Technology virtual work


December 3, 2014

The key to living the location independent lifestyle is finding work from anywhere that you can do anywhere.Freelance serioud business

Even though I am now stationary in Prague, I am still building a freelancer lifestyle.  Like many location independent professionals I debate with myself about the “stability” of a job versus the freedom of freelancing.  Sometimes the job market answers the question for you by not immediately offering a job that fits your skills and experience.

To freelance or not to freelanceFor example, in Prague, many of the professional positions expect multiple languages.  Sure most of them require English, but that is with an accompanying native language.  As a monolingual American I am not the hot prize I may have fantasized myself to be, despite my vaulted status of having a right to work.  Many expats are forced to be freelancers because they don’t have the right to work in their current country of residence.

But, no need to despair.  Online global outsourcing is growing at a rapid pace with a projected growth of over 40% for the industry.

Freelance websitesThe biggest platforms are oDesk, Elance and Freelancer, and Fivrr.  99designs is really in a different category as it’s a crowdsourcing site more focused on design.  The other platforms encompass any type of online work.  A report released recently by Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) found that 10% of businesses are interested in hiring through online staffing platforms like Elance-oDesk, up from 3% in 2013.

So, in an effort to get started with my life as a freelancer I spent hours pouring over articles about the best freelancing websites.  I tested out a few and realized that quite a bit is required to set-up your profile for success on these websites.  The economics, range of job offerings and the tools provided vary slightly by website.

My initial scan of each website did help me refine just what I thought I could successfully offer as a freelancer.  Sure, I think I can do anything, but I will be competing against people who have actually done it, and have proof.  So, identifying your area of focus is key.

The amounts of advise offered was both overwhelming and sometimes contradictory.  Some urged you to pick the biggest marketplace, while others reminded you there was less competition on websites with fewer freelancers.  There were a lot of variables to consider; how user-friendly is the website, who has the most jobs available, who has the most categories of jobs, who will do the best job of protecting my interests as a freelancer.

When I compared the variety of jobs offered Fiverr was the winner with its diversity of tasks, sometimes the kind of stuff you wouldn’t even imagine someone would pay money for.  Even though Fiverr also had a strong marketplace for serious and professional tasks,  I just knew that my brand identity was not consistent with an image that put me in the Dollar Store category.

Freelancer came next, with 11 job categories, most of them related to IT services and programming. It was followed by oDesk with 9 job categories, the specialties being IT, programming and web design, while Elance had the lowest number with only 5 categories with an option of becoming a virtual assistant.  Since I would rather have a virtual assistant that be one that was not a selling point.freelance collage

All of the websites required a bit of setup.  Some were clearly easier to navigate and some gave better information about projects.

oDesk/Elance had the advantage or disadvantage – depending on your perspective – of having time tracking software that followed your movements on your laptop – web browsing included – to insure the buyer they were getting their hours’ worth. The time-tracking part brought back images of my days as an associate in a law firm.  Some websites take it one step further with constant screenshots of what you are viewing.  Great for the job poster, creepy as hell for the freelancer.

All the sites required you to set up a profile and then go through all the guided steps to get your profile to 100% completion. This process can take up to 4-5 hours.  Most of the sites also offered a series of tests you can take in your area of expertise to certify your fitness for duty.  For some, like oDesk/Elance, the test were free, while others charged per test.   Freelancing colleagues of mine have reported getting clients without taking a single test.

All the information left me as overwhelmed and confused as you are right now.  So, I decided to live by my belief in gender partnership and check out the leadership of these companies.  The data shows that companies with more gender balance in leadership will perform better over time, be more innovative and have a better perspective on what I need as a female customer.  So I looked at the number of women on the management teams and, equally important, what role these women played in the company.  I’ve seen lot’s of startup sites with when as operational managers (aka office manager) or some administrative role.  Glad to see them, but tech companies can do better.

Here’s what I found:


The gender partnership winner.  Check out my profile on Elance.

Men 9
Women 2
Women’s roles = Senior Vice President, Operations, Senior Vice President, Operations

More women by percentage but questionable roles

Men 8
Women 3
Women’s roles = Chedda Queen, Communications Manager, Chief I Dotter

Men 14
Women 0
Women’s roles = NONE



Could only two year old data on TechCrunch.

Men 6
Women 2
Women’s roles = COO and VP, HR


Now that Elance and oDesk have merged I still had a decision to make – Elance vs. oDesk.  The company has kept the brands separate and is just sharing technology.  I found a little help here:

Can you make a living on oDesk or Elance?  Both sites assure me you can.

They even pointed me to a great website to calculate just how much I should be charging if I’m serious about this lifestyle.

Freelance Hourly Rate Calculatorfreelance charge

There are lots of other great resources for freelancers.  Freelancers Union has created a Hive for Freelancers to learn and support each other.  I will be buzzing around there next week for sure.



oDesk even has a blog for digital nomads.

How to get more freelance work on LinkedIn



You Might Also Like

  • Karen December 7, 2014 at 1:59 am

    I love how you evaluated these sites! I shared this with all of my expat friends.

    • Anonymous December 7, 2014 at 5:31 am

      Thanks. Gender balance is a valid way to evaluate a company. Ask the institutional investors of Apple who forced the Board to diversify the Executive team.