Today we’re excited to introduce another regular contributor to the Elance blog, Bruce Lilly. He spearheads Editorial Services by Bruce and is a regular contributor of prose to our online work platform.
You write proposals until your wrists ache, your coffee’s cold and the sun’s dying, and still no bites. How can you find a job if nobody will give you a chance?
Hi, my name’s Bruce. My business Editorial Services by Bruce recently became one of the top 50 of over 12,500 Writing & Translation businesses on Elance. A lot of work went into this milestone, but 2 key questions are perpetually in my head before applying for any job.
· What do I as a freelancer value in this job in particular?
· What does my client value in a freelancer?
In that context, I’m going to share 2 simple ideas with you that will net you more jobs. It’s not rocket science, and they’re not Rockefeller tips. But they might just be enough to get your Elance car rumbling to life—or, if it’s already started, to help you find the accelerator.
Maximize your profile value before anything else.
Some people might tell you to “fake it ‘til you make it’” right out of the gate when it comes to Elance. Sign up and then shoot for ridiculously high rates. Sure, you won’t get every job, they might add, and your client might bargain you down, but at least you’ll land among the well-paid stars.
You’ll soon come to realize—like we all do—that unless you’re Blake from Glengary Glen Ross most clients will just ignore you if you charge too much and have no experience. You usually need a few healthy-star ratings with testimonials to snatch any truly high-income gig. Job History Feedback is often cited as the most valuable variable that clients use when deciding to hire a freelancer.
Today Jens Jakob shares his experiences on achieving massive success through SEO and PR. His secret? For a bit of background, he believes that shoe brands dictate what running shoes should be popular, which is not ideal. Therefore, he started RunRepeat.com – a platform that compiles running shoe reviews.
Washington Post, The Guardian, Fox News … the list goes on and on. If you’re working with SEO or PR, this post will no doubt inspire you. I went big and the return on investment was breathtaking. Our organic growth increased more than 500% in 3 months. Here’s what I did in three simple steps:
1. Brainstormed ideas
2. Build a team
3. Pitched ideas to journalists
Let’s get started.
Step 1: Decide What Kind of Research You Want to Conduct
I’m in the running shoe business and did research on marathon running. Why?
• Running shoes and marathon running are within the same field
• There is plenty of free data available on marathon results
• Marathon running is hot
It would be ideal to do research on running shoes, but collecting data would not be easy.
Step 2: Find a Team That Can Make Things Happen
The chances are next to zero that you’re 1) a statistician, 2) good at Excel and data collection and 3) good at PR. Solution? Find people who are good in these areas. Here’s what I did:
• Found a Vietnamese freelancer who was an expert in data collection from big databases.
• Found a Philippine freelancer who’s an expert in data entry
• Found a Polish statistician
• Found an American research expert
That was the team. The final price was $2,150 and I found all four freelancers on Elance. Together we created a full research project on pacing differences across genders in marathon running, giving it the title: Women Are Better Runners Than Men.
Step 3: Pitch Journalists
My primary task was to pitch the idea journalists. If I could share one bit of advice, it would be that you should not consider pitching journalists as a discipline of wining a reporter over. You collaborate. It’s a win-win. You get publicity and the journalist gets a chance to write an awesome article.
The goal with all of these blogs is to make you a more successful Elancer. I say it all the time: freelancing is a tough business and it “ain’t” for the faint of heart! To follow are many of the pieces of wisdom my mother routinely shared with me as I was growing up. As with most of her advice, they applied to nearly everything I was going through in life. I hope you find them useful.
Don’t Be Afraid to Challenge Yourself.
When I first started on Elance as a writer, although I had had 20 years in corporate America, almost none of it was in writing. Because I had always wanted to be a writer, I didn’t let that stop me.
I started with small jobs: ones I knew I could do well. Although I had to teach myself the fundamentals of article writing and do topic-specific research (Google really is your best friend), I gave my clients what they wanted and always a little bit they hadn’t asked for. As I gained confidence, I looked for projects that challenged me.
You’ll hear many say not to try writing about anything you aren’t a subject matter expert (SME) in. I say hogwash! With nothing to lose but the reputation I was (and still am) trying to build, I took on many jobs that I didn’t know anything about when I started, but with research and tenacity I soon excelled. You can do the same. The trick is to be honest with your clients that you are learning on the job. Don’t pretend you are an expert at anything if you’re not.
People will argue that freelancing is not the place to learn as you earn, but I have to strenuously disagree. Although this was the case years ago when nobody dared be a freelancer until they’d had umpteen years in their profession, with many people opting not to work in the brick & mortar world any longer, freelancing is how people gain experience now. In other words, “Times they are a-changing.”
While I don’t recommend you wake up and decide to become a neurosurgeon, there’s no reason you can’t be a copywriter, transcriptionist, graphic artist or anything you are driven to do.
I have some good news and some bad news about writing proposals.
The good: If you write enough proposals -- even mediocre ones -- you can get lucky and win a job every once in awhile.
The bad: Failing to become a great proposal writer will force you to work way too hard, for too little pay, since you’ll have to write a zillion proposals and compete aggressively on price.
The moral of this story is simple: why rely on luck, low rates, and the law of averages, when you can master the art and science of writing awesome proposals instead?
Here are some key mistakes you’ll want to avoid.
1. Sounding like everyone else.
Imagine going to an auto dealership and looking at 20 different car models that are nearly identical. Would you remember any one particular car an hour later?
What if, instead, you saw nineteen sedans, and one SUV. Naturally, you’ll pay more attention to the SUV, right?
You need to be the SUV.
If your proposal blends in too much, you’re effectively rendering yourself invisible to the client.
Luckily, there’s a simple way to avoid this: Become a client yourself. See what they see.
It’s easy to do. Just post a job, read through the proposals as they come in, and check out the patterns of communication that people naturally tend to fall into while writing them.
Then, make yours different so it stands out and commands clients’ attention.
2. Copy-and-pasting (even a little).
It can seem tempting to send canned proposals to clients, to save time and do less work. But this is a big mistake.
The reason why has to do with clients’ expectations.
If a client reads your website, they expect to find words that were written once, a long time ago.
But when they read your proposal, their expectations are totally different. They want you to write something that addresses them, not “everyone.”
For this reason, even a partially pre-written proposal is a definite no-no.
If a project is worth working on, then it’s also worth the bit of extra time and effort it takes to write a dedicated proposal to the client. Don’t be “penny wise and pound foolish” about this.
3. Being pushy (or trying to be Luke Skywalker, instead of Yoda).
I often see proposals where a freelancer says something like, “I am the perfect person for this job.”
The problem with statements like that is that they try to put you, the freelancer, into the role of “Hero” in the client’s story. You’re calling the shots, telling them what they should do, instead of trusting them to do what’s best for their own business.
When you do that, you’re essentially auditioning for the part of Luke Skywalker. But that role has already been filled...by the client.
They’re the hero of their story; it can’t be any other way.
You, on the other hand, are Yoda.
Your job is to support them. To be their advisor, friend, confidant -- or any number of things they need you to be.
That means that the “theme” of your proposal needs to be THEM. More specifically, how YOU are going to help them get from Point-A to Point-B.
Telling them what they are “supposed” to do won’t work.
I’m thrilled to announce an important update for the Elance-oDesk Community. Today, we took a huge step in the evolution of our business by relaunching oDesk as Upwork.
Last year Elance merged with oDesk—a platform much like Elance. We recently shared that we’ll focus innovation on oDesk, with the ultimate goal of moving to one combined platform. Well that time is now and we can’t wait to start this next chapter with you.
Elance is now an Upwork company.
The Elance site will remain unchanged in the immediate future. In the coming months, we plan to release many new innovations on Upwork in these key areas:
Faster hiring.To accelerate hiring, we’re making it easier for freelancers to update their availability and for businesses to find, interview and select freelancers who are ready to work right away.
Better collaboration.We’re making work simpler and more productive. A new messaging experience will include chat and video, plug into your favorite services, and organize conversations into chat rooms. Plus, you’ll be able to access your teams through native Android and iPhone apps.
Larger teams. Shared team workspaces will make it easier for multiple freelancers and clients to collaborate. Businesses can create and engage large freelance teams quickly, safely, and in compliance with Upwork Enterprise.
Professional growth. Upwork will be a platform where independent professionals can thrive. With access to work history stats, the ability to earn Top Rated status, and information on high-demand skills, freelancers will have the tools to get more and better jobs.
We’re also making it easy to bring your Elance profile to Upwork. We will share additional information as we extend invitations over the next few months. We’ll keep you posted as we transition to a single platform. In the meantime we won’t be adding innovation to the Elance platform—although our teams will continue to support Elance and provide you with a high quality experience.
You may also be wondering about the new name. With an exciting and limitless future in mind, we chose Upwork to better convey our vision and represent our current and future community. It’s a name that inspires us and we hope it will inspire you as well.
I’m excited to step into the CEO position at Upwork, and I invite you to join in the conversation in our community and to find answers to your questions. If you have feedback for us or have questions about our new platform we would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Drama happens. As much as most people try to avoid it, sometimes it’s just inevitable. Fewer things can cause more stress than when things go awry with a client whose project you’re working on. In the five years since I have been an Elancer, I have seen many flock to the Water Cooler when things didn’t go as planned.
One minute things are rolling along nicely. Milestones are delivered on time, client expresses happiness and the job continues to run smoothly. Suddenly out of nowhere—as Elancers describe things from their perspective—stuff just hits the fan.
Client is upset; he wants to cancel the job or file a dispute, claiming something went wrong somewhere. Elancer is befuddled; she contacts customer service, and for some the advice offered is enough to proceed—one way or another. For others, the response isn’t satisfactory and they wind up seeking advice in the Water Cooler.
By and large most drama on Elance can be avoided. By following seven easy steps, you can manage to work with clients completely drama-free. Interestingly, I find that one, two and in some cases all these easy steps are ignored by both newbies and even veterans on the platform.
1. Learn to Read Between the Lines
When looking for jobs in the open marketplace or responding to invite-only jobs, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of reading between the lines.
Because most freelancers—newbies and veterans alike—read job descriptions, say to themselves, “Yeah Baby! This job was made for me!” and then start writing their proposals, they neglect to heed the obvious warning signs/red flags that are right there in the job description.
Writing job descriptions (JDs) isn’t something all clients know how to do. I have been on the client side of things for over four years, and it’s because I have been a freelancer longer that I have become good at determining a good JD from a bad one.
Trying to score your first job on Elance can be tricky. We’ve all been there!
The good news is that once you’re over this initial hurdle, things get much easier.
Still, when you’re a total newbie, it can be daunting to compete with Elancers who already have an established track record.
Even though it seems like you’re David squaring off against Goliath, it’s okay because there are advantages to being David.
You just need to know how to use them. What follows is a practical guide for doing that when you’re brand new to Elance.
1. Go after small jobs (or even tiny ones)
One way to even the playing field when you’re new is to look for jobs that are under the radar of most top Elancers.
As someone with an extensive Elance track record, my existing clients (plus job invites from new ones) keep me busy enough that I simply don’t have time to look at the smaller jobs anymore. And I know many established Elancers who are in the same boat.
But when I was just starting out, small jobs offered me a great way to land my first gigs, make some money, and get some positive client reviews under my belt -- setting the stage for more success to come.
2. Send the right samples
While many freelancers are concerned about having a “complete” portfolio, the truth is that clients are more interested in how relevant your samples are.
In fact, it’s often more powerful to have just one single sample of high quality work -- if that sample is highly relevant to what the client actually needs.
Instead of thinking about your portfolio in terms of quantity, send clients 1-3 pieces that show them you can do the type of work they need. Doing so will give you a better chance of grabbing their attention than a portfolio that’s 10x as large.
(Still working on your portfolio? For the complete step-by-step approach I used to create my first samples, check out this blog post.)
3. Respond to clients with lightning speed
Once a client receives a bunch of proposals for their job, they often make a “shortlist” of candidates, and start sending messages to those people to feel out which one is the best fit.
This is yet another area where “David” can easily beat “Goliath.” Since the busiest Elancers are likely to take a while to respond back, you can outshine your competitors by getting back to clients very quickly -- the quicker the better.
Some people think that replying this fast makes you appear desperate, but when you’re just starting out, you need every advantage you can get.
And guess what? Clients love it when you respond to them quickly, because it shows them that you’re a responsive and reliable professional.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about upcoming initiatives and announced a new era of innovation for our company with the goal of becoming the premier online workplace for professionals. Today, I write to share the news of a leadership transition at Elance-oDesk. I have identified a talented leader, Stephane Kasriel—who knows our business, loves what we do, and cares about our community—to be my successor as chief executive officer.
As many of you know, I have led our company for more than a decade. While the ideal length of a CEO’s tenure is up for debate (see this article and this one), all companies benefit from renewal and the occasional self-disruption. I love this team and the job so much that I would never want to leave, yet I have been thinking about succession plans since before the merger of Elance and oDesk.
In Stephane, I see both business vision and technological brilliance: he is an exceptional leader who is passionate about our mission and has the respect of the entire team. As SVP Engineering and Product, Stephane has driven many of the innovations we will soon unveil. He has achieved them by leading a global team of 300 product managers, designers, and engineers—many of whom are members of our amazing freelance community. From this role, Stephane understands first hand not only our technology, but also how to best work with professionals around the world.
Before joining us, Stephane held executive roles at PayPal as Global Head of PayPal Consumer Products, Global Head of Mobile Business Development, and Managing Director of PayPal France. He also founded and co-founded multiple companies, holds 15 web-related patents and has an MBA from INSEAD, an MS in Computer Science from Stanford, and a BS from Ecole Polytechnique in France. I could not be more confident in Stephane’s ability to lead us. For more information see our press release here.
You may be asking, “Why now?” Our company is at its strongest. We have a clear strategy and the resources to execute, including an exceptional team, great customers, and premier investors. Elance-oDesk is a company with an important mission: to provide a workplace for the world. We are the future of work. Our potential for impact and growth is huge—we still have 99% of the market opportunity ahead of us.
We have been working on some very exciting stuff, and there will be more specifics on our company’s next chapter coming within a few weeks. I wanted Stephane to own our new chapter from its first page. I take great pride in handing the reins to someone as passionate about our community as I am. Stephane has the brains, heart, and compass to make this next chapter a monumental one for you. But most importantly, Stephane is committed to creating a better future for work.
My number one priority now is to campaign for Stephane’s and your success. I am looking forward to assuming the role of board member, shareholder, and user. There will not be any substitute for the experience of working here with you and I am humbled to have served such a diverse, talented, and special community. On behalf of the 300 employees and more than 500 freelancers who make up the Elance-oDesk team, thank you for being my inspiration.
Price is such an obscure aspect when it comes to development services. The answer to the question “how much does it cost to develop an app or a website?” is as relative as Einstein's theory, even if we limit its scope to the European market.
Presumably, development services in Switzerland are more expensive than in Romania, while in Denmark and in Norway the costs are thought to be pretty similar. The post-soviet world, is considered, among other things, to be the perfect destination for software development outsourcing, since prices are reasonable and quality of services is better than in many other outsourcing destinations.
Instead of dwelling on assumptions, though, let’s try to test these hypotheses with real data. The following research was done with the purpose of helping those looking for development services in Europe come to well-grounded conclusions.
Our research is premised on the tacit assumption that the cost of service is directly related to its quality.
We based our observations on the following suggestions:
· A low-priced service is unlikely to result in high quality deliverables.
· The average price in a given market corresponds to a level of quality deemed sufficient by purchasers. In the case of software development, though, a product owner may be left with the feeling that ‘it could have been done better’.
· A price “above average” is what a product owner should be looking for, since higher rates generally indicate higher quality.
· Very high prices are simply not affordable for many.
Another issue we’d like to raise is the degree by which the quality of a delivery can be estimated prior to it’s being made. To paraphrase the old parable about the three stonecutters, one IT developer can write code, another one can make a website or an app, and the third one can actually make a successful product.
Which of those software developers do you want to cooperate with?
We did this research to show how price, one of the most important criteria used by companies to select development resources, is distributed across European countries.
We chose Elance as the most suitable platform for retrieving and comparing the hourly rates of individual freelancers offering IT services around Europe. For this survey, we considered only the countries with at least 200 representatives in the category ‘IT & Programming’ and divided these countries into regions.
1. Post-Soviet states
The region we call “post-Soviet” includes five states – Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Armenia, and Moldova, and contains 15,250 individuals and 2,328 companies, registered on Elance. This is the largest IT market in Europe.
Ukraine alone has the second largest number of IT specialists in Europe after the United Kingdom. The country is home to 9,272 freelancers, or 16% of the total European developer population.
Why is this information so important?
While making this report we came to a conclusion that the more developers there are in a particular country or region, the better the value for money of the service found there. This can be explained by the economic concept of emulative consumption, or the struggle to possess and outdo your neighbor.
One of our first observations about the post-Soviet region is that prices are distributed unevenly across the constituent countries. The chart below shows how exactly the pricing landscape specific to how a particular country looks.
We can see that the most popular price for IT services in post-Soviet countries is in the $20/hour range, whereas the highest cost, over $100, is charged by only 0.3% of the respondents. Russia is the only country in the region with more than 1% of companies and individuals (2,2%) charging $51-$100 per hour of work. At the same time, a vast majority of the region’s representatives, about 90%, charge $30/hour or less per hour of work.
Some things in life (and work) can’t be absorbed in school or taught in the office. They cultivate over time and become part of our existence. In the business world, this is what we call the development of the entrepreneurial spirit.
It ripens in individuals who have a true passion for creating something from scratch and they are willing to do anything to achieve those goals. You don’t need to own a million-dollar business to exhibit qualities of having an entrepreneurial spirit. It’s that special ‘je ne sais quoi’ that you exhibit everyday and how you tackle your life and career.
What is an entrepreneurial spirit?
As Forbes adequately puts it, “Entrepreneurial spirit is a mindset. It's an attitude and approach to thinking that actively seeks out change, rather than waiting to adapt to change. It's a mindset that embraces critical questioning, innovation, service and continuous improvement.”
A word so common on our tongues, but do we know what it actually means? If we had to delve deep into the roots of what exactly is entrepreneurial spirit, a starting point would be the definition of an entrepreneur, it’s French for “risk-taker”. Today the term connotes leadership, initiative and innovation in business. One’s “spirit” is built on self-motivation, inner drive and the dire need to pursue a passion. By nature, entrepreneurs are creative, original and are daredevils. It takes discipline and strong communication skills as well as characteristics such as optimism, belief in one’s self and courage.
Why do we need it?
The million Dollar question is why do we need entrepreneurial spirit? If you guessed, “to create new businesses and to motivate others, especially if you’re leading a team,” then you're halfway there.