Coder and Web designer Danalyn West started doing freelance Web design in 2002, but it wasn't until last summer that she dedicated herself to full-time freelancing. She and her husband had relocated for a job that fell through after the move, leaving them both unemployed. "Panic ensued," she says. Remembering that she'd once used oDesk as a buyer, she spent a week getting her profile as a provider in shape, and encouraged her husband to put himself online, too. "Within a week, my husband got his first job, albeit low-paying at first, and a few days later, I got my first assignment," she says. She's kept increasingly busy since then, and has also been an active presence in the oDesk forum and on her SavvyLancer.com blog — offering advice through both forums to freelancers and buyers, particularly regarding the oDesk marketplace.
Q: In the six months you've been active as a provider, what have you learned about marketing yourself to buyers?
A: I learned that Mom lied when she said "don't judge a book by its cover." First impressions always count, and on oDesk, it happens with your profile and cover letter. If buyers make it past your cover letter, be able to back it up with a strong portfolio.
Q: Any tips on developing trust with new buyers? How do you approach your first conversations with a buyer?
A: Just do the job and do it well — that's the best way to build trust and credibility. Whenever possible, I always like to offer buyers suggestions for improvement (i.e., "Instead of doing that, you can do this and reduce the amount of work you have to manually do by X%"). I can't tell you how many times this has won me the assignment.
Q: When you're choosing which jobs to apply for, what tips you off about the best opportunities, versus the ones you decide not to pursue?
A: There are two things I look for when applying to jobs:
1. Detailed specifications about the job — I can't properly bid on a job if all I know about it is, "I need a blog." When buyers know what they want from the start, it makes it a whole lot easier to get the job done right!
2: The buyer's previous job history — If a buyer's previous assignment history for comparable work is much lower than my current rate, I'll save us both time by not even applying.
Q: If a buyer asked you what he/she could do to attract the best providers, what advice would you give?
A: Be detailed in their job descriptions. Not only will it give the buyer a solid foundation to judge candidates on, it will also yield more accurate quotes (particularly on fixed-price jobs).
Q: You started out on oDesk with a lower rate, and have steadily raised it, yet you're still quite busy. Has it been tricky, getting your rate where you want it to be?
A: My first job was for $12/hr. Once I had that first hour logged, it put me in the "more than 1 hour" search range, and that's all I needed to get my foot in the door. I feel I have a strong enough portfolio. I think that, coupled with my feedback score, helps prove my worth to buyers.
Q: On average, how many buyers are you working for at any one time, or how many projects do you tend to take on in a given month?
A: I'm always working on at least two projects. How many projects I accept depends on how involved the project is. Right now, with five active projects of varying degrees of difficulty, I wouldn't take on anything highly complex — I'd stick to things that I can knock out in a couple of days.
Q: You've mentioned that you're phasing out outside clients to focus on work through oDesk — why?
A: The short answer is that I'm a coder, not a collection agency. I absolutely love the billing system here. I like knowing when I'll get paid, and that my payment is guaranteed. Not to mention that it has cut my Quickbooks time in half, so it's a win-win situation!
Q: Is the payment system what you like best about oDesk?
A: Aside from the payment system, I love the community. I've made some great friends through the Community Forums, some of whom I keep in contact with even outside of oDesk. There's a lot to learn in the forums here, and I recommend them to all new providers.
Q: Which aspect of oDesk would you most like to see improved, and how?
A: As a provider, I'd really like to see an option to favorite (and comment on) buyers. There are some buyers I'd like to make notes on, and I'd love to see those notes on new jobs posted by those buyers.
Q: Your SavvyLancer.com site offers advice for freelancers. What motivated you to start the site, and how do you find time to keep it up?
A: I started the blog in October/November just to have someplace to write. When the Good Morning America segment aired, and provider signups shot through the roof, I decided to push forward with the site. The community forums is what keeps my topics going — I usually formulate posts late at night (after work) and schedule them for the next morning.
Q: Beyond "making a living," do you have any specific goals in 2009 for your work on oDesk and/or SavvyLancer?
A: The biggest goal I have for SavvyLancer is to just keep posting three times a week. Sometimes, with deadlines, family and stress, it's easy to forget about blogging. For now, my Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule should be manageable enough without frying my brain.
For freelancing, I plan to work for oDesk ... they just don't know it yet!