Occasionally we invite entrepreneurs to discuss issues of importance to our community. Here are a few thoughts on networking from Danny Schaffer, a freelance writer and marketer from South Africa. Danny was also a runner-up in our recent blog writing competition, which Elance co-sponsored alongside co-working space The Common Room.
Sites like Elance and oDesk have shifted the way many of us do business. By connecting clients and freelancers from all over the world, the online marketplaces spark what will often become long-term business relationships.
But relying on digital workplaces alone to grow one’s network is no longer enough. Savvy professionals know the key to building a powerful career in any field is through powerful and intentional networking.
But unless you’re some kind of socialite, networking is awkward. The word alone reeks of contrived self-promotion.
Most of us at some point or another have tried at least one networking event. And it’s almost always the same ... mildly interesting talks swarmed by people throwing around business cards right and left.
The problem here is a lack of authenticity. People aren’t interested in each other; instead they’re dead bent on a mission to work the room, convincing strangers that they’re worth knowing.
But meeting people face-to-face, having a real conversation, is one of the greatest ways to form genuine connections with people. So how can do this in less used-car-salemanesque way?
Burning Man and the art of powerful networking
I was first introduced to the idea of gifting on a week-long trip to the desert for Afrikburn, an offshoot of the Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. While hanging out in the desert for a week may or may not be your bag, there are a number of great lessons we can take away from The Burn. Burning Man was originally founded upon 10 principles, the most important of which in this context is gifting - the act of giving something to someone without expecting anything in return.
At first the concept seems a little alien, but after seeing how it works in practice and reflecting on it after the drugs have worn off, one realizes it’s the most natural way relationships are formed. Give someone something and they want to give you something back, this back-fourth quickly builds trust and sparks a friendship based on mutual benefit.
The key here is to become a giving person in every aspect of your life, always looking for ways to make people’s lives better whether or not they’re able or willing to return the favour.
Once you’ve integrated a giving attitude into who you are, you can take the next step into a more focused and intentional approach when it comes to networking with the people who interest you.
Focus on the people that matter
Unlike the Burning Man bunch, you’re not just looking to gift yourself and your skills to everyone you meet along your merry way, rather you need to identify a group of specific people who know something you want to find out more about, and add real value to their lives in a unique way.
Occasionally we invite Elance-oDesk clients to discuss issues of importance to businesses in our community. Here are some thoughts from Foundr Magazine Editor-in-Chief & Publisher Nathan Chan. His Melbourne, Australia-based publication is a digital magazine that’s a must read for entrepreneurs.
Upon reading this headline you are probably thinking, how can one man do all this?
The answer: Leveraging the internet through freelance contractors around the world.
I’m just a regular guy doing what I love, and it all started out with ‘a passion project’. This project has now led me to interviewing some of the most influential entrepreneurs around the world.
I was simply sick and tired of hearing about entrepreneurs killing it in life and business, so I set out to find out how these entrepreneurs are doing it, and wanted to share my findings with the world through a cool magazine.
So then Foundr Magazine was born and launched early March last year. Foundr is a monthly digital publication exclusive to the Apple Newsstand for iPad, iPhone & iPod Touch & Google Play Store and is tailored specifically to young entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses.
The truth is none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for an amazing tool like Elance that allows me to leverage overseas talent from all around the world.
Through the ability of outsourcing with Elance I have been able to build up a solid team which consists of a graphic designer, audio/video editor and a team of five writers from all around the world. All talent was sourced via the Elance platform and all tasks and projects for each issue is run via the Elance platform. Essentially without Elance and the power of outsourcing my business wouldn’t be possible, certainly with a full time job.
So what advice do I give to anyone looking to leverage their time in the most effective way?
1. Try to delegate tasks as much as possible. For example, I give my current graphic designer full creative control when designing the magazine. Not only do I trust him, but I encourage trying new things and pushing the status quo. Not only does this allow me to take a step back from the design side of the magazine, it also allows me to focus on my skill set which is business strategy / marketing.
2. When bringing on employees or contractors via outsourcing, always look to build a long-term business relationship. Building a long-term business relationship with your contractors allows you to save an enormous amount of time, as once you have trained up that staff member as you do not need to constantly look for someone else to repeat certain tasks. In Elance you can set up a timesheet that can be filled out for regular work, which auto direct debits and pays your contractors. Don’t you just love automation?
3. Hire a player. Easier said then done, but I cannot tell you the importance of building an A player team. It’s all well and good to use platforms such as Elance to find skilled contractors for the least amount possible, but at the end of the day the old saying rings true “you pay for what you get”. I try and find premium contractors that charge 25-30% more than most, as generally they are the best at what they do.
4. Recruit members of your team that believe in your vision. If you want your team members to stay with you for the revolution, they have to believe in it. Every single person that I work with is not only doing it for the money, but also because they believe in me and Foundr magazine. This is very powerful when it comes to encouraging your staff to produce their best work.
5. Go that extra mile with the hiring process. Do many Skype interviews and really invest the time in getting to know who the person is you are working with. For me this has been critical as I have built strong relationships with my team and it allows me to take a step back as I can rely on them fully to fulfil any tasks required.
There you have it. The secret sauce to running a side hustle business with a full time job. Comment here to share advice of your own.
Here’s another post from our roving reporter, Joshua Rodriguez.
Last weekend, I decided to take my fiancé out for a night downtown. It was an amazing night that included 3-D glow in the dark put-put golf, an arcade, and a nice meal. While we were walking downtown we were thinking of where we were going to eat. We walked past a few food carts and one of them really caught our eye.
It was called Love & Whiskey. We stopped in and although the owners were there, the cart hadn’t officially opened yet. We had a great conversation with the owners and they agreed to do an interview with me on their opening day. So, today we’re going to talk about the inspiration behind Love & Whiskey, the journey it took for their food cart to come alive, and how one Elance contractor played a major role in their branding. Here’s how the interview went.
I started out with the classic question, “Why did you decide to open a food cart instead of a brick and mortar location?” The answer really caught me off guard. I assumed that it would be associated with how much a brick and mortar restaurant costs to start. Instead, Brandon, the owner explained that “since it’s a small operation, we have the ability to put a lot more love into our food. We’d also like to get a mobile catering business going one day; so, we figured a food cart would be a perfect first step!”
The birth of a wonderful business (and more)
After that question, we chatted for a little while and I learned that the lady by his side in the cart wasn’t just a co-worker, she was his wife. Brandon and Jadie met in culinary school, and it was there where they fell in love and started to come up with big plans for their future. Today, they’re married and have a 6 month old baby girl. Throughout the last several years, Brandon had worked as a cook at several different restaurants. However, there came a point where he realized that holding his day job as a cook took far too much time away from his family. So, his dream became to open a business he could call his own in order to provide for his family while still being able to be part of their lives.
At one point in the conversation, I asked him what his signature dish was. He replied with “All of them”. He went on to explain that everything he makes is made with love and made in house. Brandon and Jadie even cure the bacon, pickle the red onion, and make the sauces all on their own! He also told me that they make it a point to reach for perfection in all of the dishes they create. So, they are all equally perfect!
Then again he’s the chef, he’s going to say that right? Well guess what…I got to try some of the food! During our visit, Jadie started us off with a fish taco. It was made with a corn tortilla, fresh snapper, Napa cabbage slaw, mango habanero pico de gallo, pickled red onion and more! I’ve got to say, it was absolutely amazing! Next, Jadie served me a fresh Frisco Burger. It was a fresh burger topped with fried jalapeno, Tillamook cheddar, chipotle ole, house sauce, tomato, and butter sauce. The burger was also absolutely amazing!
The Elance connection
After the food, one of my favorite questions came up. “Have you ever heard of Elance?” Brandon’s eyes lit up as he told me that he wanted to make sure that the branding for his food cart was done perfectly. He wasn’t sure who to hire or what to do when it came time to have his logo designed. So, he went on an online search. That’s where he found Elance. An Elance contractor helped him through the process of designing the simple, yet perfect logo; and he plans to reach out to Elance contractors for future design or development jobs!
To keep up with the theme of Love & Whiskey, I decided to bring a gift when I went to meet him. To ring in our new found friendship, I brought along a small bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey. I offered a toast and Brandon and Jadie were happy to oblige.
After the toast, I asked the final question…”So what is the idea behind love and whiskey?” In the smiley, fun manner he generally responded to questions with, he said “Mostly because it took a lot of love and whisky over the last couple of years to get here!” and let off a chuckle. He went on to explain …”Me and my wife are a team that runs off of love. We also like to incorporate a lot of whiskey and bourbon into our food. The name just seemed to fit!”
After meeting Brandon and Jadie, I can honestly say it was a pleasure getting the opportunity to get to know them. With bubbly, fun loving personalities, amazing recipes, and signs of love everywhere (even on their door into their kitchen), I’m sure they’re going to go far! It was nice to see Brandon’s face when he was talking about having the ability to spend time with his family; as well as watch how well Jadie and Brandon worked together from behind the scenes (The interview was at 12:30pm on Wednesday in Downtown Portland, OR). I also think that it was awesome that an Elance contractor helped them come up with a logo design that worked well for them. I wish them all the best!
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.
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.
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.
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 exciting – 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. Crossing one border after another and still having a high income is indeed catching people’s attention. If you go for it (please do), you will meet some challenges when it comes to getting stuff done. This includes challenges I myself had, and struggled with for a long time. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Occasionally we invite professionals to wax poetic about issues of importance to freelancers on Elance. Here are some thoughts from entrepreneur Eric Riley.
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.
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.
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.
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).
"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.