Abel Mohler

How I became a full time freelancer

In January 2008, I had very little experience building websites or doing any other development.  I had just lost the job I had spent all summer studying to get, and had very few prospects for other work.  In desperation, I applied for a job at Best Buy as a member of the Geek Squad.  I really don’t have very much computer repair experience, and in retrospect, I’m glad I was turned down.

I am currently very glad to be one of the fortunate few that does something that he really enjoys.  I am a full time, freelance web developer.  Unlike many people who run a business from home, I spend very little time looking for prospects, writing proposals,  or making calls.  I never write invoices.  None of my clients are local.  The market I work in is global.  I have one employee: myself.

Yes, I never write invoices.  I have a service which does all of that for me.  I never take money up-front, am always paid on time, every week, and do everything by the hour.  In addition, I am pretty much free to set my own hours.  Also, despite the current economic slowdown, my earnings have increased, and my future prospects seem bright.

I do have a website, but until recently, it didn’t have very much information on it.  People don’t find me from my website, and although it seems more professional to keep one, I don’t really need it. I have a secret: oDesk.

The first thing people usually ask when they see where I work, is “do people really work for $3 per hour??”.  My response is, “well, I’m not sure, I guess some people in the world can afford to work for that, but I live in the U.S., so that is not a living wage.”  I make a comfortable wage, and have no problem competing in the global marketplace.

The how and why I came to do what I do is ultimately not so important.  What is remarkable, is that it was possible, for me to do what I do at all.  My educational background is almost non-existent.  Before I started doing this I had two failed jobs and one failed business.  I was pretty much a failure.  I had no vehicle, and one half-busted computer.  Don’t get me wrong, I had huge potential, and raw computer talent, but all of the normal indicators of success were not present.  All I had was a little programming ability, and some knowledge of HTML and CSS.  I could make websites without using tables for layout.  This turned out to be an important key to my success.

So what is oDesk, and why is it so easy for people like me to make a living there?  A cursory glance at the site does not leave much of a clue.  The self proclaimed title of the site is “Outsource to Freelancers, IT Companies, Programmers, Web Designers from India, Russia, USA, and more – oDesk”.  This doesn’t say anything about the writers, who have also carved out quite a niche for themselves in the system, and seem to be growing in number.  The average wage on oDesk is about $15 per hour, which is less than half of what I usually charge, but is not bad, considering it is a global marketplace.

Getting your foot in the door on oDesk takes some persistence, patience, and the ability to represent yourself in writing.  It also helps to lower your rate at the beginning.  My first job was for only $11 per hour, and I worked very hard for that meager wage, since I knew the rating I got would be very important.  When the jobs one applies for have 30 other people on the list, standing out from the crowd is important.

Another thing about oDesk that has impressed me, is the honesty of its rating system.  The rating system is what is known as “double blind”.  This means neither person doing the rating knows what rating the other person is giving, until both people have completed rating the other.  Two weeks after a job has ended, if both parties have not offered a rating, any ratings given are published, and ratings can no longer be given.  This has proven an excellent way of sorting out who is doing a good job.

One interesting statistic that oDesk keeps is the so-called oConomy.  My favorite statistic from the oConomy is the total amount of earnings since oDesk was founded.  It is currently up to approximately $60 million dollars, most of it earned by individuals.  Some insiders refer to the oConomy as the “the internet’s best-kept public secret”.  Here is another interesting snapshot of oConomy statistics:

Providers Working Right Now: 249
Job Posts, Last 24 Hours: 601
Fixed-Price Job Posts -
Average Budget:
Total Providers in Network: 195,003
Total Jobs Posted: 176,195

Odesk, the Global Freelance Market

9 Responses to “How I became a full time freelancer”

  1. Danalyn Says:

    This was a great post, Abel (also glad to see you’ve joined the wonderful world of blogging)!

    It’s interesting to see that your first job was right at around the same as my first job’s rate…but you’ve managed to raise your rates considerably since then and seem to be doing very well! How long did it take you to get to your current rate, and did you find it easier once you got the first job under your belt?

  2. wayfarer Says:

    My rate has climbed steadily, and I’ve raised it as recently as last month. I think it is going to end up capping out at about $50 per hour, as I continue to promote my website, but it could go higher, as I know people in the industry making closer to $80 for freelance work. I promote my website by giving free technical assistance to people on forums, and was able to build literally thousands of links to my website overnight, by adding it to my signature in a couple spots. 2 days later, I have a lead.

    Also, my jQuery tooltip plugin is on page 2 in the Google rankings, and in the #3 spot on Yahoo for “jquery tooltip”, which has about 8000 monthly searches. It’s not part of my business plan, I just want to share it with people, but it is possible it will eventually bring me a really good client.

    So instead of only finding work within the system, I am now going to be bringing clients onto it, which is something I have done before, but on a much smaller scale. The beauty of Odesk is that it allows me to network with anyone in the world, instantly, at an hourly rate, with all of my billing concerns handled for me.

  3. Danalyn Says:

    You need the comment subscription plugin! :P

    That’s awesome that you’re bringing people into the system! (I can count the number of people I’ve brought into the system on one hand…minus 3 fingers)

    I used to charge between $80-$150/hr with private clients, but I really never had an accurate way of measuring time, and all of it was estimated. While I miss the money, I don’t miss the headaches of trying to collect payment and finding new clients. I guess look at my current rates on oDesk as having a “convenience” discount for those who hire me!

  4. Rebecca Says:

    Great post — and good for you, too!

  5. Buzzworthy (March 2009) | Freelancing and Outsourcing Tips, Commentary, Analysis, and News from oDesk Says:

    [...] Mohler presents his tale of oDesk success, which he sums up best here: “Yes, I never write invoices. I have a service which does all of [...]

  6. Aman Says:

    This looks like a good site. Good to know that we can get some freelancing work although it may take some time and work :)

  7. Tinsley Says:

    Great post. I’ve been eager to find some freelance work, but have been unwilling to work for the some of the rates that jobs are going for right now. Honestly I made more working at a deli than some of these programmers are earning. I suppose, however, that outside of the U.S. that’s acceptable.

    Also, I’m glad you didn’t end up working for Geek Squad. I had a bad experience with them, but that’s another story.

  8. Pothi Says:

    Hi Wayfarer, As you said, it is so important to stand out from the crowd in order to be successful in oDesk (and elsewhere too). I also like oDesk’s ‘double blind’ feedback system. I’m impressed to see your way up in oDesk. All the best on your other ventures too!

  9. Mark Simon Says:

    Great post and love the story of how you made the best of your situation.

    Keep on working to promote yourself; I think you have a good idea on how to do that. You may want to checkout Inbound Marketing for some more ideas.

    P.S. I came across your site from a comment on Matt Cutt’s blog about Nexus One, iPhone and Sugar…great comment, very funny.

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