Guest Bloggers

Increase Your Productivity By Taking a Day Off

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.

5 Tips For Small Businesses Looking To Hire Developers

In the near future, you're going to see every small business start with a website. When it happens there’s going to be even greater demand for developers then there is now. And as you probably know, experienced web developers are already difficult to find.

To hire a developer, you’ll need a clear vision of your business. And because you'll be hiring someone to build a new online home for your business, don't treat that person any differently than you would someone building your physical business.

Fortunately, Elance is home to hundreds of thousands of developers and programmers, so it won't be hard to find the right person. Here’s how:

1. Ask yourself the right questions.

It's essential to hire the right person the first time. Start by looking at these factors when reviewing your freelancers:

·       How long have they been a developer?

·       What are their past projects?

·       Do they look like legitimate developers?

·       Are they available for a quick video call?

They may not seem like very big questions at first, but they're surely going to reveal a lot about the developers and their work.

2. Ask your candidate the right questions.

Developers are people, just like everyone else. And truth to be told, being a developer is very difficult if you have a difficult client. Part of the problem is that clients themselves don't understand what development is, and so in turn they expect the world. That, my friends, is not how it happens.

Now, for the questions to avoid:

6 Mindsets To Achieving Exceptional Customer Service (Read: Increased Revenue)

A huge fan of Elance-oDesk and our freelance customer service experts, entrepreneur Derek Sivers serves up some timely advice on growing your business by growing great relationships with your customers.


I was honestly surprised that my company, CD Baby, was such a runaway success. But I was even more surprised to find out why.

CD Baby had lots of powerful and well-funded competitors. But after a few years they were all but gone, and we dominated our niche of selling independent music. This included 150,000 musicians, 2 million music-buying customers, $139 million in revenue, and $83 million paid directly to musicians.

What was the secret to CD Baby’s success? I never did any marketing. Everyone came by word-of-mouth. But why? I honestly didn’t know.

So whenever I was out talking with my musician clients, I’d ask them. For years, I asked hundreds of clients why they chose CD Baby instead of the alternatives. Or I’d just listen as they’d rave to others nearby about why they loved it. Was it the pricing? The features? Nope. The #1 answer, by far, almost every time someone raved about the company, was this:

“You pick up the phone! I can reach a real person.”

They called and got a real person on the second ring, instead of an automated call-routing system. Or they emailed and got a surprisingly helpful personal reply, instead of an impersonal scripted FAQ response.

And that was it. Who could have guessed? That despite all efforts put into features, pricing, design, partnerships, and more, clients would choose one company over another mainly because they liked their customer service.

I structured the business to match this priority. Out of 85 team members, 28 people were customer service. Since then, many entrepreneurs and interviewers have asked for my customer service tips and tricks, but I recently realized it’s not something you can add on top, it’s really a philosophy—a mindset that has to come from the core.

I’m no expert on the subject, but I’ve learned a few things from 16 years of experience. So here are the six key mindsets that I think guide great customer service:

Mindset #1: You can afford to be generous.

The #1 most important mindset to start with, underlying everything, before engaging in communication with a customer or client, is that your business is secure.

Even if it’s not, you have to feel that it is. Money is coming your way. You are doing well. You are one of the lucky ones. Most are not so fortunate. You can afford to be generous.

All great service comes from this feeling of generosity and abundance. Think of all the examples of great service you’ve encountered. Free refills of coffee. Letting you use the toilets even if you’re not a customer. Extra milk and sugar if you need it. A rep that spends a whole hour with you to help answer all your naive questions.

Contrast it with all of the bad experiences you’ve had. Not letting you use the toilets without making a purchase. Charging an additional 50 cents for extra sauce. Salespeople who don’t give you a minute of their time because you don’t look like big money yet.

All bad service comes from a mindset of scarcity, feeling like they’ll go out of business if they don’t fiercely guard their bottom line.

They say the reason those in poverty so often stay in poverty is that short-term thinking of desperate survival doesn’t leave room to think of long-term solutions. If you really feel secure, abundant, that you have plenty to share, then this feeling of generosity will flow down into all of your interactions with customers. Share. Be nice. Give refunds. Take a little loss. You can afford it.

Of course it’s also just smart business. Losing 10 cents on extra sauce can mean winning the loyalty of a customer who will spend $1,000 with you over the next 10 years, and tell 20 friends that you’re awesome.

Protecting Your Internet-Based Business And Information

OK, you hired talented freelancers to help create a killer business. While working online, you felt safe. Elance-oDesk provides many solutions that help ensure your safety. But once your business goes live, online, in the real world, you’re vulnerable to mayhem. To discuss protecting your business and information on the Internet, we asked Detectify CEO Rickard Carlsson to weigh in. His Stockholm, Sweden-based company is a SaaS web application security scanner that analyzes and reports on the status of your website.


The Internet is broken, from a security point of view, and most organizations are vulnerable to attack.

Hackers have now changed their behavior, increasingly going after all organizations without a specific target in mind. There is no longer an excuse to say that you have nothing of value to steal.

The only question is, how vulnerable you are? And how to most efficiently and effectively protect your information? As you know, killing a mosquito with a bazooka is expensive.

To get started, let’s clarify five common misconceptions.

1. Nobody wants to hack us, we’ve got nothing of value to steal.

Most hacks are automated. They’re designed to spread malware via your site, send a political or commercial message, carry out an advertising scam, or some other malicious activity. Hackers don’t care about you, specifically. But if they’re successful, the damage will hurt your brand and give you unnecessary clean up work.

2. I’m safe, because we’re using a CMS for our website.

No. During the last three months, over 150 new vulnerabilities have been found on WordPress alone. Most Content Management Systems (CMS) show similar statistics.

3. I’m safe, because we’re on a hosted platform.

This will partially improve your security, as the provider will patch your servers. However, you still need to manage the sites and applications you install on the platform. It’s not a solution in itself.

4. I’m safe, because we only use integrated third party services.

Not true.  For instance, poor use of JavaScript on a third party service or a plugin could compromise the security of your complete domain. This includes on your blog ( or your general website (

5. I’m safe, because we let an agency do our development.

Wrong. Unless you asked specifically for a security assessment/safe development, you’re not safe.

OK, then … what can happen?

A lot of bad things can happen. A potential attacker might try to steal information, or use your site to spread harmful code. Or the hacker might just be mean-spirited and encrypt all your data, just for fun. Also, very basic sites can be used for illegal activities.

Here are three examples of what can happen …

1. Your site is mainly for providing information:

Hackers can replace your site with Viagra ads or changed board member information for new visitors while you see the original information.

2. Your site has user login and user profiles:

Hackers can obtain and leak customer data. This can happen any number of ways, one of which is through poorly managed picture uploads.

3. Your site uses SaaS services and web-shops:

Hackers can impersonate a user on your system and trigger actions in the system, or complete a purchase.

Relax, there are solutions.

Four Simple Steps To Finding Perfect Freelancers

Occasionally we invite Elance-oDesk clients to discuss issues of importance to our community. Here we share some wisdom from Tobias Schelle, a Danish entrepreneur who is the Founder/CEO of Check out his blog post, as well as the first video in Tobias’ upcoming series of helpful video tips.


Almost everything can be done online these days.

Which is why it’s no surprise that online technology is influencing the way we do business, too. This includes everything from searching for talent to collaborating with and managing freelancers.

This video explores ways to streamline hiring. It’s the first in a series on how to maximize the benefits of working online, each designed to help you be more productive and conduct business seamlessly.

Your 4-step plan on finding the right freelancer.

Amid the multitudes of possible candidates on Elance-oDesk, how do you find the most suitable freelancer for the job?

It’s tempting to narrow your list to only qualified applicants, and then hire the person who submits the lowest bid. But if you want to get the most out of your online team, use this simple 4-step process as a guide. In the long run it will save you time, energy, and money.

Step 1: Screen and choose your top three candidates

Posting a job is easy and fairly straightforward. Pretty soon, you’ll have many candidates applying for you job. While this is great, it also poses a challenge: Finding the right one among the many capable applicants.

To start off, narrow your applicants to the top three based on their relevant skills and the ratings and reviews from previous Elance clients. From there you can click on the applicant’s name and view their profile and employment history.

Step 2: Now test your top three freelancers.

Why is this important? Simple. Because people can sometimes look great on paper or in theory, but fall short of expectation in actual application. If you evaluate applicants merely based on what’s written on their resumes, or gathered from previous client feedback, there’s less chance of selecting the perfect candidate for the job.

And because many freelancers can be really good at selling themselves, giving them a test task beforehand can help you drill down further. You can get a clearer picture of who really is the ideal match for your particular project.

Ideally the test task should be as close as possible to the demands of your job at hand. This can typically take somewhere between 20 minutes to an hour. You should pay them for the test project, to simulate a real working environment and to ensure that the freelancer gives 100% on the project.

Digital Nomads Report In From The Road


Occasionally we invite entrepreneurs to discuss issues of importance to our community. Here are some thoughts from Morten Storgaard, a Denmark-based startup fanatic and digital nomad who travels the world working with his business partner (and wife of seven years) Maria.Digital nomads by poolside


My wife Maria and I have been working to become geographically independent for over two years. Here is how we were able to live a more fulfilling life in Denmark while also travelling extensively while we work.

When we first decided to make the change to a digital nomad lifestyle, we were both working long days at our own startup. We owned a print-on-demand webshop, which required our attention on a daily basis. There was never a free moment, as we were needed to keep the printers running, get pictures framed and shipped and so forth. We realized that in order to travel more, and to successfully immerse ourselves in other cultures, we had to leave that behind.

To begin the process of independence we arranged a meeting with our investor, and worked out an exit plan that would take one year to execute. The plan worked, although being an entrepreneur, I would have to say that the exit part was difficult. When you like building stuff, it’s hard to take out a full year for an exit (at least when you know it won’t make you rich).Morten Storgaard

Well, we got out, and as we started to plan for our new life we also started a blog, Go Downsize, about simple living. We covered the downsizing process in depth, and today that blog is part of our income stream as we have ads and affiliate links on the site. We write about how to live better in a small apartment, which is a good idea if you want to travel as much as possible. We also chose to sell most of our stuff and get debt free, and now we are almost there. You can follow the process on our blog if you’re interested.

Starting a new business without employees.

After downsizing our apartment from 1,000 to 450 square feet, we needed to get creative about space saving and optimizing the space we did had.

With this in mind we decided to build a bed that would fold up on the wall during the day (called a Murphy bed). This would allow us to use the room as an office, gym, and dining room during the day.

We even built a website around Murphy beds, and our new business was born. One thing we decided to do differently this time, as we didn’t want to manage people on a daily basis, was to build a business that could run more automatically. In the beginning we did everything ourselves, and it was fun. But small tasks can take a long time if you lack the experience.

This is when we decided to hire freelancers on Elance-oDesk for individual assignments. This decision has been one of the best choices we made. Maria and I started out with small tasks, like the logos for our websites, which were created by a great graphic designer from the Philippines. Soon after this we had another freelancer help us make some changes to the creative theme on our website.

Where else do we work with freelancers?

Originally for Go Downsize and Murphy Bed HQ, we only used freelancers for specialized skills. But for our latest website (a board game webshop), we have worked with freelancers for everything from copywriting and graphics to coding and handling. I wish I had started doing this earlier, because it’s much more fun to focus on the things I’m really good at.

My advice: Only do what you do best and let other experts around the globe work for you. They can get the job done faster and better than you, because it’s their expertise.

I would say that graphics are probably the easiest thing to hire freelancers for, and if you haven’t tried it yet, this could be a good place to start. Too often I have tried to create web graphics myself, but if you want to look professional, you need to work with people who are good—really good.

We have been working with one designer regularly, and I recommend finding a good long-term partner for graphics. The same goes for coding. You can see how our board game project turned out here.

If the workload is too big for one freelancer, consider this: Get a good designer to do the overall design from the start (or create a design manual), and then hire other freelancers to work within these guidelines. This way you get a consistent look and feel through out the entire website.

So take a good look at your workload. There might be tasks you do again and again, that others could do more efficiently and effectively. Wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to focus more on the stuff that comes more naturally to you? And as an added bonus, you’ll have freedom to travel and grow your business while you’re on the road. That’s why being a digital nomad is so rewarding.

Protecting The Intellectual Property Of Your App

Occasionally we invite clients to discuss issues of importance to those who work with freelancers on Elance-oDesk. Here are some additional thoughts from Nicholas Wright. He frequently hires freelancers and is one of the founders of AppInstruct, an online course that teaches people how to make an app utilizing the Elance-oDesk platforms.


Earlier posts in this series have looked at:

How to turn your idea for a new mobile app into a working app

Exploring the concept of minimum viable product

Tips on how the start-up fundraising process works

Equity and control options

Ideas on raising funds for your startup

This week we’ll address an often-asked question: “I’ve got a great idea for an app, but how do I stop you from stealing it?”

Bottom line: Your idea is the easy part.

The first thing to let go of is the mistaken belief that the greatest value is in your idea. The truth of the matter is that the idea is normally the easiest part, and lying between your idea and a successful, revenue-generating product are many potential hurdles.

If you spend all of your time vigorously trying to protect your idea, and not disclosing it sensibly to anyone for feedback or getting assistance on building it, then you’re less likely to succeed.

This being said, there a few standard methods of protecting your idea while discussing it with potential contractors or partners.

The main suggestion is to only disclose as much as needed when seeking initial quotes for the project. Once you identify one or two contractors you think are capable of doing the work, and determine that you’d enjoy working with them, consider putting in place non-disclosure agreements. This will bind the other party to retain the confidentiality of your information, and are a must before any work is undertaken. In our experience, reputable freelancers on the Elance-oDesk platforms will expect and be happy to enter into a non-disclosure agreement before undertaking your project.

Protecting your intellectual property.

Once work begins on your app, you’ll most likely have begun obtaining protection under intellectual property laws.

Within the world of a mobile app, the most likely areas of intellectual property law that will be relevant are 1) copyright law and 2) moral rights. 

1. Copyright law.

Copyright laws protect not the idea itself, but the expression of that idea. For example, the way the idea has been recorded—be that in writing, sound (music) or visually (films and television).

Computer programs are protected as a literary work under the respective copyright laws in each country. In the context of an app, the critical copyright will most likely exist in the code written to create the app. So, were you to work with freelancers in the coding of your app, it will be very important to obtain intellectual property transfers/assignments from any contracted developers working on it. It’s not enough to simply have paid them. In such instances you’ll actually only have a license to use the work, rather than ownership. Clearly, this is a critical point, (which becomes even more important if your app is successful and you seek funding from investors). But we’ll revisit this point below, when we discuss Elance-oDesk’s Independent Contractor Services Agreement.

Fishing For Great Clients? Why Freelancing Makes More Sense Than SEO

Occasionally we invite entrepreneurs to discuss issues of importance to our community. Here are some thoughts from Matt Keener, author of the book, Executive in Sweatpants: A Handbook for Launching Your Work from Home Career.


As a highly talented solopreneur with awesome skills, you shouldn’t waste time and money on SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

There, I said it. As someone who spends his day helping businesses achieve better rankings on search engines, this may come as a surprise to you.

Sure, being #1 on Google can help you yield huge rewards. But do you know how to get there? If so, do you have the resources needed to capitalize on the situation?

There’s a better way to find clients: Online marketplaces such as Elance and oDesk. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at lead generation from SEO vs. online marketplaces.

The problem with SEO for solopreneurs

Getting your business found on Google, Bing, and Yahoo! isn’t an easy process. In fact, it’s extremely challenging in today’s tech-driven business environment.

There are many factors that contribute to appearing in search results, including the need for a high-performance website (quick load time, mobile-friendly design, well-written code), tons of original, useful content (blog posts, videos, guides), backlinks from high-visibility websites, and continuous optimization (indexing analysis, keyword tracking, SEO testing) from your webmaster. In addition, many experts believe that your website’s age contributes to where you appear in the search results. Older and more proven domains typically get preference over newer ones.

As you might imagine, it takes a significant investment in time and money to do all of this the right way. If you’re just getting started as a self-marketer, you’ll probably have more time to invest than money. And if you’re not an expert in SEO, you’ll have to become one to be found online.

For example, let’s imagine you’re a mobile app developer. If your strategy is to attract clients via SEO, here are the minimum steps you’d have to follow to have a chance:

·       Acquire a web domain

·       Decide on your preferred content management system (WordPress, Joomla, etc.)

·       Purchase a web template (or have one designed from scratch)

·       Research keywords to find out what clients search for when looking for graphic designers

·       Plan out and write your web page content (on-page content, meta information, URLs)

·       Purchase stock photos to make your site interesting

·       Create a portfolio to show past examples

·       Take your site live

·       Submit your site to Google and Bing webmaster accounts

·       Install Google Analytics to track traffic trends

·       Plan and commit to a blogging strategy (content is what attracts new prospects)

·       Continuously optimize the performance of your website

·       Monitor traffic and keywords for new SEO opportunities

Is that how you want to spend your time? Probably not. The goal is to win clients, not win an award for online marketing prowess.

A better solution: Online workplaces such as Elance-oDesk

Freelance marketplaces streamline the client-winning process. Instead of wasting time trying to attract people to your own website, you can instantly connect with hundreds of prospects actively seeking professionals like yourself. Whether you use Elance or oDesk, you can be up-and-running in a few hours or less. In a nutshell, here’s what you need to do:

Raising Startup Funds? Here’s Food For Thought

Occasionally we invite clients to discuss issues of importance to those who work with freelancers on Elance-oDesk. Here are some additional thoughts from Nicholas Wright. He frequently hires freelancers and is one of the founders of AppInstruct, an online course that teaches people how to make an app utilizing the Elance-oDesk platforms.


Earlier posts in this series have looked at:

How to turn your idea for a new mobile app into an working app

Exploring the concept of minimum viable product

Tips on how the start-up fundraising process works

Equity and control options

This week we’ll run through the two main methods of fundraising for your startup—shares (equity) and convertible notes (debt). We’ll also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each method.

Shares and equity

Equity (or shares in the company) is the most common method of raising investment for a startup. It’s also likely to be a concept you are familiar with. In exchange for investing a certain amount of money, investors are issued a set number of shares at a certain value per share—such as $1 per share. 

The principal problem faced by founders and investors alike with this approach is agreeing what the company is worth—especially since the startup is yet to launch its product, much less earn any revenue. This valuation is critical, as it determines how large a piece of the company everyone (founders and investors alike) will own, once the investment is received and the shares issued. 

By way of a simple example, if the company raises $500,000 (a standard-sized pre-launch investment ‘seed’ round) at a pre-money valuation of $2 million, after the investment your investors will own 20% and the founders 80% (the seed money is added to the valuation, meaning a post-money company valuation of $2.5 million).

If the company raises $500,000 at a pre-money valuation of $4.5 million, then those same investors will only own 10% of the company post-money. Hence, they would own half the portion of the company at the lower valuation.

This means that there may be a need for a significant amount of negotiation between the founders and investors. This negotiation will consume valuable time from the founders—energy that could otherwise be focused on getting the company’s product perfected.

The other factor with equity is that upon issuing it, there will normally be significant negotiation as to who has control over the company and its decision making. While there are accepted parameters around these negotiations, the need for them often means that an equity investment might take 6-8 weeks to finalize once the investors commit to investing by signing a term sheet. In most cases, during that time period there remains a risk to the company and the founders that the investment will not be finalized and the funds not released.

Convertible notes—debt

Convertible notes differ from equity in that they are a debt instrument. That is, they don’t immediately confer on the investor a share in the company. Instead, they provide the investor with a right for the note to be converted into equity (upon the occurrence of a pre-determined event—normally the company raising a certain amount of funding by way of a share issue). Essentially, they provide a future right to a share in the company, but not immediate ownership of that share.

How Desert Hippies Can Teach You To Network Like A Pro

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.


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