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Just One More Reason to Hate Odesk

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Thanks to Thursday Bram for bringing this story to my attention.

I don't think it's any secret that I despise oDesk. Why? Because they not only allow, but encourage, clients to cross the employer / client line with their software that lets clients actually watch you work, while you're working from your own machine in your own home, etc. I'm not going to get into the problem with that here. I suggest if you're a U.S. freelancer you spend some time learning your rights and doing some research with the IRS as to what clients can and cannot do without taking on the increased burdens of becoming actual employers.

Today there's a new problem. oDesk is apparently pushing the idea that they're offering health insurance to freelancers (oh, how original). But before you get excited, read carefully. It has absolutely nothing to do with insurance for freelancers. Instead, their new oDesk Staffing will give freelancers the opportunity to work as employees instead. What's wrong with that? Not a damn thing if you don't want to be a freelancer.

OK. So what's the problem? Well, you see, there's a little catch. Actually, there are several:

  • To be eligible for the benefits you have to work for them 30 hours a week. No biggie.
  • To be eligible you have to work for hourly pay. If you get paid per word, per piece, etc. (typical in freelance writing as well as some other freelance fields), you're not eligible for the benefits because it's all based on your hourly commitment.
  • Wait now, here's the kicker. Want W-2 employee status? You have to pay them for it! Can you believe that crap? You PAY for the "privilege" of giving up your freedom as a freelancer. You PAY for the privilege of having a job. That my friends is complete and utter bullshit. Why do they charge 20%? To cover their "services" of course! What services you might ask? Oh, just the little things they'd be required to do the moment they choose to take people on as employees instead of having them work as contractors -- things like tax withholdings. Say it with me now - "Bull. F*ing. Shit."

This is really getting ridiculous (and of course, yet again, we have a program being promoted before the company's releasing all of the details). Folks, look. If you don't want to be freelancing, then by all means stop freelancing and take an employee job somewhere. But if you freelance, take responsibility for yourself. Get your own health insurance. Get your own benefits of every variety. That's a part of being self-employed. If you can't afford those things, then you're not earning enough and either you need to rethink your rates or you need to rethink your marketing strategy because something isn't working.

Just do me a favor, please. Don't get sucked into these promises and "deals" without looking at them thoroughly and critically first. And don't get your hopes up about anything a company isn't willing to be completely transparent about up front. If they weren't ready to release the details, they probably should have kept their mouths shut. And how about some truth in advertising please? From their oDesk Staffing page:


Advertisement

"Access benefits previously unavailable to freelancers, such as group health insurance and 401(k) retirement plans"

Newsflash: those benefits are STILL unavailable to freelancers. If you take on W-2 status in order to be eligible for the benefits, you will not be a freelancer. You will be an employee. Alright. I'm going shut up because if I think about this anymore my head might explode.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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31 Comments

  1. Danielle December 16, 2009 Reply

    When I first started freelancing I wanted to try Odesk. The whole “big-brother-like” setup scared me away. I had no idea the site was going to get worse.

  2. Wendy December 16, 2009 Reply

    Oh lord. In telecommuting, the number one rule is that you do not pay for a job. No matter what job you’re applying to. I don’t know of any jobs onsite that you would pay for anything just so you could work there.

    In the case of Odesk, I would never pay for the privilege of using their software. I don’t care to feel like I’m being spied on.

  3. Rachel December 16, 2009 Reply

    Wow, Thanks for sharing this news! I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anything more stupid. Who in the world would ever PAY to become an employee? They’re seeking the desperates IMHO.

  4. Carson Brackney December 16, 2009 Reply

    The idea of paying to have employee status is beyond laughable. I also really question its legality. I wouldn’t be surprised if that offer is retracted or modified after a visit from a Dept. of Labor field investigator in the near future.

    This is perhaps the dumbest damned thing I have read all day and, trust me, today has been a day filled with waaaaay too much stupid reading. B***F*******S*** is spot on.

  5. Paul December 16, 2009 Reply

    Jennifer- Your no-holds barred attitude in this piece on oring is exactly why I now consider your daily briefs must reading. Keep up the ******* good work.

  6. Jennifer Mattern December 16, 2009 Reply

    @Danielle — They never cease to amaze me.

    @Wendy — Exactly. You should NEVER have to pay an employer for a job.

    @Rachel — I’d say some of these sites are definitely preying upon desperate folks. The really ridiculous part? They’ll give you the health insurance details, but only via email. Yet of course they’ll publicly promote it to try to entice people to sign up. Pathetic. What the hell happened to transparency? Seems like a foreign concept these days.

    @Carson — The legality of it was the first thing I mentioned to Thursday. Maybe it is. I’m not a lawyer. But I certainly don’t see how. One thing I didn’t see mentioned was how they’re going to deal with minimum wage issues. After all, I don’t see how these types of employees would meet exemption requirements to the federal minimum wage.

    @Paul — Glad you appreciate it. If anything I have a tendency to keep it too mild on this particular blog, but oDesk is one of those topics I could rant about for hours. I will say that one of their bloggers (maybe they only have one, I don’t know) has been pleasant in the past. But the company in general — they’ll never catch any slack here until they start treating independent professionals with respect.

  7. Lucy Smith December 16, 2009 Reply

    Isn’t ‘paying for working’ one of the main alarm bells for scam jobs? People should be paying you to work for them, not the other way around.

    I’ve had this happen twice – once they wanted my credit card number so I could download some videoconferencing software (wouldn’t be charged of course!) and the other was a fee to make sure I was serious about the job. Both got a ‘hell no’.

    Screw being monitored – if I wanted to have someone spying on me to make sure I was working, I wouldn’t have started freelancing. This is really bloody disturbing.

  8. Jennifer Mattern December 16, 2009 Reply

    @Lucy Exactly! All of this crap with companies trying to make freelancers feel more like employees is complete and utter bullshit. They are not the same thing. Not in a business sense. Not in a legal sense. If you want to hire me as an employee, you’re going to pay a worthwhile salary — something BETTER than what I’m already bringing in as a freelancer. Trying to get them to become employees without going over all of the rights that influences is beyond irresponsible, and it’s disgusting. I’m so tired of seeing companies play on people’s economic and health care concerns with marketing ploys to get cheap labor.

  9. Lucy Smith December 16, 2009 Reply

    @Jenn “I’m so tired of seeing companies play on people’s economic and health care concerns with marketing ploys to get cheap labor.”

    That’s revolting. You’re absolutely right of course, that’s exactly what they’re doing. I’m guessing there must be a whole raft of people who’ve previously been covered/able to afford cover but no longer are, and are desperate to have some sort of health care certainty.

    I’m not qualified to have much of an opinion on the US health insurance system, being from New Zealand where we have publicly funded medical treatment, but I think what it all comes down to is that these companies are getting sweatshop labour (well, I think it is) by preying on people’s desperation, and it’s horrible.

  10. Matt Cooper December 16, 2009 Reply

    I developed and manage the oDesk Staffing program and wanted to clarify some of the confusion about it. oDesk’s model is not for everyone, as you point out, and our new staffing model may not be a fit either. That said, I want to be sure it’s accurately represented, as many freelancers stand to benefit from our offerings. While your assertions are energetic, they are inaccurate.

    Points of clarification:

    1) To be eligible, you have to work for hourly pay

    This is not true. All hours logged via oDesk, whether for an hourly job or fixed price, count toward benefits eligibility. The only requirement is that the average hourly rate (total earnings divided by hours logged) for that pay period cannot drop below the minimum wage for your state of residence.

    2) You have to ‘PAY’ for the privilege of the staffing model

    Also not true. oDesk’s normal fee is 10% of the buyer’s pay rate. While it’s clear that you and many of your readers find our time tracking software intrusive, it allows us to guarantee that an hour worked is an hour paid. oDesk workers don’t have to chase down invoices and don’t lose money from deadbeat buyers. If they are transparent with the work being done, oDesk guarantees payment – we lose, not the worker.

    In the staffing model, the fee is 20% of the pay rate (10% more than normal), and the additional cost turns out to be 11.1% of what the worker would have received in our standard model. As you know, independent contractors pay self-employment taxes, which in most cases is roughly equivalent to the additional cost of oDesk Staffing.

    In reality, when you go through all of the calculations of the two scenarios and incorporate the appropriate state and federal taxes, an oDesk Staffing worker makes slightly more than a regular oDesk worker in most situations on an after-tax basis. I designed it specifically so that it would not cost the worker anything additional on an after-tax basis.

    3) Giving up the freedom of being a freelancer

    Which freedoms are you referring to? Setting your own hours? Choosing your own work? Working from where you want when you want? All of those freedoms are still available via the oDesk Staffing model. Plus, you get group healthcare — when you are too sick to enjoy your freedoms, you don’t have to bankrupt yourself to take care of it.

    We are actually making the freedom of freelancing available to many that couldn’t make it work before. Think about how many people would never consider striking out on their own specifically because they can’t get benefits for their families. We’ve opened the world of freelancing to a whole new group of people.

    4) oDesk Staffing is illegal

    The legal structure is exactly the same as traditional staffing agencies. The buyer pays us, we keep a fee, then we pay the worker. It’s a proven model that we’ve adapted to meet the specific needs of our workers.

    5) You can get your own health insurance

    You can certainly get your own health insurance, but I have yet to see an individual health plan that has no restrictions for pre-existing conditions, unlimited (or very high limit) benefits and is still affordable for the typical freelancer. You can get all those things with oDesk Staffing.

    From my research, comparably priced individual plans have annual benefit limits of about $20,000. That’s fine if you have a runny nose, but not so good if you get in a car accident. If you have a pre-existing condition, there are few individual plan options.

    Again, I realize the oDesk model is not a great fit for everyone, but we became the number one marketplace for online work for a reason. Yes — you need to be comfortable with a level of transparency that is not typical in a remote work scenario, but one that is common in the traditional work place. At any given time, my boss can walk around the corner and ask me why I’m writing a dissertation on this blog site.

    From the response I have received from oDesk contractors eager to take advantage of the program, oDesk Staffing has clearly struck a chord for many freelancers. I am happy to answer any and all questions about the program and how it works. You can email me at getbenefits@odesk.com.

  11. Jennifer Mattern December 16, 2009 Reply

    Matt, I do sincerely appreciate you taking the time to try to address some of the issues and concerns, which is more than similar companies have done when valid complaints are raised about these kinds of programs. But I do want to address a few of your points:

    1. All hours logged via oDesk, whether for an hourly job or fixed price, count toward benefits eligibility.

    In the original article cited which this post was in response to I read “Eligibility for benefits relies on an hourly calculation, so workers who get paid using other measures, such as writers getting paid by the piece, won’t be eligible for the oDesk Staffing benefits system.”

    Can you point us to something directly on the oDesk website that confirms otherwise? If that’s the case, I’m glad to hear it, but I think it’s only fair that these kinds of terms are clarified when your site talks quite a bit about “hourly” work with no consideration for the various (sometimes more common) pay structures of service providers. I don’t see a link to a provider / employee TOS anywhere on the site yet specifically regarding this program which would clarify things like that further. If I’m missing it, I’d appreciate the link as I’d love to read it for further clarification.

    2. While it’s clear that you and many of your readers find our time tracking software intrusive, it allows us to guarantee that an hour worked is an hour paid.

    Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. The software enables those on the client side to potentially cross a line between client and employer, and it does so on several fronts.

    While several factors have to be considered, some of those include whether a buyer has the right to control when, where, or how the work is completed (if they do, it leans towards employer status), whether or not the buyer can control what tools must be used (if they can, again it leans towards employer status — and a buyer requiring a worker to use your software certainly seems to fit), and whether the work is evaluated on how it’s done or the final product (monitoring how work is done rather than by the final results again would lean towards employer status).

    When the buyer crosses that line on enough fronts (and I don’t claim that those three are necessarily enough on their own — only that they contribute to a bigger problem for freelancers), the worker has a right to be upset.

    Taking on the role of employer means that the buyer should be contributing to tax payments, benefits, etc. instead of those things falling on the freelancer who chose to take on those responsibilities in exchange for the added freedom and control of freelancing (this software issue is in reference to the primary freelance marketplace… not the new potential for W-2 status).

    When a buyer chooses to save money on taxes, worker’s comp insurance, benefits, and overhead, they give up some of their rights to control. oDesk gives them an opportunity to bypass that, and does so at the expense of freelancers. Whether or not it’s mandatory according to oDesk, the fact is that the site enables buyers in a client relationship to exercise undue control over an independent professional, and choose to exclude professionals who won’t agree to that invasive oversight.

    3. I designed it specifically so that it would not cost the worker anything additional on an after-tax basis.

    While I don’t think you had malicious intentions in any way (and I think that’s evident from your comments), you do miss a point. It has absolutely nothing to do with a comparison between freelance expenses and W-2 status expenses.

    The point, and the principle, is simple. No one should have to pay anyone to be their employee. When someone chooses to pay fees as an independent professional, they are their own business owner. Those fees are business expenses for using the oDesk platform. They’re tax deductible as a business expense. These people would become employees of oDesk. Employers responsibilities include covering business costs… not passing them off to employees. Charge your customers more? Yes. Charge anything at all to the employees? No. Employee status is not the same thing as a business owner choosing to use a platform for convenience.

    4. All of those freedoms are still available via the oDesk Staffing model.

    In practice, that may very well be the intention. But again, it’s not the point. Once you take on employer status over these workers, you have the right to dictate terms that current clients generally cannot. That alone is indeed giving up freedom as an independent worker. I know it isn’t the most clear-cut idea, but it’s still the case, and to an independent professional such as myself it borders on offensive — even though I know that isn’t the intention.

    5. We’ve opened the world of freelancing to a whole new group of people.

    You’ve opened the world of online service jobs for sure — it’s not the same thing as freelancing though. There really is a difference and that seems to keep being overlooked (and not just in the oDesk case).

    6. The legal structure is exactly the same as traditional staffing agencies. The buyer pays us, we keep a fee, then we pay the worker. It’s a proven model that we’ve adapted to meet the specific needs of our workers.

    I wouldn’t say they’re “exactly” the same. I’ve worked with traditional staffing agencies on two fronts: as a temp worker after college and as someone who hired workers through these firms for an organization later on. Here’s the big difference:

    Pay rates advertised to the staffing agency employees are the rates they’re generally paid. Any fees are in addition to that, billed directly to the buyer in addition to the worker’s pay, and the worker doesn’t lose anything over the rate they were hired to work at.

    In this case, from what I gather (and do correct me if I’m misunderstanding it — always happy to be wrong in these cases), the employees will be hired at let’s say $30 per hour. That’s the rate advertised or the rate they bid or whatever.

    In a traditional staffing agency situation, the employee would actually be paid that $30 per hour as their gross pay. They wouldn’t lose a portion to the staffing agency. Why? Because the agency bills their client at $40 per hour, pays the worker the rate advertised to them (after withholding their portion of taxes and benefits contributions), and then keeps the rest as their fee. They do not tack on extra withholdings for “services.”

    Nothing else would generally be taken from the rate advertised or offered to the worker. That might sound like a subtle difference, but it’s a big one and it means the worker is essentially directly paying for the right to have a job.

    And therein lies the problem. As one of my other commenters mentioned, pay for play gigs are one of the biggest signs of scams. I’m not saying oDesk is a scam — just that this is a general practice quite frowned upon in the freelance world, and here we’re seeing it advertised as a good thing.

    Maybe finding another way to word it or calculate / collect the fees would alleviate that problem and separate oDesk from that scammy image pay for gig options naturally bring to mind.

    Also, I just want to clarify — I don’t believe that said oDesk Staffing is illegal. What I said was that a question of the legality was the first thing I mentioned to the person who brought the initial story to my attention. I’ve also mentioned potential issues regarding employer / client status in relation to the software, but that was in no way directed to oDesk staffing, but towards the freelance marketplace and resulting relationships (also noting that those are factors involved in status issues, not that they’re necessarily enough alone for a legal classifications). I’m not in a position to say something is flat out legal or illegal, I wouldn’t, and I didn’t. Just want to be clear. :)

    7. You can certainly get your own health insurance, but I have yet to see an individual health plan that has no restrictions for pre-existing conditions, unlimited (or very high limit) benefits and is still affordable for the typical freelancer. You can get all those things with oDesk Staffing.

    Once again, we’re missing a point here. It has nothing to do with whether or not your health insurance is decent in general. It certainly sounds better than other recent options announced for freelancers. Then again, it’s not really for freelancers.

    There’s a big difference. And again, as business owners those business-related expenses are the responsibility of the freelancer. Those are things we know when we choose to become self-employed. If we all wanted that employer benefit package, we’d be working as employees.

    Are there some freelancers today who are doing so unwillingly because they’re out of a job? Absolutely. I won’t argue that. But that doesn’t make it any less disturbing as a freelancer who chose self-employment to see companies essentially try to “convert” freelancers into employees.

    If people want the W-2 status, more power to them. They should absolutely do that. But what I don’t want to see is even a single freelancer give up any of their rights as an independent professional without knowing exactly what they’re getting into. And again, it’s not about what you intend. Your intentions seem honorable enough. Then again you know what they say — “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Good intentions aren’t enough.

    There’s still misleading copy on the website implying that these are freelance benefits for example. Intended to be misleading? I’m sure they’re not. But it’s the kind of oversight that’s easy to miss, and it does carry real implications regarding what rights oDesk will and won’t have over the worker, regardless of whether or not they choose to exercise them.

    It’s largely principle. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to give people a new employment option. Just don’t bill it as the equivalent to freelancing where there are a lot of subtle differences that really add up. I don’t think that’s asking too much, and who knows? Maybe with some luck oDesk will actually step up and set themselves apart in a positive sense from the other content mills and marketplaces through greater transparency and more attention to the needs of true freelancers still using their original service — the group whose needs are often most ignored by these kinds of sites.

    I will say as an update that it looks like oDesk has some PDFs up regarding the health insurance options on their site, and that’s certainly a good step. I haven’t gone through them all myself, but for those who might want to leave freelancing for an employee position, I encourage you to at least take a look.

    And again Matt, thanks for stopping by. Whether or not I approve with some of oDesks practices and policies, as a former PR professional I’m always delighted to see company representatives out there actively engaging with the community, so for that I thank you and you’re always welcome on AFW whether or not I personally support the service.

  12. Jennifer Mattern December 16, 2009 Reply

    And I think that comment is both longer than the post and probably my longest comment ever. My fingers hurt. Thanks Matt. ;)

  13. Jodi Kaplan December 17, 2009 Reply

    First of all, I find the monitoring to be creepy, and I wouldn’t do it.

    A further point on the insurance. In New York State, it is illegal to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

    Also, freelancers CAN get insurance, 401(k) access and other benefits, at group rates. Join the Freelancers Union (http://www.freelancersunion.org). Membership is free.

    It’s real insurance, there are low- and high-deductible options, and choice of HMO, PPO, etc. There are different plans available in different states. I’m not sure if it’s nationwide yet, but they are working on it.

    (I’m a member, but otherwise not affiliated with them in any way).

  14. Anne Wayman December 17, 2009 Reply

    I haven’t been following Odesk since I decided not to use them way back when… the idea that they offer employers keystroke tracking means that the worker won’t get paid in the same way they would if they were in an office… except the most coercive of employers.

    This is what I mean. If I’m on staff at the xxxx publishing co. and stuck in a cubicle it’s highly unlikely I will be docked pay when I go to the restroom. Or if I stand up and stretch. Or if I gaze at my wall while trying to think of the exact word I want.

    With keystroke tracking the writer is being cheated imo.

    Allowing someone unknown to me to watch me on my computer also seems to invite other spyware… and other security problems… I hope this isn’t the wave of the future.

    Why employers think they need this kind of absolute control smacks of fear more than anything else… sigh.

  15. Jennifer Mattern December 17, 2009 Reply

    Thanks for your comment Jodi. Two things:

    1. I think a part of the issue is that many freelancers really don’t know what their rights are as independent professionals — especially people who were sort of thrown into the work after losing a job. So sometimes when companies get positive feedback they don’t realize how much of it is coming from something like desperation where anyone offering any semblance of insurance sounds great versus how much of that feedback has really been well thought-out. We saw it with the DS insurance announcement where people were jumping on the “it’s great” train and then finally getting around to the fine print and realizing it might not be such a hot offer after all. There will always be people in desperate situations willing to do things they don’t have to — they’ll do anything for the work. But that in no way makes it right for companies to actually ask them (and others) to.

    2. Thanks for mentioning the Freelancer’s Union. I agree that they’re one of the best options currently out there for freelancers wanting health coverage. When I was evaluating various healthcare options a couple of months ago I looked at them, MediaBistro’s plans, and plans directly through insurance companies. And yes, there are affordable options that don’t involve extremely high deductibles or a major lack in coverage. That’s why I found it so laughable before when DS was saying freelancers could spend 50% less on insurance premiums with them (of course without noting that they’d basically only get 25% of the actual coverage). Options exist. The Freelancer’s Union is free to join so there’s no harm in checking it out. Media Bistro does charge a yearly fee, but it’s well worthwhile — even without the insurance, the resources for writers are more than worth the cost (which isn’t that much to begin with). So hopefully freelancers are taking the time to evaluate all of their options, and hopefully companies will wake up to the fact that freelancers are not optionless and necessarily waiting for them to step in and fix all of their troubles. If we want to rely on a single or primary buyer, we’ll go back to the regular employment lifestyle.

  16. Jennifer Mattern December 17, 2009 Reply

    Anne – I completely agree.

    And really… people often outsource to independent workers when they don’t have time to do things themselves (or their staff doesn’t). If they have nothing better to do than sit there and watch me work, they’re not the kind of client I’d want to work with. Micromanaging ended with the 9-5 jobs.

    You really hit the nail on the head. It is unfair to the workers — extremely unfair. No one spends every moment chained to their computer. In fact, sometimes you have to get away and clear your mind to get the ideas flowing. I brainstorm when I’m hiking and driving for example. It works for me. Clients get better work. If I had to sit there and do that at the computer with them watching, work would absolutely suffer.

    When you work as an independent contractor, your obligation is simply to provide the agreed upon work by a certain deadline. How you get there is 100% irrelevant, which is why the type of work evaluation is a factor in determining employee or contractor status. In most cases, you also have the right to outsource as much of your work as you want, and again, the client’s evaluation is solely based on the result. That’s a part of what being a freelancer is all about. This software invites a disgusting kind of voyeurism that makes me cringe, not only because they’re inviting someone into my home, but because they’re inviting someone into my head. There is nothing alright about that.

    I don’t care of oDesk guarantees payment. That’s not their job. They’re a platform — a tool. When we choose to freelance, we do so knowing the risks, and we have avenues to pursue non-paying clients. When a buyer chooses to outsource instead of taking on the responsibilities of hiring employees, they also do so knowing the risks, and there’s no excuse for their risks to be minimized at the expense of the freelancer. If they want control, they can cough up the extra dough and hire regular employees.

  17. It’s curious that Odesk allows employers to watch freelancers work. This is news indeed. As far as health insurance goes, freelance writers are probably better off getting their own. Demand Studios offers insurance to writers — not sure about the guidelines. It pays to research all of your options.

  18. Marina December 17, 2009 Reply

    It sounds like they see freelancers as people who cant get “real” jobs and would jump on a chance to get one :)))

  19. Jennifer Mattern December 17, 2009 Reply

    Personally I consider Demand’s option to be the worst of the bunch. The marketing was (might still be) rather misleading. If you want to learn more about it, our resident insurance pro Yolander Prinzel actually covered it recently, looking at the pros, cons, and things you’ll want to discuss with an insurance professional before signing up.

    @Marina – Exactly!

  20. Jean December 17, 2009 Reply

    I just left the corporate world to become a full-time freelance writer (September) so that I could have the thing I value most — freedom!

    I see with this post, Jenn, that I’m on the right track…

    In fact, I just turned down Web content work that was below my minimum rate. I just didn’t want to start down that slippery slope of working for less than I (and several clients) know I’m worth.

    It WAS steady work, so it WAS hard to turn down, but I told myself going in I’d never work for less than a certain amount per content article.

    A girl needs standards after all,

    There’s so much work out there for anyone who wants to find it. I know some folks feel more comfortable working for sites such as oDesk, Elance, etc. But a part of me just wants to shake some sense into them and tell them to market themselves directly to the companies themselves.

    Thank you for this post, Jenn

  21. Lucy Smith December 17, 2009 Reply

    @ Jean – so true. I think people slavishly stick with content sites and bidding sites because it’s hard to eave their comfort zone. I understand that. But really, once you get started on marketing yourself properly, it’s not that hard.

    I was kind of forced into thinking for myself because, not being US-based, places like Demand won’t take me, and a lot of work on Elance etc. only wants people in the US. Presumably to do with employment laws for paying, I don’t really know.

    So I started looking in my neck of the woods, and it’s been a surprising and empowering experience. It’s forced me to think out of the box, and come up with my own ideas, and I really like that.

  22. Jennifer Mattern January 12, 2010 Reply

    It appears Odesk Staffing is still falsely advertising these insurance benefits on their homepage, as being for freelancers. Hmmm. How about getting on the ball guys?

    “Access benefits previously unavailable to freelancers”

    They are still unavailable to freelancers, and stating otherwise is a downright lie.

  23. Jennifer Mattern January 13, 2010 Reply

    I want to give Matt some personal credit. I sent an email to Odesk this morning about the deceptive marketing issue, explaining exactly why the language was making false claims, and he just responded to let me know they updated it. It no longer claims to provide benefits “previously unavailable to freelancers” and instead reads “unavailable to most freelancers” which is accurate and doesn’t imply benefits are specifically for freelance professionals (you get them if you switch to W-2 employee status). So thanks for taking a step in the right direction and moving away from the increasingly misleading marketing we’ve been seeing lately in the overall freelance writing industry. Now if only we could do something about that monitoring software…. ;)

  24. Kristi Patrice Carter February 10, 2010 Reply

    Interesting article and I had no idea that oDesk had that kind of a setup. I have been an Elance provider for over 10 years and have completed over 800 projects to date. I found them by chance and stayed by choice. To me, Elance is the leading online marketplace and I absolutely love the freedom that their site offers and the variety of projects. I joined oDesk once and bid on a few projects but honestly wasn’t that thrilled with the site or project offerings but didn’t accept any. Oh well, I guess when it works for you, why break it? That’s why I am sticking with Elance!

  25. Jennifer Mattern April 8, 2010 Reply

    Well Kristi… some sad news today. Elance is apparently jumping on a similar model to Odesk. Now clients can play the Big Brother role there too. More in a new post on that tomorrow.

  26. Curious November 6, 2010 Reply

    i am an oDesk contractor and although their Big Brother system is a scary thought, i personally didn’t find it threatening when i used it. what i simply don’t like about oDesk is the amount of stupid jobs there is in every category, like uploading photos on their facebook profiles or creating 200 gmail accounts with photos with different ip addresses each. that isn’t even a real job.

  27. Wrytr January 9, 2014 Reply

    Jenn, I’ve just come across this article more than 3 years after the most recent comment and am wondering if you might have published an update on the online freelancing sites. My only experience with them is based on browsing for jobs I find interesting, then bidding and being vastly underbid by workers from elsewhere in the world. (I’m an American living in Mexico with a U.S. address and bank account, so I can bid in U.S.-only contracts.) From my perspective, elancing has severely depressed the perceived value of educated, experienced writing and editing service providers. Add to that the crowdsourcing sites that have freelancers doing the work without compensation until they are lucky enough to be chosen for an award by the client. Right now my attitude is that I wouldn’t want any client who values cheap copy more than quality, and who wants to look over my shoulder as I’m working or (gasp!) count keystrokes, as if the keyboard, not the brain, is where the writing takes place. (Count the synapses firing away and you’ll be on the right track!) Anyway, is there value in looking at these sites now, in 2014, if I want to earn some extra cash, or will I be just as disappointed in the projects and pay as I was years ago?

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern January 9, 2014 Reply

      I’d still recommend staying away from these sites. There’s the inherent “race to the bottom” mentality of bidding sites which will always be bad for freelance professionals. And I haven’t seen any real improvements in recent years. The latest news I’ve heard is that Elance and Odesk are now merging. These were the two biggest problems in the industry, both giving clients the opportunity to violate the rights of independent contractors through spyware-like software options they provided. Any company that would cross those kinds of ethical boundaries isn’t one I could recommend to any writer, for “extra cash” or anything else.

      These sites really haven’t had much of a negative impact on more serious markets from what I’ve seen. Sure, an occasional business or publication tries the cheap content route here and there. But they either learn their lesson or their reputation takes a hit (like when USA Today stupidly started publishing drivel provided by content mills). For the most part, the buyers who understood the value of professionals years ago still do. And they wouldn’t be caught dead publishing the kind of content they could get for a few bucks in one of these marketplaces.

      The key is always remembering that the best clients don’t usually advertise. They find their writers in other ways (your search visibility, referrals from people they trust, cold calls, query letters, etc.). I wouldn’t take any time away from those marketing opportunities to find filler work on bidding sites.

      If it’s just a case of wanting some extra income coming in to fill in during slow periods, my suggestion is to diversify your income streams a bit — a blog, selling e-books or reports, etc. We’ve covered alternative revenue streams a good bit here to help writers earn more, so I’d start in the archives. While some of our posts might have gotten shuffled around in the recent re-design / merger, you should be able to find most of those topics covered here:

      http://allindiewriters.com/category/freelance-writing-blog/freelance-writing-business/beyond-freelance-writing/

      It seems time doesn’t change all things. A bad deal for writers 3 years ago is still a bad deal for writers today.

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