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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
♫ 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.