Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Day in the Life: Bid Blisters Are Bad, M'Kay

A Day in the Life Part 2: Watch Out for Scumbags

Last time on a “Day in the Life”, we watched Mikey Freelancer try to make money as a freelance writer on Textbroker. Alas, an A-Hole client trapped our hero in a revolving revision door and put the ax to his efficiency for the day. Read it here to catch up and see what Mikey learned.

In Part 2, we go back even further in Mikey’s freelancewriting career, back to the time when all that existed for our hero were unending questions with too few answers. This episode will cover nearly a year so that the story can be told properly and provide you with the most benefit.

First, a disclaimer: I am writing this disclaimer after completing Part 2 and upon realizing that I sound like I hate bid sites. Well, hate is a pretty strong word. I don't hate them, one of my most loyal clients (now a friend) that I work with on a weekly basis came with me from Freelancer. There are great clients and great contractors on bid sites. But just like anything else, there are complete scumbags too. So, you have to take the good with the bad on eLance and Freelancer.

My opinion is to avoid them, they can be huge time-wasters unless you can create compelling bids and can figure out which projects are good and which ones are not. On the other hand, there are a lot of people out there making a lot of money working strictly for bid sites, some are clearing over 100k a year. So, ultimately, it comes down to your personal preferences. If you can make it work, more power to you. As you're about to see, Mikey couldn't and he suffered because of it.

Like a Lamb to the Slaughter…

It’s the summer of 2009 and we find Mikey sitting on a cheap and uncomfortable couch in the living room of a tiny one bedroom apartment, a half-dead, boxy laptop resting on his lap. The screen of the ancient machine displays a browser window opened to a site called Freelancer, and Mikey seems to be entering details into a registration form.

What’s that? Does our hero have a smile on his face? Is that excitement and expectation in his eyes? Oh dear Lord, there’s definitely no denying it. He actually thinks he’s found a freelance writing goldmine. The poor, clueless thing, he sure is in for a rude awakening.

A rapid fire staccato of rhythm-less clicks and clacks reverberate through the muggy air of the room as Mikey puts the finishing touches on his profile page and takes his first gullible step into the chaotic and confusing world of freelance writing on bid sites. But there's that smile again and it's draped across his face with easy confidence.

Ready, Set, BID! Right out of the gate and he dives straight into the lion’s den. “Browse Projects” is where he points the mouse and down the rabbit hole he hops.

Several hours later, Mikey leans back and cracks his knuckles in satisfaction, triumphant for no real reason. The dozen or so bids that he just spent 5 hours writing up and submitting were for projects that had long lists of requirements backed up by the barest of budgets.

Top 5 Mistakes by Contractors Working on Freelancer and eLance

Why don't we let Mikey savor that feeling for a bit, it's not going to last long. While our freelance hero basks in ignorance, let's take a look at the top 5 mistakes ELance and Freelancer (I've never used Odesk, so I will not comment on it) users make:
  1. Bid all you want, but never start working until money has been deposited (Freelancer) or placed in escrow (eLance)
  2. Don't get in such a hurry that you forget to check the clients rating and reviews. Check before you waste time bidding and triple check before you commit to a project.
  3. Never work for free on bid sites. This can be confusing because many times in the real world of freelance writing jobs, working for free can benefit you in dozens of ways. But as far as eLance and Freelancer are concerned, run away from anybody that wants you to take a test or write a sample for free.
  4. Read the Terms of Service. Seriously, read it! Look, I am the king of jumping straight to the "Yea I read it all and agree" checkbox and moving on. But never has a ToS been more important to the user than one associated with a bid site. No exceptions.
  5. Be alert and aware of scammers. Just because these sites talk a big game about protecting the client and the contractor from scams, they're not always full-proof. And the client can scam just as easily as the contractor. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Icon showing the client has the money to cover project.

eLance's Client with money in escrow.

Bid, Bid, Bid All Day Long

Later in the afternoon of that first day on Freelancer, Mikey checks the Active Bids tab on his dashboard and sees exactly what those five hours of bidding got him. One by one, the projects drop off the screen carrying every single one of his lovingly crafted bids into an abyss of wasted time and unearned money.

Seven went to other, more experienced bidders who's profiles were stacked with glowing reviews, shiny upgrades and amazingly high ratings.

Three of the projects that received a bid from Mikey were cancelled by the creator. Unbeknownst to our clueless hero, certain projects can be created and deleted with little to no repercussions to the buyer. Essentially, any project Mikey bids on could get cancelled and the time he spent submitting messages and proposals to the client completely wasted.

The remaining three projects will stay on Mikey's Active Bids tab for months without a winner ever being chosen. Those projects having either been forgotten by their creators, posted as an easy and inexpensive way to research bid range or, since buyers aren't forced to pick a winning bidder, simply abandoned as flippantly as one might leave a shopping cart in the middle of a parking lot. 

Unfortunately for the new and uninitiated, this can be the typical day-to-day grind on bid sites. It takes a lot of time and a certain amount of trial-and-error to learn the nuances and tell-tale signs of what makes a project worthy of a bid and what makes a bid standout to the buyer.

There's also the review and rating system that is as important, if not more so, to winning a project as any other aspect. Unfortunately, the only way to get a good review and a high rating is to successfully complete a project to the standards of the buyer. Without a certain amount of luck or natural talent for creating catchy bidcopy, the 'I can't get a project without a review/rating, but I can't get a review/rating without a project' cycle can seem impossible to overcome.

That's exactly where Mikey Freelancer is at this early point in his freelance writing career. Until he can figure out the system, until he can become a better writer and until he can get that all-important positive review and 5-star rating, he's destined to waste more time writing useless bids than he will earning even the smallest amount of money. Given his limited understanding of the industry and the fact that his writing ability isn't exactly Twain-esque, Mikey would benefit far more by finding other ways to make money writing online. Unfortunately, at this early stage in his career, he's more reminiscent of an ostrich hiding its head in the sand than the savvy and smart freelancing hero we want him to be. Whether he'll survive these next few months or give up and return to his day job isn't entirely clear at this point.

That once confident, relaxed smile that brightened his face during the early hours of his first day on Freelancer has lost a bit of its shine and spender. It's still there, no doubt, and will likely remain so for as long as he insists on living in ignorance instead of opening up to all the possibilities that are available to freelance writers.

Top 5 Tips for Writing Better Elance Proposals and Freelancer Bids

When I first started on Freelancer, I couldn't compose a compelling bid to save my life. To be honest, I wasn't a very good writer period. That's why I struggled for so long to land my first project. Writing bid copy on a site like Freelancer is an art all its own and one that you need to hone and sharpen if you want to win projects. To give you all an upper-hand, here's the five best tips for writing bids or proposals on Freelancer and eLance.

  1. Be Picky, Be Patient - Don't just charge in and start bidding willy-nilly. Take your time and look for the job that is right for you. alone has on average over 2,000 writing projects posted at any given time. Beyond that, clients are posting new jobs every single moment of the day. So, be picky about the projects you choose and be patient while waiting on new ones to post.
  2. Be You, Bid Unique - A few months into my first year as a freelance writer looking for jobs on Freelancer, I thought I would get really clever and write one scripted bid and then zoom through the categories posting it on every project that caught my eye. (This was before Freelancer introduced monthly bid limits.) In my naive mind, I was a freaking genius for thinking of something I was sure had never occurred to the thousands of other contractors. Well, come to find out, I was far from having a genius-level intellect and even further away from being the first contractor to think of scripted bidding. In fact, I was so far behind the curve that scripted bids were not just old news, they had long been proven ineffective and actually detrimental. Here's the common sense reason why bid scripting or templating fails more often than not: Clients want to see that you're involved with the project and care about providing content that fits their needs. So, bid in a unique, catchy and conversational style. Let the greenhorns waste time on scripted poppycock while you slide in all smooth like and wow the client by speaking to their specific needs and desires.  
  3. Be Open, Be Personal - A common mistake made by rooks and salty bidders alike is trying to be so professional and serious that you end up coming across as stuffy and mechanical instead. While you want to write in a style that is business formal, don't be so stiff that you sound like a robot. Communicate in a conversational tone, tell a joke or a funny anecdote and try to imbue your writing with a sense of down-to-earth, friendliness that shows you're well-rounded and easy to get along with. (AKA easy to work with)
  4. Be Savvy, Be Smart - When you do find a project that deserves your time and energy, increase your chances by taking one extra step. That step, often overlooked, is to perform a quick competitive analysis. Look at the other bidders on the project. By clicking their name you can look at their profile pages. Check out their info and compare it with yours. Do they have certain samples or credentials that you're lacking? Well, it's a good thing you checked them out. Now it's a simple matter of filling in the gaps to ensure your profile stands out from the pack.
  5. Be Confident, Be Bold - As a contractor trying to get work from Freelancer or eLance, you need to focus on getting your bid (your profile) in front of as many potential clients as possible. Ultimately, that is why you're on the site to begin with. While you should be picky and patient about the projects that you pick, you should also get as many bids in front of buyers as you can on a daily basis. Just because you have a few active bids simmering on the back burner doesn't mean you should kick back and relax. Mikey's story above is not uncommon, projects will get forgotten, cancelled or awarded to your competition, so find as many as you can and then place your stamp on them.

Over the next few months, Mikey continues to submit bids on a daily basis. He manages to land a project or two here and there, and he even receives a few stellar reviews and 5-star ratings. Unfortunately for him, these small victories cause him to become more complacent, and he never looks around for other ways to make money as a freelance writer. That unwillingness to broaden his horizons, to spread out and move into new areas, holds him in one place and ensures he's unable to experience the full-spectrum of the freelance writing business.

This is a common difficulty many new writers find themselves facing. They get stuck in a routine that works just well enough to keep them going, and they find it hard to expand or explore outside that comfort zone. Over the next couple years of his career, Mikey will experience it so much that he'll give it a name: "the freelancer's folly".

Ain't No One Gonna Hold You Down

Did you know that a lack of confidence in a writer's own personal skill-set is the leading cause behind why they give up and return to their day jobs? They do exactly what our not-so-heroic hero did and allow fear to hold them in place, keep them from making a move in any direction. Becoming stagnant and stuck as a writer can quickly turn detrimental and harm your freelance writing business.  

If you think that lack of confidence is holding you back, here's what you do to fix it: (This is the exact method that I used, and it works. You have to augment it with positive thinking, breathing techniques and meditation, but within a few weeks of sticking to the schedule, you'll be standing tall and negotiating with the biggest clients!!)

  1. Grab a piece of paper, open your calendar of choice or make an Excel spreadsheet, whatever helps you organize a weekly schedule. 
  2. Now, you're going to find different areas of your industry that you're not currently involved with and make a quick list. Try to include at least 10, but the more the merrier. (For a freelance writer, like myself, picking different writing methods like copywriting, newsletter writing or creative writing are good areas to focus. I never learned to really sell with words, so that was the first thing I wanted to change. After that, I began adding different client markets like cold calling local businesses, finding new ways to reach an audience and things like that. By starting with something that you're confident you can successfully learn, moving into the more difficult weeks of your schedule will be far easier.)
  3. Ok, that was the hardest part. Now, on your calendar, choose a day to start. You can start today if you want, it doesn't matter. 
  4. Whatever day you chose, jump ahead a week at a time and write in one of  the target areas from the list you just made. They should be a week apart until you get to the end of your list. 
  5. Stick to that schedule like glue. Set aside at least one hour( two is better) to do whatever it is you have to do to see some kind of advancement, no matter how small. For some people, micro-goals set for each week's target area can really make a difference. It gives them a tangible thing to strive for and to look back on as a source of pride. 
  6. Finally, when you reach the end of the schedule either come up with more or start the same one over. I like to restart because I'm typically not satisfied with a weeks worth of learning or marketing or whatever. Also, if you ever feel the old signs of confidence drain coming on, that's when you toss in some meditation or breathe control techniques, anything that can halt the drain and get your mind back into a positive frame.
Example Schedule (Similar to the first one I followed, in fact): 

  1. Week 1: Copywriting - Objective: Achieve a basic understanding of the fundamentals related to selling with words.
  2. Week 2: Creative writing - Objective: Learn how to organize and focus the stories I've written into a draft for a novel.
  3. Week 3: Query Clients - Objective: Learn how to write query letters that convert. Send at least 15 letters to new potential clients.
  4. Week 4: Create Local Business List - Objective: Compile a list of local businesses that may be in need of a content marketer/freelance writer. Cold call at least 15 businesses.
  5. Week 5: Research/Discover New Client Base - Objective: Find out where my clients are congregating on the web and establish some kind of communication. Attempt to engage at least 5 new clients in these untapped areas.
  6. And so on and so forth until you're turning down jobs!

To Be Continued...

So Mikey has spent the better part of four months stuck in a rut on and going nowhere fast. He's become comfortable with something, even though that comfort area isn't producing what he needs to survive. It does make him feel secure, stress free and utterly complacent, though. That's not necessarily a good thing.

In fact, it's little more than a justification, a lie to make him feel like he's succeeding. Mikey has to put himself out there and take a few risks. If he doesn't, his chances for success as a freelancer will wither and die before they can even form. All he has to do is make a few changes, open his eyes a bit and discover the myriad of opportunities available to freelance writers. Will he be able to make those changes? Find out next week in Part 3 of a "Day in the Life" of Mikey Freelancer.

Tell us your "Day in the Life" story in the comments. How did you land your first big client? What made you become a freelance writer in the first place? Your experiences can help us all be better freelancers.

What is your opinion about bid sites like eLance and Freelancer? Are they a writer's friend or foe? Comment below to get the convo started!

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