Guest Bloggers

Mature Entrepreneurs And The Freelance Economy

Occasionally we invite Elance and Upwork freelancers and clients to discuss issues of importance to others who work in our marketplace. Here are some thoughts from Brian D. Jones, who recently released a his best-selling book, Over 50? Start Your Business!

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Entrepreneurship is considered a young person’s game.

An under-appreciated facet of entrepreneurship is the number of businesses being started by people over the age of 50.

Research by the Kauffman Foundation found that over 23% of entrepreneurs who launched companies in 2013 were between the ages of 55 and 64. This is up from just over 14% back in 1996.

Also in 2013 the Nesta Foundation in the UK reported that 70% of companies founded by those over 50 were still in business after three years. Only 28% of companies founded by those under 50 could make the same claim.

What are the implications of these findings for the Freelance Economy?

Opportunities

Freelancers should welcome these Mature Entrepreneurs as potential customers for their services. Their numbers are growing. Their success rates are higher.

It is probably safe to assume that mature founders have a greater need for freelance services than more tech-savvy younger entrepreneurs. More “handholding” may mean opportunities to provide more value-added services. Higher success rates create opportunities to develop long-term relationships and the potential for recurring revenues.

Threats

Many Mature Entrepreneurs may become freelancers themselves. You know freelancing is an attractive option. Mature freelancers will learn this too. Especially those who choose freelancing as a “Side Hustle” for extra income. Or as a way to transition from their full-time position. Mature freelancers offer clients a wealth of experience that may tip the scales in their favor.

Mature Entrepreneurs might be more comfortable working with “one of their own” in a Mature freelancer.

Mature employees are in constant danger of being replaced by their employers. An economic downturn might force the acceleration of the ranks of Mature freelancers who are desperate to compete against YOU for business.

Conclusion

Time to get used to working with Mature Entrepreneurs. They represent an almost hidden source of potential business for you. But working with them may prove different than working with other entrepreneurs. Mature freelancers may have an advantage with this growing segment of the entrepreneurial market.

About the author

Brian D. Jones has been a home-based consultant for over 20 years. His new book, Over 50? Start Your Business! is available in the Amazon Kindle Store. His website is www.TheMaturEntrepreneur.com.

Apple tree photo courtesy of Ruth Hartnub

Fun Infographic On Organizing Your Workspace

When you're working crazy-long hours, it's important to be comfortable and productive in your workspace. Here's a cheat sheet shared by Emily Johnson, who also posts for our friends at Freelancers Union. While it focuses specifically on writing, these healthy insights apply to anyone who works at home or other environments they can adjust to their specifications. 

ways to organize your writing cabinet

One CEO’s Journey From Freelancer To Video Production House Owner

Occasionally we invite freelancers from our platform to discuss issues of importance to others who work in our marketplace. Here are some thoughts from Osama Khabab, CEO and Creative Director of MotionCue – a producer of video and motion graphics.

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Whenever I tell someone that I have studied electrical engineering in a four year study program, the first thing that everyone asks is how come you are running a video production house?

Motion graphics was something that I grew interested in when watching brilliantly crafted videos online. After working on experimental projects for a year or so I decided to try my luck working as a freelancer. With some early success in freelancing I decided that I should pursue my passion and convert this hobby into my full time job.

One misconception that I bought down very early in my career was that Elance was only targeted towards clients that had low budget work or for individuals that don’t have full time job. But for me this presented an opportunity to create a video production house where today I now employ full time motion graphic artists and collaborate with the biggest brands of the world.

So how did it happen?

First thing that I focused was on honing my animation skills. You really need to be good to be selected by clients on Elance. I have learnt that the most important thing is to be the best at what you do. Being excellent at a skill that may not be the most trending is much better than being average at the most wanted skills/jobs out there.

So I started to take less work compared to other freelancers and tried to offer top-notch quality to my clients.  Through this measure not only was I able to earn more, as I was able to create business relationships with my clients that valued my hard work and dedication to quality.

Shift towards freelance work.

Working for the past six years, I have observed how big brands are moving towards working with online freelancers. This allowed me the opportunity to work with global market leaders through Elance.  One reason due to which I was able to work for them was my relationships with clients. Through word of mouth I was recommended to clients that ranged from global brands to startups needing mind blowing animated videos.

3 Simple Ways For Freelancers To Improve Their Sales Skills

Here are some thoughts for freelancers, from Al Davidson -- founder of Strategic Sales & Marketing.

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Freelancers and solo consultants don’t often think of themselves as “sales people” but the truth is, in addition to having solid skills in your professional craft, you also need to be able to sell your services and keep building relationships with clients to establish a solid base of ongoing business opportunities. Unfortunately, many freelancers never get any formal training in how to sell. Especially if you’ve never worked in sales before – if you’ve always had a corporate job where your work was part of a larger process where you might never have been responsible for managing customer relationships or closing deals – being a successful “freelance sales person” can be a bit of an adjustment.

Here are a few tips for how to improve your sales skills on Upwork and in “real life” outside of the Internet:

1. First engage, then sell.

When you post a bid on an Upwork project or send an email to a new client prospect, are you trying too hard to close the deal right away with the very first contact? This is a common mistake: freelancers often throw in everything but the kitchen sink into their first proposal, resulting in information overload for the client, and often, wasted effort for the freelancer.

Instead of launching into a 1,000 word epic about why you’re the right freelancer for the project, start by introducing yourself and responding to a few key points from the client’s project description to show that you actually read it and are paying attention and are eager to help address the client’s key challenges.

Are You Charging Enough?

Danny Margulies is a copywriter and six-figure Elancer on a mission to help freelancers earn more money. Get his top 5 Elance hacks for earning on Elance free of charge here.

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I don’t know about you, but as someone who writes for a living, math has never been my favorite subject.

Yet in order to earn a healthy freelancing income, I have no choice but to pull out my trusty old calculator every once in a while and crunch some numbers.

I’m not talking about advanced calculus here -- just some basic math goes a long way when you’re planning your freelance career.

For starters, let’s say you wanted to earn $50,000 per year.

Let’s work backwards.

Okay, so all we need to do now is divide that ($50,000) by the number of working hours in a year, and that’s how much we should charge, right?

Not so fast.

Not all of those hours are going to be billable. In other words, we won’t get paid for every hour we work (more on this in a second).

So how many billable hours per week should we plan for?

A good rule of thumb for most full time freelancers is to aim for 20 hours of billable work per week.

In reality, full time freelancers will likely work more than that, but you need to account for time spent doing things like bookkeeping, proposals, interviewing potential clients, and of course the occasional dry spell.

You’ll also need to take at least a couple of weeks off each year, to rest and recharge your batteries.

So this leaves us with [20 billable hours per week] x [50 weeks] = 1,000 billable hours to work with.

As you can see, even though we might well work a “full” 40 hour work week, it’s better to plan conservatively, and estimate 20 hours in which we’ll actually be earning our income.

Being overly optimistic can come back to haunt you if things don’t go exactly according to plan, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.

The next step is to calculate your hourly rate: $50,000 / [1,000 billable hours] = $50 per hour.

5 Habits of Highly Successful HR Managers

Here’s another article from Lee Bob Black of SkilledUp. Also check out SkilledUp on LinkedIn.

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#1: Look inward first

This year’s PayScale Compensation Best Practices Report hits home how difficult it is to keep top talent. It found that between 50 percent and 70 percent of employers in the following industries have concerns with staff retention:

·       Information, media and telecommunications

·       Manufacturing

·       Professional, scientific and technical services

·       Healthcare

·       Finance and insurance     

Since 2009, the number of companies that consider retention a “main concern” has grown steadily.

A key ingredient to retaining top talent is simple: don’t overlook them. When a new position opens up, successful human resource managers make a habit of first looking to existing employees. Only after confirming a position can’t be filled internally do they focus on external candidate recruitment.

Preferring to promote from within helps create companies that people don’t want to quit. It also links with how successful HR managers realize that retaining top talent isn’t just about writing bigger checks.

#2: Listen

Not every HR problem must to be solved quick-smart. Sometimes it’s helpful to just lend an ear. Open yourself up to your staff. Give them space to talk about what irks them.

Keep in mind some of the benefits of giving someone your full attention:

·       Listening to people precedes understanding them

·       Listening is the best way to learn about people’s problems

·       Listening can prevent problems from escalating

Many great leaders prioritize listening — Richard Branson, Indra Nooyi, Ursula Burns, and Howard Schultz. Perhaps more should. Indeed, there’s compelling evidence that leaders need to shut up and listen more.

If you’re an HR professional and want to improve your listening skills, consider reading this McKinsey guide for executives. In it, the author goes into detail about three behaviors to practice:

3 Habits of Highly Profitable Freelancers

Here’s another article from Lee Bob Black of SkilledUp. In this one, he links profitability with being a finisher and a specialist, and with valuing being on time. Be sure to check out his previous “Fearless Freelancing” articles about digital skills and justifying charging higher rates. Also check out SkilledUp on LinkedIn.

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Have you read Elance’s guide to earning more money? It’s chock full of practical tips to help you score work (have a sterling profile, complete skills tests, read your client’s feedback, etc.). That said, after you’ve found your freelancing feet, it’s time to really boost your income. Here are some time-tested behaviors of freelancers who have turned their businesses into wealth generating machines.

1. They finish 100% of the job.

Highly profitable freelancers are finishers. They don’t do most of the work. They acknowledge that often the last 5% of a project is the hardest — and then finish every last task.

On the other hand, sub-par freelancers do nearly all of the work, and then wonder why their job history is filled with “Jobs without Payment.”

Bottom line: Start strong and end strong. Don’t be one of those freelancers who is enthusiastic in the beginning and then disappears in the final stages when the going gets tough.

A joke to put this habit into perspective: What’s the hardest part about running a marathon? The last mile.

Tip: Consider experimenting with over-delivering. If a client asks you to research ten prospective clients, maybe find her fifteen.

One more tip: Read Ben Matthews’s post about great habits you should do to finish a freelance job on a high, some of which include providing a project summary, getting a client testimonial, and saying thank you.

2. They know thier niche.

Highly profitable freelancers are specialized. A solvent writer might be able to write about anything under the sun, but will most likely list specific competencies on her profile, such as legal writing. A financially well-off user experience (UX) designer might be able to rejigger the layout of any website, but will most likely list specific UX skills on his profile, such as wireframing and prototyping skills.

How To Code On The Road

Here’s an article from the CareerFoundry team (sponsor of the upcoming Code & Surf Retreat).

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Many forecasters have predicted 2015 as the year of the freelancer, with a recent study estimating that 53 million Americans are currently working freelance. The same study has tipped that 50% of the American workforce will be made up of freelancers by 2020. A large portion of that workforce will be digital nomads and those figures only refer to American trends. Looking back ten years, this is a huge contrast, considering that in 1995 it was an employee powered workforce with full and part time in-house staff making up 93% of the labour provision.

Globally the life of a digital nomad has become not only a more attractive lifestyle choice, but for many a more practical one. Digital nomads allow themselves choice of work location by leveraging technology to facilitate their activities. This lifestyle for many is more productive and cost effective, and at the same time provides a greater work/life balance.  

The Internet of course was the precursor for this shift in work behaviors. Although there was a slow build up to Wi-Fi through the late 1980’s and most of the 1990’s, by 1999 it had been standardized and brought to market by Apple, who released the first laptop with a Wi-Fi slo. Suddenly the ability to be connected made the need to be in a traditional office environment less vital. Global Internet access along with more efficient and inexpensive equipment has opened up the possibilities for freelancers who have been able to redesign their lives without the restrictions of a place they need to be from 9 to 5.

Of course the ability to do the work is only half the equation, the digital revolution has meant that the way we work has also changed. The online world requires a different skillset than we were previously equipped with and progress is moving faster than our ability to meet its need. Education reform is shifting towards STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - as core subjects to meet the growing demand for skills that match the future needs of the workplace. However there is a skills gap in the current workforce that employers are scrambling to deal with.  A 2014 study found jobs in computing, mathematics and engineering made up 70% of the roles employers found difficult to fill. In addition, new graduates are leaving college to find they are missing specific required skills that the workforce is demanding. Online tech boot camps such as Codecademy, CareerFoundry and General Assembly have provided a comprehensive solution in these cases by offering intensive online training in areas where skills are most required. You’ll also find great courses at Elance University. Programming jobs are the most in demand and learning to code is becoming as important as learning to read and write.

3 Rules for Selling Yourself to Potential Clients

Danny Margulies is a copywriter and six-figure Elancer on a mission to help freelancers earn more money. Find out more at freelancetowin.com

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Elance makes it pretty darn easy for us freelancers to connect with potential clients. Like, ridiculously easy.

Still, in order to win business, there’s no escaping the fact that we need to reach out and make a connection with the people we hope will hire us.

Yes, we need to sell ourselves. But that doesn’t mean you “put on your selling hat” and convince the client to sign on the dotted line the way it’s done in movies like Glengarry Glen Ross.

Here are some more subtle (and effective) ways to go about it.

1. Put the client's needs first

Clients are human; telling them “all about me” isn’t likely to get them very excited. 

Nor is breaking out a complicated list of working and payment terms a good way to endear yourself to a client with 20 other proposals in front of her.

What is likely to make clients want to work with you is showing them you care about helping them succeed.

You do that by talking mostly about them, their project, and their needs. Of course, you also need to talk about you, but mainly in the context of how you’ll be in the corner, helping them win.

In a crowded marketplace, it’s that personal connection that helps you cut through the clutter and earn a client’s trust quickly.

2. Balance professionalism with friendliness

Clients don’t really hire “freelancers” -- they hire people.

Unfortunately, text-based communication doesn’t do a whole lot to bring out your humanity. You need to do some extra work to come across as a “real person.”

The way I do it is by making my proposals (and post-proposal messages to clients) light and friendly, rather than being too formal. I’ll try to make a joke, pay a genuine compliment, or even put a smiley face right into a proposal if it feels right.

Yes you do want to be professional, but there’s no rule that says you can’t show clients your personality, too.

3. Don't try too hard

It’s ironic, but the harder you try to sell yourself to potential clients, the less effective your pitch is going to be. There are a few reasons for that:

●      With plenty of freelancers for each client to choose from, “hard sell” tactics are totally ineffective

●      Sounding too eager makes you appear desperate, a surefire recipe for making clients run from you in all directions

●      Clients want to make decisions at their own pace, not ours

How do you sell yourself?

What approaches have you had success with when selling your freelance services on Elance? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!

-Danny

PS: Find out more about how I earned over $100,000 on Elance in just 12 months -- grab my top 5 hacks for making money on Elance, totally free.

Peacock photo courtesy of Dennis Jarvis

How To Win More Jobs Through Value Knowledge

Today we’re excited to introduce another regular contributor to the Elance blog, Bruce Lilly. He spearheads Editorial Services by Bruce and is a regular contributor of prose to our online work platform.

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You write proposals until your wrists ache, your coffee’s cold and the sun’s dying, and still no bites. How can you find a job if nobody will give you a chance?

Hi, my name’s Bruce. My business Editorial Services by Bruce recently became one of the top 50 of over 12,500 Writing & Translation businesses on Elance. A lot of work went into this milestone, but 2 key questions are perpetually in my head before applying for any job.

·       What do I as a freelancer value in this job in particular?

·       What does my client value in a freelancer?

In that context, I’m going to share 2 simple ideas with you that will net you more jobs. It’s not rocket science, and they’re not Rockefeller tips. But they might just be enough to get your Elance car rumbling to life—or, if it’s already started, to help you find the accelerator.

Maximize your profile value before anything else.

Some people might tell you to “fake it ‘til you make it’” right out of the gate when it comes to Elance. Sign up and then shoot for ridiculously high rates. Sure, you won’t get every job, they might add, and your client might bargain you down, but at least you’ll land among the well-paid stars.

You’ll soon come to realize—like we all do—that unless you’re Blake from Glengary Glen Ross most clients will just ignore you if you charge too much and have no experience.  You usually need a few healthy-star ratings with testimonials to snatch any truly high-income gig. Job History Feedback is often cited as the most valuable variable that clients use when deciding to hire a freelancer.

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