Ah, the 9 to 5 grind … how I don’t miss it at all. My name is Joshua Rodriguez, I’m the owner and founder of a personal finance blog, freelance writing agency, and marketing firm. However, it wasn’t long ago that I was going to work, punching a clock, living on a schedule I was forced to live on, and loving it because I felt like I had no other choice.
Why I Decided I Wanted To Start A Business
About 5 months 7 months ago was my 3 year anniversary at a relatively small marketing firm. When I first got hired, I absolutely loved it. They didn’t force me to sign a non-compete agreement, I was open to be creative, and the team was awesome. Unfortunately, over time I realized that my bosses weren’t the people I thought they were. After about a year, I went from jumping out of bed and showing up to work 30 minutes early with a smile on my face to hitting the snooze button so much I made it to work just in time to button up the last button on my shirt.
To put it simply, I absolutely HATED MY JOB! Unfortunately, like most people, I had very little in savings, no fall back plan, and I felt like I had to deal with the hand I was dealt. Fortunately enough, my desire to leave my job gave me the drive I needed to finally get up and start doing something more with my life.
That’s When My Business Was Born
About a year and six months into employment, I decided I would start a personal finance blog. I’m what most people would call a personal finance nerd crossed with a…well, I’m just a nerd. I like to write, I like tech, and I like what most people don’t, dealing with the challenges that come up financially.
At this point, I ran into a new problem. I had a blog, and I was writing pretty consistently, but that’s all I had the time to do. Because I was working 40 or more hours a week, I only had 10 to 20 hours that I could work on my blog each week.
As the manager of a marketing firm, I quickly realized that although I had time to come up with great topics, the knowledge to make my posts valuable, and the skill to write in a way that people would enjoy, I simply didn’t have the time to do any marketing for my blog. So, essentially I could build a Ferrari of a blog, but I had no time to put gas in its tank and make sure people saw it.
And So The Search For Help Begins
About 2 months into blogging, everything I had to do to build a following and maintain a quality blog became overwhelming. I considered quitting several times, but the urge to quit blogging didn’t surpass the urge to quit my day job. So, I stuck with it. I knew if I was going to keep blogging I needed help!
I started by putting an ad on Craigslist. The good news that came from the ad was that there were tons of people that wanted to work for me. The bad news was that few were qualified.
Obviously everybody wants to make more money. But how do you optimize your cash flow as a freelancer with limited working hours?
My companies hire freelancers regularly. When we’re deciding who to hire for a project, there are specific skills and qualities we look for.
I’ll describe them in some detail – and I recommend you incorporate them into what you do and how you present yourself as a freelancer. Do these and I’m certainly more likely to notice and hire you – and I’d be willing to bet others looking for good freelancers will, too. Here we go.
As CEO of accounting software provider Billy’s Billing, I’d like to give you three concrete, practical pieces of advice, aimed at increasing your freelance income. To put them most simply:
1. Make smart working choices
2. Build an effective profile
3. Delivery what your clients want
Those might sound awfully obvious, but stay with me here. Let’s dig into them a bit.
1. Work Smart: Do What You Do Best
To optimize your freelancing efforts, stick with the kind of projects at which you excel. You’re probably already a specialist in some area or other. Great. Build on that – become more and more expert in that area. The more specialized and proficient become, the greater value you offer and the more you can charge.
The market moves fast and more and more freelancers enter the scene all the time. Most newcomers try to get an edge into the market by dumping their prices – just as you probably did when you started out. Well, it works, so why not? But there will always be clients more focused on expertise than low price. So be the one with that expertise. Work toward being a specialist, not a generalist.
With the rise of sites like Elance, it’s become easier for clients like me to find competent freelancers. So your skill set and portfolio should make you standout in your chosen niche – an expert who can be counted on to turn over top-quality work, and well worth the higher fees you charge. Sure, you may have to take on some more general jobs as you build your expertise and portfolio in your area of focus. Bills do have to be paid, after all. But be diligent in cultivating that niche and before too long you’ll be a recognized, sought-after, well-paid specialist.
2. Don’t Just Tell It – SHOW It
Every time we post a new job on Elance, we’re looking for people with strong portfolios. This is often the factor that decides whether or not we go forward with a new freelancer.
Occasionally we invite Elance-oDesk clients to discuss issues of importance to businesses who working in our marketplaces. Here are some thoughts from Yaro Starak, an Australian-based businessperson and blogger who runs Entrepreneurs-Journey.com (among other ventures).
"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
My answer as a child was "banker", but that's only because I liked winning all the money in the game monopoly. As I became a teenager and entered university I still didn't have a good answer to the "what do you want to do?" question.
However I did know one thing - I did NOT want a job.
I was absolutely adamant that going to some place from nine-to-five each day, working to earn a linear wage, was not for me. My only real goal was to figure out a way to avoid full time employment and preferably make enough money to live off, and have plenty of spare time to do other things.
Odd Jobs And Odd Businesses
During and after university I made a living working casual jobs and starting internet businesses.
At one stage I made money offering web design and hosting. Later I had a little e-commerce website selling a collectible card game called "Magic: The Gathering". Finally after playing around with all kinds of ideas, I started a business that made enough money to live off.
I read a book called the "Perfect Store", which outlined the story of how eBay started. I liked the book because it talked about a business model called "many-to-many". This means it has many suppliers (people selling things) and many customers (people buying things), and makes a profit connecting the two groups. The many-to-many model can scale rapidly because there are no constraints on supply or customers - each can expand organically to meet demand. Elance-oDesk is another brilliant example of the many-to-many model, connecting contractors with customers.
I wanted to do something similar.
My business started as a language translation and proofreading service. I planned to hire contractors as the work came in, so first I built the website and made the services available for sale. When a customer came through with a job request, I would take the details and go to outsourcing sites to find people to give me a quote to do the work. I would grab the best quote, tag on an extra fee usually about 50%, which I would keep, and then gave that as the quote to my client.
I later refined the service to focus on essay and thesis editing and proofreading for university students only. I also hired regular contractors who became part of the editing team.
The Final Step: True Freedom
My business was easy to run, but there was one problem - I was glued to my email all day. I had to constantly check the inbox to make sure I did not miss any jobs that came through with tight deadlines. I didn't have to work many hours to keep the business going, but I did have to stay close to an internet connection all the time. This made it difficult when traveling or if I just felt like having a weekend off.
To solve this problem I hired one more contractor - a person who took over the email customer service. I hired a work-at-home-mum on a contract basis, who managed all the emails between editors and clients. This left one or two hours work per week at most for me to do on the business.
I created a true lifestyle business that made money without me doing much more than a few hours a week.
Although I later sold that business, I have since never had a full time job. My original goal to avoid employment is still in place today. Thanks to the internet anyone can start a business and tap into outsourcing marketplaces like Elance-oDesk to deliver products and services.
You can even start something based just on an idea. Offer your concept for sale, and once you get a customer, go find the contractors to deliver. This is the best way to learn if your business idea will work.
Answer: I am a Senior QA Engineer at Elance-oDesk. My responsibilities include leading a group of QA engineers, testing the product and making sure the product meets all the quality standards.
I closely interact with Product Managers and Development Engineers to understand the product and its features. My goal is to have best-in-class products.
2. What do you like most about working at Elance-oDesk?
Answer: People at Elance-oDesk are highly passionate about their work, fun loving and help each other.
The most impressive part of the job is the over-all culture that motivates everyone to make a positive impact within the company.
3. What do you love about today’s changing world of work?
Answer: I enjoy the flexibility to work from home when needed, team building events and Thursday Buzz (e
ditor’s note: a weekly social get-together for team members). After a fast-paced day of work, many of us get together and spend some time playing ping-pong or tennis -- which definitely acts as a stress buster.
4. What songs are on heavy rotation as you work-away?
Answer: I usually start my workday listening to Smooth Jazz, when I get of most of my strategy-type work completed. Later in the day I switch to some heavy metal/hip-hop to get some adrenaline in rush.
5. When you’re not working, what do you enjoy most?
Answer: I enjoy spending time with my wife (pictured here with me) and family. Other than that I enjoy long drives, spending time in the gym, swimming and kayaking.
6. (Bonus question!) OK, ask yourself anything. No subject is off the table.
My question and answer:
Do you prefer a car or motorbike?
I have always enjoyed riding motorbikes; it’s a total different experience. I have previously owned 3 motorbikes, but I have yet to buy my new cruiser motorcycle (vroom vroom!).
A few years ago, I ventured out of my comfort zone and on a journey to places far and wide. I did this all while sitting behind my laptop and tapping away at my keyboard, sending messages to the melting pot of cultures that is now Elance-oDesk.
Over the years at Elance and oDesk, I've worked with contractors in places that bucket lists are made of, and I have some hands-on advice to share with you.
From managing time zones to dealing with holidays, cultural considerations you've never heard of, as well as an array of differences, challenges and surprises, you learn to expect the unexpected through making connections on Elance-oDesk; you learn that the sky really is the limit and the world is truly filled with unimaginable levels of creativity.
Before I started my furniture rental company in Germany and years before I got introduced to Elance and oDesk, I worked as an analyst for an investment bank in London. I remember one incident that just shocked me back then … I called the IT department to help me with an issue and surprisingly, after a brief chat, it turned out that the IT help desk person on the other line was based not in our building, but thousands of miles away, in Singapore!
Who would have guessed that fast forward 5 years, I'd be working across several time zones? A project manager based in Colorado, a Nicaraguan graphic designer, a programmer in Ukraine, Internet marketing specialists from Israel and Russia. Are you starting to get the bucket list feel yet? The list goes on and on with voice-overs being whipped up for our company video in an intriguing 'Aussie' accent, yes, we virtually went down under.
Thanks to Elance-oDesk and its incredible network, we regularly rely on the expertise of all kinds of freelancers from all over the world on a short-term, project basis.
But let’s face it. On the surface, teamwork across countries and time zones may seem pretty unnatural and you have to address this to make sure that your work does not end up in chaos.
The immediate challenge is time zone! By the time I wake up at 8am in Germany, it’s already late afternoon for Ed in Australia and Don in Colorado is about to go to bed. But we've all got work to do, and I've got to face the fact that the world doesn't run on my time.
Another anecdote. We were working with a freelancer from Russia. Just before Easter, Don from Colorado and myself decided to take a week off for the Easter holidays. But only then did we find out that Easter is celebrated weeks later in Russia.
The bigger challenges, however, are cultural differences. As an example, I had my first videoconference with an incredibly talented developer from India. I noticed … shaking the head in a horizontal direction in most countries means “no”, while in India it means “yes”, and in Hindi language the voice lowers in pitch at the end of a question.
Again, it’s not fair to stereotype...But there are also more pressing issues such as the tendencies of certain cultures not to disagree out of fear that doing so will lead to dissatisfaction and perhaps even an upset. In Germany, where I was raised, you say “Nein”, German for “No”, or “Falsch” for “Wrong” impulsively, oftentimes not considering enough what your counterparty may be thinking.
I have found that the best way to accomplish the success that I'm in search of is to follow some guidelines. Here are my 3 must haves to make sure teamwork across borders works as flawlessly as possible:
1. Don't be a good project manager, be a great project manager, or hire one. This person’s responsibility will be to maintain a high degree of structure throughout your endeavors. Experience is key here, and when you find someone who's got the years to back them up along with the wit to allow for a seamless operation, you know you've hit gold. Elance-oDesk enabled us to find a freelancer from Colorado, Don, who turned out to be an excellent choice. Don has previous project management experience with a number of blue-chip companies in the U.S. He still helps juggle so many projects for us with tremendous talent.
2. Be direct about expectations and address cultural differences. Of course you’ll have to be careful about your approach to such differences but we all have expectations and putting them out there is the only way you'll be able to get the other party to have a full understanding of what it is you want out of a particular project.
3. Accept the fact that some of the stakeholders in your project may be from a totally different cultural background and surrounding. What you may feel is obvious (from a cultural background) may not be for some people you work with. We are all, to a certain extent, a product of our upbringing…
Through working with Elance-oDesk I learned to not only manage projects efficiently, but also to work with and respect people from different cultures.
Elance-oDesk is filled with talent and once you put your project out there, you'll be astonished by the multitude of ideas that make their way to your inbox.
Welcome to Advice From An Elancer – a place to ask your Elance questions (through Elance’s LinkedIn page) and get them answered as thoroughly and personally as possible. My name is Dorothy D. and I have worked with Elance as a freelancer since April 2009. I have always tried to help other Elancers understand how things work and how to accomplish more. In Advice From An Elancer I will address as many questions as I can each week. In some cases, questions have been edited for clarity.
This week, I will address one question that is recurring. New freelancers who join Elance are continually posting this question in our LinkedIn Elance Professional Network. Hopefully, this will answer the question thoroughly and the new Elancers can look here for answers.
I have been on Elance for a few months and bid on several jobs but have not had any jobs awarded to me. How do I get a job?
Advice from an Elancer:
• Make sure you are in the right category for your skills. I have seen many freelancers with IT skills trying to find jobs in Writing and Translation. Choose a category that fits your strengths.
• Complete your profile. When I say COMPLETE, I mean every part. Verify your identity. It costs nothing and provides an extra layer of trustworthiness in the eyes of the client.
• Add a photo that is either a professional looking image or a company logo.
• Make your subtitle descriptive of the job that you do. “Awesome freelancer” does not provide insight into your area of expertise.
• Make your Overview/Resume clear and provide a little bit of what your clients can expect from you.
•Clearly state what services you provide.
• State any payment terms such as, “Escrow must be funded before work begins.” Even though this is policy, not all clients read all of the material.
• Add any references you have.
• Verify any licenses or certifications.
• Include a portfolio of work, ensuring that the client for whom the work was completed does not object to using it in this fashion.
• Add skills and take at least a few tests to verify your expertise in some of the areas.
• Add relevant keywords. Do not try to put multiple keywords together because it will hinder search results
Occasionally we invite clients to discuss issues of importance to those who hire freelancers. Here are some thoughts from Nicholas Wright. He frequently hires Elancers and is one of the founders of AppInstruct, an online course that teaches people how to make an app utilizing the Elance marketplace.
This week, we’ll run through the various legal ownership structures you may require to operate your business within.
The App you’re creating, will you own it personally, as an individual, or should a company own it? Perhaps, there’s more than one creator, so will you each own half? What if you all fall out in 6 months time, what then? Who’ll receive the income? What about tax on that income?
These are all questions you need to ask yourself. The good news is, there are solutions.
Sole trader/Individual ownership
If you’re a one-man team, then this is the simplest and cheapest approach. There are no establishment or filing costs, or regulatory fees, and by virtue of creating it yourself, then you own it.
The risk when operating as a sole trader, is that you are personally liable for any claims in respect of the product. For example, if your App infringed on someone else’s intellectual property, that person would be suing you directly. This means that all your personal assets would be at risk, the family home, the car, even the television. Whereas, if you were to own and operate through a company then, for the reasons explained below, in most cases your own personal assets would be protected by the corporate veil.
Tax structuring may provide an additional reason for moving the ownership of the asset/product/app to a corporate vehicle. That is, by creating a corporate vehicle, you may be able to manage the ways revenues are passed back to you, so as to ensure they are as tax efficient as possible. Individual rates of income tax in most countries exceed the rates applied to companies, as seen in the chart below.
Here’s an interesting chronicle of working on Elance, from Jamie Logie. He’s a Canadian-based personal trainer and nutrition & wellness specialist who operates Regained Wellness. He decided to use Elance to get his website up-and-running to save time and heartache.
Around a year ago I decided to take my personal training and nutrition work into the online world. I knew being online would allow me to reach a larger audience and to connect with people anywhere in the world.
I knew very little of web design or what needs to go into an effective and functional website. I started with a simple drag and drop type website builder. I realized what I was making was very lackluster, but it was more about getting a feel for how things work online. But I didn’t get anything worthy of going live.
In August of 2013 I spent months learning what is needed to share content, and the key elements of what needs to go into a website. I wanted my website to be functional, simplistic and effective.
I felt I was ready to go and was in touch with a web designer friend who works for a major online travel website. I spent a lot of time relaying to him what I was looking for and needed. I figured when he got started I would be up and running in only a couple of weeks.
While I was waiting I worked on creating content for the site – bio, blogs, and some nutrition guides.
And I kept waiting…
By the time December rolled around I still did not have a website. My friend’s delays with design, as well as being busy at work, had made him keep putting it off.
The only good thing that came from this was I was able to spend the time creating a ton of content along with two in depth nutrition e-books.
At this point it was looking like my friend was not going to be able to come through for me.
As online work picks up steam in the mainstream, the world continues to recognize Elance-oDesk as the voice of an industry.
A case in point is the Wall Street Journal, which recently asked Elance-oDesk CEO Fabio Rosati to pen a blog post for their popular The Accelerators series. It’s a forum for leading startup mentors to discuss the strategies and challenges of creating a new business.
For Fabio’s insights, you can read the post on the Wall Street Journal site. You’ll learn how our “sharing economy” is bringing people more than a warm bed in a foreign city or ride home after dinner and a movie. It’s giving people back precious time in their lives to do what they enjoy most, thanks to freelance workers whocan tackle projects.
More specifically the article touches on topics ranging from the vast opportunities that now exist for freelancers and businesses, to what to expect down the road and how to derive the most from our evolving sharing economy. Read Fabio’s reflections on how online work is impacting the world around us and how our sharing economy is solving critical inefficiencies.
We recently featured a post on changing political and legislative tides regarding online work, with a focus on US policy. But with European elections just weeks away, what message can freelancers send to politicians in Brussels? Here are some suggestions from Joel Dullroy, part of the European Freelancers' Movement (a campaign to demand better conditions for independent workers).
Freelancers are used to doing things on their own. But there are some things that are worth joining together for. In late May 2014, Europeans will vote for its next parliament in Brussels. This is a great chance for the freelancers of Europe to come together and send a common message to politicians.
Many of the laws and regulations that affect freelancers' daily lives have been created without any thought about how they might affect an independent worker. That's because they were created in a time when a lifelong company job was the norm.
But it is also because freelancers have little ability to inform politicians about the realities of the modern flexible work world. As isolated individuals, our voices are weak, and alone we're ignorable. But together we're powerful. After all, there are almost nine million of us - more than the populations of some European countries.
That's why we're launching the European Freelancers' Campaign 2014. We want to get at least 10,000 freelancers to support a simple five-point manifesto about what EU politicians can do for us. We'll then go to Brussels to show politicians that freelancers can no longer be ignored.
Here are five things we want to tell EU politicians to fix for freelancers.
1. Recognize us:
Give freelancers official status at all levels of government and bureaucracy. Realize that we’re not the same as small and medium enterprises or other activity categories. Remember us when you create policy that affects us.
2. Give us access:
Make sure freelancers can access all government services, bid for official contracts, access training programs and qualify for funding.