Online Work Tips & Best Practices
January 16, 2014 by Guest Blogger

How can a few entrepreneurial friends—each doing their own thing—take a leap and launch a digital agency together?

Making such a big change is a lot easier when you already have paying clients and a full pipeline of leads. When it came to getting Matchnode, our Chicago-based digital marketing agency, off the ground, we already had both—thanks in large part to oDesk.

Matchnode’s evolution from an idea among friends to a viable business followed these four phases.

Phase 1: Get your first client and help them achieve their business goals

Creating our profile on oDesk turned out to be one of those rare moments in which a couple hours of work paid off in a big way. When we added our first oDesk clients to others we’d found through existing networks, we were soon too busy to handle all the work ourselves.

How do you make your oDesk profile work for you? Here’s what we’ve learned:

  1. Take as many oDesk tests as possible, getting high marks to prove your skills.
  2. Make communication a priority. Actively listen to ensure you clearly understand their needs, respond quickly, and when in doubt, let them know!
  3. Consider charging less to your first oDesk client; your priority is to start building your profile.

Phase 2: Formalize your new agency and use oDesk to build your new business pipeline

We officially launched Matchnode in August of 2013 and vowed to focus on our big-picture goal—helping as many small businesses as possible—rather than getting lost in day-to-day tasks or constantly putting out mini-fires. Easier said than done!

oDesk has helped us balance our priorities, not just contributing to our client pipeline but also allowing us to efficiently find contractors who can manage things like small design projects, posting to our Twitter account, and keeping our financial books up to date.

A couple strategies have helped us focus our efforts:

  1. Align your first possible pieces of infrastructure—like office space, team members, website development, and accounting tools—with your goal and vision, and prioritize them.
  2. Save your oDesk job searches and check them twice daily for new opportunities. Responding quickly (i.e. within two hours) has had a disproportionate impact on our success rate.

Phase 3: Use freelancers to support your growing client base

Beyond building our business, we also wanted to create jobs and develop people—whether they were working with us in Chicago or as a virtual teammate. As our workload expanded, it became clear that finding people who are a good fit is extremely important.

We’ve had a lot of success following oDesk’s test hiring practice; the unexpected benefit isn’t just that we quickly see which freelancers are a good match, but that we’ve been able to develop a profile to help us improve the screening process for future hires.

How can you build a better profile for your own team?

  1. Expose your business to multiple freelancers by hiring them for short-term jobs, to increase the chances of finding a great long-term fit. This will help you add a great variety of freelancers to your network, but you can also note which features mark a successful hire.
  2. Building on that experience, create a list of characteristics that you value within your team. Make these general; for example, we’ve founding hiring for attitude and lifestyle works well for us. If you hire the right people, you can train for specific skills.

Phase 4: Learn and cycle

Our business continues to grow, and oDesk has allowed us to scale our capacity at the same time. We continue to question all our assumptions and learn more about our craft every day—something our contractors are also part of.

For example, our existing team is highly knowledgeable about Google AdWords, a nuanced and robust platform that changes regularly. When we hired Harshal, an Indian freelancer, to analyze and expand a client’s AdWords account, we had a “hockey stick” learning moment: He taught us many things we hadn’t tried, deepening our knowledge and providing insights that we now apply to other clients.

Running a digital agency is an ongoing learning experience, one that will evolve as we continue to grow our client base, expand our team, and adjust to the always-changing marketplace. oDesk will continue to be a big part of that success because of its practicality, cost-effective hiring, and opportunities for human development.

What are your strategies for using oDesk to grow your business? Share them in the comments section below!

Chris Madden

Co-founder and digital marketer at Matchnode

Chris Madden is a co-founder and digital marketer at Matchnode—a full service Chicago Digital Marketing Agency. Matchnode specializes in digital strategy, traffic generation and conversion optimization.

  • Tinku TR

    I am tired of the odesk support . i have sent over so many tickets and all replies will be partial. So posting my question here.

    I am a reputed freelaner on odesk and still my account is active. What i want is to create a company account on odesk and use multiple developers for my existing clients. My clients are ready to hire my staff through odesk. But the issues i am facing are

    1. Odesk won’t allow Company names and logos on account and its making impossible to withdraw funds to my company account. Always says user name different from bank account.

    2. As company accounts not allowed i will have to create the account on my name , which caused duplicate account creation and i got warning on my existing account too. (I want my personal account to stay apart from any agency because i do have another personal clients to work with after office. And also if i become part of an agency i am loosing clients. So i must keep company account apart from my existing account.

    Hope i will get right reply here at least. Here is one of my previous ticket id #3875408

    Thank you.

  • Panda Cash Back

    One thing that I really hope to see on odesk regarding the agencies is more regulation. Agencies tend to spam more than individuals ( they don’t read the job post, and always apply even if they are not close to the requirements. There is should be limitation and penalization for agencies that ignore job requirements on regular basis

  • Ahmed Feki

    Good success story

    But i have some suggestion to oDesk :

    It will be better if oDesk give the agency owner the responsibility

    to manage their team members & choose the right peoples to work on a specific

    job without the client approval for each team member will contribute in the project .

    For the feedback : it will be shared with each one participated in the project & the agency profile

    For the report : each contractor will select the project assigned by the agency owner or staff manager on work on it

    & the client will see the report of each contractor participated in the project

    The client can limit from the begging the number of contributor in the project like the weekly limit option, as he can change it later if the project manager require more people to work with him

    Also i don’t like the idea of letting the client know the rate of each one in the agency

    or even their profile

    because if the agency bid is 30$ , then he will find two people working in the agency for his project with the rate of 15$ /h

    so probably he will think , why he don’t just will hire them as independent contractors

    A big part of these suggestions are functional in Elance , but we prefer working in oDesk since we have made a long term career here .



  • Nelsan Ellis

    This is a very true standing point for a freelancer. It is true that people often nag about not having any clients as a freelacer, but in fact, they don’t work on themselves to improve their skills, and don’t have a unique portfolio or som work wich will stand them out of the crowd! You need to keep rolling in the business, and connecting as much as possible! The money, and work is out there, you just have to be more active!

  • Pingback: Making the Leap From Freelancers to Digital Agency - SkyOffice Consulting | SkyOffice Consulting()

  • Pingback: Making the Leap From Freelancers to Digital Agency | A2Z Web Design Tutorial()