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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Social Media Marketing for Business: Auckland and Hamilton Courses

Social-MediaJust a reminder that I’m running Social Media Marketing for Business training workshops in Auckland and Hamilton on behalf of the Institute of IT Professionals (IITP) this month.

These full-day workshops will show you step-by-step how to implement a social media marketing strategy for a business of any size.

Included will be real-life case studies, practical examples and clever ideas for using Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn and other social media channels that you can immediately adapt to suit your own requirements.

We also participate in some fun group exercises and scenarios to help you test out your newly acquired social media skills. If time allows, the day will also include group analysis of existing social media strategies of willing attendees.

Whether you’re a marketer, content creator, IT manager, website coordinator or business owner, knowing how to reach your target audiences via social media is vital for any online business. So go and convince your boss you need to attend :-)

Below are the details and booking links for Auckland and Hamilton events. Please share with anyone in your network who may benefit from attending:

Social Media Marketing for Business – Auckland
Date: Monday 27 July 2015
Time: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Venue: CBD Office
Executive Boardroom
Level 4, 17 Albert Street
Auckland

Social Media Marketing for Business – Hamilton
Date: Tuesday 4 August 2015
Time: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Venue: Wintec House Long Room
Gallagher Hub
Wintec City Campus,
Gate 5 Tristram Street
Hamilton

Events for Christchurch and Dunedin are not currently booked, but can be arranged upon request by clicking the On Demand link on the pages above.

Hope to see you there.

 

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30 Days as Geek For Hire – Day 7: Fresh Potential

Day 7 started with no news on my UpWork applications. In the meantime, I had been hearing excitable rumblings about a local New Zealand-based start-up called Yudoozy and I decided to check it out.

Yudoozy might be a dumb name, but it has a smart approach. It’s a freelancer marketplace that connects freelancers and potential employers, but that is where the similarity to Elance ends. For starters, it’s only open to New Zealand residents and there are no cut-throat bidding wars for jobs. Employers actively seek out suitable freelancers by perusing the directory of talent and skills available. To make this easier, both freelancers and employers go through a vetting process at Yudoozy. The idea here is to rule out tyre kickers and cowboy coders, levelling the playing field more than other job marketplaces and making sure all participants in the transaction get a fair deal.

Run by ex-staffers of a recruitment firm who felt they could do a better job supporting freelancers, the whole premise of Yudoozy is to align skilled workers with authentic projects at fair rates, with no middleman taking a commission. It’s totally free. On Yudoozy, you set your own hourly rate and the system promotes you to registered, pre-vetted New Zealand employers.

But where Yudoozy gets really fresh is in their scheduling app. Once you register as a freelancer, you can enter your availability for the next 2 months into their weekly scheduler. You can block out weeks as either free, busy or try me – the latter indicating that you may or may not have availability that week but will confirm when contacted.

Yudoozy-schedulerThe system auto generates an email to freelancers each week, reminding them to update their availability in the scheduler. That way, potential employers can see instantly if / when freelancers are available for projects and not waste their time contacting someone who can’t do the job anyway. Smart, no?

Right now, Yudoozy is still in BETA, with few registered employers as yet, but I have high hopes for it. I’ve set up my profile and now just need to wait for the calls to come in. Or not.

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30 Days as Geek For Hire – Day 6: Disconnected via Connects

After my last meander into the murky pool of Elance sweat shop gigs job opportunities, I have been avoiding that site at all costs. But on Facebook today, a friend mentioned that Elance was shutting down and moving to a new platform with higher rates for freelancers.

After some digging, I discovered that the news was bigger than that. Turns out that Elance and ODesk actually merged some months ago and are now operating under a new entity called UpWork. Weirdly, Elance have retained their own brand, while ODesk has re-branded to become UpWork.

I nervously logged in to ODesk for the first time in a week, thinking that all the effort I had put into my profile was likely wasted, but thankfully the system had retained all my profile data and had simply changed the site name to UpWork and replaced the site font with something hideous and unreadable. Seriously guys – I’ve no idea what that font is called, but if I had to name it, I’d suggest Rusty Geek. Or Visually Impaired. But I digress.

odesk-connects

I’d been on the site for less than 60 seconds when an annoying window popped up. “Introducing Connects. A new way to apply for jobs”, it said. Then an even more annoying pop-up showed up on my profile: “Connects are now required to apply to jobs”. Aaargh. The bizarre concept of *Connects* had leaked over from Elance to UpWork. Connects are virtual tokens you need to submit in order to apply for a job. The good news is that if you’re invited to apply for a job, you don’t need to use any connects. But being invited to apply for a job is not very common.

odesk-connects-required

Each basic freelancer account is allocated 60 connects, but you need to use between 1 and 5 connects for each job application. So depending on the number of gigs you apply for each month, you may need to upgrade your membership from Freelancer Basic to Freelancer Plus. At USD 10 per month, a Freelancer Plus membership gives you 70 connects, but unused connects roll over each month for future use. Clear as mud, right?

After 15 minutes of trying to wrap my head around that concept, I searched for some suitable jobs and decided to apply for three:

  • Online Digital Marketing Manager
  • Marketing Consultant
  • Digital Content Provider

Time to cross my fingers and wait for responses.

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