Over the last few months, there has been a lot of news out of oDesk – first, they announced a strategic partnership with Kelly Services. Now, it rather baffles me that a company like Kelly wouldn’t have their own online services offering, given the company is more than 50 years old and the fact they have been ”globalized” for over a decade. Frankly, I saw this “alliance” as benefiting oDesk more than it benefited Kelly; and by extension, it would benefit freelancers more. However, I was also concerned about this as I’ve held the position that oDesk was becoming more like an “employer” than a freelance platform since they began offering services through “oDesk Payroll” and offering freelancers the opportunity to take advantage of insurance through the site. As far as I was concerned then, the oDesk “model” was going to turn into “Manpower” online. Ironically, the alliance with Kelly reinforced that feeling. The second segment of news which in my opinion was even more concerning was the “merger” with Elance. It’s important to note that many freelancers maintain accounts on both sites. It is also important to note that many freelancers have an allegiance to one site or the other and defend their positions with either with equal vehemence. Both Elance and oDesk offer some very specific services which are extremely similar. However, there are other features that depending on your outlook make one model work better than the other.
Let’s discuss the way these sites work
No discussion would be fair without pointing out the things both sites do well. For example, both sites guarantee the freelancer is paid for all hours logged using the time tracker for hourly projects. This is a big bonus for freelancers because they stand less of a risk of being stiffed. Now it’s important to note that both sites require the freelancer to verify that the client has a verified payment method BEFORE starting the work in order for the guarantee to be in place. There is another significant difference in how the hourly guarantee works: Freelancers at oDesk who win a bid on an hourly assignment and use the time tracker are guaranteed to be paid for the hours they work. The only two assumptions that are made are (a) the clients payment method is confirmed and (b) the work you’re doing actually relates to the project (e.g., no playing Facebook games, watching porn, etc.). At Elance, the language is just enough different that you really need to be careful. Specifically it states “ How do freelancers qualify for Work View Payment Protection? Both freelancers and clients must agree to use Work View™.” At oDesk the client doesn’t need to “agree” it just is automatic when you accept an hourly assignment (of course putting the onus on the freelancer to run the time tracking).
Free membership comparison
Not all free memberships are created equal! While some folks will tell you that BOTH offer a free membership, there are some restrictions at Elance that make it a bit different than oDesk than the free membership at oDesk.
- Number of applications – oDesk allows users to apply for up to 25 positions at any given time. This number is a “rolling” number and refreshes every seven days. Theoretically, a user could apply for upwards of 100 positions in any given month using this method. Elance is far more nuanced: Your free membership allows you 40 “connections” which means you can apply for upwards of 40 assignments in a 30 day period. This is significantly less if you use your “connects” to boost your chances
- Categories – this option is fascinating. oDesk allows users to apply for assignments in any category they choose. For example, as a “specialist” in website content, you could also apply for assignments in translation, web design, blog posts, etc. However, at Elance, you don’t have this much flexibility. If you sign up for writing blogs, that’s all you can apply for. They “categorize” writers into specific niches and in order to have more than one category, you need to have a paid membership. This is problematic for many of us; for myself as an example, I do write blog posts but I also write website content. In order to gain access to both categories, I’d need a paid membership (unlike the “free” option at oDesk
- Payments and charges – I’ll give Elance this one: They offer free transfers to PayPal (oDesk charges $1) and their fees (overall) are lower (8.85 percent versus 10 percent). They also have quicker “turn around” times (versus oDesk’s automatic “holding” period. My personal opinion is this is because MOST freelancers need to have paid accounts and that’s where they gain money and therefore can use a reduced fee structure (that’s speculation on my part)
Since this is now getting far lengthier than I originally intended, stay tuned for additional information and what my thoughts are regarding this “changeover” and merger with Elance. While at this time, there are no real changes in how either company operates (specifically related to the merger) there are other things freelancers need to know.