Advice Column

Ask Sarah: Volume 1

From time to time Sarah will answer Elancers’ questions rather than write a blog. If you have a question related to freelancing—and in particular, to Elancing—please feel free to visit the Sarah's Corner page of her website.

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Taxes Don’t Have to Be the Bane of Your Existence.

Because it’s that time of year when taxes are on the minds of U.S. taxpayers, the first two questions are related to withholdings and retirement, and they come from Cathy H.

Question number 1: “How much should Elancers set aside to pay their annual and/or quarterly taxes? Does this number change if they are single/married/divorced/head of household?”

Question number 2: “How much should Elancers set aside for their retirement? What do you recommend Elancers invest in to have some retirement? IRAs? Others?”

Here to answer these questions is fellow Elancer Claude Campbell, CPA, MBA and FCCA of Campbell Andrew LLC. Campbell Andrew LLC provides accounting advisory and tax services to individuals and small businesses, including not-for-profit organizations, Estates and Trusts. They provide a comprehensive payroll solution along with complete bookkeeping, accounting and tax services. To learn more about their services, please visit their website

Answer number 1: “The US income tax system is a pay-as-you-earn system. For individuals who are employed, this is achieved through periodic tax withholding by the employer, who remits the taxes to the IRS and the State, typically at each pay date.

Self-employed individuals such as Elancers are required to make—at a minimum—quarterly estimated tax payments to satisfy this requirement. Two key factors in determining the amount of such estimated payments are the level of income and filing status.

Let’s assume for a moment that you earn $50,000 as an Elancer, which is your entire income for the year, and your filing status is Single, with no dependents, and you will take the standard deduction. Your federal tax liability would be approximately $12,113, or 24 percent of your income, which includes self-employment taxes (which is the payroll tax equivalent), of approximately $7,000.

Advice From An Elancer (Volume 24)

Welcome to Advice From An Elancer—a place to find answers to your burning questions about Elance. My name is Dorothy D. and I have worked with Elance as a freelancer since April 2009. My goal is to help fellow Elancers understand how things work and how to accomplish more.

LinkedIn: Join a Group and Make Connections

Many people think LinkedIn is merely a place to rack up connections with colleagues, professionals in various fields, and, of course, friends. Beyond that, they have no real idea of what the benefits are, or what to do with their membership. Let’s talk about that, beginning with groups.

One of the most important and beneficial options on LinkedIn is groups. There are literally thousands of groups related to every business you can think of, including web programmers, developers, app developers, and more. If you search “Elance” in groups, you will find more than one entry. The Elance Professional Network is the only official group. Elance monitors this group and often assists with issues that people encounter.

The group is comprised of Elance members, including clients and freelancers. The result is intelligent conversation, advice, and a great networking tool. You will find that questions are answered with thoughtful replies and that everyone is very respectful. I personally am very active in the group and often try to offer my knowledge.

If you are looking for a new way to find out more about Elance, go to The Elance Professional Network group and ask to join. I believe you will find it very useful, and a good companion to the Elance Water Cooler.

In general, LinkedIn groups are great places to interact with others who share your professional skills and interests. I have earned jobs on Elance from my connections on LinkedIn, and have met a huge number of professionals through my connections in the Elance group!

LinkedIn has a free membership option and offers a great page for you to highlight your professional experiences. It is menu-driven and has sections to add volunteer work, certifications, and more. Once you complete your page, you will find that you can use some of the information to update your Elance profile or resume. It is very thorough. You can complete, or skip, any of the optional sections.

A few hints: Use a professional-looking image for your photo. A selfie on the beach or posing with duck lips just won’t work here. Also, join several groups and post in those that interest you. This will lead to connections with others. Definitely join in the conversations in the Elance group. Do not request to connect with people you do not know. Too many of these requests will result in complaints and suspension of accounts. If you are in a group together, it is considered appropriate to “link.”

The best way to get started is to create your LinkedIn profile (if you don’t have one already) and join the Elance group. You will find the group welcoming, the information useful, and the conversation interesting. Join us and say hello.

Advice From An Elancer (Volume 23)

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. Today’s entry is a little bit different…

Proposal Tips and Tricks for Freelancers for Whom English is a Second Language

Elance is a global marketplace with a diverse cultural identity. The primary language used is English, although for many of our Elance freelancers, English is a second language. It can be a challenge to master the intricate details of the grammar and flow of English— even for native speakers.

I have reviewed profiles for several Elance professionals in a variety of categories, from web developers to graphic designers. In several instances, the only problem was clear, grammatically correct translation of their intended message into proper English.

So, for those of you who are global, non-native English speakers, AND for those of you that speak English but still struggle with when to use a semi-colon or a comma, this is for you.

These resources are for all aspects, not just proposals. I mention proposals in the title, because they are so important to the job process. Specific to proposals, while each one should be different (depending on the job), they should each contain:

·       An introduction: Who you are and your understanding of the job

·       The body: What is that makes you best for the job? What strengths do you bring to the table?

·       Conclusion: Thank the client for reading your proposal and samples.

Now for the grammar part…

1.     Online grammar checkers don’t work. I put a run-on, unclear, senseless sentence into four online grammar checkers. They all said there were no errors. These cannot be trusted to check the accuracy of the MEANING of your sentence and the associated grammar and punctuation.

2.     If you wish to improve with online lessons: http://a4esl.org/  This site includes bilingual quizzes and has multiple activities and quizzes on the site. It’s a good place to find lessons of various levels.

3.     Quick and Dirty Tips: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl Grammar Girl has free podcasts, tips, and easily searchable information online. If you are wondering whether you should use affect or effect, check her site and she’ll make it clear in a very understandable way. This is one of my go-to resources when I’m unsure of something.

4.     More Tips for Everyone: The Purdue University OWL website has grammar and writing resources for every writer. The section specific to ESL Students is: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/5/25/ There are also a multitude of resources for writing, writing mechanics, grammar, punctuation, and more.  I love this website.

5.     There is no substitute for a proofreader. Perhaps, in your field, writing in English is not a priority, so you don’t want to commit to lessons. You may not even want to look things up because you don’t know exactly what’s wrong with your sentence. Find a proofreader. If you know someone, great. If not, hire one on Elance for an hourly rate for an undefined period of time. They can check your proposals and any other writing you may need to do. You’ll have peace of mind that your writing is at its best.

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That’s enough for today. If you have questions or want to follow the conversation of other Elancers, visit the Discussion page of our LinkedIn group.

 

Advice From An Elancer (Volume 22)

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.

Question #1:

How do you go about citing images that you use in your slides, and that require crediting the originator?

Advice from an Elancer:

If the image is clearly marked that it is free to use in the public domain, then no attribution is necessary. On websites such as Wikimedia Commons or Getty Images, the owner of the image indicates how they wish to be credited. Look for attribution information. Some require an embedded link in the photo and some require licensing information. Each website is different.

Question #2:

I just started a job with a client on Elance that has been difficult to reach and it has been slow getting enough information to actually make headway. I did some hourly work for her this past week so used the time tracker. I tried calling her and left voice messages, I messaged her in the workroom. I finished up some work, posted it to the workroom, sent her another email and finalized the invoice for the hours, which were less than the hours per week allowed. She then sent a note to me about wanting me to work for a fixed price and meet milestones. She is not releasing funds for my time. What should I do?

Advice from an Elancer:

If the current Terms say Hourly, then you will be paid for the hours you worked - since you used the tracker - whether she releases the funds or not. Her credit card is on file and you will be paid within 30 days. 

If she wants to change to fixed price, have her list a new job for you. Read the terms carefully and make any changes to protect yourself. Do not do any work until both of you agree to terms. Use milestones and don't work on them until they are funded. 

Lastly, if she is difficult ... do you really WANT to continue to work with her?

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That’s enough for today. If you have questions or want to follow the conversation of other Elancers, visit the Discussion page of our LinkedIn page.

Advice From An Elancer (Volume 21)

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.

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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.

Question #1:

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

Advice From An Elancer (Volume 20)

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.

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Question #1:

Can you offer tips on how to vet a client so I can avoid falling prey to difficult clients again?

Advice from an Elancer:

This is the million dollar question. Some clients are just really difficult and there is no way to tell how your experience will be. However… there are some things you can do to evaluate the client before submitting a proposal or accepting a job.

Step 1: Look under “Client Info” in the job description. By hovering over the green dollar sign dots, you can view the total amount the client has spent on Elance, their award ratio, how long they have been a member, and their location. This is a brief overview.

Step 2: Click on “Client Info”. Some clients have chosen to complete the “About” section, but unfortunately not many. The real telling data here is the ability to view what jobs they listed, what jobs they awarded, what they paid for them, and what kind of feedback they gave.

Step 3: Read through the data carefully. The client may have a tendency to list jobs for a certain category and never award them. Have they awarded any jobs recently? This may be a factor for consideration. They also may leave positive comments, yet very low star scores. If you are worried about rankings and stars, this is an alarm. Some clients are never satisfied and give mediocre or poor feedback to all freelancers. This is another alarm. If they didn’t specify in the job listing, look at freelancer earnings. They may be very low-paying and either try to expand the scope or have a tendency to argue about work that has been done.

Step 4: Consider all of the available data before deciding if you want to bid on or accept a job from this client. You may think the job is perfect, but if the client’s reputation doesn’t sit right with you, walk away and keep looking.

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Advice From An Elancer (Volume 18)

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.

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Question #1:

When I've done work in the past I haven't asked clients whether I can use a portion of the work as a sample for potential new clients. I'm wondering how people go about getting/having writing/editing samples and how to ask clients whether I can use part of their job as a sample?

Advice from an Elancer:

Some projects require you sign a non-disclosure agreement, stating that you have no right to use the content in any context. In these cases, you cannot use it, period. There is no harm in asking a client whether you can use part of a job as a portfolio sample, but be prepared to hear “no”. Ghostwritten content is ghostwritten for a reason.

What you CAN do is use blog posts that you have written; any articles or content published online in your name; or create some samples of your own for your portfolio. There is nothing wrong with creating your own samples of various types of writing, just don’t provide free samples in response to job listings. These are a violation of the terms of service.

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Question #2:

My profile is suspended because I had more than one account. I have talked to Elance and they have deleted all of my accounts. What can I do?

Advice from an Elancer:

It is a violation of Elance terms of service to have more than one account. In one of the many legal files, it states that each user may register for one Client account and one Freelance account. I’m not sure why you would have multiple accounts, but by submitting an Elance support ticket, you may ask for details and an investigation. The policy regarding accounts is here.

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Advice from an Elancer (Volume 17)

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.

Question #1:

If you end up in a dispute, is it always worth seeing it through to the end?

Advice from an Elancer:

Even if you are right and have the documentation to prove it, sometimes it just isn’t worth it. It is sad to say, but if you have been attempting to resolve it on your own already, the 2-business day “Member Resolution” period won’t really change anything with an unreasonable person. It is certainly possible that, with an Elance facilitator, you will be able to work through the problem. Whether you proceed to arbitration is really, for me, a money issue. Arbitration requires payment. I strongly suggest reviewing the cost of arbitration against the amount of money at stake. Is it worth the cost or will you end up with LESS than you started or only slightly ahead – with quite a bit of time invested. If you are having issues, start a dispute, but monitor how much money, time, and effort are going into it.

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Question #2:

Is it ethical for a client to ask for an NDA after a job is completed?

Advice from an Elancer:

An NDA, or non-disclosure agreement, is a contract that states that the freelancer will not receive any byline or credit for the job – basically, it is ghostwriting. It is usually asked for at the beginning of a job, but if a client doesn’t mention it, I ask. I want to know if my work will be credited. If you were counting on using it in your portfolio but the client has asked you to sign an NDA before releasing funds, at least ask for a reference on LinkedIn or a review to use on your website.

The best way to deal with these situations is to make certain that things are worked out BEFORE you start the job. Ask questions. Lots of them – until you are clear on the job.

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Question #3:

How does the Elance Level System work and how can I increase my level?

Advice from an Elancer:

The Level, Point, and Ranking system is based on an algorithm known only by Elance. It takes into account: Service Delivery, Client Relationships, and Marketing. It will vary wildly, depending on what you are working on and shouldn’t be your primary concern. Provide your clients with high quality work and you will find yourself with repeat jobs and invitations, which will boost your level.

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That’s enough for today. If you have questions or want to follow the conversation of other Elancers, visit the Discussion page of our LinkedIn page.

Advice From An Elancer (Volume 16)

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.

Question #1:

Can milestones be added to hourly jobs?

Advice from an Elancer:

Yes. In the Terms & Milestones section, scroll down to the Advanced Options. Milestones may be added, but without interim payments attached. A description of the milestone, notes regarding the job, i.e. what will be completed, what is expected, notes about number of changes or edits allowed, and more can be written here. Delivery date for the milestone is also noted. (See below)

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Question #2:

Do you think it is hard to compete against low cost freelancers?

Advice from an Elancer:

This question was asked by a freelancer in Writing & Translation who had not been able to win a job bidding against some freelancers willing to bid $1 for 500 words. There was a comment regarding lowball bids from countries other than the US. Well, here’s the scoop: There are lowball bidders from all countries, including the US.

Is it difficult to compete? It all depends on the job. Is the client looking for cheap work or high quality work? These are usually mutually exclusive. Do you really WANT to work for a job that is asking for a 1000 word article for $2? I just pass on by the listing. There is no reason to even bid my fee on it. On jobs that appear to have a reasonable budget, I don’t bother looking at other freelancers’ bids. I decide what my bid will be and write my proposal, explaining what I offer for my bid.

The client will ultimately get what they pay for. Don’t frustrate yourself with lowball bidders or clients with low budgets. If your work is more valuable, skip those jobs and find one more suitable.

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Question #3:

What online research resources do you use?

Advice from an Elancer:

Many freelancers like to keep their research sources to themselves. They prefer not to share. Obviously, resources depend on what you are doing and searching for. Most of us start with Google and work from there. The one site I will share with you is: Wikimedia Commons. You can find royalty free images there for public use. Just check the requirements for citing the work. Those in the public domain need no citation, but some have copyrights that need to be included with the image.

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That’s enough for today. If you have questions or want to follow the conversation of other Elancers, visit the Discussion page of our LinkedIn page.

Advice from an Elancer (Volume 15).

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. This week, in Advice From An Elancer I will address a situation I am currently dealing with. Hopefully we can all learn from the mistakes I made!

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A client I had worked for before contacted me via the old job workroom about doing another job for him. This was not an ideal situation, so I told him I would consider it. He contacted me again via Skype and I turned him down. I could not produce what he needed for his budget. I felt good about keeping to my standards as far as pricing because I knew that he was somewhat difficult to work with.

A few weeks later, he came back to me on Skype, begging me to take a job – a simple proofreading and revising to conversational English job. He sent me a sample of what he wanted done; I did a little (to ensure I knew what he wanted); he approved of what I sent back and we worked out the job. This nightmare has been going on since August.

It turns out that I completed the job based on the wrong content – provided by him. He paid me $100 for the inconvenience, but then gave me an entirely new document to work with. I completed the edits (it was a business plan) and produced some concise web copy. He has since asked for four rewrites.

I have made countless errors in dealing with this client. Why? Because the first time we worked together, he claimed to not understand the star rating system and that this time he knew my work and would surely not make the mistake of giving me less stars than I deserved. Now the stars are hanging over my head and they feel more like anvils. He said, “Please do not treat this as the only job from me. I have another one coming up and based on the work as I told you earlier I will give you 5 stars. Please make sure the job is done perfectly.”

I have now done three jobs for less than the price that I should have charged for the first one. I feel captive because he has mentioned the rating more than once, to which I have responded that I will provide 5 star work. I don’t want a rating I did not earn. Anyway, I’ve made my own bed by continuing on with this farce.

Lessons learned:

  • Never work for this client again. I had a bad feeling and should have gone with my gut.
  • Make sure I really want to accept any changes to terms as the job changes. This particular client is difficult to reason with, but most will understand that if the scope changes, the price changes.
  • Do not allow clients to bully me into doing more than I agreed to. “Scope creep” is a real problem.
  • Do not allow clients to threaten me with a bad rating. This is very hard to do – especially when you know you have done your best and that it is good work.

Trust yourself. Do your best; check out your client before accepting a job; listen to your gut; and don’t end up with an anvil star over your head like me.

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That’s enough for today. If you have questions or want to follow the conversation of other Elancers, visit the Discussion page of our LinkedIn page.

 

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