Elance Blog

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The New Way To Work Highlights Part 2

We've got just a few more weeks left in our "The New Way To Work" Contest, and the submissions keep rolling in. This week, we’ve got a pair of very compelling blog posts from two very different people both embracing the New Way To Work. First, Gagan Biyani, a full-time consultant and part-time freelance writer from Chicago, had this to share about his experiences in launching a new startup and penetrating Silicon Valley with the help of contract professionals (from blog.udemy.com):

There just isn’t any doubt about it. Things are changing, and Udemy, a startup I’m co-founding, is as good example as any to embody that change. Folks like me don’t just quit their job, take out a loan and start a company anymore. Instead, we spend every free hour – every waking moment – working towards our dream. Success doesn’t just come with the 9-5 anymore, although some can said to a packed room at the Web 2.0 conference, if you want to pursue your passion, there are no excuses. You work 9-5 to support your family and yourself? No problem – “7 to 2 in the morning is plenty of time to do damage.” And here’s a little tidbit from the co-founders at Udemy: if you make a decent wage on your day job, pay someone else to work 9-5 on your dream.

Valerie Walker, a freelance marketing and technical writer, embraces the flip side of the New Way To Work – as a skilled freelance professional, you call the shots as your own boss (from valerie-walker.blogspot.com):

Elance Work System Part 6: Payments And Escrow

This is a continuation of the Hands-On With The Elance Work System by Matt Katsaros. To read the previous part, follow this link here: Hands-On With The Elance Work System: Part 5.

After spending a little bit of time with amstudio utilizing the tools in the Workroom, the website is done, delivered, and ready to go. Now it’s time to foot the bill and get our provider paid, and Elance has a payment system designed to do exactly that.



One of Elance’s payment features (and one of my personal favorite features of using Elance) is Escrow. The service allows you and your provider both to be protected during the transaction. If you’re a little unfamiliar with how Escrow works, here it is in a nutshell: You and your provider agree to a job, you (the client) put the money in Escrow and leave it to be held by a third party, the provider begins work, and once you’re completely satisfied, the money gets released and your provider gets paid. (For more on Escrow, check out this help topic.)

6 Tips To Improve Your Writing Skills

The need for killer content for businesses and entrepreneurs continues to grow at an amazing pace. Whether it’s a blog post, product description, marketing collateral, or newsletter, the growth in demand for strong, high-quality content is clearly apparent as writing-related skills on the Elance Work Index continue to rise. And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, think about all of the other benefits that online content brings to your site, like search engine optimization, online community building, and more. (Check out a more in-depth look at why you need content here.)

However, there’s one thing that you must know before running off to slap a few words together – in order to reap the full benefits, you’re going to need a steady feed of high-caliber content. Are you suffering from a combination of dull content and Writer’s Block? Here are a few quick tips to add a little zip to your website’s content. Don't have the time? Hire a content creator right here.

1. Keep it fresh: Like food, freshness is key. Keeping your website’s blog (you’ve got a blog for your business, right?), product descriptions, and other pages fresh with new content will give your customers or readers a reason to come back for more.

Additionally, publishing fresh content to your website grabs the attention of search engines like Google and Yahoo!, giving you a little bit of a boost in Search Engine Optimization and search ranking. While you’re at it, don’t write about the same thing over and over – search engines will knock you a few points for duplicate and repeated content. Write high-quality content rich articles with a lot of relevant keywords for the most success.

2. Let your voice shine through: Remember, there are millions and millions of other websites out there on the web. Try to bring something unique to the table that your readers will enjoy. Try writing a bit more conversationally – your readers are people just like you.

Also important: Be sure to evaluate and understand your product and your target demographic and then cater your content and writing style to them. Although you might be noticing that more and more sites on the web today are taking a fun, more casual approach to writing with great success, don’t expect the same results if you write loose, sarcastic content for certain products or industries (for example, computer security.)

3. Get to the point: Your visitors have places to go and people to see online, so don’t bore them with overly-wordy paragraphs and descriptions. Internet surfers have the attention span of a 5-year old, so hitting them quickly with what’s important is key. If they aren’t able to answer the question, “Why is this important to me?” within the first few sentences, you can kiss those visitors goodbye.

Also, write shorter, quicker paragraphs. Succinct segments are far more digestible for the average person to read and retain.

4. Play by the rules: You could have a Pulitzer-prize worthy blog post published on your site, but if it’s riddled with typos, grammar errors, punctuation mistakes, and other blunders, its value to your site is close to zero. This is especially important for those with online businesses, as the legitimacy of your website can depend on the cleanliness of your copy.

The New Way To Work Highlights Part 1

It’s been a little over 8 weeks since we kicked off our “The New Way To Work” contest back in September, and the world of work is continuing to evolve. We’ve spotted a healthy number of blog posts, articles, videos, and graphic designs on Twitter, Facebook, and Vator.TV expressing and celebrating the new way to work – here are a few special submissions that have really caught our eye.

First, an awesome YouTube clip from Tanika Goudeau, otherwise known as tigi202:

 



And secondly, a powerful story from a Rita Sanghita, based out of Greece. Here’s an excerpt (read the full story here):

The Ins And Outs Of Email Marketing

If you’ve logged into an email account in the past 15 years, you’ve almost definitely encountered some form of email marketing during your daily inbox routine. Regardless of if it’s used properly (opt-in) or not (oh no, spam!), one fact is clear: Email marketing is a very powerful tool for a wide variety of reasons that businesses can take advantage of with very low overhead costs. However, maximizing its potential requires you to use it as effectively as possible. Want to learn more? Here are a few pointers to get your feet wet. (Don't have the time? Hire an expert on Elance to get the job done.)

What Is Email Marketing?

According to Wikipedia, email marketing is “a form of direct marketing which uses electronic mail as a means of communicating commercial or fundraising messages to an audience.” So basically, if you’re a business and you’re contacting your current or potential future customers with sweet offers, then you’re using email marketing. Additionally, from the same source, researchers estimate that U.S. firms alone spent $400 million on email marketing in 2006.

Opt-In Vs. Opt-Out

If you're unfamiliar with Opt-In or Opt-Out email marketing, think of it like this: Opt-In are your customers who specifically asked to receive email updates and newsletters from you, while Opt-Out is that you assume your customers, or anyone for that matter, wants to hear from you unless they specifically state that they do not want to hear from you. Of course, it gets far more technical (read the full descriptions here at Spamhaus.org), but before you choose one, be sure to understand all of the potential ramifications prior to making a decision.

Personalization

“Dear Alex, check out our newest sales offer!” If you’re sitting there thinking that someone is on the other end typing each individual email in Outlook and clicking send, think again. There are quite a few email marketing solutions online that offer a wide variety of features, like email personalization. And don’t think that personalization is limited to just a name – you can personalize each email with custom links, login and user information, subject lines, headlines, and more. Does it make a difference? Well, a Jupiter Research study in 2006 states that inserting a person’s name into an email increases open rates by as much as 10%.

Managing Your Email Lists

So, how do they get your name and all of that personalization in there? In reality, the information needed to customize all of these emails is placed in simple spreadsheets. These datasheets are the who, what, and where of your entire email marketing campaign. It’s important for you to pay close attention to these lists because if these lists get filled with bad email addresses, it could negatively affect your email deliverability rate. Email hosts pay close attention to who’s sending what to who, so if you’re getting a high bounce rate (due to invalid or outdated email addresses), you could end up getting blacklisted and end up in the junk box rather quickly.

October Elance Work Index Reveals Optimistic IT Hiring Trends

We’ve all heard so much about full-time job losses in the IT sector of late that it’s almost hard to fathom the numbers. At the risk of going all “green shoots” on you, I’m here to tell you that there is a rosier outlook for tech hiring when you consider the data coming out of this month’s Elance Work Index.

More companies than ever are realizing the benefits of hiring contractors online. Facts don’t lie, and the fact is, so far in October awarded jobs on Elance are up almost 50% from the same period a year ago.

Let’s face it, online work is more than a trend. This is happening as people (both companies and workers) continue to discover and embrace the New Way To Work.

Speaking of trends, here are the trends we see in this month’s Elance Work Index:
 

The Ultimate SEO Toolbox

“How do I get my website to show up higher in search results?”

That question is oftentimes heard flying around meetings of entrepreneurs, small businesses, and large corporations alike. Search engine optimization is a science that is complex and constantly evolving, and developing a strategy can be difficult for some. (Having trouble? Hire an SEO expert on Elance.). However, if you’re looking to do a little dabbling in improving your website’s SEO, familiarize yourself with all of the tools in this Ultimate SEO Toolbox.

(Want more tips and SEO strategies? Search SEO on our blog, and you'll find more great stories like 5 Ways To Improve Your Search Rankings and Why You Need Social Media Bookmarking In Your SEO Strategy.)

SEO Chat Tools: SEO Chat Forums is a nicely equipped website with 41 free mini widgets that fulfill a variety of search engine optimization needs making it a great starting point for those looking to improve their website’s SEO. There’s an AdSense Calculator, an Advanced Meta Tag Generator, a Future PageRank preview, a Keyword Density analyzer, a Google vs. Yahoo search query tool, and a whole lot more. A great site definitely worth checking out. (Free)

Website Grader: This quick and easy tool allows you to get a brief report card on how your site’s SEO strategy stacks up and where you can make improvements. The tool grades you on six different criteria, which includes On-Page SEO (Metadata, Heading Summary, Image Summary, etc), Off-Page SEO (Domain Info, Google Page Rank, etc), Blogosphere, Social, Converting Qualified Visitors to Leads (RSS Feed, Conversion Form) and Competitive Intelligence. See if your website makes the grade. (Free)

Free, Open Source Alternatives To Retail Software

High-end software packages from giants like Adobe and Microsoft are an absolute pleasure to use – they’re the industry standard for a reason. But legitimate retail copies of the software can cost a pretty penny and put a dent in the wallets of small businesses and individuals.

However, there are free, open-source alternatives that are widely available on the web that can tackle some of the tasks that the big-brother software packages do on a regular basis. I’ve lined up a number of alternatives to the most popular programs – trust me, they can be very useful in a pinch.

(Interested in free Microsoft web development software? Check out the Microsoft WebsiteSpark program and you can get thousands of dollars of software at no cost.)

Adobe Photoshop Alternatives: GIMP and GIMPshop – GIMP, otherwise known as the GNU Image Manipulation Program, is one of the oldest and most well-known open-source projects out there today. The image editing program offers most basic and intermediate level functions, like resizing, editing, cropping, layers, filters, and more. Although you won’t be getting the same level of tools available in its powerful, high-end counterpart, don’t count the GIMP out for image editing needed in a pinch.

GIMPshop is a modification to the GIMP software package that changes the menus and user interface to offer an experience more similar to Photoshop. GIMP is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and more, while GIMPshop is only available to Windows users.

More Photoshop Alternatives: CinePaint, Krita

Microsoft Office Alternatives: OpenOffice – If you’ve used a computer in the past 20 years, chances are that it had some form of the Microsoft Office suite installed. In recent years, however, OpenOffice, the Sun Microsystem-backed office suite, has been a turning a huge number of heads in the business world and has become a legitimate contender in the office suite arena. Its package offers Writer (Word), Calc (Excel), Impress (PowerPoint), Base (Access), Draw (Visio), and Math (Equation Editor).

You won’t be getting all of the Office Suite knickknacks, like Outlook, Publisher, InfoPath, OneNote, SharePoint, and Groove, but for the core functions, OpenOffice is definitely a solid choice. OpenOffice 3 is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and is ready to download today.

More Microsoft Office Alternatives: KOffice, Google Docs

Microsoft Outlook Alternatives: Thunderbird: - Outlook makes the corporate world go round – we all know that. But there are a couple of viable open source alternatives to the email-handling software that are available on multiple platforms. Mozilla, creators of the Firefox web browser, developed a fully-featured, open-source email client named Thunderbird. Thunderbird offers email search, message tagging, a fully customizable interface, add-ons and extensions, and more.

Mozilla Thunderbird 2 is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux and is ready to download today.

More Microsoft Outlook Alternatives: Evolution (for Linux)

5 Ways To Drive More Traffic To Your Website

“If you build it, they will come.”

If I've learned anything over the past few years, it's that this old axiom doesn’t always apply, especially in this day and age. Simply putting together a website with the latest technology platforms on top of a semi-clever URL won’t do the trick. There are, however, five simple things that you can implement to move the traffic needle up and improve your metrics.

Search Engine Optimization: Search engine optimization, otherwise known as SEO for short, is one of the hottest topics in website development today. Not in the know? Here's a quick rundown. According to Wikipedia, it’s “the process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via “natural” or un-paid search results as opposed to Search Engine Marketing (SEM).” It's like tidying up your website and filling out all of the appropriate forms so that search engine crawlers will get the most context from your site and reward you with a higher page rank.

The SEO game is constantly evolving and is a bit tricky, but there are a few basics methods you can utilize to get yourself started. Alex McArthur lined up “5 Easy Ways To Improve Your Search Rankings” right here. Looking for more? Search our blog with “Search Engine Optimization” and you’ll have plenty to go on from there.

The World Of Work Is Changing... So Why Isn't Legislation?

As pioneers of The New Way To Work, people on Elance are well aware of the benefits associated with our emerging work model. However, independent professionals in the United States face new government legislation. We have asked Regan Parker, responsible for government affairs at LiveOps, to share her perspective on regulatory issues that freelance and contract professionals in the U.S. should be aware of.

As a provider of services on Elance, you’re part of a much broader global movement that is changing the way the world works. At every level, the national media is recognizing the new world of work – a world where work doesn’t mean a long commute through traffic, a time clock, or a desk and cube in a big office building. Businesses like Elance and LiveOps are powering a new economy where workers are taking control of their schedules and their lives, trading in traditional “employment” and becoming independent freelancers and micro-business owners.

We’d all like to see government support this movement and encourage the sort of freedom and opportunity that this new freelance economy is bringing to modern workers. Unfortunately, government is often slow to react to change, and at times is even resistant to it. As the head of government affairs for LiveOps, I’ve been invited by the Elance team to share with you information about proposed legislation in Washington that would ultimately discourage companies from contracting with independent workers such as yourself and to let you know how you can get involved. This legislation is part of a growing trend in Washington to set us back decades in the name of worker protection reform and threatens your ability to provide freelance services and earn a living on your own terms.

Instead of providing the certainty that the classification test desperately needs, this legislation seeks to change the tax code to make it more difficult for companies to engage independent contractors. The bill, HR 3408, proposes to take away one of the safe harbors from the existing code, introduces classification status reviews, and automatic appeals for workers found to be contractors. In addition to these burdensome and costly processes, the bill also increases the fines for misclassification. Companies who engage contractors on a large scale and who have begun crowdsourcing work will face significantly higher risk if this legislation passes, resulting in a chilling effect on companies willing to engage a freelance workforce.

We can all understand the good intentions that motivate this legislation. There have been widespread abuses of contract labor and many people have been taken advantage of and denied a fair wage. Legitimate companies have been undercut by unscrupulous businesses who put forth a lower bid for a job by denying workers benefits and wages. Independent contracting cannot and should not be a way for companies to get a competitive advantage or to deny the basic rights that workers deserve.

But what some people in Washington don’t seem to understand is that for some, this independence is, in fact, a choice. For a growing minority, freedom, flexibility and the ability to work on one’s own terms outweigh any relative benefits that being an employee may bring. Unfortunately, in an effort to right the wrongs of worker abuse, Congress has failed to look at all of the positives taking place in the realm of workforce innovation. The world of work has changed. The securities that we once depended on are gone, and a new way of working has taken hold in this economy. Traditional employment is no longer the only viable option.

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