDesk can provide.

The same goes with test scores. I think it is a great tool at times, but employers shouldn’t rely solely on these scores.

Fixed Price vs. Hourly: A Very Important Consideration

Many employers miss the point when it comes to fixed price vs. hourly assignments at oDesk. This is in fact a very important consideration in my oDesk review for employers because it changes the way disputes are handled. However, it also means your ability to attract top freelancers is enhanced/hindered. Let me elaborate.

oDesk has a system where for the hourly assignments they have a “guaranteed pay” for freelancers. If there is a dispute, it is usually handled in favor of the freelancer if the appears that she is working on the project. The oDesk project tracker takes random screenshots and records count of keystrokes and mouse clicks. Personally, I find it absurd judging work by these measures but that is just me and that isn’t the matter at hand here. The point is, if the worker is sincere in his effort but does a bad job, you still have to pay the full amount.

Personally, I always like fixed price assignments anyway. I think most writing tasks naturally suit this model more than the hourly model. I can be a fast writer and do quick research because I know my sources. This means I can get more work done in an hour than the average worker. Besides, how does the employer really care about how much time I spend on the project as long as he gets high quality work from me?

However, I think some other assignments, most notably in programming, fit the hourly model better. If you post these as fixed rate assignments, there is no pay-guarantee and top freelancers might shy away from bidding on the job.

It is a balance that you need to maintain. Understand the pros and cons of this important oDesk review criterion before you start posting jobs.

Inviting Freelancers to Bid

For serious employers, I would strongly recommend inviting freelancers that you find worthy to bid on the job posting that you just posted. This greatly improves the quality of the pool of candidates bidding on your job.

Many freelancers don’t scout through job postings all day long at oDesk. A lot of them are just plain inactive at oDesk and will consider an opportunity if they like it. To get the attention of these dormant freelancers, you should invite them to bid on the job and not wait for them to place the first bid.

Building Long-Term Relationships

Just because you get 20 bids in the first hour of posting your job opening doesn’t mean you are going to find the best candidates. Good freelancers aren’t as easy to find, and when you find one, keep them for a long time. You should build long term relationships with the freelancers you work for, pay them well and keep them happy. Understand their needs and concerns. Try to be flexible with their work as much as feasible. If you have liked someone’s work, give them a heads up for your next job to see if they are interested and you can save yourself the time and effort to weed out the bad quality applications.

What has been your experience with oDesk? Share in the comments!

Photo Credit: o_corgan