Guest post by Missy Nolan
oDesk is notorious for low-paying freelance writing jobs. If you are an oDesk user, you’ve probably waded through hundreds, maybe even thousands, of writing gigs that demand high-quality, well-researched 500 word articles for $1 or $2. Most of us can’t survive on rates that low. In fact, $2 won’t even get you a loaf of bread or a carton of eggs in some cities.
Don’t give up on oDesk just yet, though. There are plenty of gems hiding between all the ridiculously picky clients and insultingly low wages. Finding them just requires a bit of time and patience. Talent and self-confidence help, too.
CREATE AN AWESOME PROFILE
Yes, oDesk is just a bidding site, and you are not guaranteed employment or job offers. However, that doesn’t mean you should treat it that way. Treat your oDesk profile the same way you treat your cover letter and resume when you apply for traditional jobs.
What does that mean? It means make it good. Now is not the time to be modest. Brag about your achievements in the writing world. Mention any degrees or certificates that you hold, even if they aren’t writing related. Include some killer samples or links to your best work. Oh, and a photo never hurts – just keep it professional. Save the pics that flaunt your bikini body or beer chugging skills for Facebook.
Set your hourly wage at the amount you think you deserve. Hint: This should be at least $15, preferably higher. Some clients favor contractors with super low hourly rates, but those aren’t the employers you want to work for. Keep your standards high. You’ll look a bit silly bidding on gigs that pay .15 per word if your hourly rate is set at $7.50.
IMPRESS EMPLOYERS WITH YOUR COVER LETTER
A well-written cover letter is interesting, relevant, and factual. Avoid vague statements like, “I am looking for a project that allows me to utilize my knowledge of blah blah blah”. Yawn. Employers don’t want to hear what type of gig you want; they want to know that you want their project and are a good match for it.
Read each job listing carefully and look for things that seem important. Some oDesk employers have very specific degree requirements or expect a certain style of writing – and make it clear that there will be no exceptions. Make sure you meet these requirements before you apply.
Other employers aren’t really sure what they want. This is great news for you. Job listings that say things like, “I’m new to this and not really sure what to charge…” give you a chance to set your own price and explain why you deserve it. Also, don’t be afraid to click on jobs with a budget that is slightly smaller than what you’d like. Some employers are flexible on the amount, especially after they realize what paying half a penny a word will usually get them (and they can tell by the terrible samples and cover letters they receive).
SET YOUR FILTERS
This may seem like an obvious step, but it is one that many oDesk contractors overlook. When you search for writing jobs, there is an option on the right that says “Fixed-Price Budget”. Set it to at least $50, higher if you wish. Avoid setting it too high, because that will send you to a bunch of large projects that sound good at first – until you realize you’re getting $1000 to write 500 articles by next week.
You can also choose between fixed-price and hourly gigs. It’s much easier to find high-paying writing jobs if you search for fixed-price and hourly gigs separately. Start with the fixed-price gigs, then make your way to the hourly listings. And speaking of hourly payment…
DON’T IGNORE HOURLY GIGS
Some contractors see an hourly gig and immediately skip to the next listing. Not all hourly gigs are a waste of time. In fact, I’ve had several hourly gigs where the employer changed my rate to a flat price per article at my request. Remember, not every oDesk employer knows how quickly some writers can write or how much to offer per article. That’s why they go with the hourly rate.
READ AN EMPLOYER’S FEEDBACK
Sometimes an oDesk gig seems too good to be true, especially if you’re used to writing for peanuts. While there are many legitimate high-paying writing opportunities, some of them are scams. Before you bid on a project, read an employer’s feedback – all of it. Don’t just look at the overall score; read the individual comments. If a lot of contractors failed to leave feedback, that’s not good. Sometimes contractors fear the “revenge rating” they’ll receive if they leave bad feedback, so rather than risk ruining their own score, they leave a terrible employer’s feedback field blank.
Some employers are not flexible, and after spending a bit of time on oDesk, you’ll be able to spot them immediately. Employers with a long list of paragraphs describing what they want from their 300 word article are generally a nightmare to work for. So are employers who are very, very specific about the type of writer that they want – you’ve probably seen a few oddly detailed requests, like, “Please only apply if you are an Asian woman between the ages of 18-30 with 4 years of college, several children, at least 3 tattoos, and more than 5 years of writing experience”. Good luck finding someone for that project, buddy.
Anyway, just because a project has an estimated budget of $50 doesn’t mean you have to stick to that budget – unless the employer has made it very clear that he will pick the cheapest bidder and not go over the budget. Bid what you think you’re worth, and explain why you deserve that price in your cover letter. The worst that can happen is that you don’t get awarded the project, and guess what? There are hundreds more added each day. Go get them!
Missy Nolan has spent the last 8 years sneaking away from her kids during Yo Gabba Gabba! and Dora marathons to write product descriptions, marketing copy, and other web content. When she’s not writing, she likes to bake, read, walk, and watch trashy reality shows. You can follow her adventures as a writer on her website, How Much Does a Freelance Writer Make?