Occasionally we invite Elance-oDesk clients to discuss issues of importance to our community. Here are thoughts from Tobias Schelle, a Danish entrepreneur who is the Founder/CEO of 24slides.com. Check out his blog post below and video below on collaboration, or his other video in his series on finding the perfect freelancer.
Love all the advantages of doing business online? Yet find it challenging to efficiently collaborate with the freelancers you work with?
You’re not alone. Taking your business online has certainly made it faster for you to communicate and get work done, but it also presents certain obstacles. This is especially true when working with various people – from diverse backgrounds or time zones – who are simultaneously working on multiple tasks.
Fortunately you also have online tools at your disposal. Checkout this video for suggestions on how to better collaborate, or keep reading below, to learn about four of my favorite tools:
This is a visual feedback tool used for collaboration, primarily between you and your visual artists like graphic designers. With Redpen you can upload any picture, then provide comments on it. Because of this quick and easy tool, you eliminate the need to discuss an image at great length. This reduces unnecessary communication, through email and other less-productive channels.
Screenflow is a screencast tool for Mac users. As a screen recording software, Screenflow records your screen and voice, including through your webcam if you like. This is highly useful for giving instructions or feedback. It likewise captures non-verbal cues, like tone of voice and facial expressions or gestures. This makes it a more effective alternative to email, and eliminates possible misunderstandings. Another advantage is its flexibility. Screenflow doesn’t limit you to a specific time zone. As you may know, for real-time communication, some online messaging, chat or video conferencing call providers require all people involved to be within the same time zone.
I love freelancers on Elance. Many are experts in their fields, who routinely deliver top-quality work, even on short notice.
Having a list of strong freelancers you can count on is a fantastic resource. It gives you the power of a highly specialized work force at a cost that’s far, far less than employing such a force full-time. That’s why one of many reasons why I use freelancers in my own accounting software company, Billy’s Billing.
When I need special resources beyond what I’ve got in-house, I typically turn to Elance. In reviewing proposals I receive from Elancers, I very often encounter people who are missing out on great opportunities, simply because they aren’t selling themselves well.
Their proposals lack some important elements that could win them my business. With this post, I want to reach out and help deserving people, so they can land more projects and earn more money. Not just from me, but from any other client on Elance-oDesk.
Let’s get started so you can bring in more customers. At the end I also have some bonus advice for you, on a subject near and dear to any freelancer’s heart: Pricing.
First: Three questions and three rules.
First, in writing your proposal, ask yourself the following three questions:
1. How can I get this client to trust me?
2. What problem does the client want solved, and how will I solve it?
3. What is a fair price for solving the problem?
Each connects to a good rule of thumb for proposal writing. We’ll get to the rules themselves in a moment.
P #1: “P”rofiles and Proposal—Build Client Trust.
We naturally want to do business with people we trust. When trust is absent or iffy, we take our business elsewhere. So getting your potential client to trust you is crucial to landing any project. Keld Jensen, an Assistant Professor at Thunderbird University, goes into this in detail in his book The Trust Factor: “Trust is in fact the keystone of successful commercial transactions.”
Your provider profile on Elance is crucial to creating client trust. How does your profile measure up? Take time to review it. Look it over carefully from the viewpoint of a prospective client who knows nothing about you. Review it against these questions (again, from the client’s viewpoint):
· What do past clients have to say about this provider? Was the work good? Was it great? How about the service? Communication? Were deadlines met? Were there any problems? Were they resolved?
· Is there any evidence of this provider’s competence? Does the provider just talk about past products, or are there plenty of good examples of his or her work? Are there any examples of projects similar to mine?
· Is there a picture of this provider? Including a photo in your profile reassures the client he or she will be dealing with a real person. People like doing business with people—not with machines or faceless, generalized companies.
Below are thoughts from Jaleh Bisharat, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Elance-oDesk and Dan Schawbel, founder of Gen Y consulting firm Millennial Branding.
A quick glance around confirms what you’ve probably suspected for a long time. Our workforce is getting younger and younger.
Call them what you want -- Millennials, Gen Y, or Echo Boomers -- there’s no ignoring the fact that those in their early 20’s to early 30’s are a critical part of today’s workplace. Ditto for the near future, as Bureau of Labor Statistics employment projections show that in 2015 millennials will overtake Baby Boomers and Generation Xers as the largest generation in the U.S. workforce.
New study goes a step further, outlining how work is changing and the influence of millennials.
To understand how millennials are impacting the workforce, Elance-oDesk and Millennial Branding teamed up on an in-depth study, The 2015 Millennial Majority Workforce. Surveying over 1,000 millennial workers and 200 hiring managers, the study revealed eye-opening facts. Here are a few highlights:
1. Millennials are integral to the future of business.
Not only will millennials become the largest generation in the workforce next year, they are poised to play a leading role in business for years to come. The study shows that 28% of millennials are already at management level, and two-thirds expect to be in management roles ten years from now.
Beyond power in numbers and rank, millennials possess characteristics that businesses need to be innovative -- they bring fresh ideas, adaptability, and creativity.
2. Millennials have the skills businesses seek to stay agile and innovative.
As businesses look to hire (the August U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Report shows 4.8 million job openings, the highest number in 13 years), hiring managers are shifting gears. The study found they’re prioritizing hard skills over personality when hiring as they seek STEM skills especially -- the skills in the shortest supply. From 3D printing and cloud computing to wearable technology, genetic modification and aerial mapping, millennials report possessing hot emerging skills. Hiring managers think millennials -- the first digital native generation -- are more technically adept than past generations.
3. Hiring managers are having difficulty finding and retaining millennials.
Millennials in The 2015 Millennial Majority Workforce study reveal that they want more than traditional employers now offer. Seeking more flexibility and greater control than “9 to 5” jobs give them, hiring managers are finding it increasingly difficult to hire and retain millennials for staff positions. Unlike past generations, 58% of millennials expect to stay in their job fewer than three years and more than half think corporate loyalty is outdated. This puts them in a position of power as companies seek to keep them.
4. Millennials are turning to freelance work and entrepreneurial opportunities at a record pace.
79% of millennials report that they would consider quitting their regular job to work for themselves. When discussing independent work, millennials cite several attractive characteristics of freelancing. This includes flexible work times and location independence, as well as the ability to pick and choose projects. Eight in ten millennials also said that technology is making it easier to start a business today -- another option for this highly entrepreneurial generation.
Long story short, the future looks bright for millennial workers.
Millennials are reinventing what it means to be a professional as they face rapid change being driven by a multitude of influences such as technology and the economy. They are proving to be a highly adaptable generation, however -- one that is different by necessity and teaming with ingenuity.
What we’ve shared here is just the tip of the iceberg. We invite you to check out the complete 2015 Millennial Majority Workforcereportto see how work is changing and what you can do to gain a competitive advantage.
About Jaleh Bisharat, Elance-oDesk Senior Vice President of Marketing
Jaleh Bisharat, Elance-oDesk’s Senior Vice President Marketing, is a seasoned marketing executive with a history of growing startups into vibrant brands that inspire passion in their customers. Before joining Elance-oDesk, she was the Vice President of Marketing at several innovative companies including OpenTable, Jawbone, and Amazon.com, and also served on the Board of Directors at OpenTable and Homestead Technologies. Jaleh received a Bachelor of the Arts degree in Government from Harvard-Radcliffe and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
About Dan Schawbel, Founder and Managing Partner of Millennial Branding
Dan Schawbel is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm. He is the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success and the #1 international bestselling book, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future. Dan is a columnist at both TIME and FORBES, and has been featured in over 1,000 media outlets, such as “The Today Show” on NBC, “Street Signs” on CNBC, “The Nightly Business Report” on PBS, “The Willis Report” on Fox Business, The Economist and Wired Magazine.
As a reminder, I’ll be dropping in from time to time to discuss behaviors or policies that benefit or impact the community. One of the first on my list is something we call, “Jobs without Payment.” This is essentially when a freelancer is hired by a client but no payments are made and money never exchanges hands.
A high percentage of underperforming Elance freelancers have numerous Jobs without Payment in their work history. And many of the freelancers on the list for review and account closures this year fell into this category.
These jobs damage the reputation of the community and we consider them to be a “red flag” in a freelancer’s profile. Getting paid and receiving Final Feedback is critical to building a reputation and work history here on Elance (clients can’t leave Final Feedback on Jobs without Payment). Because of this, we want to prevent Jobs without Payment, and to help you do so as well.
We’ve dug into many cases of Jobs without Payment and we find the root cause is often a simple matter of unmet expectations. Clients are unclear in their job requirements and the job scope ends up being different or unachievable. Or freelancers may overextend themselves by taking the job and over-scheduling their time, or by finding they don’t have the skills and experience required to complete the project.
So what can we do about these jobs?
Both Elance and you, our valued freelancers, can help.
On our end we’re doing our best to properly account for such jobs in a freelancer’s work history. First, for those rare, unavoidable situations when moving forward with a job just isn’t possible (the client changes his/her mind on the project or unforeseen events occur), you’ll find that one or two Jobs without Payment will not negatively impact your reputation. Additionally, when we see a Job without Payment pop up on a freelancer’s account and we find that it relates to a client with a lot of these job results or a history of poor feedback, we won’t record the lack of payment as a negative signal on a freelancer’s review.
For your part, it’s critical to only apply to and accept jobs you’re confident you can complete with success. Once accepted, carefully set and agree upon expectations with your client.
Ask questions. Make sure to discuss project deadlines, work deliverables and communication plans in your proposal/application and interview. Document these decisions carefully in your project’s Terms & Milestones.
Set clear expectations. Through detailed discussions about deadlines, communication styles and deliverable requests, you may uncover any mismatch in cost, skills or time that if not updated will lead to a poor outcome for the contract.
Interview your clients. Avoid difficult projects by ensuring the client is a) direct and reasonable in their expectations, and b) willing to clarify any open questions you might have before accepting a job. Also, only begin work on jobs where funding is in place. We can’t help recover funds that were never available in the first place.
I’m sure there are additional tips that could be of value for avoiding Jobs without Payment and I would welcome and appreciate suggestions from members of the community. My hope is that together, through our Trust efforts in the marketplace and freelancer and client education, we can make Jobs without Payment a thing of the past.
Whether you’re a savvy startup or high-flying freelancer, there’s a plethora of great reasons to strike out on your own.
But if there is one knock to being an entrepreneur or solopreneur, it’s that life can get a touch lonely. Working from your home office day after day, week after week (gazing at that same Bob Marley poster on the wall), can drive you a wee bit wacky.
Working in isolation can also leave you ripe for distractions. As hard as you try to stay focused, that sporting match on TV or trip to the farmer’s market can quickly derail your productivity. Not to mention, the college buddy crashing on the sofa, looking for a partner for that zombie flick afternoon matinee.
This is exactly why Elance-oDesk loves coworking. And it’s why we’re partnering with top coworking spaces around the globe to bring you exclusive discounts.
In every corner of the world, from San Francisco and London to Melbourne and Dhaka, we’re now teaming up with a growing number of coworking spaces to offer you special savings. These discounts range from free passes (giving you a feel for the ambiance of a place) to as much as 50% savings on monthly or annual memberships (offers vary by location). Check out the specific deals here.
Why make a local coworking space the center of your workday?
As mentioned above, work is changing. People around the world increasingly opt for startups and self-employment, and coworking is a great way to make the most of your workday and career. Elance-oDesk members who already cowork often mention these three benefits:
1. You’ll get energized.
At a coworking space you’ll get away from the confines of your home office, leveraging the vitality of a dynamic workspace. It’s a great way to ensure that you keep that fresh thinking going and those innovative ideas flowing.
2. You’ll collaborate.
When you network daily with like-minded entrepreneurs, you’re sure to cross-pollinate in a thriving ecosystem—all while rubbing elbows with freelancers and businesses.
3. You’ll grow.
Give yourself a huge competitive advantage as you attend valuable seminars, meetups, and other regular events. It’s your unique opportunity to draw inspiration from a growing network of colleagues.
To start tapping into the coworking energy and excitement, view coworking spaces we’re partnering with in your neck of the woods. See the exclusive offers available when you mention your Elance or oDesk user name during registration. Here are some coworking spaces currently offering discounts:
A huge fan of Elance-oDesk and our freelance customer service experts, entrepreneur Derek Sivers serves up some timely advice on growing your business by growing great relationships with your customers.
I was honestly surprised that my company, CD Baby, was such a runaway success. But I was even more surprised to find out why.
CD Baby had lots of powerful and well-funded competitors. But after a few years they were all but gone, and we dominated our niche of selling independent music. This included 150,000 musicians, 2 million music-buying customers, $139 million in revenue, and $83 million paid directly to musicians.
What was the secret to CD Baby’s success? I never did any marketing. Everyone came by word-of-mouth. But why? I honestly didn’t know.
So whenever I was out talking with my musician clients, I’d ask them. For years, I asked hundreds of clients why they chose CD Baby instead of the alternatives. Or I’d just listen as they’d rave to others nearby about why they loved it. Was it the pricing? The features? Nope. The #1 answer, by far, almost every time someone raved about the company, was this:
“You pick up the phone! I can reach a real person.”
They called and got a real person on the second ring, instead of an automated call-routing system. Or they emailed and got a surprisingly helpful personal reply, instead of an impersonal scripted FAQ response.
And that was it. Who could have guessed? That despite all efforts put into features, pricing, design, partnerships, and more, clients would choose one company over another mainly because they liked their customer service.
I structured the business to match this priority. Out of 85 team members, 28 people were customer service. Since then, many entrepreneurs and interviewers have asked for my customer service tips and tricks, but I recently realized it’s not something you can add on top, it’s really a philosophy—a mindset that has to come from the core.
I’m no expert on the subject, but I’ve learned a few things from 16 years of experience. So here are the six key mindsets that I think guide great customer service:
Mindset #1: You can afford to be generous.
The #1 most important mindset to start with, underlying everything, before engaging in communication with a customer or client, is that your business is secure.
Even if it’s not, you have to feel that it is. Money is coming your way. You are doing well. You are one of the lucky ones. Most are not so fortunate. You can afford to be generous.
All great service comes from this feeling of generosity and abundance. Think of all the examples of great service you’ve encountered. Free refills of coffee. Letting you use the toilets even if you’re not a customer. Extra milk and sugar if you need it. A rep that spends a whole hour with you to help answer all your naive questions.
Contrast it with all of the bad experiences you’ve had. Not letting you use the toilets without making a purchase. Charging an additional 50 cents for extra sauce. Salespeople who don’t give you a minute of their time because you don’t look like big money yet.
All bad service comes from a mindset of scarcity, feeling like they’ll go out of business if they don’t fiercely guard their bottom line.
They say the reason those in poverty so often stay in poverty is that short-term thinking of desperate survival doesn’t leave room to think of long-term solutions. If you really feel secure, abundant, that you have plenty to share, then this feeling of generosity will flow down into all of your interactions with customers. Share. Be nice. Give refunds. Take a little loss. You can afford it.
Of course it’s also just smart business. Losing 10 cents on extra sauce can mean winning the loyalty of a customer who will spend $1,000 with you over the next 10 years, and tell 20 friends that you’re awesome.
OK, you hired talented freelancers to help create a killer business. While working online, you felt safe. Elance-oDesk provides many solutions that help ensure your safety. But once your business goes live, online, in the real world, you’re vulnerable to mayhem. To discuss protecting your business and information on the Internet, we asked Detectify CEO Rickard Carlsson to weigh in. His Stockholm, Sweden-based company is a SaaS web application security scanner that analyzes and reports on the status of your website.
The Internet is broken, from a security point of view, and most organizations are vulnerable to attack.
Hackers have now changed their behavior, increasingly going after all organizations without a specific target in mind. There is no longer an excuse to say that you have nothing of value to steal.
The only question is, how vulnerable you are? And how to most efficiently and effectively protect your information? As you know, killing a mosquito with a bazooka is expensive.
To get started, let’s clarify five common misconceptions.
1. Nobody wants to hack us, we’ve got nothing of value to steal.
Most hacks are automated. They’re designed to spread malware via your site, send a political or commercial message, carry out an advertising scam, or some other malicious activity. Hackers don’t care about you, specifically. But if they’re successful, the damage will hurt your brand and give you unnecessary clean up work.
2. I’m safe, because we’re using a CMS for our website.
No. During the last three months, over 150 new vulnerabilities have been found on WordPress alone. Most Content Management Systems (CMS) show similar statistics.
3. I’m safe, because we’re on a hosted platform.
This will partially improve your security, as the provider will patch your servers. However, you still need to manage the sites and applications you install on the platform. It’s not a solution in itself.
4. I’m safe, because we only use integrated third party services.
5. I’m safe, because we let an agency do our development.
Wrong. Unless you asked specifically for a security assessment/safe development, you’re not safe.
OK, then … what can happen?
A lot of bad things can happen. A potential attacker might try to steal information, or use your site to spread harmful code. Or the hacker might just be mean-spirited and encrypt all your data, just for fun. Also, very basic sites can be used for illegal activities.
Here are three examples of what can happen …
1. Your site is mainly for providing information:
Hackers can replace your site with Viagra ads or changed board member information for new visitors while you see the original information.
2. Your site has user login and user profiles:
Hackers can obtain and leak customer data. This can happen any number of ways, one of which is through poorly managed picture uploads.
3. Your site uses SaaS services and web-shops:
Hackers can impersonate a user on your system and trigger actions in the system, or complete a purchase.
Occasionally we invite Elance-oDesk clients to discuss issues of importance to our community. Here we share some wisdom from Tobias Schelle, a Danish entrepreneur who is the Founder/CEO of 24slides.com. Check out his blog post, as well as the first video in Tobias’ upcoming series of helpful video tips.
Almost everything can be done online these days.
Which is why it’s no surprise that online technology is influencing the way we do business, too. This includes everything from searching for talent to collaborating with and managing freelancers.
This video explores ways to streamline hiring. It’s the first in a series on how to maximize the benefits of working online, each designed to help you be more productive and conduct business seamlessly.
Your 4-step plan on finding the right freelancer.
Amid the multitudes of possible candidates on Elance-oDesk, how do you find the most suitable freelancer for the job?
It’s tempting to narrow your list to only qualified applicants, and then hire the person who submits the lowest bid. But if you want to get the most out of your online team, use this simple 4-step process as a guide. In the long run it will save you time, energy, and money.
Step 1:Screen and choose your top three candidates.
Posting a job is easy and fairly straightforward. Pretty soon, you’ll have many candidates applying for you job. While this is great, it also poses a challenge: Finding the right one among the many capable applicants.
To start off, narrow your applicants to the top three based on their relevant skills and the ratings and reviews from previous Elance clients. From there you can click on the applicant’s name and view their profile and employment history.
Step 2:Now test your top three freelancers.
Why is this important? Simple. Because people can sometimes look great on paper or in theory, but fall short of expectation in actual application. If you evaluate applicants merely based on what’s written on their resumes, or gathered from previous client feedback, there’s less chance of selecting the perfect candidate for the job.
And because many freelancers can be really good at selling themselves, giving them a test task beforehand can help you drill down further. You can get a clearer picture of who really is the ideal match for your particular project.
Ideally the test task should be as close as possible to the demands of your job at hand. This can typically take somewhere between 20 minutes to an hour. You should pay them for the test project, to simulate a real working environment and to ensure that the freelancer gives 100% on the project.
It’s official! The freelancer economy has arrived. In a big way.
Our recent Global Online Work Report reveals that freelancers have now earned a cumulative $2.9 billion (yes billion, with a “b”) on the Elance-oDesk platforms. This amazing figure is a testament to the growing adoption of a more agile work model, where businesses and talent can connect with unprecedented ease.
Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to help us approach this momentous milestone. We look forward to bringing you more major developments as our community continues working online at record pace.
There are other juicy nuggets among the report’s findings too, so feel free to browse the highlights. You’ll find Q3 2014 numbers on everything from the hottest skills (spoiler alert: QA Testing is up 250%) to the growth rate of job categories (as long as we’re spilling the beans, “mobile” leads the way with a whopping 49% increase in earnings). There are numerous client-focused facts and figures as well, from job posting figures and spend by category to average time to hire.
Mads Phikamphon is a Copenhagen, Denmark-based freelance programmer who specializes in online marketing projects. To help manage his complex projects, Mads recently hired a virtual assistant on Elance-oDesk. Highly impressed with his new hire, Mads looked at the qualities of his virtual assistant to see what made that freelancer so outstanding. Below are his top five insights into what makes a successful virtual assistant, along with insights on what to look for if you’re hiring for the position.
1. Perfect time management:
If you’re an aspiring virtual assistant looking on Elance-oDesk for virtual assistant jobs, or hiring a virtual assistant to manage your projects, then time management is the first skill you should pay attention to.
As a virtual assistant, you have to plan your own time effectively. Luckily, there are many tools available to help you make the most of every minute. Below are two favorite methods I’ve come across.
1) If you’re working on an hourly job on Elance, use the free Tracker tool and Work View™ to keep track of and document time spent on each individual job.
2) If your job is fixed priced, simply jot down the start time, end time, tasks you’re working on, and breaks you take on a notebook you keep with you at all times. Or use a timer app like Free Stopwatch to keep track of your working hours.
2. Don’t be shy:
As a virtual assistant you’ll need to do different tasks every day. If you’re having trouble understanding any task, don’t be shy. Ask your client to brief you on the task again.
By asking questions, you will save time that might have been spent trying to understand the task yourself. Often you just need to ask your employer to explain the goal in a different way. Similarly, for those hiring, be open to providing more information to your virtual assistant.
3. Never stop learning:
Don’t ever stop improving your knowledge. As a virtual assistant, the type of tasks you need to do can change at any time. Whenever you have time, use it to learn new things that relate to your job.
Continuously improving your knowledge will make all your future tasks easier. If you’re a client, look for a freelancer who is adding new skills to their profile and taking on additional responsibilities for teams.
4. Stay in contact with other virtual assistants:
If you’re having trouble with some area of your job, the best way to solve it is by asking an expert in that field. Ask for suggestions from other virtual assistants.
There are many forums and groups where you can connect with other virtual assistants to share ideas and business opportunities.
5. Don’t switch jobs midstream:
If you find a better job opportunity, it can be tempting to quit your current job without warning. But doing so will destroy your relationship with your employers and lead to poor feedback ratings—making it harder for you to get hired at a later date.
If you’re planning on moving to another job, inform your employers at least two to three weeks in advance. This will give them time to find someone to replace you and also help you establish yourself as a trusted and professional person to work with.
About Mads Phikamphon
A talented freelance programmer from Copenhagen, Mads hates cars. In fact, he hates cars so much, that he doesn’t even have one (or a driver license). Instead, he loves bikes. So much so that he’s now building a directory of bikes and bike prices.
Spaceship photo courtesy of Dennis Wong. All rights reserved.