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I been in freelancing for like 2-3 years now, and earning my bread and butter via freelancing on sites like oDesk etc. Mainly I use oDesk as I had many projects and ratings too.

But now, I have hit a rock bottom (I think), I was sick due to medical reasons and I was running here and there, in which a contract was paused as I told my client the case. Later I resumed and I did work, the code was written very bad and they even had no idea on how to do it.

So it took me a couple of hours to fix it (on the clock), turns out the client went all crazy and haywire due to overstepping budget. Hence gave me a bad rating. As some of you might know, these sites has formula of making the rating go down fast, and slow increase in overall rating when someone rates you bad. So my 5 star rating got fallen to 4.81, Now its been good 15-20 days, I been applying for jobs and I am getting none. Whereas before, i use to get a lot of invite without even applying.

I am really panic now, as my earning depends on it. I always been a 5 star contractor.
What should I do to control the damage?

  • You maybe the victim of oDesk application hiding algorithm. odesk.com/community/node/32333 It is really half baked horrible algorithm – user702 Feb 3 '14 at 12:33
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Short answer

  • Mail to the client and ask them what can be done to get things recovered. Mutually agree on scope and rate. Best if after all they change their feedback at oDesk, but even if they can't, it still worth trying.
  • Improve the way how you communicate with the clients. The ultimate goal is to make them absolutely certain what are you currently doing, when the next delivery will occur, etc.
  • It is absolutely unacceptable if at the moment of delivery the contractor comes up and says they need more time. Report of any issues soon.
  • Be proactive. Try to inform your client before they actually ask. Otherwise they will certainly ask you at the time when you are not ready to answer. Including urgent phone calls at 4:00AM if you are in different time zones.
  • Keep things written. Don't let them go implied.

Before getting to the long answer, let's define several things:

The ultimate goal of the client is getting the job done. Job is scope + budget + terms. Unless they are totally insane, they give you bad feedback because they feel the job was worse than the expected. It can be scope, budget, or terms in any combination.
I would not agree that having a 5-star is the ultimate goal on freelancing Web sites. Yes, contract applications are sorted by contractors' rating so it helps finding new contracts easier, but the reputation of 4.81 seems quite good for me.
Yet another problem that indeed worth your attention is how do you manage the problem situations. And (not to rant) you seem to have handled it wrong this time.

So, the entire question seems to be split into several smaller ones, let me formulate them:

  • How do I recover with the client who gave me bad rating and convince them to give me a better feedback?
  • How do I find new projects while having less-than-5-stars reputation?
  • What should I do to avoid losing reputation in the future?

How to recover with the client?

You may or may not will to get further projects from this very client, but you most likely are interested to keep your reputation with them. Even regardless oDesk feedback, the professional world is very small, and sooner or later it hits you back.

As I said, the client gives bad feedback because they feel the job is worse than expected. It may or may not be recoverable as of today, but you should certainly try to recover. It will open some nice opportunities to you:

  • You get chance to convince the client to reconsider their feedback;
  • You turn yet another project into successful one and can refer to it;
  • You learn how to manage problems;

So, ask the client what exactly is wrong with the job you have done.
It's not about your medical issues. You have signed for a job and have not completed it and apparently not reported that you're unable to continue. This is the thing to be recovered in the first order. I believe, this is the major (or entire) reason of the bad feedback.
Unless you have totally ruined your reputation and they refuse to talk to you (which seems to be not the case here), think what practical, doable items can be there.
I did not say it must be free. If they paid you for the certain work done, you have to get it done. But usually, the scope changes over time.
Specifically ask what can be done so that they changed their feedback. I mean, not only the "4 stars" or "5 stars". It's important what they write in an accompanying note. Even if it is "4 stars", but they state that you have been able to resolve the issues, you can always let the others to read it.
The better you recover with an unhappy client, the less you would lose due to a low reputation.
Improve the way how you communicate (see below) and avoid common mistakes in the future.

How to get future jobs having low reputation?

A 4.81 reputation is not a disaster. A good client will not only look at "stars", but also read the accompanying notes. This is why I think they are important.
Try to find several smaller jobs and get good feedbacks for getting them done.

How to avoid problems in the future?

This is not about incomplete or badly written code. Contractors get bad ratings when/because they did not "make the client happy". There are many subjective aspects here which can't be covered in this answer. The objective ones are:

  • Satisfying the requirements. The work has a certain scope and budget. By signing up to the work, you agreed with these scope and budget.
  • Things change. You may have underestimated required effort, the client may have increased scope or changed priorities. Have you tracked the issues? Have you raised possible problems early?
  • Handle the problems. Let's make it straight: I have failed many projects while keeping great reputation with the project owners. On the other hand, there were seemingly good jobs of mine which nevertheless ruined my relationship with the clients. When I thought about it, I figured out that the entire thing was about how I managed problem situations.
    • Improve the way how you communicate. There are lots of answers here on this topic, I would not repeat all of them. Communicate on time. Be proactive. Report the problems early. Get things written.

With all above, I hope you will get recovered quickly, your reputation will raise, and your clients will give you good feedback in the future.


Update:
The feedback specifically says that you were "very easy to work with" and did a good job until medical issues affected your performance. I guess, you should certainly contact them and say something like:

I understand that my performance was not good, and I think the "4 stars" feedback is pretty much fair. However, I'm looking forward to get further projects from your company. I'm also aware about my reputation at oDesk as I freelance for living.
Can we negotiate about what can I do to convince you to change your feedback?

Here you may list what you can actually do for the past project (if it's not completed yet) or for another project with the same client.

I'm absolutely confident you can get through it.

  • 1
    really detailed answer.Even though i am sending and applying new jobs. Not getting any replies, which really worries me.I use to get a lot of invite.Now its like they are dead. Can you suggest anything? – Nofel Jan 14 '14 at 19:02
  • Let me update the answer. – bytebuster Jan 14 '14 at 19:06
  • I tried 'Enabling them to change feedback' but that was what they did, so now i am out of that option. I am more worried about future prospects, as told i earn via freelance and i am clueless on why the sudden silent or jobs and no one replying to my jobs application.I already have top 10, 20 and 30 on my test skill. I wonder what do i lack in comparsion to people such some amazing guys, who have high rate and yet full of work – Nofel Jan 14 '14 at 19:35
  • I may be wrong, but I think it's just a coincidence. The amount of responses may decrease, but not totally cancel out. – bytebuster Jan 14 '14 at 20:13
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I think there may be something you could do with your way of interacting with the client in terms of communications.

This could be avoided with some of the following:

  1. Provide constant status reports
  2. Contact the client first instead of the contacting you. The whole perspective of the conversation changes.
  3. Provide quality work . I know you do but if you have a technical client, you might wanna up the quality a bit.
  4. Give suggestions. If you think your client is wrong, tell them upfront rather than saving it for later.

If you use Odesk or Elance, the ratings and feedback can be a real pain if you do not rate 5 stars. Why not go local? Surf around your network and ask for a service. If a friend needs some work to be done, you are guaranteed of a 5 star review.

  • 1
    This edit made a great improvement on the answer. Thanks again! +1 – Canadian Luke Mar 11 '14 at 16:50
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Well first don't be in panic. I read on multiple location that clients don't mind any score above 3.5. So if these facts are true, you are getting great.

The other fact is (which I just checked) is that in search term the max category is 4.5 an above. So you're in the top as well.

I'd just keep working as usual. I would say that the problem is not in your rating but in something else. Maybe you make bad offers or charge too much or something else. I noticed that in the last 3 months, rates declined 20% which is normal since it Xmas and New Year so clients have to recover from costs as well. I bet in February things will get better. Now I remembered that 2 of my clients told me that they will continue projects in Feb. It could not be coincidence.

How many jobs do you have there? Solved with good rating.

  • you might be right, i had same though too, that it might be as it is new year and xmas passed. Then again, there won't be more posting if there wasn't any work. My rate 15$ per hour, which i think is "ok". What you think of my profile. as you say that "maybe you make bad offer" – Nofel Jan 14 '14 at 19:05
  • The profile looks OK. You have so many jobs done and I am confident clients will not even see 4.81 score. Since you have so many jobs, I don't think you write bad bids. I guess it's just time of holidays. Wait till Fed and see. – Peter MV Jan 14 '14 at 19:10
  • How do i make it more than "OK", i see some people and they are doing amazing. So i would like to do amazing too, also people have nearly 100$ per hour. – Nofel Jan 14 '14 at 19:17
  • First price is regulated by location. It's not the same $100 in Spain and $100 in Pakistan. Don't be offended, but no one will hire Pakistani for $100/h (I also live in a small country outside USA and UK). If USA or UK customers have to pay $100 per hour, they will hire someone locally. So if $15 per hour is OK and you can make a good living, keep it and be happy as many, many guys don't reach your position. – Peter MV Jan 14 '14 at 19:30

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