30 Days as Geek For Hire – Day 8: Opportunity Knocks

Today began with a promising email. My freelance profile on Elance had been viewed by a software company based in California and I’d been invited to pitch for a large AdWords management project.

opportunity-knocksAfter requesting review access to their AdWords account and their Analytics, I could immediately see glaring issues that had been preventing the various campaigns from achieving profitability via AdWords. What a mess! But I knew I could easily add value with even the barest of account tweaks, so I prepared a mini audit and made my case via email.

Next, I headed over to the UpWork Community Forum to check things out. A couple of readers following this blog had alerted me to some threads in the forum indicating a growing sense of discontent amongst UpWork freelancers. Seems I’m not the only one disillusioned by the lack of power contractors have on sites like Elance and UpWork.

One of the common complaints is about the UpWork performance algorithm that measures the effectiveness of freelancers based on the quantity of jobs they complete rather than the quality of their work. The system seems to reward the sweat-shop teams and low-ballers who consistently under-bid for projects, while the average contractor is left with no choice but to drop their rates to ridiculous levels to try and compete.

Clients are encouraged to view a contractor’s success rate and skills test scores as a measure of effectiveness, but the ultimate kudos is for a contractor is to achieve something called *Top Rated* status.

To earn and maintain Top Rated status, you must have:

  • A Job Success score of at least 90%
  • 12-month earnings of at least $1,000
  • An account in good standing with no recent account holds
  • A 100% complete profile with photo
  • Up to date availability (if unavailable now, set a date estimate)
  • At least 30 days of work history on Upwork

Sounds reasonable, until you realize that the algorithm for Job Success is mostly tied to bulk project completion and feedback that can be easily manipulated by less than reputable clients. In their FAQs, UpWork respond to this potential as follows:

“Your client’s record is taken into consideration when weighing their interactions in your score. We know that not every contract will end perfectly, and your Job Success score won’t be ruined by just one or two negative contract outcomes. However, to be successful in the marketplace, it’s important to do your best on each contract and to work to satisfy your clients. Showing improvement over time will allow you to overcome almost any negative incident.”

On the plus side, UpWork seems to be listening to freelancer concerns about weaknesses of the algorithm. A recent addition to the Job Success explanatory page is this one:

“We also try to account for instances when negative outcomes are due to factors outside of your control. Therefore, contracts without activity due to a poor client interaction are not counted against your score. A client that repeatedly receives poor feedback from freelancers will be flagged, and their inputs omitted from your score.”

I found that a little more encouraging. But with a personal Job Success score of zero until I start my first project, I still have a long way to go before I can share an informed opinion about whether UpWork is a viable option to find freelance work.

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30 Days as Geek For Hire – Day 7: Fresh Potential

Day 7 started with no news on my UpWork applications. In the meantime, I had been hearing excitable rumblings about a local New Zealand-based start-up called Yudoozy and I decided to check it out.

Yudoozy might be a dumb name, but it has a smart approach. It’s a freelancer marketplace that connects freelancers and potential employers, but that is where the similarity to Elance ends. For starters, it’s only open to New Zealand residents and there are no cut-throat bidding wars for jobs. Employers actively seek out suitable freelancers by perusing the directory of talent and skills available. To make this easier, both freelancers and employers go through a vetting process at Yudoozy. The idea here is to rule out tyre kickers and cowboy coders, levelling the playing field more than other job marketplaces and making sure all participants in the transaction get a fair deal.

Run by ex-staffers of a recruitment firm who felt they could do a better job supporting freelancers, the whole premise of Yudoozy is to align skilled workers with authentic projects at fair rates, with no middleman taking a commission. It’s totally free. On Yudoozy, you set your own hourly rate and the system promotes you to registered, pre-vetted New Zealand employers.

But where Yudoozy gets really fresh is in their scheduling app. Once you register as a freelancer, you can enter your availability for the next 2 months into their weekly scheduler. You can block out weeks as either free, busy or try me – the latter indicating that you may or may not have availability that week but will confirm when contacted.

Yudoozy-schedulerThe system auto generates an email to freelancers each week, reminding them to update their availability in the scheduler. That way, potential employers can see instantly if / when freelancers are available for projects and not waste their time contacting someone who can’t do the job anyway. Smart, no?

Right now, Yudoozy is still in BETA, with few registered employers as yet, but I have high hopes for it. I’ve set up my profile and now just need to wait for the calls to come in. Or not.

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30 Days as Geek For Hire – Day 6: Disconnected via Connects

After my last meander into the murky pool of Elance sweat shop gigs job opportunities, I have been avoiding that site at all costs. But on Facebook today, a friend mentioned that Elance was shutting down and moving to a new platform with higher rates for freelancers.

After some digging, I discovered that the news was bigger than that. Turns out that Elance and ODesk actually merged some months ago and are now operating under a new entity called UpWork. Weirdly, Elance have retained their own brand, while ODesk has re-branded to become UpWork.

I nervously logged in to ODesk for the first time in a week, thinking that all the effort I had put into my profile was likely wasted, but thankfully the system had retained all my profile data and had simply changed the site name to UpWork and replaced the site font with something hideous and unreadable. Seriously guys – I’ve no idea what that font is called, but if I had to name it, I’d suggest Rusty Geek. Or Visually Impaired. But I digress.


I’d been on the site for less than 60 seconds when an annoying window popped up. “Introducing Connects. A new way to apply for jobs”, it said. Then an even more annoying pop-up showed up on my profile: “Connects are now required to apply to jobs”. Aaargh. The bizarre concept of *Connects* had leaked over from Elance to UpWork. Connects are virtual tokens you need to submit in order to apply for a job. The good news is that if you’re invited to apply for a job, you don’t need to use any connects. But being invited to apply for a job is not very common.


Each basic freelancer account is allocated 60 connects, but you need to use between 1 and 5 connects for each job application. So depending on the number of gigs you apply for each month, you may need to upgrade your membership from Freelancer Basic to Freelancer Plus. At USD 10 per month, a Freelancer Plus membership gives you 70 connects, but unused connects roll over each month for future use. Clear as mud, right?

After 15 minutes of trying to wrap my head around that concept, I searched for some suitable jobs and decided to apply for three:

  • Online Digital Marketing Manager
  • Marketing Consultant
  • Digital Content Provider

Time to cross my fingers and wait for responses.

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30 Days as Geek For Hire – Day 5: Job Listing Jeopardy

Today was a red letter day in my quest for freelance work. It was finally time to start applying for actual gigs. So armed with my espresso and a fierce determination, I logged on to my account at Elance.


My morning went from great to Adele pretty damn fast

Now, an individual membership with Elance costs USD10 per month and includes 60 *connects* (whatever the heck they are) and one jobs category. This means that you can’t apply for jobs outside your chosen category, unless you pay more. So I had to start by choosing a category. Given that most of the gigs I’m after relate to search marketing, I chose the Sales and Marketing category and began my search.

According to Elance, there were over 2,600 jobs available in the Sales and Marketing category. Brilliant! The caffeine began to kick in and my hopes were high. I narrowed my search to Search Engine Optimization and hit enter. A promising 433 SEO jobs were available. So far, so good. I clicked on the most recent job listed.

A company in New York was seeking an advanced SEO expert to get their websites (and I quote) “Guaranteed page 1 Google rankings in the USA & Canada for a list of 40 to 50 keywords”. Um, besides the fact that it isn’t actually possible to guarantee final ranking positions (as that is determined by Google’s own algorithm), it’s kind of difficult to pitch my ability to help without knowing:

a) What type of sites these are

b) What industry this is

c) What keywords you are targeting and;

d) How much competition you face.

Hmmm. My hopes were falling faster by the minute. So exactly how much was the company offering to compensate this expert SEO in exchange for achieving such an impossible task?

I checked the hourly rate they had advertised with the job. $3 – $3.30 per hour. Wait. WHAT? I checked it again. Not $300-$330 per hour as is closer to my usual rate. Not even $30-$33 per hour. No. This company wanted to pay a grand total of $3 per hour. Or perhaps even step it up to $3.30 per hour for the right person.

I practically choked on my coffee. Surely this was a typo? But then I noticed that they had 11 proposals already from freelancers willing to take on this gig. What the actual firetruck? But yes – apparently several freelancers based in Bangladesh and the Philippines were more than happy to work for pennies.

Ok, I thought. This is just an anomaly and there are 432 other SEO job opportunities that I can apply for. So I clicked on the next gig in the list. A UK based software development company was seeking a remote SEO specialist for a 2 week project. This sounded promising so I clicked for more detail. Uh Oh. The advertised hourly rate was $10-$15 and they would prefer to hire Ukraine-based freelancers. With site-scraping experience. And the availability to Skype 24/7. Oh FFS.

With my hopes plummeting towards the ground like a skydiver with a ripped parachute, I thought perhaps I should take a different tack. So I ran a search for Google AdWords projects and a list of nearly 200 popped up. An ad agency in Australia was looking for someone to manage 35 AdWords accounts on behalf of their clients, including bid-tweaking, keyword research, video ad creation and 300 page report generation (with the agency logo of course) for a flat fee of $500 per month. Seriously?

Or perhaps this one – a company in Malaysia wanted help to create an AdWords campaign for a new erectile dysfunction product. Oh HELL no. The keyword research alone would make me shudder.

It was about this time that I began playing Adele on repeat and consuming an entire tray of peanut butter cookies. Oh well, perhaps tomorrow I will find a freelance project that has realistic potential to actually cover my rent?

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30 Days as Geek For Hire – Day 4: More Skills Test Torture

odesk-logoAfter yesterday’s fun and games with “skills tests” on Elance, I thought I’d try some tests on oDesk. Surely their tests can’t be as confounding, right?

I started by taking the SEO test and then after locking myself in the cupboard to scream for a while, I came back out and took the AdWords test. The oDesk test questions (provided by ExpertRating) had many of the same hair-pulling, doughnut binge-inducing issues as the Elance questions: ambiguity, outdated references, subjective wording, blatantly incorrect answers.

What made things worse with oDesk was that although the system gives you the opportunity to provide feedback on the questions, you have to submit it within the 15 second time limit allocated to answering each question. So you end up playing this kind of wide-eyed, manic game of whack-a-mole, randomly hitting radio buttons and typing angry comments. Needless to say, I was pretty stabby by the time I completed a few “skills tests” on oDesk.

Having proven my skills in speed typing and passive aggressive commenting, it was now time to apply for some actual jobs. Uh oh.

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