Odesk and Elance are Merging, and I am Sad

At the end of 2013 I learned that Odesk and Elance are merging. For those that aren’t familiar with these two markets, here’s a brief background (those that already know can either skip the following two paragraphs or read and complain in the comments about how I got it wrong).

Elance.com is a job site where freelance writers like me get work (there’s work for other kinds of freelancers too, but we’re not talking about them). There’s good jobs to be found there, but the pay is usually lower than what you can get than if you went out and found clients yourself.

Odesk.com is the same thing, only the asking rate for these projects is much, much lower than Elance (if that were possible). How much lower? I’ve seen people post $1 blog post jobs on Odesk. One. Freaking. Dollar. At that rate, I would have to write 3 articles to afford one cup of McDonald’s coffee.

Soooo worth it.

Soooo worth it.

And now the two companies are merging. Not so good news for freelancers who still use the two sites as their main source of income. This detailed post from Carol Tice explains the many reasons why. To me, it means that two entirely separate and distinct markets—the borderline-reasonable-budget jobs on Elance and the bargain-bin/flea-market shoppers on Odesk—will be merging into one messy pile of job tickets.

Oh, Elance and Odesk deny this of course. They say they’re going to keep the two sites separate. And they probably will. At first. But as Carol pointed out in her post, one of the sites is probably going to get the axe. So where will the evicted freelancers go? The other site, crowding an already overpopulated marketplace. A good paying project on Elance usually gets dozens of bids, and it’s always a struggle to get noticed. Add in the Odesk people, and you’ll have a Black Friday crowd attacking every project.

This could be you, company owner.

This could be you, company owner.

The market is moving away from these types of bid sites, and they’re struggling. Businesses are starting to realize that junk content isn’t going to win the Google ranks anymore, and more freelancers are beginning to charge the rates they deserve.

Me? Well, there’s no way I can say “I’ve moved past these sites, and I’m earning better money” and not sound arrogant (at least none I can think of at 2 in the morning), so f*** it.

I’ve moved past these sites, and I’m earning better money.

I’m still grateful to Elance and Odesk. I might kick myself for not going straight to clients sooner, but the money from these sites helped me keep my family’s finances above water during some pretty tight times. I met one of my best clients on Elance. And the time I spent writing $5 blog posts helped me improve my writing for the better-paying clients I’d meet down the road.

But I look back at Elance and Odesk, where I first learned to price my own work, where I first learned to talk to clients, and where I earned my first dollars as a writer, and I am sad. It’s the sadness of seeing your first car sold or junked, even though it was a POS that you cussed at every day.

The world is moving on, and where you’ve been is no longer relevant to where you are now.

I need a beer.

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After The Dream

It’s the modern-day dream. Being able to work for yourself without being tied down to an office, a boss, or a company. No dream comes free though, and all freelancers have to take the good with the bad. But who are you to complain. You’re living the dream, right?

Right.  

That’s what I always thought until I spoke to Hollis Bartlett, a freelance web developer and designer I met a few days ago. He’s been building websites since 1996 and loves what he does. He’s built a very successful business for himself, and even hired an assistant developer to help him with the workload.

Unfortunately, the nature of the business just became too much for him, and he decided to hang up his mouse and keyboard and (partially) retire. Here’s an excerpt of his email to me:

I’ve grown to dislike the business. It’s a shame, because I still love creating designs in Photoshop, and oddly enough I love love love creating web design using css & html. I love putting together CMS templates with all of these components, and my favourite part is still helping people get their business online properly. The business part afterwards, however, sucks the big one. Waiting for invoices to get paid (usually late). People not paying attention to what you tell them, and constantly bugging you for shit you already told them 10 times. People don’t read emails. They assume they can call you at any time of the day, on any day of the week including Sundays.  I had one show up at my house unannounced on a Sunday afternoon.

You can read the rest of it here.

The reason I find this so poignant is that many people (myself included) dream of being able to support ourselves and our families by doing the thing we love. We work hard and put ourselves through hell to make it happen and, through luck and blood and sweat, some of us do. Hollis did.

What Hollis’ experience taught me is that there’s always an after. Always. Life doesn’t stop once you reach that dream. You don’t watch the sunset through your home office window and cue the credits to roll. Things still happen. Projects fail. Clients complain. Bills come in. Your motivation dies. The dream fades to gray.

By that same token, you don’t have to stay there. Things can turn sour, but there’s always a way to make it better. Hollis took the leap by retiring and moving to a new city. I’m sure other freelancers who got sick of the job adapted in their own way as well, whether by retiring or evolving into different services.

Will I ever be able to support my family with my freelancing? Am I ever going to be a published author? It might happen. Once I do, will I eventually get sick of it? It’s possible. What am I going to do when it actually happens? I have no idea.

Do you?

Fool Me Once, Shame On Me

I had mentioned in a previous blog post that I had a certain delinquent payment that I was trying to resolve. I wouldn’t say I was chasing the editor down. Rather, I was just emailing every single person on the magazine’s contact page until I found one that would respond. Very reasonable, right? No cuss words or stalker-ish phone calls or anything. And it just so happened that the person who responded was their publisher!

Perfect! Attention from the top!

This person was very polite, even after I sent her the delinquent invoice of $80, and said the payment would be taken care of in short order. Sure enough, after an hour, I received a payment in Paypal. But it was only for $25. Huh?

I was by turns confused, concerned, insulted, confused again, and finally curious. There had to be a mistake somewhere.

And there was. Just not where I was expecting.

I mentioned (in very polite terms) the agreement that the editor and I had at the start of the project. I referenced the amount in the job ad they’d posted, which was the same amount the editor and I discussed over the phone. $80. The publisher politely but firmly instructed me that there must’ve been some confusion, and to consult the contract I’d signed at the start of the project.

Uh oh.

Did you read?

I checked. And there it was, in black and white. $25.

Now, I could’ve gone ballistic and yelled my head off about not getting the agreed upon amount. I could’ve sent a nasty email about the bait and switch that these people were pulling on contributors who work in good faith. But really, all I could muster was a resigned thought: They got me.

1st rule of freelancing is to always check your contract. Always. Golden rule. So this situation is really my own fault. The magazine may have been sneaky and underhanded, but they did nothing illegal. I signed a contract that I didn’t read. Lesson learned, watch out next time.

And honestly? I’m just glad I got paid at all.

Coming Up For Air

Coming up for air

Sup?

Things have been pretty busy for me the past couple of weeks. I didn’t want to let this blog sit for too long without an update, but neither do I have time to do multiple updates, so I’m putting it all into one blog post. Warning, it may be long-ish.

Freelance Stuff

Good news: Quite a few projects going on. One that I’m really enjoying right now is doing mod reviews for a little game called Minecraft. I think I must be the only freelancer online being paid for this kind of thing. Most of my other projects are small but consistent, and that’s just what I need right now. Especially considering…

Bad news: … that a feature magazine article I wrote back in March has not yet been paid. The editor is ignoring my emails, even the ones with a copy of the contract that SHE gave me. Considering my options. More on this as it develops.

Baby Stuff

I think Avi is going to grow up to be a performer or something. She loves dance videos and imitates nearly every move she sees on-screen. In fact, she already predicts her favorite videos and beats the performers to the punch!

Creative Writing Stuff

I’ve been doing a lot of work on my first novel. I’ve written others before, but I’m hoping this will be the first one I actually COMPLETE. Things are looking good so far. I’ve set a fairly aggressive daily writing quota (for me anyway), and if I can hit that 3 times out of 5 I’ll still be in good shape. And before you ask, yes. I did hit today’s quota, and then some. Which is why I have time to blog.

Flash Fiction Online Stuff

Still slogging through the slush pile. There are days when I dread logging into Submishmash, but being able to find that one gem in all the muck is a rewarding experience.

Day Job Stuff

Have I ever done a post about my new job? I don’t believe so. Well, let me just say that In-house Marketing is a far cry from Agency Marketing. A far, far, FAR cry. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at this many spreadsheets before in my life. It’s all important though, and I do think I’m getting the hang of it.

Okay, I think that’s everything. I’ll try to work on a more topical post as my schedule warrants.

Job Postings from Hell: The Fantasist

As a freelancer, I’ve come across my fair share of horribly written job ads. Wrong grammar, unrealistic terms, and horrendously low pay. But I recently stumbled across one that takes the cake, if only because it involves something close to my heart: fantasy fiction.

Here are some of the choicer bits:

I’m not going to lie my book does need some serious work.
How bad is it?
I don’t know I’m not an editor. but the previous editor told me it took her 45min to an hour per page.

45 minutes per page? Writing something from scratch would be faster! I’ve often had to struggle with horrible writing, but come on!

the book is about 70 pages.
the Word count is 30,500

A 30,000 word fantasy novel? That’s shorter than a single chapter from Game of Thrones.

the book is an action adventure book with mythical creatures, magic and sword fighting, hilarious moments, and hints of romance.

This better not be going in your query letter, buddy, because you just described nearly every fantasy novel in existence.

Condensation to be discussed, and agreed upon during the project.

I think I’d rather discuss my pay, and not my house’s moisture level.

I’ve got a news flash for you, pal.

Ouch.

Trust me on this.

Hiatus Highlights Ep 3: Freelancing

I’m happy to report that the business is growing. I am expanding my client base and stocking my portfolio, and things are looking up.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned over the past few months:

  • Craigslist is full of scammers, idiots, and charlatans…
  • …but it’s also full of great opportunities.
  • Regular, low-budget work can be a bigger source of comfort (and income) than large but rare windfall projects.
  • Clients DO appreciate good customer service.
  • Customer service is more than being polite. It’s being a client’s ally.
  • You CAN outgrow clients. And SHOULD.
  • … but never burn bridges. Who knows, the client might grow with you.

And stuff I have yet to learn:

  • Learn to say no. No. No. No.
  • Figure out a foolproof way to collect on invoices that doesn’t rely on people’s good will.
  • Working until 4 am doesn’t make you more effective. It just makes you sloppy.
  • I REALLY need to start making clients sign contracts.

Stuff I’ve discovered:

  • Freelance radio. One of the best freelancing podcasts out there. It’s a must-listen for any self-employed creative.
  • Grammar Girl. Well, it’s not a recent discovery. But she still gives great tips on how to use proper English.

Voila! End of recap. On to our regularly scheduled programming!

Freelance Writing: 3 Tips to Starting from Scratch

I was recently asked about my experiences as a freelance writer, how to get started, and where to go to get freelancing jobs. While there are plenty of web resources available for aspiring freelancers to learn from pros with plenty more experience than me–like here and here, and here too– I also want to share some of the things I’ve learned, in the hopes of helping those whose situation isn’t so different from how I used to be.

So without further ado:

1. It’s possible to start from nothing.

One of the biggest challenges for me when I started out was my portfolio. It wasn’t necessarily empty, but close enough to it. I always dreaded the question “can I see more of your work”, because I simply didn’t have anything else to show. This was also a problem in that I sometimes wouldn’t have anything relevant to the project for which I was bidding (only having magazine articles when the client wanted website copy, for example). This closed a lot of doors for me; it also became a psychological block that kept me from aggressively hunting projects.

But there are clients who are willing to take on new writers if they show a good command of the language (whether you’re writing in English or otherwise), and if the writers can show they understand the clients’ needs. You may have to work for free (or close to it), but at this point in your career you should be focusing on building your resume.

Think portfolio, not profit.

2. If you don’t have clients, be your own.

No need to cool your heels in front of the keyboard if nobody’s awarding you any work. If you don’t have any active projects, this is a good chance to work on your own. I recommend you spend time working on your writing skills by practicing the kind of writing you want to sell. Are you planning on writing websites? Practice writing for an imaginary client and see how your work stands up to similar, existing websites. If it’s good enough, you may even be able to show it as a part of your portfolio.

And just because you’re practicing it doesn’t mean you can’t get paid for it. You can submit articles to sites like Constant Content and get paid a (very) small commission for either page views or for sold articles (method of compensation depends on the site). Some sites only pay to U.S. or North American writers, though, so read their T&Cs carefully. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family if they need any writing/editing work done for their businesses. If you’re feeling brave, you can pitch your articles to magazines and ezines (MOTL).

Practice makes profit.

3. Grow slow.

Developing a creative freelancing business is very tricky. Here, you are the factory.

At first, you will have no idea how long it will take to create the product your client ordered. It’s all too easy to bite off more than you can chew and take on too many jobs or over-promise on a deadline. Job sites like eLance let clients review their contractors, so doing a bad job will mar your record and make it harder for you to get more work.

Until you have a better idea of your own work process, and how much time you need to finish a piece, play it safe. I suggest you do it one project at a time. Give yourself enough breathing room to finish the work properly. Only then should you move on to the next.

Work before you run.