Drama on Elance

Wednesday was not a good day for me. I missed half of my breakfast meeting because of clashes in scheduling. An emergency made my date two hours late for a lunchtime meeting. I ordered three unpalatable drinks at T-spot … and paid for them all. I got into an argument with my daughter because she was exhausted – and resultantly – too tired to admit it.

[You know the way babies throw tantrums when they’re tired or overstimulated? Apparently, tweens do it too.]

My new Phone FM earphones broke. And I was given the evil eye for staring at my dream car in town. By the driver. He’s a guy. I tried to take a picture [of the car, not the guy] but the window on my phone is too small. Sigh.

But the worst part of the day was Elance. I’ve been a member for about 6 months now, and so far I’ve made $828. I’ve had a few Like Chapaa readers ask me to coach them on Elance, but all I know is from trial and error. There’s no secret formula. You just go online and try it. And some days, like last Wednesday, you make really dumb mistakes.

Via smallbusinessnaked.com

The last few months have been hard for me. I had to cancel a few jobs because I suffered from a bad case of depression, so I couldn’t write anything. I fell way behind on my work and am yet to fully catch up. Due to the cancellations, I dropped from a level 5 to a level 4, and lost 48 unused connects. Let me explain.

When you join Elance, you get work by bidding on jobs. Freelancers on Elance are called providers, and each provider has a profile. You build up your profile by including work experience and educational background. You can also do various on-site tests to prove how good you are. They’re usually multiple choice tests that last 20 to 40 minutes. Last time I checked, there were 1,500 Kenyan providers on Elance. The highest earning writer joined in 2008 and has earned just over $6,000. Other Kenyans include a programmer who has earned $7000 so far.

When a client posts a job, you go and bid on the job, just like you would bid in an auction. You write a few paragraphs explaining why you’re right for the job, you guestimate how long it will take you to finish the job, and you make an offer of how much you’d like to be paid. All bids are private, so only you and the client can see them. Other providers can’t access the information. The client then looks at the sales pitches, skills, and cost, then picks a provider for the job.

To bid on a job, you use connects. They’re kind of like points, and each bid requires a specific number of connects. If you have basic, free membership to the site, you receive 10 connects every month.  If you have Professional membership, you pay a subscription of $10 every month, and you receive 25 connects, though you can choose to buy more. For paid memberships, any connects that you don’t use are forwarded to the next month, but they can only forward the connects allowed in your membership plan. For example, I can never forward more than 25 connects, so at any one time, I have a maximum of 50 connects to use, unless I choose to buy more.

Via dealbase.com

My depression started around October, so I was working less and less, and in the end, I had accumulated 48 unused connects. At that time, my account was nil, so my paid membership was cancelled and downgraded to basic. That meant I lost the 48 connects I’d accumulated. When my membership was downgraded, I lost other privileges as well. For example, my skill level dropped from 5 to 4, and my position among Kenyan Writers on Elance dropped from 5 to 9. That stung. A lot.

Towards the end of December, things picked up a little. I finished a big project, got paid $500, and had my level reinstated to 5. I couldn’t get back the lost connects though, and that limited the jobs I could bid on. But I felt positive, so I bid what I could. This week, I’ve used 12 connects bidding on jobs, and so far, I haven’t won any. Some weeks are like that, but I still feel really beat. Luckily, I just got paid for some outside work , and that will tide me through the month.

But then the bomb hit. I opened my Elance to find a note that I’d been suspended! I’d opened an old job to bid when I received an alert that said I couldn’t bid on new jobs. It said I had ignored awarded jobs for over 15 days, and that I needed to correct that before I could bid.

Usually, when you win a job, you get a note in your inbox that asks you to accept or decline. I hadn’t received any, so I was surprised. I checked my gmail and instead, I found a note that said I had contact information on the wrong part of my profile, so I had been suspended. Apparently, they had sent me a warning 24 hours earlier, but I hadn’t seen it. They assumed I’d ignored it and shut me down.

I looked through my profile for the contact information, but here wasn’t any. I noted that my service description ends with ‘Samples are available on my website’ but I hadn’t mentioned the url, so I thought that was okay. I sent an email explaining that, but got no response.

And then the power went off.

Via diasporadical.com

I must have spent an hour in panic mode, which is never a pretty sight. I ran through worst case scenarios and ended up banging doors and crying. I realized that I always use my url in job bids, but I thought that was okay, since it’s not contact information. Contact info only refers to email, right?

Wrong.

After lying in the dark for a while, the power came back on, and I jumped onto my computer hoping someone had answered me. They hadn’t. But I did see something I hadn’t noticed before. Elance has an option for live chat support. Yay! I got onto that and found a lovely lady named Rosalie. She was really nice to me. She looked through my profile and confirmed I hadn’t violated anything, so she immediately lifted my suspension. I wanted to kiss her right through the screen.

Then I asked her about using my url on job bids. I’d assumed it was fine since only the clients could see it anyway. She told me it wasn’t allowed, so I promised her I’d go change all my bids to take out the website, and I did. She even wished me a nice day.

I still feel pretty shaken, and I suspect the url issue is what made all my bids fall flat. Someone must have alerted Elance and maybe I was blacklisted for what they felt was blatant, repetitive policy violation. Ignorance is very rarely a valid excuse, and I wish I’d taken more time to just read the FAQs and know exactly what I can and can’t do. I’d have saved myself a breakdown.

I settled down to try and sleep, hoping the next day would be better. Two days later, I still haven’t won a job, but I earned negotiation with a client, and that hasn’t happened before. We had a pleasant conversation on the private message board where we bargained and haggled on my fee. We didn’t settle on a price, but it felt better than being ignored.

Sometimes, I wonder if the clients see my bid among the 20 to 3o others, and it feels sad to be invisible. Today’s conversation proved the clients know I’m there, and it’s a better place to be than Wednesday. Meanwhile, I wish a thousand blessings and a raise on Rosalie. All customer care and support people should be like that. And so shall it be. I hope kharma [or her boss] is listening.

Via killertrick.com

Change your mind Sister Hazel

PS: Today, almost two weeks after the saga, I received an email from Elance. My company name is Threeceebee Dot Com. Spelling out my url was interpreted as a sneaky way of providing contact information, and that’s why my account was suspended. If I hadn’t found Rosalie on live chat support, my account would have remained inactive for this entire period. I have no words. No words at all.

I’m a hus-tler!

I’ve always wanted to say that.

A few days ago, I met an artist. We’d spoken on phone and email, but we didn’t recognize each other until introductions were made. The usual pleasantries were followed by…

‘So, what do you do?’

He explained that he mostly does murals, and that he could avail a DVD with his portfolio. A jack of many trades I see. He bounced the question back to me.

‘I’m a freelance writer.’

He smiled cheekily and said, ‘Why didn’t you use the standard reply?’

‘Well, when a guy says he’s a hustler, it’s generally a good thing. When a girl says she’s hustler, people glance around for her pimp.’

I’ve always admired hustlers. They don’t seem to have an actual job, but they float everywhere, do everything, and always have money. I suppose it all comes down to male vs female. I read on Copyblogger that men accept all jobs, while women consider their expertise and only take the task if they’re fully qualified to do it. To quote Chris Brogan of  Third Tribe:

There’s a really fascinating gender thing where women worry that they’re not qualified. And men [on the other hand] always just blatantly rush in and say ‘yeah sure I could do that’ — even if they have no real related skill. If they think they have a sense of the skill, they’ll do it.

Ask a guy if he can do ABC and he’ll be like, ‘Yeah sure!’ Then after receiving the deposit, he’ll figure out some way to get it done, mostly through outsourcing. A woman, on the other hand, will tell you she can’t handle it and forward you to somebody that can. Or at least, she’ll show enough doubt for you to think twice and move on.  Hence, men make better hustlers. Thus speaketh ‘they’.

To some extent, every teenage boy is a hustler, because they rarely ask their folks for money, but never seem to be broke. I asked my kid bro where he gets his money once, and he said, ‘You make deals.’

‘What kind of deals?’

‘Anything really. I once used the computer to take still shots while watching 8 Mile, printed them out, and sold them as Eminem posters. Sometimes I burn music from my hard drive and sell those, or I rent out my iPod to a pal on a bus trip. Anything really.’

It’s what the guys in TZ call diradira, and I was amused when my taxi guy in Dar said he thinks I’m a hustler. He decided that while I was working in Dar, I must have some office in Nairobi somewhere where people work for me and mint money. God knows where he got that idea. Probably because I told him I was leaving Dar to come back home yet I had no job prospects at the time.

[Note to self: I need to get a ‘taxi guy’ in nairobi. preferably one who works cheap.]

A few months ago, I told a friend I’d like to be a hustler – without the pimp of course, and he said,

‘You already are! You pay your own rent, nobody knows exactly what you do, and your neighbours think you’re a housewife.’

Heehee.

I suppose in some ways I am a hustler. But my kind of hustle needs discipline, and I’m slowly learning to develop that. My life coach helps. Freelancing means being your own boss – sort of – but I haven’t been much of a boss lately. I let myself take breaks for Twitter, and movies, and email, and I don’t pay for overtime. I work during my lunch break, and stay up much later than I should. My baby calls me ‘working head’ because she sleeps when I’m at the computer and wakes up to find me still sitting there.

If my hustle is going to be successful, I need to set up a 9 to 5, so I’ll have time to work and time to play. I should try to keep email for lunchtime, and spend a lot less time on Twitter. I need to leave movies for after hours, and sleep when I need to sleep. Unless I work hard on my discipline, I’m going to keep seeing pink pills, and have 99 problems with no relation to Jay Z, Beyoncé, or Linkin Park.

There’s a really fascinating gender thing where women worry that they’re not qualified. And men [on the other hand] always just blatantly rush in and say ‘yeah sure I could do that’ — even if they have no real related skill. If they think they have a sense of the skill, they’ll do it.

Talk about a block!

I don’t get writer’s block very often. And I hardly ever get blogger’s block. But if there’s one thing that gets my creative juices freezing, it’s money.

Which is not to say I wish to work for free – that’s just silly. They say your passion is something you would do even if no one is paying you – but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to.

For most people, the prospect of getting paid is the ultimate muse. All they have to do when they get stuck is count the zeroes on their cheques and they’re good to go. But me, I find that distracting.

This is the problem.

Living my dream means writing for money – which translates into blocking from the pressure.

I’m still working on a system to get me out of this. I suppose I could go metaphoric and fix an actual block; stick my gloved hands down the drain and pull out some cloggy muck. That will likely clear up the plugs in my head. Unfortunately, my drains are pretty clean right now.

The good thing about my block is that I have something else to keep me occupied – editing. I currently have three assignments due, all stuff that someone else wrote. It’s so much easier to mark others’ work than try to start your own, so I focus on that as I dredge up writing ideas.

But I have to be careful. Editing can kill writing in more ways than one. Some writers lose their focus after their work is trashed corrected by critics. But many more writers get so busy helping others improve that they forget to write themselves!

Back to the blocking.

I’m not generally a good multi-tasker, but the first rule of successful hustle is … well … hustle! Have your hands in as many pies as possible. That way, if one is raw, or worse – rotten, you can still get your taste buds sated.

Only, be sure not to take on more than you can do. It’s very hard to turn down ready money, but you’ll lose a lot more if you do fifty shoddy jobs instead of five good ones.

I suppose the only way to turn down ‘free’ work is the buddy system. Just like having a gym-buddy keeps you hitting the treadmill, having a trade-buddy provides not only someone you can rant to about work, but also someone who can bail you out when you’re stuck.

Just be sure to choose your partners wisely. You want someone who’s good enough to deliver, so they have to be as good as you are, if not better. But you also want someone who is fair enough to return the favour. Think about it.

Baby steps

When I decided I wanted to freelance, I had no idea where to start. I left a well-paying job with a few months worth of savings, sold all my stuff, grabbed my baby girl and came home. I splurged on furniture, crockery, a TV, a microwave, and a sizeable modem.

Then I broke down. I mean, what next?

Enter Kelvin who I bumped into on twitter. We had been talking for a while, and I figured he’d be a good start. He was. With his help, we figured the first step was to set up a website.

I didn’t think I’d ever have a website, because it seemed, you know, vain. But then again, in some senses, so is a name. People call me Crystal, because that’s who I am. In some ways, website is just  a different name, a form of identity. It helps people know who you are.

The next step was to find someone to set up the site for me. These guys not only got me started, they did – and still are – taking me through the process step by step.  Which is good when you’re the queen of technobofia and can’t tell your pixels from your bits and bytes.

And I still think TB is a silly abbreviation and terrabytes should really be called tetrabytes. It just sounds better.

So anyway, now that I am toddling along, I need to find a good pair of shoes. Preferably colour-coded khaki sneaks.

Let the games begin.

Coming home

An ideal title for this post would be ‘new beginnings’. But I think that’s one of those redundant phrases like ‘repeat again’ or ‘latest innovation’ or even return back’. After all, one can’t have an old beginning, can they?

This is a beginning for me, a long endless field trip. I just got home after a stint ‘abroad’ [read Tanzania] and I am building a career doing what I love. It’s like a journey for me, but more than that, it’s an exploring of self. I’m looking inside me, beside me, around me, and I’m playfully noting the scenes. I’m making memories … and making money, which you admit, is a pretty fun way to spend the day.

This isn’t a solo trip. I have my daughter with me, and the man I love; my family, my business partners, my friends. I even have a tour bus complete with bunk beds and surround sound. It’s called the Internet, and it’s a pretty big bus. I have license to drive and lots of seat belts. You’re welcome to tag along. Who’s game?