A few months ago, I had a friend who mentioned that he was investigating ODesk to find help for his software project.  I’d heard of ODesk before and was immediately interested.  I have a directory of Colorado farm shares which requires a lot of data entry in the early months of each year, as I get updated information from farmers.  So, I thought I’d try ODesk and see if someone could help with this task.

Because this was my first time, I was cautious.  I worked with only one contractor, and only used about 17 hours of her time.  We worked off and on for about 3 months.  She was based in the Philippines, so everything was asynchronous.  We communicated only through the ODesk interface (which was not very good for a messaging system).

I chose her based on her hourly rate (pretty cheap), skillset (data entry) and reviews (very good).  I made the mistake of contacting her to apply for the job, but letting others apply as well, and in the space of 3 days had over 90 applicants for the position.

After selecting her, and her accepting my offer, I created a data entry account, and described what I wanted.  This was actually good for me, as it forced me to spell out in detail how to add, update or remove an entry, which is the start of the operations manual for my site.

After that, I managed each task I’d assigned to her through a separate email thread.  I did light review of her work after she told me she was done updating, and did go back and forth a couple of times over some of the tasks.  In general, she was very good at following instructions, and OK at taking some initiative (updating fields beyond what I specified, for example).  There were some bugs in my webapp that caused her some grief, and some updates I just did myself, as it was quicker to do them than to describe how to do them.

The variety of work you can get done via ODesk is crazy, and the overall ODesk process was very easy.  You just need to have a valid credit card.  If you are looking to start on a project right away, be aware that some lead time is required (they charge your card $10 to validate your account, and that takes some time to process).

Even though it didn’t save me a ton of time, it was a useful experiment and I’ll do it again next year.  For simple tasks that can be easily documented and outsourced, it’s a worthwhile option to explore.  Though be careful you don’t outsource too much!


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