Occasionally we invite people to discuss issues of importance to those who work on Elance-oDesk. Here are some thoughts from Cameron Johnson, a small business consultant and social media expert.
Recent reports on the trends in consumer purchasing reveal that 78% of consumers are not loyal to any particular brand. With the increase in product reviews and mobile comparison shopping people are now often able to find good quality at a competitive price regardless of brand. This shift in consumer spending is requiring businesses to rethink their growth strategies in order to be competitive in this evolving marketplace.
The Mobile Economy.
A number of elements have led to this changing landscape of brand loyalty. Two key factors in this change are the increasing popularity of mobile devices, and a languishing economy. Today’s mobile technologies allow consumers to shop simultaneously online and in store. A shopper browsing the aisles of a local shop can check local inventories, prices, coupons, review online competition, and quickly sum up their purchasing options. The unprecedented ease of comparison shopping has contributed to consumers lowering the importance of brand in their decisions.
The fallout from America’s long term economic challenges have motivated people and businesses to reconsider their buying patterns. Although the decision process has remained the same, the emphasis placed on stages 2 and 3—information search and alternative evaluation—have expanded and drastically changed the results away from brand loyalty. Agile price comparison coupled with social reviews of products have given consumers confidence in choosing an off brand product.
Businesses Need Fast Turnaround.
The growing shift away from brand loyalty is changing the way companies have to think about the markets they serve. They must provide quality options at more competitive prices. As a result, it is becoming crucial that companies be able to quickly adjust to consumer preferences, which in turn increases competition and accelerates release of new products entering the marketplace.
From time to time Sarah will answer Elancers’ questions rather than write a blog. If you have a question related to freelancing—and in particular, to Elancing—please feel free to visit the Sarah's Corner page of her website.
Taxes Don’t Have to Be the Bane of Your Existence.
Because it’s that time of year when taxes are on the minds of U.S. taxpayers, the first two questions are related to withholdings and retirement, and they come from Cathy H.
Question number 1: “How much should Elancers set aside to pay their annual and/or quarterly taxes? Does this number change if they are single/married/divorced/head of household?”
Question number 2: “How much should Elancers set aside for their retirement? What do you recommend Elancers invest in to have some retirement? IRAs? Others?”
Here to answer these questions is fellow Elancer Claude Campbell, CPA, MBA and FCCA of Campbell Andrew LLC. Campbell Andrew LLC provides accounting advisory and tax services to individuals and small businesses, including not-for-profit organizations, Estates and Trusts. They provide a comprehensive payroll solution along with complete bookkeeping, accounting and tax services. To learn more about their services, please visit their website.
Answer number 1: “The US income tax system is a pay-as-you-earn system. For individuals who are employed, this is achieved through periodic tax withholding by the employer, who remits the taxes to the IRS and the State, typically at each pay date.
Self-employed individuals such as Elancers are required to make—at a minimum—quarterly estimated tax payments to satisfy this requirement. Two key factors in determining the amount of such estimated payments are the level of income and filing status.
Let’s assume for a moment that you earn $50,000 as an Elancer, which is your entire income for the year, and your filing status is Single, with no dependents, and you will take the standard deduction. Your federal tax liability would be approximately $12,113, or 24 percent of your income, which includes self-employment taxes (which is the payroll tax equivalent), of approximately $7,000.
Here’s another article from Lee Bob Black ofSkilledUp. In his first article he explored 30 digital skills to take your talent over the tipping point. In this post he discusses leveraging and advancing your skillset to earn the rate you’re worth.
But what if you’re the bargain? What if someone’s buying your services at a steal?
If you’re a freelancer who exchanges your time and intelligence for money, and you think it’s time to earn more, then keep reading. In this article, we’ll explore some advice for raising your rates to what you’re worth.
To help you wrap your head around this daunting task, we’ve put together two hypothetical case studies. One is a U.S.-based freelancer who charges per hour. The other is an India-based freelancer who charges per project.
U.S.-based freelancer Jane Smith.
Elance jobs completed: 51.
Reviews received: 33.
Average rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars.
Clients who recommend Jane: 80%.
Communication with clients: 40% phone; 60% email.
Jane thinks she’s worth more than $27 per hour, the average Elance rate for U.S. freelancers in December 2013. How should Jane go about having phone conversations with her three main clients about wanting to charge $32 per hour (i.e., a $5 raise)?
India-based freelancer Raj Patel.
Elance jobs completed: 111.
Reviews received: 70.
Average rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars.
Clients who recommend Raj: 72%.
Communication with clients: 100% email.
Raj thinks he’s worth more than the $200 per project that he has charged in the past. What should he do to prepare for emailing his main clients about charging $240 per project (i.e., a $40 raise)?
Viewing your money situation in a new light.
How do the above case studies compare to you? Have you done more or fewer projects in your freelance career? How are your average ratings on Elance? Keep all this in mind when considering the following:
An important update from Fabio Rosati, CEO of Elance and oDesk, about the company vision and what it means for our community in 2015 and beyond.
Dear Elance Community,
Since the merger last year, I’ve spent every moment thinking about our amazing professional communities and the future of online work. Advancements in technology and data science are transforming how we connect, share, collaborate and learn. The freelance economy is growing exponentially — each year more businesses hire freelance professionals and more people choose freelancing as a career. We are heading towards a new online meritocracy, a connected workplace where everyone can access economic and professional opportunities.
While we already are the largest online workplace, there is a great deal more for us to do to become the world’s premier online workplace for professionals.
The work we do daily to meet the rapidly evolving needs of our community — upgrades to our platform as new technologies become available, scaled operations to better serve everyone as our community grows, and continued investments to engage more clients and top talent — is not enough. To realize our vision of becoming the premier online workplace for professionals we need to innovate at an even faster pace.
Over the next several months you will begin to see many new initiatives:
· Improvements to how clients and freelance professionals meet each other, including better matching and
· New collaboration and productivity tools for both desktop and mobile devices
· More resources to measure quality, screen jobs and help our community succeed
· Expanded customer service to provide fast, friendly and reliable support
· And so much more based on your input and a large number of R&D efforts
We are eager to bring these improvements to you. To accelerate innovation we will focus the majority of these initiatives on one of our platforms, oDesk. Members of the Elance community will be able to experience the improvements via a bridge we are developing between the two online workplaces. Within a year or two we will have a new platform where everyone will access the latest innovations at the same time.
I’ll continue to share our progress towards our vision over the coming months. In the meantime, you can find answers to many of your questions here.
My daily thoughts remain focused on building the best possible online workplace for high quality clients and top freelance professionals. On behalf of the 300 employees and over 500 freelancers who make up the Elance-oDesk team, thank you for being our inspiration.
It’s been a journey since you registered with Elance, hasn’t it? You opened your Elance profile; you uploaded a photo and agonized over what to write in your profile. You added some portfolio samples and took some tests. You bid on and won several jobs, and I’ll bet it’s been more exhilarating than the first time Mom let you drive her car.
With a few jobs under your belt, most, if not all with excellent feedback, it feels pretty damn good, doesn’t it? Riding that wave over the last few weeks or months, you may not have been able to stop and think about the business side of things for too long. If you are anything like me, you were probably too busy working and meeting deadlines. You admit to your partner/spouse that you're in love with Elance. Forget grateful; you’re in love!
Then one day you rediscover the transactions section. Yeah, you may have seen it early on, but in the beginning there wasn’t much to fixate on: One $50 job and a few $100 jobs didn't look like much compared to the vast white space below them.
Now that you’re hitting “next page” a few times to see all the transactions, it dawns on you that you’ve made a few thousand dollars. Predictably you have two reactions: “Where’s my ‘you’re number 1’ foam finger? I am one truly awesome human being!”
This is immediately followed by, “Holy crap, I made how much money and Elance took how much in service fees?”
Occasionally we ask Elance clients and freelancers to discuss their experiences working online. Here’s a quick case study from the team at Yalantis.
The Yalantis Story – A Study In Determination.
Our mobile app development company has been existing since 2008. A lot has changed since then. From two people working from home on Elance, the company grew to about 70 specialists sitting in a spacious office in the city center. In 2013 we became among the top Elance company. The staffing platform for freelancers let us find our best customers, most of whom are still loyal to us. But most importantly, it gave us invaluable experience which made us what we are.
Seven years ago mobile app development business was just emerging, following a dazzling appearance of the first iPhone in 2007. “The phone that has changed phones forever,” was the reaction of Time magazine.
Apple’s creation became the cradle for Yalantis, as developing apps for iPhone was our first professional strategy. The reason for that was not an omnipresent love for Apple, but a corny market research. Alexander Kholodov, one of Yalantis co-founders and a developer himself in the past, discovered that the demand for iPhone apps on Elance exceeds the offer by miles.
“We started with an aim to fill the empty niche existing in the iPhone apps development,” he said. “After a while we began to engage with Android and other platforms.”
Kholodov together with Yuriy Kotov, an excellent programmer, got together and set up a mobile app development company. Initially they worked from home picking up interesting projects from Elance. About six months later, Sergey Fesenko, who was also a programmer before, joined the team of co-founders.
“When I got into, we moved in an apartment, which became our first office,” said Fesenko. “We bought a couple of arm chairs and started off as a real team.”
Kholodov called the company Yalantis -- a strange word that doesn’t exist in any dictionary. It was created with the help of a random words generator from the word Yalta -- the name of a sunny resort city in Crimea (a peninsula in the south of Ukraine). As a boat called so it will float. According to phonosemantic analysis of the word Yalantis, it induces positive subliminal associations, like good, beautiful, strong, light, simple, safe, etc. This is also a unique name. You can’t explain it, it but it has look and feel, just like all our products do.
The first staff members hired by Yalantis were young specialist with little to no experience in developing mobile apps. Their knowledge of technology and level of professionalism grew considerably owing to supportive attitude of the company leaders and their own aspiration to self-development. The majority of these guys are still in the company occupying senior developer positions.
With increasing number of mobile app development projects the perspective of becoming a bigger company with different specialists, not only iOS developers, began brightening up. Here is when the team got completed with a larger administrative board, Android developers, project managers, quality assurance specialists, designers and account managers.
Now we only employ experienced team players highly enthusiastic about what they do. Our people are just as important for us as our clients and we care much about making them feel at home in Yalantis.
At some point, Kotov, one of the co-founders, understood that managing the company wasn’t for him. He left Yalantis but came back in a few years in the role of a senior iOS developer. He chose to do what he likes most -- developing great products.
When Yalantis grew larger, Kholodov and Fesenko divided their responsibilities in management. Kholodov is the CEO of the company leading sales and marketing. He also manages our own product development initiatives. Fesenko is a financial director and manages the department of human resources. He is in charge of our internal processes as well as employment and partnerships.
The world loves words, begs for fresh new words, and businesses fervently hire freelancers to write those beautifully crafted words. In fact writing is one of the most popular skill categories on Elance. Our friends at Essay Tigers are hip to this and have created an eye-catching infographic on how to make sure your successful freelancing on Elance:
How to become a successful freelance writer [Infographic] by the team at EssayTigers
Many people know me as the owner of Coquí Prose Content Marketing, but I am also a prolific client who exclusively uses Elance to hire freelancers.
Although many Elancers have hired a few other Elancers to fill the occasional needs of a client or to assist with specific projects, I work day in and day out with a team of freelancers who help meet the goals of our long-term clients.
There’s a big difference …
For every job I have with a client, I may hire five or more team members to fill the needs for that client.
With more than 1000 jobs awarded since I started hiring on Elance about four years ago (both one-off jobs and ones lasting six months or longer), I see the business of freelancing from a very unique perspective.
Okay, Let’s Get Down to Business.
Let’s start by debunking three common myths that frequently lead to lots of chest pounding, self-aggrandizing and pontification ad nauseam. These are myths I have read in online forums again and again and, sadly, a-gain.
“You shouldn’t start out with low rates because you’ll forever be branded a low-baller and no serious client will take a second look at you.”
“Competition is stiff on Elance. You need to sell yourself in your proposal.”
“Keep your earnings private until you reach $10k.”
Rates: What Matters? Your Past, Present or Future?
I’ll take you through a typical job posting of mine to give you the “bird’s eye view” of things.
I’m pretty methodical when I post jobs on Elance. I have a formula for my job descriptions. I always include the following in my descriptions, especially if I am posting a public job (which I only do if my exhaustive search for an Elancer doesn't jibe with Elance’s sometimes-interesting ranking of expertise):
Successful freelancers focus on their projects and on marketing and improving their services. Given that focus, few give much thought to government affairs.
But just as you use Google Maps or a similar app on your mobile device to guide you past highway congestion, so too should freelancers pay close attention to government obstacles that impede the rapid growth of online freelance contracting.
Last year on the Elance-oDesk blog I mentioned that 16 states and the federal government had formed a task force to make it harder for individuals to freelance doing the kind of work you find and sell on Elance-oDesk.
Those 16 states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New York, Utah, and Washington – are home to 39 percent of the US population, so any progress these states make will slow the expansion of freelancing. Since other states and countries are watching carefully, this may affect you wherever you live.
As an independent contractor, you have a unique opportunity to educate your representatives in state government about the booming field in which you make a living.
Most legislators know little about online-freelancing and will listen with interest to how this new work style is more advantageous for you than regular employment.
Looking through the fascinating 2014 Elance-oDesk Annual Impact Report, available here, one chart shows clearly why a single visit to meet a state legislator, either in their district office near you or in their office in the state capital, can make a big difference.
The Impact Report shows that 74 percent of freelancers are under 35 years of age – individuals who rarely talk with legislators. Since lawmakers seldom see young people, talking about freelancing opens your legislators’ eyes to voters unfamiliar to them.
Here are five secrets for representing freelancers.
Secret #1:Make it clear that you represent more than yourself. Scale is vital for effective government relations.
Describe what you do for clients, adding a fact about how many people in your district, state or occupation also freelance online. The Elance-oDesk impact report has many helpful statistics you can use.
One tradeoff in working with online freelancers is that some “teamwork” benefits can become compromised. For example, when working remotely it can become challenging to establish rapport or build a more enriching relationship among team members. Here’s a quick video, and be sure to read more below.
Ironically, being connected online can make clients and freelancers feel more disconnected – especially on a social level. To make things easier, here are three tips to help you manage freelancers online:
Tip #1: Set up a reporting system.
At 24 Slides we use a tool called 15five. It’s basically a questionnaire containing 3-4 questions sent out bi-weekly to all employees. Each team member responds and sends back their reply.
Examples of questions you can ask include: “What have you been most proud of in the past week?” or “What challenges have you faced?” While the questions can vary, frame them in a way that they can engage your freelancer while giving you clearer insights on what’s happening on the ground.
Feel free to explore other tools like 15five, but what’s crucial is setting up a similar automated process. The goal is to gain a better and more accurate picture of what’s going on.
Moreover, establishing a similar reporting tool can help you effortlessly manage more people than you would if you were all working in the same office. For instance, it takes only five minutes to read through their responses and add comments. You can then quickly move on to the next submission. Yet the overall insights and feedback you get are tremendously valuable.
Tip #2: Set up a video conference call.
When you work with a team within the same office, it’s convenient to meet them over coffee or lunch. This allows you to engage in small talk. This kind of interaction, although described as “small”, can make a big difference in building relationships over time.