oDesk vs. Elance

My friend Alan LeStourgeon at Affiliate Confession has had some success with using Elance to hire writers. In fact, Elance liked his comments so much, they interviewed him.

Since Alan has already covered a great deal about Elance, particularly from the perspective of a buyer, I thought I’d do the exact opposite and cover oDesk from the perspective of a provider, and in this case, a provider who has yet to actually get his first assignment.

As such, this review is hardly objective or unbiased. It’s really just some points of difference that I’ve noticed and has caused me, for the moment, to tip the pendulum in oDesk’s favor. I thought I’d share them with you.

That may seem unfair, but I don’t think so. oDesk spends so much time training you and preparing you for your first assignment that no matter what skills you are freelancing, you are well versed in the oDesk system and its intricacies. All providers have to undergo a more rigorous signup process before they can even bid on a project. Among other things, it includes passing the oDesk Readiness Test for Independent Contractors and Company Managers. Considering I aced it, I’m well-qualified to cover oDesk’s differences with Elance. Once I have completed my first assignment, I’ll report back here.

I originally signed up for oDesk over a year ago, but I didn’t really push it and only applied for just a few jobs. That has changed and I’ve upgraded my profile in recent weeks and have begun consistently applying for both web developer and freelance writing work.

There are two types of projects at oDesk: hourly and fixed-price. All oDesk providers keep a very tight log (thanks to custom software downloaded on the providers computer) of their work. The Buyers are not even required to pay them if they do not fill out their log correctly.

For hourly jobs, the log is required by oDesk, and many buyers require it for fixed-price jobs, too.

The log includes not only a brief description of what they were doing about every 10 minutes (i.e. “fixing bug #294″, or “creating outline for first draft”), but screenshots taken at random by the software, plus, in many cases, a webcam shot of the provider sitting at their computer. These can all be edited and/or deleted by the provider before submitting their work log for payment. This might be the case if you took a personal phone call and forgot to pause the oDesk Team software.

The oDesk Tools do an incredible amount to help keep everyone in touch. For those who want to hire technical people, the software also includes an easy way for every to work as a team, including allowing for version control and bug-fixing. The approach is always a team approach. Even a simple assignment to have a few articles typed is handled in a team environment. It’s simple for the buyer to begin to include another team member down the road should the need arise.

What I like about oDesk is the elimination of payment issues - on both sides. If you’ve read anything at all about freelancing online, the over riding issue always seem to be getting paid, or in the case of buyers, getting the work the buyer agreed to do. oDesk has all but eliminated those types of problems.

With oDesk, there is a tight weekly payment schedule. At the end of each work week, a provider has 12 hours to adjust and correct their work log, before it is submitted to oDesk (of course, you can work on it throughout the week, too). Then, the buyer has just 2.5 days to review and/or dispute the work log. After the 3rd day, the money is withdrawn from the Buyer’s method of payment (of which oDesk offers quite a bit). The money, minus oDesk’s fee (10 percent), is deposited in the provider’s account about six days later.

A provider and a buyer can be on totally different payment systems. I can get payment direct-deposited into my bank account by oDesk, but the buyer may have paid via Western Union. It doesn’t matter.

The biggest advantage I’ve seen at oDesk is a very vibrant feedback system on both sides. This seems to keep at bay those buyers who want the sun, moon, and stars for 50 cents. On Elance, it seems (to me) that you have to sort through a lot of “you got to be kidding me” type jobs to find the real ones. At oDesk, while there is still the occasional “Who’d want to do that for that?” post, there just seems to be less of them. Job postings can also be flagged as improperly placed, violating the TOS, or for other reasons.

The other big advantage of oDesk is the profiles of providers. They offer tests to measure skills (and let you know exactly where that provider stands as compared to other providers available). The rest of the bid process works similar to eLance. You can even use your oDesk profile to show off to non oDesk people (see mine here, for instance) and encourage them to join oDesk as a buyer to hire you.

There are a lot of long-term hourly type jobs available there. I think the fear of providers working “off the clock” or outside the oDesk system, seems to be minimized at oDesk compared to other freelancing sites. Although I’m new there, based on what I’ve read, it seems as if providers rather enjoy the security of being under the oDesk umbrella and not being left in the lurch by unscrupulous Buyers. You can rather suppose that a Buyer who wants you to work on the side to avoid paying the ten percent fee is cheap enough to also not pay you.

As a provider, I like the fact that when you look at a job listing, you can see how many folks have applied, the average bid of those folks, how many candidates the buyer has interviewed so far, and the history of all the other jobs the buyer has paid for in the past, including their pay rates, who the job was awarded to, how many hours it was originally posted as, etc. In other words, the system helps to keep both buyers and providers honest by keeping nearly everything transparent. In fact, about the only thing you can’t see is what the current bids of the current candidates are.

The disadvantage of oDesk is that there aren’t as many providers as Elance (due to the more stringent entry requirements) and for some types of work, you may find difficulty getting someone willing to do it (or it may possibly violate oDesk’s TOS). That wouldn’t be the case with SEO-based articles though, as that is always a thriving market on places like oDesk, Elance, iFreelance, etc..

In the end though, I’d encourage anyone to at least give it a try. For higher skilled jobs, or jobs that you’d like to pay hourly but feel as if you are managing someone as if they were right in your own home or office, I think oDesk might be a better fit than Elance. Also, if you are having payment hassles as a provider, or if you are a buyer who thinks certain providers may be avoiding you out of fear of getting paid, I think oDesk might fit the bill there, too.

I originally signed up for Elance many years ago. I’m going to resign up in a few moments, so should I discover any errors in what I’ve already said, I’ll correct them here.

oDesk is so focused on what it does, that I might consider using them in web design business. First, quite obviously, it seems like a great place to hire some extra help if and when I get behind. But I’m also getting requests occasionally for hourly work (something I haven’t done in my business in the past). I get requests to see if I’ll just quote two or three hours of work occasionally. I’ve passed that work on previously because it was hardly profitable for me to take it. In addition, like all hourly work, the client expected to pay after the fact, and I didn’t want to be chasing down $50 all over town.

However, I can see how it could be useful to tell such potential clients that you’ll accept the work if they sign up for oDesk and post their job there. First, it virtually guarantees that I’ll get paid if I do the work to spec, and second it forces the client to be net-savvy enough to do a little bit of the work online (post specifications, job descriptions, upload files, etc) such that my work is actually my work, not babysitting someone who doesn’t know how to upload a Word doc. Lastly, it could benefit the client too, because they may find someone that can do it cheaper, or who is available more readily than I am that particular week, or may have other work they need done outside of what I do for which they can now use oDesk providers.

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This is a great summary, Lawrence, and matches the experiences I’ve had on oDesk as both a buyer and provider.

I hadn’t even thought about the ability for the buyer and provider to use different payment systems, but that’s a very good point, since I often work with people in countries where PayPal isn’t available, and hate the hassle of Western Union. oDesk works great in that situation.

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