30 Days as Geek For Hire – Day 12: Congratulations, You’re Hired

I awoke to a nice surprise in my email in-box on day 12. The email subject line read “Congratulations – Your Proposal was Chosen”. Turns out I had won my first Elance gig!

The female intimate apparel company had decided my skills met the brief and had chosen my proposal over more than 20 others. The relief at having two months of guaranteed income was immense.

Congrats-ElanceBut at the same time, I was a bit nervous about the whole Elance process. Having already been bitten by a dodgy vendor, I had also been reading some horror stories about freelancers being ripped off and being powerless to fight back.

According to Elance, as long as I used their Work View system – utilizing their built-in time tracking software Tracker – and submitted time-sheets on time I would be protected and paid. With Work View, Elance documents your work in real time as it progresses. While you have it switched on, the Tracker software takes screen-shots of your desktop at random intervals and posts them to the Work View section of the Elance Workroom. Clients can view the work and provide input and comments. What could possibly go wrong?

The information captured with Tracker is then used to automatically generate detailed time-sheets and you submit them at the end of the week with additional project notes if needed. Elance generates an invoice to the client and provided the client has AutoPay set up, payment is automatically made by Elance to the freelancer 7 days later. The idea is that clients can verify they are paying only for hours worked (rather than your online erotica habit) and the freelancer is guaranteed of payment.

There have been quite a few complaints by freelancers about Work View being invasive and inaccurate so I was wary. But – privacy concerns aside – I wasn’t about to turn down my first official Elance gig. So I accepted the terms of the project and downloaded the Tracker software installer.

Because Tracker runs on Adobe Air and because Adobe have twisted the knife in the back of Open Source developers everywhere dropped support for Linux – even though the majority of programming gigs on Elance are Open Source based – installing the Tracker software on Linux was a minefield of complication and head slamming frustration. An hour later I finally found the solution, but I still had to jump several hurdles and create my own exe script before my Ubuntu Terminal would play nice.

The next step was to nominate a payment method. I could choose from being paid into my PayPal account or via wire transfer into my nominated bank account. Not wanting to poke the sleeping IRD monster with a stick, I chose the latter. Elance informed me that there was a 5 day waiting period for my account to be verified, but apart from that, I was finally ready for my first paying gig.

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30 Days as Geek For Hire – Day 11: When One Door Closes…

doorsI had a great start to Day 11. In the morning I managed to get in touch with the potential Hawaiian client and had a promising 30 minute phone conversation about what they were looking for. It ended with an invitation to pitch for the management of their site migration from one domain to another, including related SEO clean-up and fun with 301’s, canonicals and lost links, oh my!

Then I received a message on Elance. I’d been invited to pitch for a 6 month SEO project for an Australian-based female apparel company. I was really intrigued by this one and put my proposal together quickly, before anyone else had the chance to respond. The client contacted me within 30 minutes of receiving my proposal and asked for a project plan and budget. So I requested access to her Analytics, set her up on the Google Search Console and ran a mini SEO Audit.

She’s also keen to trial Google AdWords and have someone run A/B split testing on social media campaigns. What I’m most excited about the project is that it plays to all my strengths and gives me the opportunity to work on SEO, AdWords and social media, ensuring I won’t be bored. Hopefully I’ll hear something back tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I had been asked by my long-time friend Kim Krause-Berg to join a team of web veterans in contributing some low-cost web-based services to webmasters in the US via her site Creative Vision Web Consulting. So the rest of the day I spent in a WordPress cloud, creating my service pages and packaging my skills into logical digital products that wouldn’t break the back of a small business. I decided to keep all my services at the USD 99 price point, as they say $100 is a psychological barrier when it comes to online purchasing.

Thinking I had reached my opportunity quota for the day, I was surprised to receive an email from a local client and friend, whose partner was interested in meeting me. Apparently he runs a local web agency and was looking someone with SEO skills to provide related advice to digital start-ups. Perfect! So I got in touch with him and we are scheduled to have a coffee next week.

My promising day ended with a glass of wine and a smile on my face. Bring on Day 12.

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30 Days as Geek For Hire – Day 10: Direct to Hawaii, via Narnia

Could it be Aloha Hawaii?

Could it be Aloha Hawaii?

Compared to the disaster that was Day 9, today was relatively uneventful.

I had a phone call from Christine – Yudoozy’s Chief of Freelancers – who needed to take my profile through the vetting process before she could release it to potential employers. This involved a 15 minute chat with me and the provision of contact details for at least two recent clients or employers.

Next, I found a Skype message from a tour company based in Hawaii, who were apparently after some SEO advice. Aloha! Imagining claimable business trips to Hawaiian islands had me extremely motivated. Mentally packing my bikinis and sarong, I dialled the number provided. Unfortunately, the call went through to voice-mail, so I left a (possibly manic) message for them to call me back.

Around lunchtime, I received an @ reply on Twitter from the online testing company responsible for the provision of skills tests for ODesk and Elance. Having seen the first few posts in this “30 days” series, they were apparently amused by my brutally honest feedback about the quality of their skills tests and wanted to discuss it in further detail. They invited me to get in touch via email, so I sent them some of the stabby comments helpful notes I’d taken during the skills testing process, and threw in a few suggested improvements.

The rest of the day was spent on LinkedIn, where – egged on by well-meaning SEO buddies – I joined some popular industry groups in the hopes of making desperate pleas for work in the face of upcoming bankruptcy making a good impression and promoting my services via conversational networking.

Somehow, I got side-tracked into a pointless conversation about the merits of GitHub and ended up in the geek version of Narnia for the afternoon. But hey, at least the day didn’t end with me refunding money to another asshole.

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30 Days as Geek For Hire – Day 9: Horrible Bosses

bad-boss Remember how I used an image of Jack Torrance from The Shining in my last post? Well that turned out to be quite fitting, because the job opportunity I wrote about morphed into a horror story.

Day 9 started off very promising. My mini AdWords audit was well-received and the California software company representative I was dealing with had just sent me an email titled: “Can you begin effective tomorrow?”.  They had accepted my retainer proposal and agreed to hire me for a three month trial.

I sent off my first invoice and was pleasantly surprised when it was paid online within the hour. So I blocked out the time in my schedule for the next three months and celebrated with an espresso and some peanut butter cookies.

Meanwhile, I’d received an overnight message on Facebook from a US-based colleague (and fellow search marketing agency owner) who alerted me that he had also been invited to pitch on the same AdWords project. He asked if I realized that there were five agencies – including mine – currently poking around the client account, presumably preparing similar audits.

“Perhaps this company is trying to cobble together some free advice from multiple agencies“, he said. “Should we be providing advice at all? My spider sense says this is a bad situation.”

I knew I was the only agency granted admin access when I was last in the account, so logged in to double check. My friend was right – there were now multiple agencies with admin rights to the account. Now why would they grant access rights to other agencies if they had just hired me to clean up the account?

As I’d already been paid for my first month, I wasn’t overly worried. Perhaps they had just been obtaining comparison proposals from those agencies and had forgotten to turn off access after they hired me. I mean everyone knows that you can’t logistically have more than one agency managing your account. Too many cooks and all that. So I sent off an email as follows:

“I have been alerted to the fact that four competing agencies currently have full access to editing your AdWords account. I’m a little confused about this. What is stopping staff from those agencies from undoing any of the changes I make to your account? I’m not really comfortable proceeding until their access is removed. Please advise.”

The response I received back from the company rep raised my hackles, especially as my US colleague had been cc’d in:

“You’ve already been paid for the month, if you are uncomfortable with additional simultaneous audits, please refund the payment at your discretion. Otherwise, we are happy to trial you out as you suggested.”

But then he forwarded an email that had been sent to my US colleague earlier, threatening legal action for revealing the bulk agency situation to me in the first place. I’m not going to post the email here, but needless to say, it included phrases such as “Expect legal repercussions and loss of status with Google” and “We’re happy to help clear up vermin from the industry” and ended with “You ought to seek professional help”.

That pretty much told me everything I needed to know about this client. I should have heeded my colleague’s warning. And even though I really, really needed the guaranteed income, there was no way I would feel comfortable helping the client after that. So, waving goodbye to money I had already mentally spent on overdue bills, I let out a big sigh, refunded their payment and sent off a final email:

“It’s simply not viable or professional to have multiple agencies working on the same campaign at once. As you are not willing to allow me solo account management, my performance on the account will always be compromised or undermined by the potential activity by other users with edit access. Also, you forwarded commercial-in-confidence emails between us to persons in a competing agency, as well as sending me your private email correspondence with them, which is highly unprofessional. Therefore I have no choice but to withdraw my proposal and refund monies paid.”

To which I received the delightful response:

“Please send me a copy of the refund receipt or we will start a charge-back process against you.”

Lesson learned. Some projects are just not worth taking on, regardless of how badly you need the money.

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30 Days as Geek For Hire – Day 8: Opportunity Knocks

Today began with a promising email. My freelance profile on Elance had been viewed by a software company based in California and I’d been invited to pitch for a large AdWords management project.

opportunity-knocksAfter requesting review access to their AdWords account and their Analytics, I could immediately see glaring issues that had been preventing the various campaigns from achieving profitability via AdWords. What a mess! But I knew I could easily add value with even the barest of account tweaks, so I prepared a mini audit and made my case via email.

Next, I headed over to the UpWork Community Forum to check things out. A couple of readers following this blog had alerted me to some threads in the forum indicating a growing sense of discontent amongst UpWork freelancers. Seems I’m not the only one disillusioned by the lack of power contractors have on sites like Elance and UpWork.

One of the common complaints is about the UpWork performance algorithm that measures the effectiveness of freelancers based on the quantity of jobs they complete rather than the quality of their work. The system seems to reward the sweat-shop teams and low-ballers who consistently under-bid for projects, while the average contractor is left with no choice but to drop their rates to ridiculous levels to try and compete.

Clients are encouraged to view a contractor’s success rate and skills test scores as a measure of effectiveness, but the ultimate kudos is for a contractor is to achieve something called *Top Rated* status.

To earn and maintain Top Rated status, you must have:

  • A Job Success score of at least 90%
  • 12-month earnings of at least $1,000
  • An account in good standing with no recent account holds
  • A 100% complete profile with photo
  • Up to date availability (if unavailable now, set a date estimate)
  • At least 30 days of work history on Upwork

Sounds reasonable, until you realize that the algorithm for Job Success is mostly tied to bulk project completion and feedback that can be easily manipulated by less than reputable clients. In their FAQs, UpWork respond to this potential as follows:

“Your client’s record is taken into consideration when weighing their interactions in your score. We know that not every contract will end perfectly, and your Job Success score won’t be ruined by just one or two negative contract outcomes. However, to be successful in the marketplace, it’s important to do your best on each contract and to work to satisfy your clients. Showing improvement over time will allow you to overcome almost any negative incident.”

On the plus side, UpWork seems to be listening to freelancer concerns about weaknesses of the algorithm. A recent addition to the Job Success explanatory page is this one:

“We also try to account for instances when negative outcomes are due to factors outside of your control. Therefore, contracts without activity due to a poor client interaction are not counted against your score. A client that repeatedly receives poor feedback from freelancers will be flagged, and their inputs omitted from your score.”

I found that a little more encouraging. But with a personal Job Success score of zero until I start my first project, I still have a long way to go before I can share an informed opinion about whether UpWork is a viable option to find freelance work.

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