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The Best Small Business Resources Online

Small businesses play a huge economic role in almost every industrial nation worldwide and not suprisingly are also a huge part of the New Way To Work on Elance. But regardless of the location, type of business, or market, many small businesses have commonalities and also share growing pains with others. Here is a quick roundup of small business websites, resources, and communities that you as a small business owner or entrepreneur can use as an asset for your success. (Although many of these sites focus primarily on U.S. targets, many of the tips and strategies can be applied to businesses worldwide.)

Inc.com – The online counterpart to Inc. Magazine hosts an excellent resource center for small business owners in its “How to Start a Small Business” Start-up Guide. The site covers everything from writing a business plan, conducting initial market research, how to get low-cost marketing for your start-up, raising capital, how to pitch your business to investors, and more. Also, since tax time is just around the corner, be sure to also check out their Tax Strategies section to find guides on structuring your business with tax cuts in mind, planning your taxes for tough times, and the lowdown on small-business tax deductions. (And they have a great blog, too.)

CNNMoney.com – CNNMoney, a partnership by CNN, Fortune Magaine, and Money, is one of the big players in the space of online business and finance publications. There are a ton of standard resources, like strategy articles, small business news, and a “How We Got Started” section showcasing small business success stories, but the section I found to be most compelling was the Questions & Answers. Here, you can view the question and answer of the day, search through the database of previously answered questions by CNNMoney staff, or shoot them your very own question to be answered by an expert.

Small Business Administration – Sponsored by the United States government, the Small Business Administration offers a wide variety of tools and information resources to aid the growth of your small business. If you’re looking for location-tailored information, the SBA offers regional, city-based offices and information to aid you. If you’re unable to take advantage of local resources, there are also many online components, like the Small Business Training Network, that provides a wealth of information in the forms of online courses, research tools, podcasts, and more.

Securing Your PC And Your Data

Contractors, professionals, entrepreneurs, and businesses of any size have one thing in common: Their computer and the information on it is the centerpiece of daily operations. And with that, maintaining a high level of security for your business or your client is an absolute must in today’s digital world.

Additionally, freelancers and contract professionals that work from home can sometimes overlook computer security since they're in the comfort of their own home. Here are a few quick tips you can employ to add an additional level of security to protect you or your client’s data.

Passwords: Your password is the most important pillar of the security of your data, both personal and private. However, a surprising number of hacks in today’s world occur when a weak password is compromised through various techniques. Here are a few simple rules that you should follow when creating your passwords to thrwart would-be intruders.

1. Avoid using very commonly used password techniques, like names, birth dates, and common words and phrases as these are usually the start points for those looking to break into accounts. Also, remember that just because you flipped your password backwards does NOT make it secure.

2. Don’t use the same password for everything. This should be obvious as if one password becomes compromised, then all of them are. If you can’t create a password for every single account (which I know is difficult), at least try to get down to the category level. For example, have a password for your social media, a password for your finance, a password for your email, and a password for Elance.

5 Technologies Your Business Needs In 2010

With the books officially closed for 2009, businesses around the world are all now looking forward to predict what adjustments and investments they’ll need to make to stay competitive for 2010. Clueless on which technologies your business needs? Here are five big players that are shaping up to make a huge impact throughout the rest of the year.

Android Assimilation: As outlined in the December Elance Work Index, Google’s mobile operating system ended 2009 with a huge amount of momentum. Additionally, with the introduction of the Nexus One as well as an army of other Android phones, it doesn’t look like it will be letting up anytime soon.

With Android continuing to gain share in the mobile phone market and it’s more open-ended development approach, businesses will (and have already been for a while now) shifting resources to create mobile applications for the popular open-source operating system. However, don’t expect Android’s 11,000+ application market to surpass Apple’s 100,000+, but there’s no doubt that you’ll see a investments made to set up shop on Android and on other mobile platforms, like Windows Phone and Palm WebOS.

Find Your Android Experts Here

Browsing On The Go: Just because you’ve set up shop on the iPhone and Android doesn’t mean you’re done yet. Why leave out millions of other internet-equipped mobile devices? Creating a mobile website was a hot topic in 2009, with huge businesses like Target, Amazon, PayPal, Bank Of America, and Southwest Airlines creating mobile websites that can be easily (and quickly) accessed by any standard mobile browser on any network.

Ease of access for mobile users will be a huge, huge priority for businesses of all sizes in 2010, so expect to see the adoption of mobile-enabled websites trickle down from larger businesses to medium and small businesses.

Find Your Mobile Experts Here

5 Tips For A Successful 2010

For many, the beginning of a new year is known as a time for making changes for the better, having a positive attitude, and starting off on the right foot to set the tone for a successful year. Why treat your online work any different? Here are a few tips that you as a provider can try out to make 2010 even stronger than before.

1. Update Your Profile Page: Although this may seem to be a no-brainer, the importance of your profile page should never be underestimated. Data from our client survey shows that having a compelling online profile is “Very Important” or “Extremely Important” to 55% of clients when making a hiring decision. Before you make changes to your profile, browse through some of your fellow providers' profile pages to get a good idea of what others are having success with. (Words For Hire, SynapseIndia, and REDPIPAL have great profile pages.)

Now, when reviewing your profile page, keep a few things in mind. Is it clear and to the point? Is it grammatically correct and typo free? Are all of the appropriate fields completed, like Headline, Summary, Keywords, Skills, Employment, etc? Although you probably don’t want to overload your potential clients right off the bat, having a healthy, comprehensive amount of relevant information will give customers a lot to weigh in with when making a hiring decision.

Also, don’t be shy! Don’t forget to show off your best work in your online portfolio. In the same client survey, 85% of respondents found that having work samples was “Very Important” or “Extremely Important”, so this is something you do not want to skip especially if you’re in a creative field like graphic design.

So, how are you feeling about your profile page? If your page feels a little sparse, invest a little bit of time – even a good half hour of improvement could make the difference for your next potential client.

2. Create High-Quality Proposals: There’s no denying the importance of the proposal – after all, day in and day out they make the Elance world turn. Your profile, portfolio, credentials, references, and feedback establish your credibility and showcase your skills, but in most cases, the first (and possibly last) impression you make on a potential client will be through the proposal process.

Although there is no perfect formula, there are several very successful strategies that you can start employing to increase the success rate of your proposals, like doing a little research on your client beforehand, asking relevant and poignant questions, custom tailoring your proposals (as opposed to copy and pasting), mention your benefits and where you excel, be clear and concise, let your personality show, and of course, have clean, grammatically correct copy.

Check out this blog post here to get more in-depth tips and strategies on improving your proposals. Trust me, it’s worth the read.

3. Take A Few Skill Tests: Skill Tests are a big factor to potential employers on Elance. When asked “What are the most important criteria you consider in hiring an online professional,” half of the those polled responded that having tested skills was “Very Important” or “Extremely Important when making a hiring decision. Additionally, over 76 percent of the respondents are more likely to hire a professional with tested skills that are relevant to their job. That’s nearly 4 out of every 5 clients!

If you’re ready to add some tested skills to your profile, you can view all of our available Skill Tests in one easy location, otherwise known as the All Skill Tests page. We are always working hard bringing the freshest tests available, so be sure to add that page to your bookmarks to stay on top of your game. And Skill Tests definitely play a big role in the next item below.

New Skill Tests For The New Year

First off, everyone here on the Elance team wish all of you a happy new year and a wonderful 2010. We’re all back in action and are firing on all cylinders here at HQ, and we’ve added 18 new Skill Tests for you to master and add to your profile page.

German Spelling
German Grammar
German Sentence Structure
German Vocabulary
German Word Usage
Italian Proofreading
Italian Grammar
Italian Sentence Structure

Italian Spelling Skills
French Spelling Skills
French Sentence Structure
Spanish Spellling
Spanish Grammar
Integrated Circuits
Adobe Flash CS4 (Mac)
ActionScript 3.0 (Mac)
Quark Xpress 8.0 (Mac)
View All

Also, if you’re a developer, be sure to check out our new PHP and MySQL Code Tests that we launched at the end of last year. These new Code Tests are timed tests that require the test taker to work with actual code to solve a problem. The test taker will not only be required to solve the problem in the allotted time, but the code is scored based on how concisely written and how efficiently it uses system resources.

The 10 Best Posts Of 2009

We’ve seen quite a few posts come through here on the Elance Blog covering a wide range of topics. Now it’s time to take a look back and see which stories that you, the Elance community, found to be the most compelling.

Now, I present to you the best posts of 2009, in reverse chronological order:

5 Signs You Need A Website Redesign Now:
If you can't tell whether or not your website is outdated, chances are it probably is. Here are 5 telltale signs that your website is in need of a redesign. After all, a modern makeover doesn’t just look nice – it could increase your bottom line.

5 Ways To Drive More Traffic To Your Website: You know your site has something to offer, but getting the right people to show up at your doorstep is the hard part. If you’re stuck scratching your head with low traffic numbers, check out these 5 basic tips to start bringing in more traffic.

Tweeting 101: How To Use Twitter Effectively For Your Business: One of the biggest sensations of 2009 was the explosion of Twitter. Many small and large businesses quickly realized that Twitter could be a great tool for businesses like yours. Check out our tweet-centric crash course to get started.

10 Things To Consider Before Quitting Your Job To Freelance Full-Time:
Making the switch from full-time to freelance isn’t something everyone ponders every day, but before you make the switch, do yourself a favor and ask yourself these 10 questions.

2010: The Decade Of Online Work

The day the entire world moves on from the "oughts" is nearly upon us. Since we entered this decade ten years ago, technology, work, and society on a micro and macro level has evolved to a level no one could have ever predicted. Before we can look forward to the future, we must take a look at the past to see just how far we’ve come.

Think back to the year 2000. George W. Bush and Al Gore were the front runners in the Presidential election. Microsoft had just released Windows ME, the recently-launched Playstation 2 was the hottest holiday item, and the term “Y2K” and its associated panic had just been retired. Monochrome screens on cell phones were standard, and smartphones were only for the earliest of adopters. Broadband was adopted by less than 5% of the population while dial-up services were the method of choice at 35%.

Today, broadband has moved from luxury to necessity, while Internet connectivity has moved from the home to pockets and purses. People from all over the world are now able to connect digitally in a blink of an eye to communicate, play, share ideas, inspire, and work in ways never thought before.

Although no one truly knows what’s in store for the upcoming decade, one thing that is certain is that work will continue to evolve at a break-neck pace. Here are important trends to follow that will expand online work to new heights by the year 2020.

The Technology Trend – One could only begin to fathom what type of technology will be available after the following decade. Moore’s Law states that “the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years.” With the first 2-billion transistor chip on the way in Q1 2010, using Moore’s Law, we should expect to see the first 32-billion transistor chip in 2020, or alternatively, a computer processor with 32 times the power of the fastest chip on Earth today.

Mobile technology will also continue to evolve at a rapid pace. Data that’s currently available on cellular networks will go from high-speed to even higher-speed, while network coverage will leave no deadspots across the globe. Visual displays and web cams will move into the 3rd dimension, providing a virtual, near-accurate representation of a person through a web conference, and broadband access will have near-ubiquitous penetration in all populations of the globe. And that’s just the beginning.

There’s no doubt that technology and business go hand-in-hand. Advancements in tech have processed and packaged information of all types in formats that are becoming truly on-demand from any location in the world. It's played a huge role in spurring the global and societal adoption of online work in the past 10 years, and expect it to truly send online work to the next level in the coming decade.

The Winners Of The New Way To Work Contest

The judges have weighed in, and the scores have been tabulated, but first off, we’d like to thank all of those that shared their stories in the New Way To Work Contest as well as those that continue to be a part of this global movement to online work.

The New Way To Work Grand Prize Winner Is:

Benjamin Gran – Cubicles are the Phone Booths of the Future

Someday, people are going to look back at cubicles with the same sense of disbelief that today’s kids have when they look at phone booths.

When was the last time you used a phone booth? (When was the last time you even saw a phone booth?)

It sounds absurd, right? Who needs a phone booth in this day and age, when everyone carries phones in their pockets? Imagine, having to sit in one specific spot and use one specific phone just to make a call!

Well, someday – probably sooner than most of us expect – people will look at cubicles the same way...

With the New Way of Work on Elance, we can work for clients worldwide, and we can do the work from anywhere. Who needs a cubicle?

Freelance writer Benjamin Gran won the grand prize with his message of workplace innovation and change, likening the end of the era of cubicles to the end of the era of phone booths. His entry showcases how the world of work is changing dramatically and old constructs are being challenged with the new way to work. Just as the mobile phone replaced the traditional phone booth, cubicles are being replaced by the online office.

Congratulations to Benjamin for winning the top prize for the Elance New Way To Work contest! But we’re not done yet. We’ve received such an overwhelming response to the competition that we are going to award a 2nd and 3rd place prize valued at $1,000 and $500 respectively.

Second Place - $1,000: Salma Jafri – My New Way To Work

December Elance Work Index: The Year Of IT

As the calendar year comes to a close, we here at Elance have come to one conclusion: 2009 is the year of IT.

The Elance Work Index revealed its December rankings along with a year-end snapshot of top hiring trends for 2009. In contrast to recent data showing that technology job loss has risen in the last quarter to 5 percent, technology hiring continues as the strongest and fastest growing category on Elance, with IT managers posting more than 100,000 IT jobs and more than $30 million of IT services delivered on Elance in 2009. The “IT Top 10” skill list include PHP, HTML, Joomla!, CSS, WordPress, MySQL , AJAX, Adobe Flash, Java and Google Website Optimizer.

Meanwhile, with revenue growth weighing heavily on each marketer’s mind this past year, marketing managers posted more than 150,000 jobs across the Design, Writing and Marketing categories, as more businesses hire talent on Elance to boost customer acquisition. Graphic design, content writing and online marketing have consistently
been amongst the most sought after marketing skills on Elance in 2009. The demand for technical writing, blog writing, and translations also continues to gain momentum, particularly as businesses realize the strong talent pool available to them across numerous specialized subject areas.

Despite the difficult economic environment, hiring on Elance continued to grow in 2009, with employers posting 300,000 new jobs and Elance service providers earning nearly $70 million through the Elance workplace. Key trends for December include:

  • The 2009 MVP – PHP’s domination of the Elance Work Index continues in December as it maintains its number one spot while also cementing its status as the most sought after skill for 2009.

Rollover Connects Are Now On Elance

You’ve asked for it, and now it’s here: One of the most requested features here on Elance is the addition of “rollover” Connects. Effective today, if you have a paid provider membership, your unused Connects will rollover to the next month up to the number of Connects in your base membership plan. And that’s not the only upgrade we’re making today – we’re adding a number of changes to our membership plans that you’ll really enjoy.

Membership Upgrades

Before we dive head first into rollover Connects, let’s briefly cover some of the other feature upgrades we’ve made tonight. First, we’re increasing the number of Connects available to providers right off the bat for both Free and Individual memberships. Free memberships enjoy a jump from 3 to 10 Connects per month, while our Individual Professional membership moves from 20 to 25 per month. Additionally, if you’re invited to a private job posting on Elance by an employer, it will no longer require Connects to submit a proposal.

As part of this change, starting January 14, 2010, jobs with budgets greater than $1,000 require between two and four more Connects. Please review the updated Connects Help page for more information. Also at that time we'll be rounding the membership prices to a flat $10, $20, and $40 per month as opposed to $9.95, $19.95, and $39.95, respectively.

How Does Rollover Work?

If you’re unfamiliar with how rollover works, here’s a quick rundown: Let’s say you sign up for the Professional membership. You start December off with 25 Connects, and over the course of the month, you’ve only used 10 and you realize you won’t be able to use them all.