LinkedIn – Skyrocketing Your Freelancing Career

Almost every freelancer new to an online job board will face the same problem: no history at that job board.

When buyers don’t want to take risks hiring inexperienced providers, they use the only frame of reference they have: the job board history.

But what do you do if you don’t have a history on the job board?

Get linked

If you’ve never heard of LinkedIn before, it’s the of social networking. Think of it as MySpace for resumes.

When you create an account at LinkedIn, you are given the opportunity to not only add your resume information, but also search for people you know. Once you find people you know, you add them to your network and are able to interact with them through the site.

You’re probably thinking, “But just posting my resume on yet another site isn’t going to do me any good.”

You’re right. That’s where LinkedIn recommendations come in!
Let your previous clients speak

For each job or achievement on your LinkedIn resume, people are able to leave testimonials for you.

Let’s say you’ve worked at XYZ Company for 5 years. Now let’s say that your old boss at XYZ company has a LinkedIn profile. Assuming that you left on good terms, when you open your LinkedIn account and list XYZ Company on your resume, your old boss will be able to sign into LinkedIn and leave a recommendation based on your work for XYZ Company.

Essentially, old bosses and clients can leave testimonials on your resume.
Testimonials take the place of feedback

Once you have a few recommendations on your LinkedIn profile, you’ll be one step closer to proving your reliability. Because your history and feedback are vital to getting work, having testimonials will help you break out of newbie purgatory. All you have to do is get some LinkedIn recommendations, write some awesome cover letters, and let your potential buyers know that while you’re new to the job board, you’ve been around the block and you have the proof at LinkedIn!


Anti-upwork allegations? What’s the real deal

Whether it’s through ignorance, misinterpretation, or misdirection, a lot of the non-rates-debate “talk” about Upwork in the blogosphere focuses primarily on two things: Privacy and the Hourly billing model. While Upwork is not for everyone, the (previously unheard of) hourly model it introduced to the freelance job-board market drew in a lot of buyers and providers in search of long-term opportunities without the hassle of per-assignment projection and billing.

Privacy: Monitoring me 24/7 illegal

Yes it is…which is why Upwork doesn’t do it! It’s true that Upwork requires time logging for hourly assignments (they also have fixed-price jobs that don’t require any logging), but the extent of the “intrusion” is minimal

Upwork Team, the time logging software, does NOT monitor your every move on the computer, and it does NOT report everything back to the buyer. That is an assumption many critics make without having even looked at what the program does – after all, it makes for a catchier headline by calling it eslavery.

Here’s how it really does work:

Runs as a background process while you are working
Counts the number of key-presses and mouse-clicks made
Takes a random screenshot for each 10-minute timespan during the hour, then uploads the screenshot and key/mouse count to Upwork’s work diary

That’s it. There are no “seeekrit spywayre funkshons” to read your email or disable your youtube account before reporting back to the NSA – the government is already doing that without Upwork’s intervention!

Some will argue that monitoring defeats the purpose of freelancing because it introduces aspects of a normal office environment – one that we’ve all worked so desperately hard to leave.

THAT’S THE POINT! Even though Upwork offers fixed-price assignments, it all got started to give buyers a way to outsource long-term jobs and still have some level of accountability. When it comes to freelance job boards, it’s predominantly a buyer’s market. The difference between Upwork and the rest is that Upwork bridges the gap between full-time employment and per-project freelancing.
Hourly jobs: If I work too fast, I’ll lose money

Yes, this is the most ridiculous statement I’ve heard when it comes to Upwork accusations. Yes, this argument is actually used to try to dissuade users from getting started on Upwork. I’m not kidding when I say I’ve read this on other sites – just the other day, in fact (unfortunately, I lost the link, otherwise there’d be some linkage in here).

I laugh whenever I hear that argument because if you truly know what you’re doing, you’ll know how to gauge your worthiness and make sure your client is being billed appropriately – regardless of the method of payment.

No, you won’t lose money…but if it makes you feel better, keep saying it.

Before freelancing full-time, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to work and not done a single thing…yet continued to draw a nice fat paycheck. Upwork ensures that this won’t happen because buyers only pay for hours worked. As a provider, you only get paid for the time you spend actually working – no slacking on the job.

If you assess your skills properly, and set your hourly rates accordingly, you can get paid what you’re worth. Be advised, though, that you have to prove that you’re worth what you ask for – if speed is a factor, you’ll need to be able to find a way to show it to your buyer.

The best thing to do is having a compelling portfolio at the ready, and wow the buyer with both it and your cover letters.


Freelancing the Change Forever

Regularly, a thread will pop up in the Upwork Community Forums regarding rates. These are typically instituted by newcomers to Upwork and freelancing in general, and mostly originated by Americans. People sign up on Upwork when they hear “work from home”, and they look for instant gratification. When they realize that you actually have to work hard to 1) build up a reputation and work history, and 2) prove your worth, the threads come through the forums like wildfire.

These people usually fall into one of two categories:

1) They have never freelanced before
2) They have never freelanced on a global scale before

They come into the forums, usually after having been on the site for less than a week, and complain about the low rates with quips such as, “how can I make a living working for $1/hr” or “this is not legal, the minimum wage laws [blah blah blah]”.


What they don’t realize is that minimum wage laws only apply if you are a normal W-2 employee of a company located in the United States. Minimum wage laws do not apply if you are a freelancer because you are not an employee, but an independent contractor – you are your own employer and you run your own business. You work for what you want to charge for, and what your buyers (clients) are willing to pay. Anyone can charge any amount, and it’s all perfectly legal.

It’s not the buyer’s job to make sure you can pay their bills. It’s yours. Assuming that just because other people can afford to work for $1/hr (and do) that the rules should change just because cost of living is higher for you is arrogant. The rules aren’t going to change just because it doesn’t work for you – you have to adapt to them. If you can’t afford to work for $1/hr, don’t. It’s as simple as that.

The problem with these self-righteous-rates-war types is that they don’t think about the global nature of Upwork. They don’t think about the fact that the minimum wage in the Phillipines is roughly about $8 USD per day. They don’t think about the fact that anyone with a computer can do mindless copy/paste data entry work, and will be hard-pressed to find a buyer willing to pay $15/hr for someone to do something a trained monkey can do. They don’t think that they have to prove that they’re worth what they want to charge, and to do that they need to not have a blank profile and portfolio.

They just don’t think

When you have the security of a day job that pays your bills as long as you just show up, it’s easy to get away with it. But not thinking in the world of freelancing will be your downfall. You are running a business. Business owners who don’t think end up going out of business…or borrowing $70 Billion from the government.

You can’t not think!


Recovery Process for Freelancers

Recover from illness? From stress? From general slumps?

Apparently, I sleep.

Two weeks ago, I got sick. It started with a cough…that turned into a fever…that turned into me dumping half my brains into three boxes of kleenex and hacking up what I can only assume were chunks of my lungs.

During that time, I’ve slept more than I’ve probably slept in a month. I was useless. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t clean (not that I’d want to clean, anyway)…I couldn’t even make my own soup, for crying out loud! But rest is what I needed, because I feel much better now.

Of course now that I’m feeling better, I’ve another problem…not knowing where to begin to start catching up. I have a lot of catching up to do, and I don’t know where to plant my feet to get started. And because of that, all I want to do now is go back to sleep.

But I know I can’t.

So what do you do? How do you recover from your slumps?


Upwork: Upgrading Your Profile to Upgrade Your Income

When you’ve been on Upwork (or any other freelance job board) for a while, you can rest on your laurels when bidding on jobs and let your work history speak for itself. When you’re just starting out, however, having a great profile is crucial.

Regardless of how long you’ve been freelancing on the outside, when you join a community like Upwork, eLance, or RAC, buyers (your potential clients) can only see what’s laid out before them.

Don’t shoot blanks

In three months, I have applied on one job on Upwork. Every other interview or candidacy I’ve had (70 as of this writing) were the results of buyers searching for a provider that met their needs. If my profile and portfolio were empty, they wouldn’t have found me.

When buyers post a job on Upwork, they are immediately given the option to view provider profiles that match their criteria for the job. Many buyers will invite you to an interview if they see something they like on your profile that fits their job – but they can’t do this if you don’t have anything searchable in your profile.

Make sure every bit of your profile that can be filled in is filled in!

Apprise accordingly

This should never be left empty. On all job sites, this will be the first thing a buyer will see. This should include all the reasons a buyer should hire you over the competition.

Skills: There is no reason this should be empty. At all. Whether it’s something you take for granted like typing 50wpm or operating Microsoft Excel, a skill is a skill. If you have many skills, limit your skills list to a targeted audience. For example: if you’re a web developer, narrow your skills list to programming languages and frameworks – buyers probably won’t be hiring you for your typing skills, show them what they want to see.

Certifications: If you don’t have any certifications, it’s perfectly acceptable to leave that section empty.

Employment History: Unless you have absolutely no work experience, place your most relevant jobs in your employment history and fill in the descriptions for each job. Use bulleted lists or separate skills into category paragraphs to make it easy for buyers to scan your credentials.

Education: Even if you did not get the degree, include your higher education information. Unless you’re a recent high school graduate, listing your high school in your education section is typically irrelevant. If you’re not a recent high school graduate, and you don’t have any higher education courses under your belt, it’s safe to leave this section blank.

Portfolio: Unless you’re marketing yourself in a commodity field like Data Entry, this should never be empty. This is your shot to highlight your best work. Choose your best pieces, whether it’s article writing or web design, and include a descriptive sentence or two for each item.

Target your clientele

The key to getting buyers to notice you is to choose your target buyer wisely. Every successful advertiser gathers demographics on their target audience to create their marketing material. In the world of freelancing, you have to be your own advertiser.

You don’t necessarily have to research demographics, but just know who you want to work for, and fill out your profile to grab their attention. Finding a niche to market yourself in will be easier than applying to jobs randomly, especially if your profile proves you’re the expert!
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Five Tax Tips for Your Freelancers

It’s mid-December. you now have exactly 4 months to shuffle off the paperwork to Uncle Sam for tax season. How many of you are prepared?

Here are a few tips to help get you prepared for one of the only two things that are certain in life.

Keep your receipts

This is one thing that I still let slip from time to time.

Anything that is business related, no matter how trivial it may seem at the time. While you may have been told that you can write off meals and events as business expenses, I want to advise you to do so sparingly. The IRS will notice if they see 1095 meal expenses – especially if you’re reporting a loss (like the majority of new freelancers).

Here are some of the things you can deduct:

Office Supplies – printer ink, paper, stamps
Insurance – if you’re completely self-employed and purchase health insurance, this is deductable
Advertising – business cards, web marketing (such as adwords)
Professional services – accountant, lawyer, consultants
Travel – business trips, conventions, auto mileage for business-related travel

Set aside for taxes

This is one that will get almost all new freelancers. When you’re starting out, you’re probably going to struggle for a bit – and every last penny counts. However, come April 15th, not having enough set aside for taxes can put you in even deeper waters!

Freelancing professionals (sole proprietors), if they turn a profit during the fiscal year, must not only pay income tax (25%), but a self-employment tax (15.3%) as well!

Set aside 30% if you anticipate a loss, slim profit, or want to owe less at the end of the year. Set aside 40% if you want to be safe!

Stay up-to-date with bookkeeping

I can’t tell you how many times Quickbooks has saved my bum.

However, I also can’t tell you how many times I let my bookkeeping slide for weeks and wound up having to play catch-up for 2 days straight. Don’t to this – do as I say, not as I do.

Nothing is worse than having to backtrack and dig through receipts, invoices, and payments. Set one day a week to do your weekly accounting, and you can avoid the headaches I have (not to mention the headaches you’ll give your accountant).

Depreciation…huh? What?

Did you know your computer is considered an “asset” by the IRS? So are your desk, chair, printer, software (yes, MS Office, too).

What does that mean? It means if it was expensive enough (like your computer and software like MS Office or Photoshop), instead of calculating the entire cost in one shot as an expense, you can file it as a “capital expense” and spread it out over a few years.

Why would you want to do this? In anticipation of next year’s taxes. If you do better next year and make more money (like we hope), calculating the depreciation value this year will give you a little extra offset on your earned income and that means a little less going back to Uncle Sam!

Hire an accountant

If this is your first year freelancing, hire an accountant. If you can’t afford a CPA, at least go down to the local H&R Block office to have someone take a look at all of your tax paperwork.

It’s not going to be cheap, but having someone who knows what they’re doing handle your taxes could both help you find deductions you never knew you could deduct, as well as keep you below the IRS’s radar


Making Your Objective Count

When writing a resume, or in the case of online job marketplaces such as oDesk your profile, your objective should be a brief statement of what you can do, not what you want. Often, you’ll see “stock” resumes with objectives stating something along the lines of:

To obtain a position where I can maximize my management skills, quality assurance, program development, and training experience.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and tell you to forget what you’ve read about resume writing from the books.

In the world of freelancing, your potential client doesn’t care about this – they want to know what you can do for them, and whether you can do it cheaper and/or better than the next guy.

Why should I hire you?

Let your objective reflect why you are the best candidate for the job in one or two paragraphs. Explain what you do, how long you’ve been doing it, and how well you can do it.

If you’re extremely quick, say so. If you have been working in your field for 10 years, explain how it gives you that much more experience than the guy who’s been doing this for only three. If you’re meticulous…well, if you’re meticulous, you should have already written that in your objective.

Center your objective around your buyer instead of yourself. Once you do this, you’ll be well on your way to impressing your buyer and snagging the job from the people who didn’t.


Upwork Freelancers – Tips to Not Frustrate Your Buyers

Everyone wants to be “in the loop”, and everyone wants to know whether or not they’ve done a good job. This is understandable – it’s human nature. Especially in the world of freelancing, our reputations as honest, hardworking providers are at stake. We all want to do a good job, and we want other people to know just when we do those good jobs.

However, there comes a point when you cross the line between just being inquisitive, and being downright annoying.

Be professional

Working from home in your pajamas can sometimes, even unexpectedly, put you into “casual mode” 24/7. Casual communication can be healthy for the buyer/provider relationship, but do remain professional.

Remember to send your buyer progress updates, show them relevant snippets of what you are working on, let them know if you hit a snag (this is especially important, don’t wait for the last minute on this). The more “in the loop” you keep the buyer, the healthier the relationship will be. The healthier the relationship, the more likely you are to 1) receive more work from them, and 2) receive great feedback and recommendations.

If you are waiting for information from your buyer before you can proceed, remind the buyer that you cannot proceed until you receive said information…but do not spam them with requests for it. This will only annoy them, and they’ll end up ending your assignment and hiring someone else less annoying (I’ve picked up a couple of jobs this way).

Be responsive

One of the worst things you can do is ignore your buyer. Sometimes, we may not have an answer for everything…but there’s nothing wrong with a timely, “I don’t know, but let me research it” response.

When you ignore your buyer, you are keeping them out of the loop. When they are paying for a service, they need to know what’s going on. When they ask how things are coming along, be honest about it. If thing’s aren’t coming along, tell them. They may not be happy that things are delayed, but they’ll be angrier if you say nothing, and three weeks later, you still have nothing to show for it.

Of course, sometimes, it’s impossible to keep the buyer informed…but unless it’s hospital admission or death, there’s no reason to not send the buyer a quick email letting them know what’s going on.

Be patient

When starting out on Upwork, feedback rating is critical – it’s only natural for buyers to want to hire someone who has a proven track record of getting the job done. Sending an email thrice-daily is not the way to obtain stellar feedback ratings. In fact, it’s likely to do just the opposite.

If you have completed your assignment (especially if it’s an hourly assignment and there’s no need for the buyer to remit payment manually), send them a polite email stating that the job has been completed and you would appreciate if they left feedback for you. If you feel it necessary, politely explain the importance of feedback when you’re new to a community such as Upwork.

Then wait…patiently.

If you’re still in the interview/proposal part of your communications with the buyer, it’s critical for you to be patient. You haven’t sealed the deal yet – do not push them away by being annoying. This is quite possibly the most important stage of your buyer/provider relationship, because at this point, there is no relationship. You have to build it, and you certainly won’t do that if you harass the buyer.


Businesses: Spec Your Process Better

I’ve mentioned before how imperative it is for providers to be as detailed as possible when creating their profiles and writing effective cover letters. Buyers have the same obligation to their providers if they want to easily find the best possible candidate.

As a service provider, nothing is more frustrating than receiving a new invitation from a buyer with a job description that states:

Need new website design ASAP. Must have portfolio and 5 years experience. Please send quote.

Not only is it impossible to quote this job, but it is likely to receive a higher than normal rate from me just because my “job-description-translation services” aren’t included in my normal fees. It sometimes annoys the buyer when I send back a mile-long list of questions before providing a quote, but it annoys me even more that I have to actually ask them.
Proper job specifications yield proper candidates

99% of the time, when you’re in the market for a freelancer, you won’t be taking out an ad in a local paper with a 140-character limit…so don’t post your job descriptions like you are!

Most online job boards will give you plenty of room to include your specifications – some even let you add attachments to provide mockups and other miscellaneous files. Take advantage of these options and save yourself some leg work in the long run – the more details you provide, the more accurate your candidates can be with their quotes.

How long do you expect your project last? How soon do you need it done? Do you require familiarity with special software? What are you expectations for the end result? What do you plan to do with the final product? Do you know (or have an idea of) what you want it to look like? Does it require specific functionality?

All of these are questions a freelancer should ask you if you fail to mention them beforehand…so save yourself the trouble of going through them later – provide the answers upfront!

Ask questions

Have you ever owned a household pet, like a dog or cat? Have you noticed that if you don’t establish dominance over your pet immediately after bringing them home, you’ll soon find your home torn to shreds and faint smells of urine emanating from an undetermined point of origin for weeks on end? The same thing can happen with your freelancers if you don’t show them you know what you want and how you want it done from the very beginning (urine may or may not be included).

I’m not saying all providers will misbehave, I’m just saying that questions give you a closer look at the provider. Often, buyers wind up wasting time and money dealing with providers simply because they are communicating on different wavelengths. Try knocking this out early on by asking some great questions, and letting providers answer them before you interview them.

How long have you been doing this?
How long does it take you to do _____?
How soon do you think this can be completed?
Do you have samples of similar works?
Do you have any suggestions for improvement?

The last questions is a great one!

I’ve gotten quite a few projects with the last question even though the buyer had never asked it. If a provider can offer up suggestions for improvement, it shows that 1) they know what they’re talking about, and 2) they are taking a proactive stance on things. This is one of the best ways to find excellent providers.

Asking questions is a great way to get some information out of your applicants that’s not written on their profiles. It’s also a great way to weed out the ones who are too lazy to take the time to answer them. After all, you don’t want to hire someone who can’t even answer a simple question or five, do you?


Maximizing Reads for Your Freelancing Career

It’s a given that if you’re trying to make your break working through Upwork, you need the Upwork book.

But the purpose of this post wasn’t to pimp the Upwork (even though it is much deserved). Instead, I wanted to touch upon some other resources that I’ve found helpful in one way or another.

Hopefully, you’ll find these just as constructive.

Working From Home
By: Paul Edwards

This is a big book. I mean really, really thick (688 pages). I recommend this book as more of a reference than a “sit down and read from cover to cover” book. It has tons of information on just about everything you’ll need to know when working from home. From marketing to taxes to family and philosophy, it’s got it all.

The Home Office Solution
By: Alice Bredin

Working from home can take its toll on…well…your home life. Even though this book is 10 years old, the advice it offers on how to manage your work and home time efficiently and separately, yet as one, is nearly timeless.

Secrets of Self-Employment
By: Paul and Sarah Edwards

By the same author (and his wife) that penned the Working From Home book above, this book deals with the coping with your fears and doubts of being self-employed. Helps clear your mind to prepare for the rollercoaster ups and downs of working for yourself.

Home-Based Business for Dummies
By: Paul and Sarah Edwards and Peter Economy

I am a big fan of the Dummies books. They are great for giving you a general overview of a topic you know nothing about. This book will not give you step-by-step instructions, but will help you see the bigger picture.

Advertising For Dummies
By: Gary Dahl

A must have for marketing and promoting yourself as a freelance provider. As I’ve said before, when you freelance, you are your own marketing team. This book will go over the basics of identifying your target audience and optimizing your self-promotion to focus on them.