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How to Make Big Bucks as an Online Freelancer

ODesk, Digital Content, and the Rapidly Growing Freelance Writing Market

When I graduated from Indiana University in 2008, I was leaving college with a liberal arts degree, a lack of any clear direction of how to make money with said degree, and unwittingly stepping into the worst American economic environment in seven decades.  For myself, and many other humanities and liberal arts majors who spent their college years discussing the big ideas, while ignoring the boring skill-sets that would have landed us employment immediately, the question of how to make money with an English degree was one that would continue to irk me.  After a number of brief forays into the customer service and sales sectors (nice ways of saying I was checking coats and serving sandwiches with my English degree), I was lucky enough to enroll in an education graduate program and put myself on the road to a career.

Online freelance writing
Online freelance writing gave me a lucrative career and opened doors.
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However, I still wasn’t making enough money.  Education is perhaps the weakest job sector in a weak economy, and the options afforded to a young teacher are not very plentiful.  As such, I was very much in the market for an extra way to make money.  Serendipitously, I was hanging out at a college friend’s apartment one day while he did work for the digital advertising agency that employs him.  My friend was surfing ODesk, a popular community for both web developers and creators, and freelance contractors that can help with their digital needs.  Stunned, I noticed an entire section of the site devoted to writing gigs.  Single jobs were paying $50, $100 and even $500. Some of the writing contracts were long-term, weekly, easy and hard, and all things that I could wrap my head around as an English writer.   I went home and immediately created an ODesk account, curious as to whether this was really all it was cracked up to be.

The cliché story arc here would be to say I was immediately making tons of money freelancing, but that is by no means true.  In fact, it takes a dedicated and intuitive approach to using sites like ODesk to make them work the best for you and make a great living. I learned the hard way on how to make a great living as a freelance writer, but I’m so thankful I took the time to learn because the lifestyle it has given me is fantastic. Being able to work from my patio, in Hawaii or at my office is something I wouldn’t trade for any other career.

There are a number of individual ideas, tricks, and tips to follow when learning how to have ODesk really make you money.  From my own (sometimes painful, many times frustrating, but always lucrative) experiences utilizing ODesk as a means of reaching a freelance clientele, I’ve cultivated a 5-point list of key principles any content writer should follow when looking into the options for making money from a site like ODesk.


The Freelancer Writer’s 5 Commandments For Making A Great Living via ODesk


1. Market Yourself Well – One of the biggest strengths of utilizing a platform like ODesk to communicate with potential clients is the ability of the format to allow you to present yourself as a dedicated and experienced professional.  Much like LinkedIn, ODesk offers the ability to upload your resume, cover letters, portfolio or writing samples, and a photo to display your legitimacy to potential clients.  The best way to make this element work for you as a writer is to consider your profile as a never-ending application.  With ODesk, you never know if someone halfway across the globe is surfing your profile and considering you for a job worth thousands of dollars, while you are asleep.  As such, it is critical to make sure your ODesk profile is presenting the best elements of your work habits and educational/professional experience.  This way, you can essentially be submitting yourself for potential jobs 24 hours a day, and you also have a professional and information-rich place to direct clients who want to know more about you, your skills, your ability to deliver within certain timeframes, and other important questions pertaining to freelance content writing.

2. Understand What You Can, and Can’t, Do – Any strong writer who happens to stumble upon ODesk can immediately become a bit excited and overwhelmed when they begin to understand the significant money up for grabs for freelance content writing.  But resist the urge to simply apply to the 20 biggest or most lucrative jobs you can find.  Why? Because feedback and employer comments are used as the main features for recommending or prioritizing writers, meaning that the more jobs you can handle successfully, the better your reputation will be when viewed by potential clients.  Sure, we all want to make hundreds of dollars simply writing content or promotional materials.  But a few bad reviews or unsatisfied clients can doom your ODesk career before it even begins, and hamper you from landing jobs you are truly qualified for.

3. Know Your Employer – The exciting element of ODesk is the user base, which hails from all over the world, meaning you can make money for overseas clients who you might never have been able to get in touch with even a few years ago.  However, much like writers, employers should be evaluated based on their work and payment history in ODesk.  Make sure you understand the potential language and time zone issues that are never a major concern in domestic work.  Deadlines, delivery expectations, and revision expectations are all very determinant by the specific advertising agency and their place in the global economy, so you should always make a habit of doing your due diligence, not only on the potential project itself, but also on the company commissioning your work on it.

4. Little Contracts Can Become Big Ones, If You Treat Them The Same – The number of contracts topping $500 for writing on ODesk is usually fairly limited, understandably so when you consider how non-essential text content is to overall user experience and site functionality.  However, you should not interpret this to mean that there aren’t clients with deep pockets and even deeper content needs.  Many of the clients utilizing ODesk are hesitant to show their cards through the medium, at least until they have built a working relationship for you, so it is important to consider the nature of the employer. An employer offering a $25 job on ODesk, with a work history involving thousands of dollars of payments to other ODeskers, might be simply trying you out to see if you are an asset they can use in the future.  Treat your little jobs the same as your big jobs, and you may start seeing work from companies you never expected.

5. The More Flexible You Are, the Better – I remember one evening in particular, a client who I had done a few small jobs ($50-75 range) for in the past sent me a frantic email.  A client of their digital advertising agency needed to see proposals for incorporating social media in their business, and MY client was freaking out.  He offered me $300 for a single 1000-word branding article, with the stipulation it be delivered in 10 hours.  I had plans to go out for dinner that evening, but in the end I cancelled them, realizing that spending $60 for an unmemorable dinner would be less of a strong decision in the long run for future ODesk contracts. Sure enough, that client went on to send me several thousand dollars in jobs throughout the year thanks to my reliability and quality of work.  By making yourself available, not only as a capable resource but as a reliable one, will bring in all sorts of extra contracts from companies desperately looking for a writer they can count on.

If you would like to receive our free guide to Career Freelance Writing Success, please email with the subject ‘Freelance E-book’ and your return email.


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