Digital Nomads
February 20, 2014 by Guest Blogger

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:

  1. Include a profile photo (i.e. a semi-professional head-and-shoulders shot)
  2. 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.)
  3. 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:

  1. Always provide a cover letter as an attachment, as well as a short-form cover letter in the job application screen.
  2. Structure your application by including headings and bullet points, so it’s easy for clients to quickly scan the information you’re providing.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Lise Carter

Freelancer Writer

Lise Carter is a full-time freelance writer and social media whiz who quit her boring administration job in June 2012 to pursue a lifestyle 'far less ordinary' than what she had experienced. In 2014, she is turning her hand to helping others leave the rat race, too.

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  • David McMonigle

    I’ve been working on oDesk for the past year as a part-time programmer, and I love it! I’m still working two jobs, but I was able to replace my second job in retail and am able to stay home more with my family! Hoping to make it full time in the future

  • Jeremiah Grande

    Welcomed Advice, as a rookie freelancer! I’ve applied for a few jobs, but still in the waiting stages. Thanks Again.

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  • Vijay Sood

    Nice Share Lise. Its encouraging for the beginners. Thanks!

  • Jazziel Arquio-Gallagher

    This is a great help for all oDesk starters. I, too, took time to build my profile and started taking on small jobs and mostly were “fixed” just to add on my profile. I’ve never asked for up-front payment though but always check if the client has a verified payment.

    This is indeed, a helpful one.

    In fact, I’ve just shared this blog to my starting friend.



  • ammarkhanlive

    Very nice & useful article for newbies! need more info about fixed price contracts. please , also need some help regarding how to write good proposals and cover letters to get the right job in hand.

    M. Ammar K.

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  • shaddam

    Nice share. This is helpful topic for new freelance. :)

  • mazioon

    Great Topic! thanks!
    I’ve never asked for the up-front payment. Maybe i’m lucky not to have any problems. :)

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  • Daniela Dimitrova

    My story is almost the same:) But in my case it started 2009, and it took me just 3-4 months to be sure that i do not need my daily job anymore and oDesk can be my main income! With the years I built very stron long term relations with a lot of people.
    The small difference is that I do not provide any cover letter as attachment. I am graphic designer, and for the initial bid i wrote just few words (in fact i copy/paste because I have template) saying that I am interested and I give link to my portfolio. In my opinion this is pretty enough – if client likes my style, he will contact me, if not – even 10000 words will not make him/her contact me. Same for the tests – i have done just 2-3, again – my portfolio shows how skilled I am it is the real TEST.
    However – i think your article could be great guide for every person that just starts his/her freelance career!

    • Lise Carter

      Thanks for the comment Daniela – this is just based on my own personal experience :-) My cover letter is no more than 300 words, but as a writer, it’s a great way to showcase just how good I am – much like your portfolio showcases what you do as a graphic designer!

  • Paijan

    Same story like I did before. nice share