Racing to the Bottom



I’ve already gone on the record stating that I successfully use online freelance platforms to find clients. In fact, I have started relationships with nearly all of my clients, thanks to those types of platforms. Not everyone loves them, though. If you check out a lot of forums online, you’ll find that sites like oDesk and Elance get a bad rap.

The biggest complaint that I’ve heard is that oDesk and the rest pit professionals against one another in a “race to the bottom,” where the “winner” lands the job at an abysmal rate and the “loser” doesn’t get the job or the four dollars that it so generously pays. The truth is that this is a legitimate complaint. I’ll explain why.

A disparity in currencies

The economies of the world are fueled by many different currencies. They usually only have purchasing power in their native countries, but by exchanging currencies, you can take value with you across international lines. These transfers create interesting financial situations.

For instance, what could pay for a nice dinner at a sit-down restaurant in India might only pay for McDonald’s in the United States. That means that dollars will go much further in India (and many other countries) than they would in the U.S. This is particularly important because oDesk accepts freelancers from all over the world.

Fair wages

In the United States, legal minimum wage nets workers about $1,200 each month. Many here realize that it’s nearly impossible to live on that much money. However, that is approximately three times what an Indian worker earns in the same period! This phenomenon is not unique to India. In Thailand, and other countries like it, $400 in monthly rent will secure you a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 3,200 sq. foot house just minutes from the beach!

That means low-paying jobs you would snub your nose at are still highly attractive to international freelancers.

The top contenders

You will find many competing freelancers from countries where the dollar is strong. Most frequently I see contractors from:

  • Philippines
  • India
  • Kenya
  • Pakistan

It’s a terrible idea to try and undercut these bidders. There are two reasons why:

  1. You will lose. In places where the average wages are $0.50/hour, you don’t stand a chance.
  2. You’re worth more than that!

The trick is to stop trying to win jobs based solely on price. There are lots of clients out there interested in dollars and cents, but there are also others who want quality material. You’ll work fewer hours and make more money finding one good client than you would working for five bad ones.

The final ruling

While it may be true that many jobs on freelance platforms are races to the bottom, don’t fret. There are plenty of other gigs that are worth your while.

Daniel Taylor

Daniel Taylor

Daniel is a freelance writer working out of his home in Secane, Pennsylvania. He likes eating cheesesteaks, listening to the blues, and reading great non-fiction. You can email him with questions or moral dilemmas at

7 thoughts on “Racing to the Bottom

  • Daniel Taylor
    January 25, 2016 at 12:07 am

    Hey everyone!

    It’s been some time since I wrote this post, but I see that many of you are having the same problem. If you’d like to try it again, I’d love to talk it over. []

    Here are some thing to remember:

    – Not all gigs are created equal. There are days when I’ll search hundreds of jobs on the Upwork feed (Upwork is the new company that used to be Elance/oDesk) and not even apply to any.
    – The “stretch” gigs are the best gigs. Take a chance bidding on jobs that seem a bit out of your league. It doesn’t take many of those to out-earn many cheap ones.
    – Use PERSONALIZED proposals. Address what they talk about. Include personal reasons why the topic is up your alley. Explain specific reasons for your pricing and specific steps or advantages that are unique to you.
    – Avoid “entry level” ($) gigs. Go for ones prepared to pay for “intermediate” ($$) or “expert” ($$$) rates.
    – Provide details in your proposals. “For $500 I can give you an outline in five days, a 2000 word draft in ten days, and a 2500 word final copy delivered in Word format in fourteen days. You’ll also have my personal email address and up to two Skype meetings.”

    These tips really do work for me! My stats on Upwork reveal that I’m viewed, interviewed, and hired more than other writers on the platform, and I’m FAR from the superhuman writers you see on there. I DID earn over $8000 over the past 12 months writing there part-time, though. Not bad.

  • August 23, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    I have never landed a job on these platforms that turned out well. I took a few thinking that if I overdelivered (which I was doing anyway considering the pay), I might get a repeat client willing to pay for quality work. They wanted more work but were not willing to pay more.

    I have had success landing clients from forums and Facebook groups.

  • June 14, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    I have always been reticent to use sites like oDesk and Elance for this very reason. I know that the amount of work expected of me will not be worth the pay. I value my time much more than that. I’m sure that there are some good clients on these sites that are willing to pay fair wages, but it is very difficult to find them. The majority of clients want cheap labor and don’t care about quality.

    • July 21, 2015 at 12:47 pm

      oDesk and Elance are geared towards people who can bid so low that it’s not worth trying. If a client wants low quality work then they are welcome to use those sites. My time and quality work is worth more than a few cents.

  • June 13, 2015 at 10:00 am

    This makes so much sense to me now after reading this article. I’ve been trying to get picked up on these sites and have failed so many times because I get out bid. I guess it doesn’t pay to live in the United States and try to use these sites to find work. Too bad there isn’t one that is solely based out of the U.S.

    • August 30, 2015 at 12:17 am

      I feel the same. I also don’t really understand why clients on these sites set a wide price range for bids when everyone knows the people who go low will be chosen. I would rather work for a fixed low rate to get experience and a portfolio than get involved in this kind of site.

  • June 12, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    I tried oDesk and loathed it. The vast majority of ‘clients’ on there are looking for superior writers for bottom of the barrel prices. I refuse to lower myself or my standards. I have a lot more success attracting private clients that are serious about their businesses and know that good writing is rarely cheap.

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