I have always wanted to be able to offer my services to other webmasters and website owners. Most freelancers don’t get their start by simply deciding to be one, it’s usually purely out of necessity. So when I quit my job as a full time Engineer II (or.. fancy electrician), I fell into the group of internet designers that so desperately wanted to work for themselves, but just didn’t know what steps to take. I had to take a personal inventory of my skills that I could offer as a freelancer, and see where I could fit those services in. As of today, I have logged 4 fixed price jobs, and roughly 40 hours of server related and CSS work. Not too shabby for freelancing in my spare time.
Key Points to Freelancing on oDesk
It is imperative to understand that if you are going to work on freelance websites that cater to a worldwide audience, your are going to be dealing in worldwide finance. When I started browsing oDesk for my first job, I came across a few listings of this nature :
I need a designer to make me a custom WordPress website. I am also having problems with my permissions so you would have to know about those too. I need about 50 pages of content imported into the new site, and customization to the back-end administration. I already have the PSD file for the new theme, it just needs to be sliced up or whatever. I am willing to pay $2.00 an hour. Do not apply if you won’t accept this rate.
At first glance, I was appalled, even offended, that a listing like this made into public view. In the United States, you can’t even get a burger for $2.00 – and here was some Joe Schmoe wanting to devalue a whole market in a single job posting. Then it hit me – this is a global marketplace. I started to browse around the oDesk community forums, and came across a posting that explains – far better than I can, why this job posting is actually good for the global freelance market as a whole. The provider posted that in his economy, his country, the minimum wage is roughly $1. So, in his world, his market – his offering was very competitive, as evident by the 30 plus freelancers that applied for the position in no less that 30 minutes. Needless to say, I didn’t apply for the position, but finding the posting did provide me with some rather profound thoughts :
On oDesk, to be competitive, I need to compete in my global market, and let other have theirs. It’s fair, and it’s conducive to the purpose of the site.
I need to be as aggressive as the rest of the market. What are my skills, and how should I use them? I need to find my own freelance niche, and excel at it.
Find Yourself a Freelance Niche
And that’s when I realized that I do have a skill set that very few people have, as I’m sure you do.The point here is simple : you have skills, and probably skills that a lot of webmasters have. But what can you provide to buyers on freelance sites like oDesk, that will set you apart from others?
I noticed rather quickly, that just because I was willing to respect the global marketplace on oDesk, doesn’t mean that buyers will. I’ve seen several American companies with job postings, specifically looking for cheap labor in other countries. This didn’t bother me, but it did present a barrier to getting hired. The business mindset is one of : “Why pay an American or Australian $25.00 an hour, when I can outsource for $3.00 hour to India or the Philippines?“. This is the largest obstacle on websites for freelancers, but not one that can’t be overcome. I noticed that there is also a fair amount of jobs where good English, prompt telephone communication, and proper email etiquette are a requirement. I focused in on those listings with more scrutiny, and I suggest that this is where your market begins as an American or fluent English speaking freelancer. From there, it’s all about applying yourself and showing how you excel at your particular job skills.
Make them an offer that can’t be beat
You’ve applied for your first job on oDesk, and along with the other 20 applicants, you’re waiting patiently on a reply from the buyer. Twenty minutes pass, and you receive an email – letting you know that you have not been selected for this position, and another provider was selected. This can be a little disheartening at first, but it is a really important step in the right direction. Many of the jobs I have applied for on Odesk are direct, no frills requests – with language that clearly states that the job must be done correctly, or the buyer just won’t pay. These types of jobs may sound unreasonable to many providers, but to me they make perfect sense. When I go out to dinner, I don’t pay for the cook to try and not burn my steak… I pay to have it prepared the way I want it. The same principal applies here, and that is where I suggest your focus shoud lean with freelancing. Far too often and popular in the freelance world, buyers get burned by new webmasters who just learned HTML 4.0 last week, and can not deliver the product as promised. oDesk provides a wonderful user interface, that allows you constant and almost real-time communication with your prospective employer, so I suggest using the contact ability to show your concern for your client is where it should be. Aside from assuring them of your freelance ability, I would go as far to give your customer a guarantee. Make them an offer that can’t be beat. Be different, be confident in your ability to deliver by giving examples of what you can do for them. For example – I have told clients and will continue to do so : ” If I can not do the job, I’ll tell you I can not. If I can not do what I promise, don’t pay me.” Bold. Different. Confident.
Hourly versus Fixed
Now that you have a general idea of how to operate with a freelance mindset, you need to understand how the marketplace thinks. There are buyers that want to pay fixed price for jobs, and buyers that want freelancers on a hourly basis. I advise you to do both to getter a better idea of where you will fit into the service field best. One thing to keep in mind on oDesk is that they do not guarantee fixed price jobs. Hourly jobs on the other hand are guaranteed to pay. This is because they employ screen-snap software that you log into when performing hourly work. The software keeps track of your keystroke count and mouse activity, and shoots a screenshot every 6 minutes to ensure that you are indeed working.
I prefer fixed price jobs because a lot of my time can spent researching issues that may arise that have nothing to do with the original job. In one job, I performed a server move, only to find that the new host that the client selected, didn’t offer SSH access. This posed a real issue since I needed root access to change owners and groups on files, tweak Apache settings, and generally be able to customize his hosting environment. So, in the end, I volunteered to move the client to a server myself, with SSH access, to perform the job correctly to get them up and running. To me, this is what sets me apart from many other service providers, and where I’ve found my niche – going above and beyond.
There is money to be made on freelance sites like oDesk, and on a continual basis, if you have the time. If you feel you can put yourself “out there” more than your competition, then it’s definitely worth your time. If you are fortunate enough to work from home full-time, this may just be a win-win proposition for you. You can work on all your regular work, and if you enjoy working on the web like I do, “working” on the internet in your spare time is what you would already be doing anyway. Let me know how it works out for you!