Preserving the Earth for future generations also entails educating those generations, and Denis Thomopoulos--cartoonist, Hippo Works founder, and Elance user--is committed to help deliver that message. Hippo Works' Simon Says "Let's Stop Climate Change" is the first animated DVD to tackle the issue of climate change for children ages 4 to 14. Using the Hippo Works cast of characters, children are taught through a direct, yet light-hearted narrative, about everything from the Greenhouse Effect and global warming to the food chain.
We asked Denis about how he was able to help build his "edutainment" company with Elance, and the importance of "green" education for our youth.
Elance: Tell us about how you started Hippo Works and how it came to be the company it is today.
Denis: To make money in college I created a campus t-shirt and put the company copyright as "Hippo Works," after a hippo I occasionally drew. Years later, I moved to Los Angeles to look for a job in the film business and got a ‘day job’ that allowed time to draw at night. I dreamed of creating something as wonderful as Charles Schulz had - but in our new medium of the Internet with animated comics strips or ‘cartoonlets’ - so I launched www.hippoworks.com. Soon I was licensing educational comics and syndicating cartoons to companies like AOL Kids and National Geographic Kids and the brand grew from there.
The “cartoonlets” on Hippoworks.com are very short, about thirty seconds to a minute long, and my environmental ones were very popular. I also kept getting fan mail requesting longer cartoons, on Climate Change in particular. The funny thing is I also realized my characters were eager to explore this subject (as a creator, I find that my characters can have a will of their own!)
Fortunately, the response from kids, parents, environmentalists, and educators has been great for the film and it’s getting some wonderful endorsements.
Why did you choose to work online through Elance? Did you come from a traditional office environment prior?
I came from a traditional office background. I had a software and data consultancy company and was not getting enough exposure to expand my business. I heard of Elance, gave it a try and once I got my first project I have never looked back since.
What are the key benefits you’ve seen from using Elance?
The first thing is you have access to clients from all over the world, and they are quality clients who need serious work done. The second benefit is that the Escrow payment system and the weekly/monthly billing facility is great and helps you organize your billing schedule nicely. The third thing I like is the feedback and rating system. There are no shortcuts here. You get rewarded for your hard work with good client feedback and ratings and this builds up a solid reputation for you as time progresses.
Tell us the story of how your career evolved, from a traditional office to where you are now.
When I was running a traditional office there were a lot of things to look into. The foremost was sourcing clients and this was difficult with a traditional setup. There was a lot of competition and no realistic way of informing people what I was capable of. Then I heard of many people who were finding success by working online. Initially I didn’t really know how they were sourcing their clients. I was under the impression that they had friends and relatives abroad who were helping them source work.
While I was still struggling I came across Elance and how it offered a platform for people like me. But I was a little apprehensive about whether I could really compete with people on a platform from all over the world who were trying to find work just like I was. But I gave it a try. Initially projects were very small. But I saw a lot of potential in the Elance platform and persisted. What impressed me on Elance was that the quality of the projects were very good and the projects being posted looked sincere and exciting. Then slowly things started falling into place. I started getting bigger jobs, more clients, and better payments. But all throughout one thing I was very conscious about was that the quality of the work and the effort you put in should be right at the top and clients will come to you.
With each project you build up your reputation, which is great motivation to keep clients happy.
One of the most crucial elements in creating or receiving the highest quality work is having a successful relationship with those you work, collaborate, and share with. As technology and communications continue to evolve, more and more people are moving to the online world to get the work they need done. However, many of the timeless tips that were once used offline still apply today, albeit slightly differently, when working online.
Before you hop back on your PC and get back to work, check out these six tips to have and maintain a successful working relationship online.
Build a Human Relationship: Considering that most people conducting work online spend a good chunk of their time behind a computer screen, it’s easy to forget that those on the other side of the network are human just like you. Be sure to spend some time building a more human relationship with those that you work, online or off. For example, when exchanging Workroom messages, it doesn’t hurt to add a friendly greeting or ask how the other is feeling for the day.
You’d be surprised at how much a simple “thank you” can affect attitudes as well as your business. According to a study conducted at The University of North Carolina Business School in 1999, people that “experience rude behavior on the job quit their jobs (12%), lose work time (52%), and deliberately decrease their work effort (22%).” (via Smashhits)
And this one goes for employers: Give your provider the trust and freedom they need to complete job tasks. The people that you work with are the experts in their respective fields and have the credentials to prove it – it’s the reason why you hired them in the first place. And remember, over-micromanagement is almost always counterproductive for both parties involved.
Set Up Office Hours: This is a big one. Just like any other brick and mortar business or office, both the provider and employer need to have a standard set of office hours that they can be consistently reached. Having this will not only help facilitate smoother communication on jobs in progress but will also allow you to rest a bit easier at night knowing that the other is just a phone call/chat/Workroom message away. Remember: You don't necessarily have to be working in the same time zone or same continent for that matter -- just be sure that there is a set time that both parties are aware of.
Speaking of communication, be sure to let those you work with know your preferred method of communication, whether it is Workroom messages, chat, Skype, webcam, email, or phone. Some might call me old fashioned, but I still love calling someone up on the phone and hearing someone’s voice regardless of if it’s business or personal, but the choice is yours.
Stay In The Loop: Setting up checkpoints, or Milestones as we like to call them, is a great way to establish a timeframe surrounding the work that will be completed. Think of it as a general map that will provide guidance and set up appropriate expectations for both employers and providers.
Also, make sure that those you work with are in the loop with what's going on in real time. Setting up succinct, consistently-placed communications or meetings to go over what was accomplished and what’s on tap for the following week is a no-brainer. On Elance, you can accomplish this by using our weekly Status Report or Timesheet tool. However you choose to get the point across is up to you, but the main takeaway is that the success rate of the job largely depends on both parties staying on the same page.
Additionally, a good way to make sure both of you are on the same page is by using documents like Non-Disclosure Agreements, Change Order Agreements, and Contracts. These documents will protect both parties in case there is any sort of dispute. For sample versions of these documents and more, visit our help portal here.
Know Your Tools: Take time to familiarize yourself with tools that are available for you to utilize online. On Elance, there’s a wide variety of tools that are integrated into our Workroom, like a 500 MB-per Workroom file server with version control, integrated real-time chat, and a message board that will continuously log all chats and messages that can be reviewed at any time. There are lot of key benefits to utilizing the Workroom’s robust feature set – learn more about it here.
If there are other tools that float your boat out there, like video chat, online collaboration suites, IM, or even standard email, spend some time researching what tools will help boost your productivity when working with others online.
Don't get me wrong – online translation tools are fast, powerful, and extremely useful in a pinch, but in reality, they will never, ever replace the level of quality found in human expert translators. Dynise Basore, content creator and Italian translator on Elance, explains why you should avoid online translation tools for your business' next steps onto the global stage.
The ever increasing globalization of the job marketplace is leading to a growing need for businesses to find qualified translators for their web content, their marketing material, their contracts, and their customer service. Growth of international sales is dependent on the ability to reach your target market, identify with them, and service their needs. So, what do you do to ensure the translations you receive will have the results you are striving for?
Priority number one is to find a high-quality translator. This is an area in which you very much get what you pay for, and finding a native speaker or one who is completely fluent is absolutely essential. The money spent pays for itself exponentially, and quickly, a return on investment that is well worth a few extra dollars. But why?
When marketing to other countries, your focus is to increase your bottom line, and doing so requires that your content be geared towards not only to the language but also to the culture. And I have to reiterate: A native speaker or completely fluent translator is a must, and translation tools should absolutely never be used. Cultural differences make non-literal translations necessary for a number of reasons. The most obvious is idiomatic expressions, but beyond that, certain symbols or references have different significance in different cultures. A non-native speaker, or someone who has not lived in the country, may unintentionally commit a cultural faux-pas even if the meaning of the words are correctly translated.
Why spend the money for human translation over using a translation tool?
On August 15, amidst the fires raging in Santa Cruz California, over 220 freelancers braved the smoke and the flames to attend FreelanceCamp Santa Cruz. With dusty concrete floors, unfinished drywall, and flame retardant material hanging from the ceilings, this unconventional venue fit perfectly with the informal and unassuming conference.
Elance was a proud sponsor of the event, which is dubbed an “unconference” because it is almost entirely user generated. What's an "unconference" you ask? Someone takes the lead in coordinating the event (in this case Shane Pearlman), but all topics discussed are created and voted on by the attendees. Once the topics are decided, everyone splits up, huddles in various corners, and draws upon the collective experience of each other.
I ran one session on how to win new clients in an online marketplace. Starting out online with no track-record can be tough, so we discussed ways to win those initial clients. This included great discussions on topics like bidding early to get listed on top, asking relevant questions that demonstrate expertise and engage the prospective client in a dialogue, focusing your proposal and profile in a very specific niche where you can differentiate, starting small to get some early wins and feedback, and not necessarily competing on price as less than 10% of the overall spend on Elance was initially awarded to the lowest proposal – although it may be necessary to compete more aggressively at first.
We also studied some use-cases of providers that have established such a strong online reputation with great feedback and repeat clients that they receive many of their jobs directly from clients inviting them instead of through the competitive bid process. But the start-up phase can be tough and does require that up-front investment to get established. Another strategy discussed is bringing your existing clients to Elance to start building that track record and online reputation.
I also attended sessions and listened to the issues and challenges that freelancers face in their businesses on a day-to-day basis. Topics varied as widely as the attendees themselves; from marketing your services and finding clients to pricing to managing projects effectively to collecting payment when due. Other sessions focused more specifically on leveraging social media in your business, object-oriented programming, retirement planning, and taxes. It seemed every field was represented from web development professionals, to accountants, to writers and editors, to graphic designers, and many more.
It turns out that the entrepreneurial Jessica Abroms had combined her Computer Science and Human Computer Interaction skills, 8 years of work experience at Pixar animation studios (yes, that Pixar), and a skilled provider on Elance to make one of her ideas for an iPhone app a reality.
The idea is a new, digital take on an old fortune-telling game many of us used to play in our adolescence: M.A.S.H. (Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House.) While working on her project, she encountered a roadblock, and looked to Elance for some help.
From Yappler:“The interface was up and running after two weeks work, however Jessica says 'I was at a point where I was a little stuck and although I knew I could finish it, I figured it would be better if I got help.' This is when she went to Elance.com, a website where freelancers bid on projects, and placed an advert for a developer to help finish M.A.S.H.”
Ahhhh, the life of a skilled contractor or freelance professional is a great one, but before you know it, things can heat up quick. Soon, you're getting awarded job after job from a crowd of clients ready and waiting to pay you for your skills. Sound hectic? Sometimes, it can be. Christopher Null, a freelance writer that contributes to Yahoo! Tech, Filmcritic.com, Drinkhacker.com, Wired, PCWorld, and more, gives us his tips on how he stays sharp and on top of his hectic work life.
In a perfect world, you'd take a single assignment, work on it for a month, collect your fee when you turn it in, and move on to the next job. But realistically that kind of stability is rare – and largely unheard-of – in the freelance world.
Jobs come in at unpredictable intervals, deadlines change, projects are abruptly postponed or canceled, and you're stuck in the middle of it, trying to figure out how to manage it all.
Managing multiple and complex projects can overwhelm some people, but it doesn't have to. With careful attention to organization, you can keep your assignments on track, hit your deadlines, make your clients happy, and still have time for the occasional cup of coffee.
Different techniques will work better for different types of workers, so I can't offer a one-size-fits-all solution to keeping multiple projects on track. Still, here are some strategies and technologies that have worked for me and which I hope will also help you.
Some job postings can attract a large number of proposals from qualified providers. Receiving a lot of proposals is a great "problem" to have, but it can still feel overwhelming – so here are some tips to help you efficiently review, manage, and decide which provider is right for you.
Perform a first pass review. If you can, try not to wait until the acceptance period is over to take a look at all the proposals you receive. Go to the workroom, check them out every day or so, and use your first look as a quick screening tool.
When you read each proposal, check to see if it is:
As the pool of skilled contractors, free-agent professionals, and Cloud Commuters continues to grow, more and more hiring managers in businesses both large and small are adopting the use of contract-based professionals for jobs of any size. This is the new way to get work done.
Many managers and companies, especially in the IT field, have already started taking advantage of this immediate, cost-effective, and flexible way to get the work they need done fast. The following three examples are just a few of the tens of thousands of managers reaping the benefits of a 96,000-person workforce ready and waiting to work.
Tim Nicholson, IT Manager For Knight Protective Services
Knight Protective Services, a 2,000-person firm that provides contract security officers and security solutions to the federal government and various commercial organizations, was in need of professional website that could elevate the brand’s public awareness to the next level. Tim Nicholson, a representative of Knight Protective Services, was tasked to develop the site. He turned to Elance to hire skilled web development experts to get his website, www.knightprotectiveservice.com, done fast.
“Hiring online is how I can access the talent I need, when I need it. All the tools are there to find, evaluate, and hire a great person no matter where they are,” said Tim Nicholson. “I love Elance because it helps facilitate the entire process of working online. At any time, I can track the status of the work, and with Escrow, release payment when satisfied with the work received. With these tools, I feel more confident hiring someone on Elance than hiring someone in person.”