Abel Mohler

Competing in a Global Marketplace

JennyBecause I live in a Western country, the United States, and work online in a global marketplace, Odesk, it has always concerned me that I should be able to compete against sources of labor that try to undercut the marketplace with outrageously low prices. This was such a concern for me, that at the beginning of my current career path, it almost stopped me from becoming a full-time freelancer, because of how discouraging the marketplace appeared to be.

There are many voices in the Odesk community, some louder than others, that constantly complain about how low the rates are.  Most of these complaints come from those living in the West who are trying to enter the market as virtual assistants and data-entry providers.  Some of these people actually end up working for less than five dollars per hour because they are so badly in need of work.  Needless to say, this is not a sustainable living wage in the US.

Many data entry providers in my country are educated, competent, hard-working people.  Many have extensive office skills, long resumes, and many accomplishments.  There is what I see as basically a tragedy happening among certain individuals who have failed to adapt to a job market that has changed.  Many didn’t realize, some may still not realize, that data entry skills have become such a common commodity worldwide, that it is bought and sold very cheaply on the open market.  Providers living in developed countries cannot compete for these jobs any more.  If you are a data entry provider that lives in a developed country, you will need to adapt by learning new skills.

Why I earn $60 per hour on Odesk and you dont.

Of course, maybe you do earn this much or more, and if so, you have figured out how to be valuable in the global marketplace, how to compete, and how to use your status as a member of a developed country to your advantage.

A little background on me, just for your amusement.  I basically have no education.  I dropped out of the Navy when I was right in the middle of technical school by breaking bunches of rules, and never furthered my education.  I always have had computer skills, but never really was able to take advantage of them, or so I thought.  I didn’t figure out how to make a good living until much later.  The reason I am able to earn so much more than most people (on Odesk), is that I adapted my skills to be able to do something really valuable: program and develop websites.  But that is only part of the story.

It is because there is an Odesk that I am able to earn what I do.

If you are struggling to make a living online, you need to take a step back and look at things from a buyers perspective.  What makes you special that anyone will want to hire you?  I think there are a few main determining factors that cause someone to hire someone else at a higher rate:

  1. A unique service, or at least a service that has the appearance of  being unique.
  2. An established record of professionalism.  This is reflected in your history of work, hours, and earnings.
  3. Your location in the world.  If you have #1 and #2, being in a similar location to a buyer is an advantage, because it will be easier to communicate.

The hardest thing for most people seems to be #1.  If you’re not doing something unique, it is difficult to find anyone who will want to hire you at a higher rate.  If you find yourself lost in the crowd, here is a non-comprehensive list of  in-demand skills that you can learn yourself that will supplement your skillset:

  • HTML
  • WordPress
  • CSS
  • Design
  • PHP
  • Joomla
  • SEO
  • Drupal

Almost anyone can learn something about some of these,  and all of them can be self taught from home. Why change now?  If you don’t, you might not be able to sustain a living for long.  As time grows on, you must learn more skills to be able to compete, especially if you’re competing globally.  This means you should be continually re-educating yourself throughout  your career.  Until you retire, you shouldn’t stop learning new job skills.

Besides just having enough skills, an essential part of success is being able to represent yourself well.  This is a skill that can’t always be taught, and takes practice.  You may want to consider keeping a journal (blog), so that you can practice communicating in writing.  People want to know about you, so the better you are at connecting with them the better your chances of succeeding will be.  If you are able to communicate well, and take an active part in social communities elsewhere on the web, your chances of success increase greatly.

What I’m saying may not be earth-shattering news to most people, but it sometimes amazes me how difficult it can be to get through to those who feel it is others’ responsibility to improve their situation.  Instead being productive, some instead focus on asking for minimum wages, and complaining about how unfair the system is to them.  You should not be working for the minimum! Those who complain sometimes seem to focus on everything but what one can do to improve his or her own situation.

I really hope those that read this and are in need of work will take this opportunity to better themselves instead of being frustrated that they can’t seem to sustain a living.  It is difficult to change, hard to adapt, but something has to budge.  Don’t think of outsourcing as a curse, think of it as an opportunity to be better than you were.  People living in underdeveloped parts of the world have a right to make a living also, and many of them are just starting to learn.  You are a step ahead of them.

7 Responses to “Competing in a Global Marketplace”

  1. Margaret Says:

    You are right Abel.I am also in the US (GMT -5) and I also have found that buyers really prefer to work with those who speak their own language when working in technical jobs. There is so much that they need to communicate about how their system works that trying to get this across when there is a language barrier is just too difficult.
    For the same reason, I only work with clients strictly in North America or the UK. I have worked with Aussies but the time difference is just too much. It takes days to communicate and valuable time is lost.
    It may be different in non technical jobs, I am just talking about programming jobs.
    Best wishes.

  2. Lama Takruri Says:

    WOW! this is really one of the most useful articles I’ve read about ODESK, I’m a graphic designer from middle east , and the life here is getting more expensive everyday , so sometimes i get frustrated by the low income I make on ODESK . i think that Odesk must specify proposal minimums.

  3. Sam Welbeck Says:

    Great post. It is a little disheartening to see the low rates being proposed by buyers when you are used to Western salaries. I completely agree that you need to “up your game” if you are going to stand out. I have recently moved to Cairo from London and I intend to make a living earning in sterling (or dollars). I am all up for learning more and improving one’s skills. Often the problem is knowing where to start. Can you or anyone suggest some good books or websites on PHP and Joomla?

  4. Tim Lytle Says:

    Good post – I guest posted on the oDesk blog last week on a similar topic (http://www.odesk.com/blog/2009/10/provider-voice-bidding-for-work-its-not-about-price/). It’s good to see practical (and real world) answers on how to make an acceptable houlry rate on oDesk – as opposed to those who just complain that ‘there should be a minimum hourly rate’.

  5. Garth Patterson Says:


    You made a list of in-demand skills that people can learn to supplement their skill sets. Do you think that Flash/Actionscript is/can be another one of those skills?


  6. Abel Says:

    Most definitely. Actionscript skills pay higher than many other skills because it is harder to find providers who are highly qualified with them. I think it is easy for some to look at skills and think “what is in the most demand?” by simply seeing what is the most common skills that are demanded in the marketplace. This can be a mistake because usually it is the more rare skills that pay more.

    Whatever you do, I really believe you need to be well-rounded, with many skills, while also being specialized in only a few things. This is what makes someone really valuable.

  7. Buzzworthy (November 2009) - oBlog Says:

    [...] Guide” blog. Abel Mohler talks about “competing in a global marketplace,” and making a solid living as an online provider without feeling constantly undercut by lower-cost competition — a post that [...]

Leave a Reply