/ ScriptLance / oDesk, and other Sites

I’m a U.S. citizen, and I’ve already been doing web development for about 10 years now, but I’ve never made a really serious effort to try and land one of these gigs that are posted on these project based websites such as:

I see that there are a lot of other (usually foreign) developers using those sites who have a lot more positive reviews on their profiles, plus they’ve taken paid skills tests already to confirm their abilities. From a birds eye view, to me, it just looks like a perpetual bidding war in which the cheapest and most-highly-decorated candidate who can complete the project fastest will always land the gig. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it equates to enough income to survive off of on a full time basis while living in the United States. The cost of living overseas is cheaper, so of course foreign developers can bid lower and win.

Are there any developers here in the SitePoint forums who are U.S. based who can share experiences they’ve had on these websites? Any positive and/or negative things they can say about what happened, and weather or not it panned out to income they could actually live and survive off of?

I wouldn’t use My advice is Google for site reviews.

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I can relay a conversation I had with an American programmer that I met here in New Zealand. He said these sites were very good for him - while he lived in Malaysia on a shoestring. Generally I think your birds eye view is right, however I can imagine you can improve your results by seeing your first couple of projects as an investment in developing a relationship with business and keeping working for them. On the other hand things constantly change, so I would not make the investment of time on those sites at all.

Remember: all comparison and bidding sites allow buyers to compare and naturally that reduces the rates for everyone. Its better to work in uncomparable marketing environments, such as cold calling/ walk ins, in person networking and the like. You can use the same target companies that hire from sites like these, just in your next city.

Hope this helps,


These sites provide a useful service for some developers - and some clients. But personally, I would never rely on them for any worthwhile work, and I would never advise a client to use them.

My reasons are partly those mentioned bby LAMPProgrammer and Jochen. A developer in the west will be competing with those in economies where salaries are very much lower. The only way to be sure of getting any work will be to cut your prices to such an extent that the work will be completely uneconomic. (By the way, LAMPProgrammer, I disagree with your generalisation that “The cost of living overseas is cheaper”. There are many countries where the cost of living is higher than the US. But that’s not relevant to the present discussion.)

But my main reason for my disliking these services is that they don’t foster on-going professional relationships between contractors and clients. A successful development project needs direct contact between the parties (ideally face to face, although that’s not essential). The contractor and the client should get to know each other, and should be able to build up a position of mutual trust. I don’t believe that’s possible where the contact relies on a semi-automated system, and where the main criterion for matching the contractor to the client is based on the lowest possible price.

I admit that I have occasionally used one of these services myself. The projects were successful, albeit low-paid. But I didn’t feel they did anything to further my career or the development of my business. I couldn’t even use the clients as referrals, as the service in question didn’t allow me to disclose the client’s names even with their permission.


I’ll give you the perspective from someone on the other side of the equation, I don’t have programming skills but I have two websites which were built from scratch using odesk / elance for the programming side (Cake PHP for one and Drupal for the other). I’ve spent many thousands on these websites paying developers. I don’t want to say exactly how much but it’s a good amount.

You are exactly right that it’s a bidding war to see who can pay the lowest. However, I have used cheap developers $15/hr and more expensive ones up to $25/hr and I now go exclusively with the $25/hr variety because they are so much better. The reason I went the overseas route is because the website quotes I got locally to develop were 3 times as expensive. Were there some challenges sourcing from overseas? Absolutely, sometimes it was a huge pain, but in the end it was so much cheaper that it was worth it. Now that the core of both websites is done, I am continuing to use my favorite developer for ongoing work on our website and we are very happy with that arrangement. At some point in the future we may hire someone local after we can afford to pay someone at a higher rate.

Long story short, it’s more of a challenge to go over seas but the cost savings is worth it.

Also, I won’t even touch anyone who has less than 1,000 hours logged. People on those websites hop from profile to profile quickly so high hours is a good indicator of a person / company with a consistent performance in the past.

Well I have a totally different experience with such sites. I have been a provider of wordpress, joomla, flash, etc solutions on such sites and find it is more than a bidding war. Some bids are so low you wonder how they are able to afford it. And its a wrong perception that overseas providers have the lowest bids. At times I have lost out to US providers who have bid at-least half of what I bid. Also the cost of living in some of the countries of the world is far higher than that in the US.

The main issue in our region with providers is that they are on a salaried job + they also do freelancing, and hence they can afford any price mainly because its extra income for them. But pure freelancers like me who only do freelancing or run websites are the sufferers as there are no fixed incomes to depend on.

Though sites like these have been a boon in professional life and it helps get business, I have seen that there is no continuity in work nor are there permanent relations. With 13 years of experience over 100 projects with 5 star rating (in last 4-5 years since I started doing freelancing on such sites) - Even if you do good work, meet deadlines, exceed expectations for the next project the process starts afresh. The repeat orders usually range between 10-30% on an average and each month you need to go looking for new work. Hence, freelancing is tough and there are lots of ups and downs as there is no guarantee of work once one is complete.

Hence, my suggestion would be to keep working up the ladder and sooner or later you will find a base and then you can decide whether that income is sufficient and take a call. Long work hours await you and you might need to work at odd times to meet project deadlines. The main income earners out of freelancing are the sites as they take money at each stage!