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.
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.
Here’s another article from Lee Bob Black of SkilledUp. Also check out SkilledUp on LinkedIn.
#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
· Professional, scientific and technical services
· 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.
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
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.
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.
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 nomadhas 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.
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!
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.
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.
Today Jens Jakob shares his experiences on achieving massive success through SEO and PR. His secret? For a bit of background, he believes that shoe brands dictate what running shoes should be popular, which is not ideal. Therefore, he started RunRepeat.com – a platform that compiles running shoe reviews.
Washington Post, The Guardian, Fox News … the list goes on and on. If you’re working with SEO or PR, this post will no doubt inspire you. I went big and the return on investment was breathtaking. Our organic growth increased more than 500% in 3 months. Here’s what I did in three simple steps:
1. Brainstormed ideas
2. Build a team
3. Pitched ideas to journalists
Let’s get started.
Step 1: Decide What Kind of Research You Want to Conduct
I’m in the running shoe business and did research on marathon running. Why?
• Running shoes and marathon running are within the same field
• There is plenty of free data available on marathon results
• Marathon running is hot
It would be ideal to do research on running shoes, but collecting data would not be easy.
Step 2: Find a Team That Can Make Things Happen
The chances are next to zero that you’re 1) a statistician, 2) good at Excel and data collection and 3) good at PR. Solution? Find people who are good in these areas. Here’s what I did:
• Found a Vietnamese freelancer who was an expert in data collection from big databases.
• Found a Philippine freelancer who’s an expert in data entry
• Found a Polish statistician
• Found an American research expert
That was the team. The final price was $2,150 and I found all four freelancers on Elance. Together we created a full research project on pacing differences across genders in marathon running, giving it the title: Women Are Better Runners Than Men.
Step 3: Pitch Journalists
My primary task was to pitch the idea journalists. If I could share one bit of advice, it would be that you should not consider pitching journalists as a discipline of wining a reporter over. You collaborate. It’s a win-win. You get publicity and the journalist gets a chance to write an awesome article.
I have some good news and some bad news about writing proposals.
The good: If you write enough proposals -- even mediocre ones -- you can get lucky and win a job every once in awhile.
The bad: Failing to become a great proposal writer will force you to work way too hard, for too little pay, since you’ll have to write a zillion proposals and compete aggressively on price.
The moral of this story is simple: why rely on luck, low rates, and the law of averages, when you can master the art and science of writing awesome proposals instead?
Here are some key mistakes you’ll want to avoid.
1. Sounding like everyone else.
Imagine going to an auto dealership and looking at 20 different car models that are nearly identical. Would you remember any one particular car an hour later?
What if, instead, you saw nineteen sedans, and one SUV. Naturally, you’ll pay more attention to the SUV, right?
You need to be the SUV.
If your proposal blends in too much, you’re effectively rendering yourself invisible to the client.
Luckily, there’s a simple way to avoid this: Become a client yourself. See what they see.
It’s easy to do. Just post a job, read through the proposals as they come in, and check out the patterns of communication that people naturally tend to fall into while writing them.
Then, make yours different so it stands out and commands clients’ attention.
2. Copy-and-pasting (even a little).
It can seem tempting to send canned proposals to clients, to save time and do less work. But this is a big mistake.
The reason why has to do with clients’ expectations.
If a client reads your website, they expect to find words that were written once, a long time ago.
But when they read your proposal, their expectations are totally different. They want you to write something that addresses them, not “everyone.”
For this reason, even a partially pre-written proposal is a definite no-no.
If a project is worth working on, then it’s also worth the bit of extra time and effort it takes to write a dedicated proposal to the client. Don’t be “penny wise and pound foolish” about this.
3. Being pushy (or trying to be Luke Skywalker, instead of Yoda).
I often see proposals where a freelancer says something like, “I am the perfect person for this job.”
The problem with statements like that is that they try to put you, the freelancer, into the role of “Hero” in the client’s story. You’re calling the shots, telling them what they should do, instead of trusting them to do what’s best for their own business.
When you do that, you’re essentially auditioning for the part of Luke Skywalker. But that role has already been filled...by the client.
They’re the hero of their story; it can’t be any other way.
You, on the other hand, are Yoda.
Your job is to support them. To be their advisor, friend, confidant -- or any number of things they need you to be.
That means that the “theme” of your proposal needs to be THEM. More specifically, how YOU are going to help them get from Point-A to Point-B.
Telling them what they are “supposed” to do won’t work.
Drama happens. As much as most people try to avoid it, sometimes it’s just inevitable. Fewer things can cause more stress than when things go awry with a client whose project you’re working on. In the five years since I have been an Elancer, I have seen many flock to the Water Cooler when things didn’t go as planned.
One minute things are rolling along nicely. Milestones are delivered on time, client expresses happiness and the job continues to run smoothly. Suddenly out of nowhere—as Elancers describe things from their perspective—stuff just hits the fan.
Client is upset; he wants to cancel the job or file a dispute, claiming something went wrong somewhere. Elancer is befuddled; she contacts customer service, and for some the advice offered is enough to proceed—one way or another. For others, the response isn’t satisfactory and they wind up seeking advice in the Water Cooler.
By and large most drama on Elance can be avoided. By following seven easy steps, you can manage to work with clients completely drama-free. Interestingly, I find that one, two and in some cases all these easy steps are ignored by both newbies and even veterans on the platform.
1. Learn to Read Between the Lines
When looking for jobs in the open marketplace or responding to invite-only jobs, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of reading between the lines.
Because most freelancers—newbies and veterans alike—read job descriptions, say to themselves, “Yeah Baby! This job was made for me!” and then start writing their proposals, they neglect to heed the obvious warning signs/red flags that are right there in the job description.
Writing job descriptions (JDs) isn’t something all clients know how to do. I have been on the client side of things for over four years, and it’s because I have been a freelancer longer that I have become good at determining a good JD from a bad one.
Trying to score your first job on Elance can be tricky. We’ve all been there!
The good news is that once you’re over this initial hurdle, things get much easier.
Still, when you’re a total newbie, it can be daunting to compete with Elancers who already have an established track record.
Even though it seems like you’re David squaring off against Goliath, it’s okay because there are advantages to being David.
You just need to know how to use them. What follows is a practical guide for doing that when you’re brand new to Elance.
1. Go after small jobs (or even tiny ones)
One way to even the playing field when you’re new is to look for jobs that are under the radar of most top Elancers.
As someone with an extensive Elance track record, my existing clients (plus job invites from new ones) keep me busy enough that I simply don’t have time to look at the smaller jobs anymore. And I know many established Elancers who are in the same boat.
But when I was just starting out, small jobs offered me a great way to land my first gigs, make some money, and get some positive client reviews under my belt -- setting the stage for more success to come.
2. Send the right samples
While many freelancers are concerned about having a “complete” portfolio, the truth is that clients are more interested in how relevant your samples are.
In fact, it’s often more powerful to have just one single sample of high quality work -- if that sample is highly relevant to what the client actually needs.
Instead of thinking about your portfolio in terms of quantity, send clients 1-3 pieces that show them you can do the type of work they need. Doing so will give you a better chance of grabbing their attention than a portfolio that’s 10x as large.
(Still working on your portfolio? For the complete step-by-step approach I used to create my first samples, check out this blog post.)
3. Respond to clients with lightning speed
Once a client receives a bunch of proposals for their job, they often make a “shortlist” of candidates, and start sending messages to those people to feel out which one is the best fit.
This is yet another area where “David” can easily beat “Goliath.” Since the busiest Elancers are likely to take a while to respond back, you can outshine your competitors by getting back to clients very quickly -- the quicker the better.
Some people think that replying this fast makes you appear desperate, but when you’re just starting out, you need every advantage you can get.
And guess what? Clients love it when you respond to them quickly, because it shows them that you’re a responsive and reliable professional.