Delegating a task successfully on oDesk

If you've ever kept a diary of what you spend your time on, you might be surprised to notice how little of it is spent on "core stuff that actually takes me forward". To increase profitable time, you either cut away time sinks or leisure time spending, or find a way to create more time by delegating. If you have a limited budget, freelancer sites like vWorker, oDesk and elance enter the picture for the delegating part.

I've tried vWorker before with bad results. I commissioned some content creation work and being inexperienced at this, I just hired a random applicant who proceeded to copy & paste content from other sites instead of creating original work. To educate myself about finding the right workers, I've decided it's time for another experiment, which I'm calling "the $500 management training program". It means that during what's left of this year I am going to spend no less than $500 attempting to delegate tasks on oDesk, no matter what. I consider this money gone already, it's an education fee to learn how to find workers without getting scammed again and hopefully discover good people that I can assign more tasks to again in the future.

I am happy to say the experiment has started off quite well and oDesk is much nicer to use than vWorker. So far the tasks I allocated were redesigning a Facebook app (UX work) and doing an illustration for Candy Japan. With the app redesign I had another failure, the freelancer either misunderstood the task or couldn't do it. I did communicate the work poorly and did not pick the worker carefully at all. Another worker thought the whole job was just about zipping files (since I asked for the results to be delivered as a zip file) but didn't understand that they were supposed to actually create the content for the file too.

The illustration one however I'd like to consider the first clear success. Instead of posting an open job, I went through several portfolios before deciding who to send my offer to. I made it absolutely clear what I wanted (by sending her a very crude mockup), outlining what I wanted to appear in each panel and trying to respond to messages as fast as possible. I'm quite satisfied with the end result, it looks so good that it could appear in a published comic book. How much would you think this cost me? The answer is inside the next paragraph, but take a guess first.

I have seen manga illustrators at work here in Japan, it is incredible how fast a professional can produce great quality works, so I have trouble guessing whether it took her 30 minutes or a whole day to do this. In any case, I paid her fifty dollars. The compensation would seem low to me considering the quality of work, however for someone in the Philippines depending on the hours spent it may be a reasonable amount. 

Comments welcome by email to or on Hacker News. I try to respond to everything. RSS feed. Thanks to kephra, bradleyStC, brownies, ziyadb and bonsaikitten on #startups for feedback.