It’s been a journey since you registered with Elance, hasn’t it? You opened your Elance profile; you uploaded a photo and agonized over what to write in your profile. You added some portfolio samples and took some tests. You bid on and won several jobs, and I’ll bet it’s been more exhilarating than the first time Mom let you drive her car.
With a few jobs under your belt, most, if not all with excellent feedback, it feels pretty damn good, doesn’t it? Riding that wave over the last few weeks or months, you may not have been able to stop and think about the business side of things for too long. If you are anything like me, you were probably too busy working and meeting deadlines. You admit to your partner/spouse that you're in love with Elance. Forget grateful; you’re in love!
Then one day you rediscover the transactions section. Yeah, you may have seen it early on, but in the beginning there wasn’t much to fixate on: One $50 job and a few $100 jobs didn't look like much compared to the vast white space below them.
Now that you’re hitting “next page” a few times to see all the transactions, it dawns on you that you’ve made a few thousand dollars. Predictably you have two reactions: “Where’s my ‘you’re number 1’ foam finger? I am one truly awesome human being!”
This is immediately followed by, “Holy crap, I made how much money and Elance took how much in service fees?”
Many people know me as the owner of Coquí Prose Content Marketing, but I am also a prolific client who exclusively uses Elance to hire freelancers.
Although many Elancers have hired a few other Elancers to fill the occasional needs of a client or to assist with specific projects, I work day in and day out with a team of freelancers who help meet the goals of our long-term clients.
There’s a big difference …
For every job I have with a client, I may hire five or more team members to fill the needs for that client.
With more than 1000 jobs awarded since I started hiring on Elance about four years ago (both one-off jobs and ones lasting six months or longer), I see the business of freelancing from a very unique perspective.
Okay, Let’s Get Down to Business.
Let’s start by debunking three common myths that frequently lead to lots of chest pounding, self-aggrandizing and pontification ad nauseam. These are myths I have read in online forums again and again and, sadly, a-gain.
“You shouldn’t start out with low rates because you’ll forever be branded a low-baller and no serious client will take a second look at you.”
“Competition is stiff on Elance. You need to sell yourself in your proposal.”
“Keep your earnings private until you reach $10k.”
Rates: What Matters? Your Past, Present or Future?
I’ll take you through a typical job posting of mine to give you the “bird’s eye view” of things.
I’m pretty methodical when I post jobs on Elance. I have a formula for my job descriptions. I always include the following in my descriptions, especially if I am posting a public job (which I only do if my exhaustive search for an Elancer doesn't jibe with Elance’s sometimes-interesting ranking of expertise):
Successful freelancers focus on their projects and on marketing and improving their services. Given that focus, few give much thought to government affairs.
But just as you use Google Maps or a similar app on your mobile device to guide you past highway congestion, so too should freelancers pay close attention to government obstacles that impede the rapid growth of online freelance contracting.
Last year on the Elance-oDesk blog I mentioned that 16 states and the federal government had formed a task force to make it harder for individuals to freelance doing the kind of work you find and sell on Elance-oDesk.
Those 16 states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New York, Utah, and Washington – are home to 39 percent of the US population, so any progress these states make will slow the expansion of freelancing. Since other states and countries are watching carefully, this may affect you wherever you live.
As an independent contractor, you have a unique opportunity to educate your representatives in state government about the booming field in which you make a living.
Most legislators know little about online-freelancing and will listen with interest to how this new work style is more advantageous for you than regular employment.
Looking through the fascinating 2014 Elance-oDesk Annual Impact Report, available here, one chart shows clearly why a single visit to meet a state legislator, either in their district office near you or in their office in the state capital, can make a big difference.
The Impact Report shows that 74 percent of freelancers are under 35 years of age – individuals who rarely talk with legislators. Since lawmakers seldom see young people, talking about freelancing opens your legislators’ eyes to voters unfamiliar to them.
Here are five secrets for representing freelancers.
Secret #1:Make it clear that you represent more than yourself. Scale is vital for effective government relations.
Describe what you do for clients, adding a fact about how many people in your district, state or occupation also freelance online. The Elance-oDesk impact report has many helpful statistics you can use.
One tradeoff in working with online freelancers is that some “teamwork” benefits can become compromised. For example, when working remotely it can become challenging to establish rapport or build a more enriching relationship among team members. Here’s a quick video, and be sure to read more below.
Ironically, being connected online can make clients and freelancers feel more disconnected – especially on a social level. To make things easier, here are three tips to help you manage freelancers online:
Tip #1: Set up a reporting system.
At 24 Slides we use a tool called 15five. It’s basically a questionnaire containing 3-4 questions sent out bi-weekly to all employees. Each team member responds and sends back their reply.
Examples of questions you can ask include: “What have you been most proud of in the past week?” or “What challenges have you faced?” While the questions can vary, frame them in a way that they can engage your freelancer while giving you clearer insights on what’s happening on the ground.
Feel free to explore other tools like 15five, but what’s crucial is setting up a similar automated process. The goal is to gain a better and more accurate picture of what’s going on.
Moreover, establishing a similar reporting tool can help you effortlessly manage more people than you would if you were all working in the same office. For instance, it takes only five minutes to read through their responses and add comments. You can then quickly move on to the next submission. Yet the overall insights and feedback you get are tremendously valuable.
Tip #2: Set up a video conference call.
When you work with a team within the same office, it’s convenient to meet them over coffee or lunch. This allows you to engage in small talk. This kind of interaction, although described as “small”, can make a big difference in building relationships over time.
Caveat: There is no one single way to write a proposal. Proposal writing is a skill and one that can take weeks, months and even years to perfect. However, contrary to popular belief, it really is possible to fake it till you make it.
I am living proof!
What I am about to share is based on my experiences both as a freelancer who has written many, many proposals and as a client who has read hundreds more. I have reached a point where I can tell within the first line or two of someone’s proposal whether I want to read further or move on to the next Elancer.
My goal is obviously to help you keep your prospective clients interested long enough to get to the end of your proposal and to consider reaching out to you through the workroom.
The first step is to start looking for work, right?
You’re almost there, but first let’s go over a little housekeeping: before you take to the Elance marketplace, you need to read Elance's Terms of Service (ToS), which are their rules for conducting business on their site.
Unlike other websites’ Terms of Service (where you probably scroll to the bottom without reading them and then check the box to indicate you that did, just so you can purchase what they’re selling), if you are really serious about earning a living on Elance—and why else are you here? —You really need to read Elance’s ToS.
What could possibly happen if you just pretended to have read them?
By not following the rules of their site, you can have your account suspended and even terminated. If caught breaking any of the rules of their site, you can’t feign ignorance because in order to get to this stage, you had to indicate that you read the ToS.
Indeed I could give you the highlights, but what fun would that be? It’s not like I can also run your business for you as well, so you may as well get cracking and read those Terms of Service.
Now That We Have That Out of the Way…
At this point you’ve probably read my blog and followed my advice on how to create a winning Elance profile. You’ve got a professional photo in place and an overview you’ve rehearsed so many times you know it’s the bomb! You may have even taken a few tests and verified a few credentials. Nothing spells r-e-a-d-y like you are at this very moment. You’re jazzed and, moreover, you are unstoppable!
Elance is excited to introduce a new guest columnist to our blog: Lee Bob Black of SkilledUp. In his first article, he explores 30 digital skills to take your talent over the tipping point. In future articles, he’ll share insights about enhancing your expertise and income.
1. Advertising skills
If a client wanted to advertise a product or service online, would you be up for the challenge? Setting up Google and Facebook accounts to place ads is difficult. Managing advertising campaigns is even more difficult. That said, if you become proficient at managing a client’s online marketing, then could become invaluable to that client.
2. Email marketing skills
Email marketing services don’t just get customers to click and buy. They can also be used to motivate people to take social and political action. While learning how to use a service such as VerticalResponse or MailChimp, also learn the basics about writing e-newsletters, such as having a compelling subject line and giving people a reward for reading.
3. Personal branding skills
If you don’t already think of yourself as a brand, maybe today’s a great day to starting doing so. Your digital presence — or absence — can mean the difference between getting — or not getting — a job.
4. Digital publishing skills
Do you have a collection of essays or photos that you think would be better in a book than, say, a website or a blog? If so, consider looking into e-book self-publishing and distribution services.
5. User experience (UX) and user interface (UI) skills
If you can have a meaningful conversation with a UX or UI designer, you’ll be one step ahead of most of your colleagues and competitors. To start with, consider learning about the basics, such as general ways to improve the usability of a product.
Occasionally we invite people to discuss issues of importance to our community. Here are some thoughts from Elancer Tim Goggin of recessionRebirth.
In the two-plus years I’ve been working on Elance, I’m proud to say I’ve earned almost $320,000, completed 391 jobs and have an overall 4.9 rating.
This process wasn’t easy by any stretch and required a ton of hard work. I also failed regularly.
Sometimes, I wish I could go back to April 2012 (when I started on Elance in earnest) and save myself some stress, frustration and doubt.
I’ve boiled down what I wish I knew when I started to 10 crucial lessons. Lessons that are the difference between the right path on Elance and dead ends. And that’s what this blog post is all about. I’m sharing these lessons so perhaps it can help you be more successful on Elance.
Lesson #1: Stay Humble
I can be arrogant. It’s not my best trait and it’s something I struggle with. It became a problem when I started bidding regularly.
I’d get so frustrated and deflated as bid after bid were awarded to freelancers that seemed (to me at the time) inexperienced or unqualified. And it was made worse by my insistence on keeping my rates the same as my non-Elance clients. When encountering a bid request that was below my ideal rate, I just wouldn’t bid or I’d keep my rate the same even though it was way higher than the max bid.
This didn’t go well. For weeks, I barely got any jobs. And my frustration reached a pinnacle. Humility finally hit me and …
… I changed the way I thought about bidding. My goal was to get as many good clients as possible as quickly as possible. Not to cling to some ideals.
How? I lowered my rates. I bid on small jobs I wouldn’t consider in the “outside” world. And magically, I started getting more and more clients. As you might expect, some clients were great. Some not so much, who expected champagne on a beer budget. My goal was to get as many great reviews as possible. Which brings me to ...
Lesson #2: “It’s The Feedback, Stupid”
What people are looking for is social proof. That’s why your feedback on Elance is probably the most important selling point on your profile. Part of the problem you have when starting out is that you’re a blank slate.
It doesn’t matter that you have 30 full-time clients (outside of Elance) who love you and tell everyone they know about you. You’re untested on Elance and clients rightly don’t want to be the first person to work with you and have a bad experience. And that’s really the issue – in general, people are more concerned about losing than winning. While there may be a huge upside to hiring you, they can only see the fact that it might go horribly wrong.
Whether you’re new to Elance, or you’ve been here awhile and trying to get a foothold, my goal with this blog is to help you create a great profile so that you can market yourself to the thousands of clients who post jobs in the marketplace.
If you’re anything like most freelancers I know, you’re probably caught somewhere between feeling brazen and utterly confused about what to write in your profile. If it makes you feel better, I know several successful Elancers who struggle with this very thing.
Like writing a great proposal (which I will cover in the next blog), it may take some practice to get your profile working for you—meaning you get targeted invitations sent to you by prospective clients.
Before you type a single word, stop for a moment and think about how you can—in 1000 characters (not words) or fewer—allow your profile to stand out from the thousands of others in your category and to market yourself when you’re not there to speak for yourself.
To Brag Or Not To Brag.
I have written, rewritten and tweaked our company profile many times. Ultimately I come back to the same “theme,” if you will. Why? Because I have to put myself in a prospective clients’ shoes to know what they are looking for in a freelancer.
Fortunately I am also a client, so my advice about what to say in your profile comes from being both an Elancer and a client who has visited probably thousands of profiles over the last four years.
I need to make this clear: this is my experience and how I go about hiring freelancers. Other clients may value different things than I do.
I have certain criteria when I hire freelancers to join my team or to fill a one-time need. I have what I feel is a fool-proof method of, as the expression goes, “separating the wheat from the chaff,” which essentially means moving on from whom I believe won’t be a good fit and moving toward those who stand out from the masses.
Elance is excited to introduce a new guest columnist to our blog: Sarah Ratliff of Coqui Prose Content Marketing. While there are many ways to find success on the Elance platform, Sarah will regularly share her many experiences with our readers.
Whenever I meet anyone for the first time—whether it’s over the Internet or in person—the usual exchange of pleasantries (kids, dogs, cats, etc.) is predictably followed by, “So, what do you do for a living?”
“I own a content marketing agency,” I say.
And then I wait.
“What does your company write about?” they ask.
“We’re pretty versatile, but our niches are medical writing, writing about addiction (which my team and I do for the U.S.’s largest addiction treatment center) and behavioral health.”
“Sounds like things are going well for you.”
“Yes, they are, thankfully. I started out a solo freelance writer five years ago and I got busy very quickly. Today we are a 20-person team with plans to expand again this year.”
“So you get a lot of work?” This is a very predictable and, of course, appropriate question.
“I do. I have four full-time clients, which is all I need for my team and me to keep busy. They’re repeat clients, so I no longer look for work,” I’ll say.
“How do you market yourself?” they’ll ask.
“Elance,” I’ll say, and then I wait.
“Can you really make a full-time living using Elance?” they’ll ask.
At this point I ask no one in particular, “Did I not just tell you that I have all the work I need to keep us busy and that I no longer look for new work?” But in my outside voice I say, “Yes, absolutely. I work exclusively through the Elance platform.”
“Do you think I need Elance?” they’ll ask.
“In my opinion, if you don’t have clients knocking down your door whom you’re beating off with a stick, then yes. But this is just my opinion based on my experience. I am a huge fan of Elance. I couldn’t have done as well for myself as I have without it.”
“But I’ve heard a lot of things about Elance,” they’ll share with me.
“And I am sure you’ve heard a lot of things about the Pope, and yet there are still millions of adoring fans of his all over the world,” I shoot back.
If You Are a Freelancer, Why Do You Need Elance?
All I can do is share my experience when I explain why I personally wouldn’t try to market my company without Elance.
When I decided to become a writer (having done marketing in my previous life in corporate America), I was pretty lost about how I’d go about marketing myself.
Occasionally we invite people to discuss issues of importance to our community. Here are some thoughts from Abby Perkins of Talent Tribune.
To maximize your productivity – and income – many freelancers work seven days a week. Sure, a number of freelancers take a "weekend" – but that might mean only working four hours on a Sunday instead of eight. But a weekend with work isn’t a true weekend, and it doesn’t provide the same benefits.
But what if freelancers could actually boost productivity by taking some time off? A growing body of research shows that taking breaks helps to increase productivity – even though the amount of time spent working is decreased.
As the holiday season approaches, consider taking a day – or even a whole weekend – off. You just might find that it’s the key to improving your productivity and increasing your income.
The plight of the freelancer.
Freelancers face a unique plight. There are always more jobs available, so there is always additional money to be made. Since completing additional work increases our paychecks, it makes sense to always accept another gig – right?
Many freelancers follow this logic, and even those who want to take time off find themselves falling into this trap. And, while their paychecks may see a bump at first, their productivity may start to suffer in the long run as they experience stress, burnout and even exhaustion.
The key to increased productivity.
In recent years, multiple studies have shown that periods of rest – everything from short breaks to long vacations – helps to increase productivity. Below, we’ll take a look at two of them.