Using oDesk to get more done

oDesk (and other such sites) are not new, however I’ve recently started using oDesk in a particular way, and I’d like to share some of the thinking and strategy around that in this post.

I’ve noticed most entrepreneurs, especially those who’ve been involved with numerous startups, tend to fall into the “endless to-do list” trap.  Not sure what I’m talking about?

Your task/to-do list has these jobs on it, usually towards the bottom of the list.  Every time you do some house keeping on your to-do list, you move them from one list to the next, they seem to follow you around for months and months.  They aren’t quite urgent/important enough to be done right now, but they still to be done.  The “I need to do that, its a quick/simple thing, I’ll do it later” jobs.

If you recognize the above, you’re already in the “endless to-do list” trap!  Perhaps you knew that, perhaps you’re the mayor of the bottomless to-do list.

As with anything we want to improve, first we have to address why this happens.  Entrepreneurs are can-do-ers by nature, we tend to absorb information, and more importantly in this context, new skills, very quickly.  This means when jobs and tasks come up that we can/could do, but don’t quite fall under the pervue of what we should be doing, we take them on anyway.  This is how it starts.

Of course, in startup world, we have to keep an eye on the costs, more so in lean/bootstrapped startups (as most of mine tend to be).  We can’t simply go out hiring people to do x, y, and z, as much as we would love to.

I’ve recently started using oDesk to get these simple/quick jobs done.  Firstly I had to recognize that it was more effective on my time to pay someone else to do these jobs, and that someone else could probably get the job done quicker – especially if its what they are experts at.

So you’re ready to post your first listing… here are some tips, which I had to learn the painful way.


Break the job down

The smaller the job, the simpler it will be for you to articulate and clearly explain what you would like to get done.  This will make your dealings with contractors applying on your listings a lot smoother.  Depending on the type of job, you may receive a lot of applications from India/Bangladesh/Philippines etc.  This is a good thing, the people applying will be hard working, and want to earn money, for themselves and their families – just like the rest of us.  Keep this in mind when posting the job, English may not be the applicants first language, so keep it clear, concise, and well articulated.  Simplest way, break the job down.

“Its too complex to break down“, don’t be ridiculous, everything can be broken down into smaller parts.  If you’re really stuck, ping me a message, I’m happy to help.


Be clear about who should and shouldn’t apply

State this clearly (and fairly) in your job posting.  oDesk has some powerful tools to limit the skills and competency level of the people you want to be able to apply for the posting.  Most jobs get a lot of applications, save your time (the whole purpose of doing all of this), by being clear.  On a recent listing, I stated that the applicant must live in London, as an element of in person interaction is required.  I still received 30 odd applications from Pakistan/India/Dubai.  These were promptly marked as “Spam” on the oDesk system, which gives the contractor a warning to not simply blanket everyone without reading the requirements.


Set a clear deadline for applications

In your application, state the deadline for applications, and at that time, mark the job private so that it no longer displays.  I recently posted a listing that received 74 (qualified) applications within the first hour.


Set a time to review applicants and make decisions

If you’ve been specific, and clear with what you need doing, you should have proposal type messages from applicants, telling you how long it will take them to do the job, rather than “Can you please clarify xyz” messages.  Decide on a time when you can review applications (and put it in your calendar).  Sit down, take an hour or so, go through the applicants, and make quick decisions.


Qualify applicants in the listing

If you can, set a qualification test in your listing.  I recently needed someone to configure a CISCO PIX 515E firewall in a particular way, a job that I can do, but shouldn’t do.  I wrote the listing with all of my requirements clearly outlined, and simply changed the model of the firewall to a PIX 501 (instead of a 515E).  The 501 cannot be made to do what I had asked for, and I knew this.  I received a load of applications, from people clearly keyword searching for CISCO and applying for the job.  There were only 4 people who identified it wasn’t possible with the 501.  They were the ones I messaged/interviewed, and ended up hiring one of them.

Another job was to crop/cut out a series of images, so I included one of the images on the listing and asked for the cropped version to be sent in with the application – those that didn’t have the image attached to the application were dismissed.  It was also a very good way to see what I was going to get and the quality of the work.  A contractor was hired, and 12 hours later all 15 images had been cropped (at a cost of USD 15.00), bargain.


Hopefully you’ll find your task list shrinking, by outsourcing specific tasks.  If you have any questions or thoughts, please ping me a message, I’m always happy to help.

Happy growing :)