Guest Bloggers

Has Motherhood Driven You Away From Work?

Here is sage advice from Remisha Hasnain, who has been happily working on Elance for over 5 years – often with her son at her side.

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Have you ever felt that motherhood has brought your career to a dead end? The set of skills you once possessed, are now left unnoticed? Your lifestyle after the baby has limited you to constant diaper changes, cooking, cleaning and well catching up on the much-needed sleep?

Well if so, then you are not alone. Being a mom of a two-year-old boy (read: utterly notorious boy), I have learnt that the stress of excessive baby work is one essential part of motherhood. It not only makes you realize your strengths, but also helps you strive to achieve your goals. However this also requires a bit of extra effort, which you may regret now, but are going to appreciate in the long run. Trust me! All you need is patience, time management and most importantly the will to achieve your set goals.

Mentioned below are a few guidelines, on how you can manage to keep your sanity intact, while working and handling your baby all together.

As much as we think things are going to remain the same, except one addition of a family member, they don’t. With the arrival of your cute little bundle of joy, your priorities, work load and lifestyle start to change simultaneously.

To begin with, as per experience, home based businesses or freelance jobs are a much better call for mothers. As they give you the freedom to choose the place and time, that fit you best. However that doesn’t mean they require any less effort when compared to office jobs. The key to a successful career along with bringing up a baby with utmost affection, is time management, focus on the goal and promise to never over burden yourself.

How To Go From Idea To Prototype In 1 Hour

Occasionally we invite people to discuss issues of importance to our community. Here are some thoughts from Adam Rossi, an Elance client and owner of Elvaria.

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The freelance economy and 3D printers have converged to dramatically lower the time and cost associated with creating a new prototype. Recently, I was shocked at just how effective this combination has become.

My company, Elvaria, manufactures soft-serve ice cream and frozen yogurt machines. We frequently refine and improve the components of our machines based on customer feedback and our product roadmap. A number of the components that we use are custom manufactured based on our specifications.

The Traditional Process of Prototyping

1. Create a CAD drawing of the new part using in-house engineering or bring in a contract engineer.

2. Send the CAD drawing out to one or more rapid prototyping companies for a quote.

3. Select a vendor and wait for the part.

4. Test the part. Make refinements to the design and CAD drawing.

5. Repeat until the design is optimized.

6. Send the final drawings and specifications out for manufacture.

This usually took a few months.

A new approach.

A few weeks ago we decided to try the “new economy” approach to redesigning an agitator for one of our machines. The agitator is a magnetic mixing blade that spins in the hoppers of our ice cream machines, keeping the liquid product well mixed and preventing product separation. It’s driven by a motor located underneath the hopper and spins by magnetic force. Think of a large version of the spinning magnetic mixer you used in chemistry class.

The Internet: A Level Playing Field For Freelancers

Elance invited Kristen Gramigna of BluePay to discuss working on the Elance platform.

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The barriers to entry for Internet marketing are very low. Businesses can create marketable websites and blogs for several hundred dollars, and can participate in social media without spending a dime. Other popular Internet marketing techniques such as SEO, PPC advertising and email marketing can often be conducted effectively on modest budgets.

On the Internet, every business can play — and not only is the playing field level, it’s THE field. Thanks to smartphones and generations of Americans who grew up with the Internet, often their favorite place to do business, is on the Web.

If every freelancer can use the Internet, why do relatively few succeed? This article will explore a few of the most important reasons.

It All Starts with the Website

No matter how charming you are on social media, or how clever you are at SEO, sooner or later, prospects will come to your website and decide if they want to engage with you. If your website presents clear and compelling value, establishes your credibility and competence, and offers persuasive reasons to take the next step in the business relationship — you stand an excellent chance of making the right impression and gaining a new client.

Furthermore, an effective freelance website must be built to be marketed; in other words, it must be SEO-friendly, integrate with Google Analytics, and enabled to track conversions. If your site is only a “billboard” site that gives you no ability to increase organic search engine visibility or know where your sales inquiries came from, your online marketing will be ineffective.

Avoid the Social Media Time Suck

A second huge Internet trap for freelancers is spending an inordinate amount of unproductive time on social media. This trap is very enticing. On social media, a freelancer can chat with peers, vent frustration in a safe place, and gorge on a steady diet of fascinating articles. It’s a safe haven in what is often a difficult if not hostile business environment.

Growing Pains: Create a Realistic Growth Strategy By Hiring Freelancers

Occasionally we invite people to discuss issues of importance to those who work on Elance-oDesk. Here are some thoughts from Cameron Johnson, a small business consultant and social media expert. 

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Recent reports on the trends in consumer purchasing reveal that 78% of consumers are not loyal to any particular brand. With the increase in product reviews and mobile comparison shopping people are now often able to find good quality at a competitive price regardless of brand. This shift in consumer spending is requiring businesses to rethink their growth strategies in order to be competitive in this evolving marketplace.

The Mobile Economy.

A number of elements have led to this changing landscape of brand loyalty. Two key factors in this change are the increasing popularity of mobile devices, and a languishing economy. Today’s mobile technologies allow consumers to shop simultaneously online and in store. A shopper browsing the aisles of a local shop can check local inventories, prices, coupons, review online competition, and quickly sum up their purchasing options. The unprecedented ease of comparison shopping has contributed to consumers lowering the importance of brand in their decisions.

The fallout from America’s long term economic challenges have motivated people and businesses to reconsider their buying patterns. Although the decision process has remained the same, the emphasis placed on stages 2 and 3—information search and alternative evaluation—have expanded and drastically changed the results away from brand loyalty. Agile price comparison coupled with social reviews of products have given consumers confidence in choosing an off brand product.

Businesses Need Fast Turnaround.

The growing shift away from brand loyalty is changing the way companies have to think about the markets they serve. They must provide quality options at more competitive prices. As a result, it is becoming crucial that companies be able to quickly adjust to consumer preferences, which in turn increases competition and accelerates release of new products entering the marketplace.

Why I Stay On The Elance-oDesk Platform

Here’s another post from Sarah Ratliff of Coqui Prose Content Marketing. She regularly shares her thoughts on ways to succeed on Elance.

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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?”

How Do Clients See Elancers?

Here’s another post from Sarah Ratliff of Coqui Prose Content Marketing. She regularly shares her thoughts on ways to succeed on Elance.

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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):

Five Secrets For Making Your Freelance Voice Heard

Not long ago we featured a post on public policy initiatives, penned by job advocate Mike Hruby of New Jobs for Massachusetts. Following up, Mike has additional thoughts for the Elance community. Read his secrets on making sure you’re represented by policy makers.

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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.

3 Tips On Managing Relationships With Online Freelancers

Occasionally we invite Elance-oDesk clients to discuss issues of importance to our community. Here are more thoughts from Tobias Schelle, a Danish entrepreneur who is the Founder/CEO of 24slides.com. Check out his blog post and video below, on managing freelancers. Also check out his other posts and videos in this series, including ones on finding the perfect freelancer and on collaborating with freelancers.

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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.

Proposal Writing 101

Here’s another post from Sarah Ratliff of Coqui Prose Content Marketing. She regularly shares her thoughts on ways to succeed on Elance.

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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!

30 Digital Skills to Learn Before You’re 30

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.

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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.

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