- 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.
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.