Guest Bloggers

Repeat Business: Key To Success On Elance-oDesk

Occasionally we invite Elance-oDesk clients and freelancers to discuss issues of importance to our community.  Here are some thoughts from Sarah-Elizabeth Ratliff. As the owner of Coqui Prose Content Marketing, Sarah has been an Elancer since 2010. She’s also one of the founders of FreelancetoWin.com, a site dedicated to helping fellow Elancers succeed in the competitive online freelancing world.

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When I registered with Elance in March 2010, my family and I were broke. I don’t mean broke like we still had our brownstone in Manhattan, but we may have had to sell the house in the Hamptons. And I don’t mean the kind of “dead broke” that gets journalists’ and political analysts’ tongues-a-wagging, either.

I’m talking about the kind of broke where we had $40 in our checking account, several mouths to feed and overdue bills to pay.

To suggest I needed to make money immediately is putting it mildly.

Because of this, I did as many do when they first discover the virtual world of connecting clients with freelancers: I bid on practically every job in the Writing & Translation category that I felt was even remotely a match with my expertise.

Tip: Under promise and over deliver.

I landed my first Elance job after five days on the platform. The job was to write three articles about baby cribs. It wasn’t particularly academic or even terribly exciting, but I still bid, and I won.

My motivation for how I delivered work wasn’t about getting repeat business or even receiving great feedback. It was about survival: getting paid, eating, paying a bill or two, and then moving on to the next job as quickly as possible.

Promising to deliver this client’s work within five days, I stayed up all night the day I won the job in order to learn as much as I could about baby cribs. The next day I crashed for about five hours and when I woke up, I wrote all three articles in under two hours.

I delivered the client’s work three days early.

Although I can still to this day remember his name (as I can with every client who’s hired me on Elance) and the amount I was paid, all I could think about was bidding on the next job so I could pay a few more bills. I almost didn’t notice he’d left me 5-star feedback. Why? Because I was too busy negotiating with my next client to realize he was pleased enough with the quality of my work.

This was my modus operandi for the first few weeks I was bidding, winning and completing jobs on Elance. Then one day I realized I’d paid off the backlog of bills and we had a little left over to splurge on a bottle of wine to go with our dinner. I had racked up several jobs, all with 5-star feedback.

I never drank the wine. I slept for two solid days.

5 Hacks To Help Digital Nomads Get Stuff Done

Jens Jakob Andersen is a Danish solopreneur travelling the world while working. For the last couple of years he has lived 6 months in Malaysia, 6 months in Spain, 6 months in Denmark, 3 months in Indonesia and 3 months in Eastern Africa. He is currently doing affiliate marketing at iloebesko.dk and selling skiing equipment at blacksnow.dk.

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The majority of people are fascinated when you tell them about your lifestyle as a digital nomad. Traveling the world while working does indeed sound attracting – and it is!

Working from whichever country you’d like dramatically increases your quality of life, and at the same time leads to the hockey stick effect on your disposable income. Who would not enjoy that lifestyle?

People actually do live this dream (maybe including you?). Crossing one boarder after another and still having an income that exceeds what most employees could ever dream of is indeed catching most people’s attention. If you go for it (please do), you will meet some challenges when it comes to getting stuff done. Challenges I had, and struggled with for a long time, myself. All challenges do have solutions though.

5 hacks that will help you get stuff done while traveling.

You will find undreamed numbers of books and concepts about efficiency. Inbox zero, priority lists, time tracking tools, mobile efficiency apps, etc. But if you do not have the right conditions to get stuff done, none of the above will do you any good. The foundation must be at balance.

To me, the biggest challenge is always to find the best possible conditions for work without spending too much time researching where to go.

I love the idea of working from a different café each and every day, but to be honest, this is overrated. Do it for 14 days and you will get tired before even asking for the WiFi-password.

Here are my five suggestions for you to consider.

1.     Do not work when conditions are not good

2.     When you work, work

3.     Travel slow

4.     Buy a laptop with a card add on feature

5.     Work only at offices

Here we go.

1. Do not work when conditions are not good.

I think a common pitfall is to work when you do not have the right conditions for doing work. Sitting in the backseat in a 4WD Land Rover with a USB 3G internet connection on dirt roads in Kenya is simply not worth it.

Also less extreme cases are not worth it. It is a romantic belief that spending one hour in a café to get stuff done is an efficient way of working. I love the idea of walking into a Starbucks, ordering a coffee, looking and enjoying the surroundings and then working with the silent lounge music and small talking in the background. Though the truth is, you will get next to nothing done.

2. When you work, work.

Get real work done when you decide to work. Schedule working hours to be sure you focus 100% on the necessary tasks to grow your business. If traveling and working at the same time, you do need to get stuff done while working. Do not spend time checking flights, tours and social activities in the area you are.

If you travel with others, it is crucial telling them (and making sure they understand) that when you work, you work. I have personally experienced this as one of the major challenges.

The Slow Demise Of Email: How To Benefit From Changes In Remote Communications

Occasionally we invite Elance-oDesk clients to discuss issues of importance to businesses and freelancers who work in our marketplaces.  Here are some thoughts from Tobias Schelle, a Danish entrepreneur who’s the Founder and CEO of 24slides.com.

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There is enormous value in taking advantage of talent outside your geographical area.

Companies who understand how to utilize the best skilled freelancers, regardless of their location, will win in the long run. But it requires a big change in how we communicate.

Unfortunately, 99% of us (including myself) have been trained to use email regardless of what we want to communicate about. It’s an ingrained habit that is so hard to change because everyone else is doing it. I’m not against email as a tool, but I’m against how it’s being used. Sure, email is great for the initial contact, simple discussions, report and notifications.

Yet, imagine a world where it is as normal to talk to someone from Vietnam or Ukraine as to the guy next to you in the office. It’s a world with no language barriers nor cultural misunderstandings. This is the future. It’s when technology enables us to imitate real-life face-to-face communications.

On a short term, it might be the phone on your desk that shows a 3D version of the person you’re speaking with from Spain. In the long run, it might be you inviting someone into your virtual 3D office. It would be like meeting in person. Wearing your virtual glasses, you’ll have full information and background of the person you’re speaking to.

Today’s technology is moving much faster than our adaption to it. The first step is to start using what’s tried, tested, and immediately available now.

The Remote Communication Ladder

I’ve created what I call, The Remote Communication Ladder. It’s not the future of communications, but it’s a snapshot of the technology we have at hand right now and their effectiveness (time/value ratio) for communication about tasks and projects.

Video call

This is currently the closest we get to real-life communication. It’s effective because it also allows non-verbal communication. Things that would otherwise be hard to explain such as feelings or intentions are possible. Small talk which contributes to a strong relationship is possible as well.

7 Financial Tips for Millennials Who Freelance

Occasionally we invite professionals to wax poetic about issues of importance to freelancers on Elance. Here are some thoughts from entrepreneur Eric Riley.

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According to a poll conducted by the Kauffman Foundation, 54% of millennials either want to start a business or have already done so. But it takes a lot of courage to delve into entrepreneurship, especially if you're recently out of college or new to the workplace. And though there are many benefits to being a freelancer, maintaining a healthy budget on a fluctuating income isn't always easy. To lessen the inevitable stress and shore up your chances of success, it's essential to make your personal finances a priority.

1. Set Aside Savings First
Have you ever heard the term, "pay yourself first?" It refers to the act of setting aside money for savings each month prior to outlaying cash on anything else. Not only does this practice provide you with a steadily growing nest egg, but it gives you a better idea of what you can reasonably spend each month.

Consider setting up an automatic transfer from your main bank account to a separate one at the beginning of each month, or set up an IRA with an automatic contribution. Don't wait to see what you have at the end of the month to save - make your savings a priority.

2. Use a Personal Budget
Most people don't like to budget, but to effectively manage their finances, millennial freelancers don't have a choice. Given the fluctuating nature of monthly income, the only way to stay in the black is to carefully monitor what's coming in and going out. There are lots of free budgeting websites, such as BudgetSimple, Mint, and BudgetPulse, so choose one and start tracking your finances.

And don't forget, U.S.-based freelancers are responsible for paying quarterly taxes. Use IRS Form 1040-ES to estimate how much you'll owe, and set money aside accordingly.

3. Save on Monthly Bills
It's important to develop a spirit of frugality as a millennial freelancer. This doesn't mean you can't buy the things you want, assuming you can pay for them, but it does mean always being on the lookout for ways to save. For instance, if you rarely watch TV, cut back on your cable TV package by dropping down one tier on your channel lineup. Or similarly, look into switching your smartphone data plan to something more affordable - according to BillShrink, many households pay for as much as 8GB of data each month, but use only 25% of that.

The possibilities for cutting back are practically endless. Little things, such as adjusting your thermostat to attack your home energy bills, or clipping coupons to save on groceries, can go a long way toward ongoing financial health.

How Elance-oDesk Helped Me Start and Grow A Successful Business

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.

3 Vital Steps to Making More Money as a Freelancer

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.  

How To Start A Business Without A Product

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).

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"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.

Good luck!

 

How A Client Can Work Across 5 Time Zones (And Not Go Crazy)

Daniel Ishikawa is the founder and CEO of Furniture Leasing Corporation, and Chief Editor with Expat Relocation Network www.Expat-Relocation.net -- an information portal for expatriates relocating to Germany.

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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. 

Creating A Mobile App? Consider Your Ownership Options

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.

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Earlier posts in this series have looked at:

How to turn your idea for a new mobile app, into an app; Explored the concept of minimum viable product; and Tips on how the start-up fundraising process works.

This week, we’ll run through the various legal ownership structures you may require to operate your business within.

Ownership

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.

Structure options

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.

Diary Of An Elance Client: Getting A Website In Tip-Top Shape

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.

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May 2013

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.Elancer Jamie Logie

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.

August 2013

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.

October 2013

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…

and waiting…

December 2013

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.

January 2014

At this point it was looking like my friend was not going to be able to come through for me.

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