By Lise Carter, freelance writer
Back in 2011, I was feeling pretty low. I wasn't happy in my day job, didn't feel like I was progressing, and felt really bored and restless.
In August 2011, I came across a site called Location Rebel (a great site for aspiring Digital Nomads!), where I learned how to become a freelance writer. This included best practices for search engine optimization (SEO) and finding clients.
One of their recommendations was oDesk, not only to connect with longer-term clients but also to find good short-term writing projects. Within three days of setting up my profile I had landed my first writing client!
I was very excited and nervous about how the process would go, but had no issues. I was paid a week later and, since then, have continued to use oDesk to find jobs and clients to work with on an ongoing basis.
Within 10 months of working part time on oDesk, I was able to quit my day job as an administrator and go full time as a freelance writer. I wouldn't have been able to do this on my own. Here’s how I used oDesk to quit my 9-to-5—and how you can too.
Step 1: It all starts with a great profile
You need to think of your profile as your “sales page”—focus on what you can provide to the client in terms of your skills and experience.
Having a complete profile is key for clients to find you. If you have a complete profile with good feedback and ratings, oDesk is more likely to rank your profile higher in search or recommend your profile to clients.
Here are few things you can do to get the most exposure:
- Include a profile photo (i.e. a semi-professional head-and-shoulders shot)
- At the beginning of your profile, list the top five skills that you want clients to find you for (i.e. SEO writer, editor, etc.)
- Complete more than 10 oDesk skills tests; the standard is four, but I recommend going above and beyond that. Prove your skills by taking tests that support what you claim you can do.
What I quickly learned is that my profile is my bread and butter. I ensured that I had a 100 percent complete profile, with more than 10 tests to support my skills, before I started applying for higher-paying jobs.
Step 2: Applying for jobs
Once you have a complete profile, you'll want to start applying for jobs. There are a number of things you can do to make sure your job applications are actually opened:
- Always provide a cover letter as an attachment, as well as a short-form cover letter in the job application screen.
- Structure your application by including headings and bullet points, so it's easy for clients to quickly scan the information you're providing.
- If you're just starting out and have no feedback on oDesk, price your first few jobs on the lower side—just to get your feet in the door. You can easily increase your rate on the third or fourth client.
- Direct potential clients to your published work (if you have any).
By doing these four things, you'll ensure you're invited to interview more often than not. And once you have some good feedback on your profile, you'll find that clients start approaching you!
Step 3: Delivering work and getting ongoing clients
Once you've landed a job, the obvious next step is to finish the work and deliver it according to your client’s expectations.
I like to go beyond this, however. My aim is to over-deliver on each and every job to ensure clients will want to continue working with me in the future. This also ensures that I receive positive feedback.
If you're a freelance writer, you might provide clients with a bonus article; if you’re a web designer, you could add an extra plugin or tweak to their site. Provide more and you will receive more.
This is how I convert small projects into ongoing clients. If a client doesn't have any immediate work available, I ask for a referral.
A cautionary tale about fixed-price contracts
While oDesk is an awesome place to find jobs and great clients, remember to do your own due diligence.
oDesk offers both fixed-price and hourly contracts and, while you can choose the agreement that works best for you, only hourly contracts are covered by the oDesk payment guarantee.
I recommend hourly contracts, but if you prefer fixed-price contracts check a few things before you jump in:
- Confirm that the client is payment verified
- Ask for payment up front (I ask for 50 percent, which is pretty standard)
I learned this the hard way. Just a few months into my freelance career, I accepted a fixed-price contract and was so eager to start that I skipped these steps. I’m sure you can see where this is heading: at the end of the job, I submitted the work and the client disappeared. That was a hard lesson to learn!
I prefer hourly because of the oDesk guarantee, but also because I then know exactly how much I’m getting paid, and when I will be paid. These are important details for any freelancer!
Ready, set, earn!
oDesk is, by far, one of the easiest places to get started as a freelancer—whether you're a writer, web designer, programmer, editor or virtual assistant extraordinaire.
Whether you're just looking for some extra income or whether you're looking to change careers, oDesk should be your first starting point. You won't regret it.