Upwork (oDesk, Elance). Two years experience.

I have been working on oDesk for two years. I’ve accumulated a lot of information about this website and decided to unite it into one article.

odesk profile

Why I chose oDesk? 

Because it is the biggest freelance exchange in the world.
I also tried Elance, which is merged with oDesk now, but I couldn’t take my first order for a long time, so I decided to work on oDesk.

There are also exchanges which have some restrictions for registration, such as skills quality test (e.g. TopTal). They offer bigger money rates for freelances, but their requirements are also big. As for me, oDesk gives me all I need now.

My two-years-long way on oDesk
First of all, I tried to take an order for a very small project to get my first feedback from client. But it was very hard. Probably, a lot of freelancers want to take low-price projects instead of big projects. Most applicants for low-cost projects are from Asia. They have approximate money rate of 5$ per hour and do nothing to improve it. So projects priced less than 10-15$ are not very good decision to start working on oDesk.

After that I tried to take one-week project priced about 100$. As a result, I’ve done a dozen quizzes(small games: one question and four possible answers) in 4 months. They were actually the clones of each other with different design. I spent a lot of time and didn’t get a lot of money. Client manipulated me. He wouldn’t have paid me if I hadn’t done additional work.

Then I took complicated project associated with a low-level data cache on Android. It was my first hourly project and first financial success.

The next project was a creation of prototype for the large application based on Java SE, which I developed using hourly paying system. After developing project I supported it using fixed payment.

But hourly work takes away time and freedom. So I completely switched to the fixed-price projects. Since that I have been doing projects with fixed payment for two months and then supporting them for some amount of money per month.

From my point of view, profile on oDesk is not very important thing. But I worked on it well. It’s important to work on you profile at the initial stage of you work to increase efficiency of communication with clients. By the way, profile shouldn’t be empty.

odesk profile


You should add personal photo with only your face on it and one-color background. It is important to look serious enough and have none accept you on the photo. This is especially important for young freelancers because I often face a problem of age stereotype among clients.

Information about yourself:
When I started freelance work, I just made a list of my technical skills. For example:

— SQL, SQLite, MySQL

I’d been working with such info in my profile for about six months and then one of my client surprised me. He sent me the message like this:

«You’re a good artist, a pleasure to work with you, but you have terribly bad profile, you want I can help you?»

Client is American(native English speaker) and has skills in marketing, so I immediately agreed.
Well, now I have new profile information which looks like a story not a simple list of technical skills. Basically, it didn’t change but transforms into the other form.

Hi, My name is XXX YYY.
In my portfolio, are a few of the programs that I’ve developed. I believe my strong points are my Creativeness and Punctuality. My # 1 goal will always be to meet your needs and deadline. When working on a new project, I like to speak with the client, so that I can have a clear understanding of his / her needs and vision of the project. I’m honest and fair.
Since 2010, I’m programmer in CRDF project for the visualization of meteorological data. Developing UI (Eclipse RCP) and server (big data, cluster programming, high load).
Also from 2011, I develop Android applications and games.
Please take a look at my work history for comments from other clients. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I look forward to working with you soon.
I have a Bachelors in Software Engineering from Donets’k National Technical University, in the Ukraine. Listed below are my experience and skills.
— Android (2.x & 4.x): Fragments API, Location and Sensors API, SQLite, UI, Services, Maps, ActionBarSherlock, Parse.com, admob, etc;
— Java Core: Java Core, Multithreading, Collections API, etc;
— Frameworks: Eclipse RCP, JUnit;
— Core web: XML, JSON, HTML / CSS, JavaScript;
— IDE: Eclipse;
— OS: Linux, Windows, Mac OS X;
— VCS: Git, Mercurial, SVN;
— Bug / Issue trackers: Jira, Assembla, Redmine;
— SQL;
— UML.

The list of technologies / skills:
I added to the list everything I’d used previously, even if I didn’t have a lot of experience in that area. Clients often set filters for some technologies and skills when searching for candidates. You can find top technology in the job description. oDesc’s recently introduced new feature. It allows clients to specify necessary skills for the job.

In my opinion, tests on oDesk do not reflect the real picture of knowledge. Customers rarely look at them though sometimes they set filters for some test results. I passed only a few tests to get into the Top 30% because tests take too much time.
Good results at the client’s profile technology gives him confidence that I know at least a little about it. However, by the time I done more than 3-4 completed projects, tests had cased to be important.

Employment History / Education / Other Experience:
I think this item is completely useless, but profile shouldn’t be empty, so I filled it too.

I don’t add a lot of information here, 10 projects is enough.

odesk portfolio

Description of the project should be quite small. Number of the projects and quality of the screenshots are the main focuses for clients. It’s also nice to have a point link.
Give your attention to the screenshots. Adding background and phone’s layout is a piece of cake, but it has eye-catching effect!

English language level:
You definitely have to set at least 4th level (Conversational). It’ll be easy to apologize and give up your job if you have troubles in communication. Otherwise you are likely to loose plenty of clients who set filter for the english level.

I reckon, groups look pretty prestigious. You can simply join a variety of groups and take part in oDesk’s contests.

How I choose clients?
Everything written below is pretty obvious, but I’ve decided to add it to make complete article.
There are unfair wily people on oDesk. They may make you nervous wreck, make you squeal, and even do not pay for your work.

I’ll tell you about it based on screenshots.

odesk client

The best variant is client who has been working on oDesk for a long time, paying a lot of money, and who now has a solid rating. I trust him, because there are no senses for him to deceive me: reputation is more important for him.

odesk client

New client. It does not mean that he is bad, he is likely to be a good client, but it is necessary to be carefull with him.

odesk client

I suppose, this is the worst client. Firstly, his average rating is VERY small — $ 3 per hour. It means that this client is greedy and picky. Secondly, it’s very bad if client’s rating is about 4 stars. As a rule, if the rating is less than 4 stars, clients often create new account, because nobody wants to work with them.

The worst rating I’ve ever seen was 4.13

odesk client

You should also pay attention to the comments to the client痴 previous projects. You can find information about what you can expect from him and predict problems.


Another interesting point: there are clients whose profiles look good, but they have a lot of projects «In progress» which were started not so long time ago or in the same time. This is a worrying indication. Most likely these clients are going to deceive all of developers in one time in near future.

What gives me most money?
In my view, the most profitable projects are fixed-price projects for a long term (as for me, for more than 5 months). But the most effective (the ratio of the effort to obtain benefits) is projects support. I need a little time and efforts to support my projects and it gives me good money.

A fixed hourly payment
Fixed salary

odesk fixed-price

As with fixed-price projects, client pre-sets the budget for all project or for the current phase of the project. When writing job descriptions, I also have to estimate my own budget for client. It usually coincides with the budget of the client. Asking for less money than client’s pre-seted is not very good idea. Client has already determined, how much money he is ready to pay, why should you earn less?

If you propose a smaller price than client’s estimated, you will dump (and you’ll get more chances to get the job). Yes, it works with certain categories of clients, but it’s better not to mess with such people.Client who chooses freelancers mainly by the offered price (of course, if it is not much bigger than the original budget), is likely to be terribly meticulous and stingy. And thus, he will waste a lot of your time and nerves.

I use slightly different tactic: the price I usually set is about 10% higher than the original budget. These 10% are not so much important for me as the adequacy of the client. In the cover letter I always explain why I’ve set bigger budget, and if client is ready to discuss the budget, it is very good sign. It means that in the future he will be ready to pay for minor improvements, his own mistakes etc.
Using fixed remuneration it is also allowed to receive payment before you do the work. This is so-called upfront payment. In my view, it’s unfair to get money without having done anything, so I’ve never asked for upfront payment. However, this is the way to protect yourself from fraud.

Originally, I divide the entire budget into two parts: 70% / 30%. Then I make an estimate for the entire length of the work. So I get some technical reference + approximate duration of each module + their cost. The entire length of the work is divided into intervals (1-2 weeks) and I put the price of each interval separately divided 70% equally between the intervals. In this way clients can cheat me only for one or two weeks of my work. The other 30% I get after finishing the project, it is a guarantee for me that I will finish the project.

Hourly pay

odesk hourly

Using hourly pay you get money every week.

You should note the time of your work using oDesk’s software or by adding it on the site by hand (manual time).
oDesk’s software notes 10-minute intervals. And it notes intervals that are multiples of 10, i.e., xx: 00-xx-10, xx: 10-xx: 20, …App takes snapshots of your screen at random time in these intervals , but only one screenshot in 10 minutes. Thus, if in the current 10-minute interval snapshot has been made, you should not be afraid that app will take pictures of something else except you work. Don’t worry if screenshot was done when you were doing something except current work. You can delete it directly on the site and client will not even know about it, but you will lose money for 10 minutes.

Also during 10-minute intervals oDesk collects information about your activity (mouse movement, mouse clicks, keystrokes). Actually, only the facts of activity are considered, not your concrete action, so it’s enough to move mouse and click the arrow on the keyboard in a couple of minutes.

Some clients do not allow to add manual time. It’s extremely uncomfortable for me because I am often distracted and I find it difficult to devote all 10 minutes to work. Moreover, it indicates that client does not trust me and I try not to work with such people.

Payment comes once a week. Every Monday oDesk sends a report of your work to the client, he checks it during a couple of days and if everything is okay, money gets on your account after three or four days.

oDesk’s recently introduced the expected level of the cost of the hourly work for client (symbols «$», «$$», «$$$»). These symbols determine how much money client is ready to pay for each hour.

$ — To $ 7 per hour
$$ — From $ 7 to $ 15
$$$ — More than $ 15 per hour
However, the evaluation depends on the client. For example, the level of $$$ for client from the USA (more than $ 30), and for client from India ($ 15), and Russia ($ 20) – are very different prices.

English level
English is the main language on oDesk. For the majority of experts in the field of IT it’s not a problem, but even if it is, you do not have to delay the start of work to learn English.

Most of the time you communicate in English on oDesk. Of course, there are clients who wants to communicate in Russian or Chinese, but it is an exception, not a rule. Therefore it is necessary to be prepared to communicate in English all time of your work.

The main way to communicate with clients for me is e-mailing. I use skype-chat less than e-mail but it is indispensable. To cut a long story short, you should be prepared for live communication with your client. My clients haven’t been asking me to call them via Skype for half a year of my work. But speaking fluent English gives you the chance to take more expensive project and work more productively.

If it’s hard for you to write in English, you should not try to learn English first. This skill comes with experience. Maybe you’ll even have to translate each message with translator at the beginning.

Correct spelling and grammar are not so important as understanding between you and client. Customers regard the fact that English isn’t your native language with understanding. The main thing for them is you to do your work best.

Remark about English level:
My English is not very good. However, clients’ve never made comments about my English. It’s not easy for me to communicate via Skype, but you can always ask your interlocutor again and clients regard it with comprehension. Moreover, the majority of my clients are not from English-speaking countries, and I often notice mistakes in their messages.

Cover letter (email client)
In my opinion, the most important part of looking for a job on oDesk is writing cover letter. Only in a few sentences you need to persuade the client that:
— I can cope with the task;
— I fully understand the TK;
— it’s easy to communicate and interact with me;
— there won’t be unforeseen situations;
— … and so on, and so forth.

Now I want to give an example of one of my cover letters (I apologize for my English) which gave me one of the most profitable projects:

Job description:

odesk job description

Cover letter:

odesk cover letter

Discussion of the technical aspects goes further.

I will highlight the main points that, I consider, are important:
— Based on the job description, the client is tech-savvy and that’s why you must show that your level is not worse than his;
— Furthermore, client has some thoughts about the project. It’s better to ask questions about them or to express your point of view. In this way you show that you understand the topic;
— If the description contains a link to some technical paper it wouldn’t be a bad idea to read it and show in the cover letter that you have studied the problem to the finest details;
— I have shown that I’m interested in the project. In fact, it is 100% true. I only take projects I really like to do, otherwise it transforms to the absolute hell;
— There was a bit of projects in my portfolio at that moment so I referred to the NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) which did not allow me to show a large amount of my works. It was partly true and I really had a couple of successful projects that were under NDA;
— you should also point out that you have done a similar project in the past. It’s not necessary to show it, but you must say it;
— I also lowered my rating, it was, actually, bad idea. But during the work I raised the rating up to 30 $ / hour;
— Readiness to do the test task is a guarantee for the client that you will be able to do the job. As a rule, no one give test
Money, Money, Money

odesk profitodesk profitDuring the first 4 months I earned $ 650 by writing small games, quizzes. It took about 20-30 hours per week.

Starting from the 3d month I also took hourly project — Android-library. I earned $ 2000 for 3 months spending 10-15 hours per week.
Then was a demo version of the application associated with science, some kind of prototype. I earned $ 500 per week (20 hours of work).
After making successful prototype I continued to work with this application and received $ 5,000 for two months (about 15 hours per week).

Next project lasted 7 months and I earned $ 15,000. It was a video streaming fro Android. Approximately I worked 15 hours a week.

Next project was a small application to work with photos for android. I worked 2 months 30-40 hours a week and got $ 5,000. Then I supported it for three months(3-4 hours per week) and earned $ 4000.

odesk profit

The best month was September: 4000 $ per month and 25 working hours per week.

For one and a half years I thus earned about $ 33,000.

oDesk offers a large variety of ways to withdraw money.

I prefer to use Payoneer to withdraw money. Banks don’t effect direct payments because they need legally correct contract from the client which is difficult to do and such difficulties aren’t warranted for small projects.

So, what is Payoneer?

It is an American company which creates for you a dollar card in a foreign bank. However, you are not the owner of the account, you are only the owner of the card attached to Payoneer’s account (this is important because, for example, citizens of Ukraine can not have a foreign bank account without permission of the NBU).

You just need to fill up the form (name and postal address) and after a lapse of one or two months you will receive a parcel with the card. You should give accurate information for registration. You can prove that you are the owner of the card only if you confirm the registration on the site and if your passport data and data on the website are the same.

As to transcription, it is better to write as well as it is written in the international passport or in the driving license. You can also see the official transcription rules. Each country has a special document that contains the transcription of names.

Cost of the card service is $ 30 per year. This amount will be automatically withdrawn once a year only if you have money on your account.

I got my card after about a month and a half after the order in the usual envelope of Illinois.

You can withdraw money from any ATMs. Before using the card you need to activate it online and set your PIN code. Card couldn’t be used before activating. Now you only have to link the card to the oDesk account. This can be done through the settings on oDesk and takes only 5 minutes.

It’s also very convenient to spend money with Payoneer. You can transfer money to another Payoneer account (up to $ 1000 per day), for example, to pay somebody or bound the card to PayPal and pay for purchases in the Internet.

Payoneer provides very good support in Russian, so you can ask any question on the forum. By the way Habre is also present.
Payoneer has very good referral program: if you register by referral link, company will pay $ 25 both one who invited and new user as soon as newcomer will earn his first 100$. In this way you can easily cover almost the entire cost of the service of the first year.

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Книга с ответами на наиболее популярные вопросы про фриланс на Upwork: Регистрация, заполнение профиля, поиск проектов, написание cover letter, общение с клиентом, репутация (JSS), значки Top Rated и Rising Talent, необходимый уровень английского, fixed-price vs hourly, стратегия увеличения заработка на Upwork.

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