March 25, 2009 by Guest Blogger

Nick Krym

I have been working with freelancers throughout my career and recently, thanks to services like oDesk, I find myself doing it more often.  So you might think that I am happy with what I get, at least in general.  Well, one of the reasons I continue to stay engaged is my high tolerance for pain – I am prepared to go through piles of hay to find that needle.  And I have to tell you, looking for freelancers is very much like digging for gold – you literally have to go through tons of dirt to find it.

Interestingly enough many freelancers who have skills, knowledge and maybe even talent often torpedo themselves, aggressively sabotage their chances of getting customers right in the begging of the process.  They make simple yet lethal mistakes that turn off clients before they got the chance to learn about freelancer’s ingenuity.  Below are some of those mistakes:

  • Not reading my post before you reply to it.  Your three page long template proposal will get you in a recycle been faster than anything else.  At least adjust your opening statement, show me that you read the post…
  • Not using proper grammar and spelling.  English is my second language and still work in progress; I still straggle with grammar myself, yet many responses I see push that envelope way too far.  Grammatically poor introduction screams in my face “Communicating with this freelancer will be a real pain!” Spelling mistakes are even worse – how can I entrust my project to someone who doesn’t even make an effort to turn on a spellchecker?
  • Talking with me like I am a teenager.  Your slang (especially when combined with ESL marvels) comes across as complete lack of intelligence and class.  By the way, spellchecker is not likely to recognize your “gonna”, “wanna”, “gimme”, take a hint.
  • Being excessively polite.  Your culture and language might require twenty minutes of praise and compliments before you get to business but I am an American, cut to the chase guy.  More so, being overly polite and using somewhat unusual forms will telegraph a wrong image, your mentioning my “ultimate wisdom” only makes me think of a snake oil salesman.
  • Not being punctual / prepared for your interview.  I think of proposal / interview stage as a “honeymoon” in a relationship with a freelancer, it all goes downhill from there.  Late for your Skype call? Having troubles finding your headset? Can’t introduce yourself? Chances are that’s the last time you’ll hear from me.

Don’t think I’m done here: I am only getting warmed up; it’s just my 500 word limit coming up.  I guess will continue in my blog.

Nick Krym is a technology professional with over 25 years in the IT industry, and the author of the Pragmatic Outsourcing blog.

  • Raj

    Everything has a its own plus and minus. But, to remove the problems of punctuality and professional service, this is where a VA service vendor could be of help. A service provider is not an individual but is made of individuals, hence the quality, and professionalism would be far better. Try it to believe it.

  • Elizabeth Sleigh

    And on a different note of significant concern, especially in view of the global financial crisis, and spiraling unemployment rate …

    Apart from students (and young adults) who still live at home; are supported by their parents and do not work as virtual assistants to earn a living, but only to make (extra) pocket-money.

    And conversely in the understanding, that adult virtual assistants have fixed-costs (i.e., and e.g., overheads; rent and utilities, telephone, Internet-connection, and essential living expenses) to cover.

    Although I would never dream of inviting any adult PVA to perform any (labor-intensive and time-consuming) task on my behalf for LESS than what it would cost me (in overheads, etc.) to perform the task myself. (And in so doing not only expect the provider to work for a below-the- bread-line wage, but also be obliged to spend (often more than) the pittance they have earned on (additional) costs that would not otherwise have been incurred!).

    No. Whereas every virtual assistant is free to work for whatever fee they are willing to accept.

    So as to set a standard and completely prevent anyone who makes a practice of “impoverishing others to enrich themselves” from exploiting virtual assistants and profiting at their expense.

    I would really like to see a change in the present situation, whereby, a minimum wage for, e.g., students, the unskilled, skilled and able, and qualified professionals IS stipulated, in advance, by the virtual employment agency concerned.

    And so as to gauge the favorable (or unfavorable) reaction of providers to a stipulation of this nature. The “minimum wage*” question (and *amount to be stipulated in each instance) could be put to the vote.

    With thanks,

    Elizabeth Sleigh.

    PS: in the interim and to save providers’ time (and money). If the hourly (or fixed) budget that buyers are paying for any assignment could be listed alongside the job-postings on email alerts, it would be much appreciated.

  • Elizabeth Sleigh

    On a different, more constructive note …

    If any buyer, who has a number of jobs to offer (and a similar number of job-descriptions to post each month), yet has difficulty in compiling correctly spelled; grammatically correct, and “understandable” (English language) job-descriptions.

    Would like to hire me to “proofread” the job-description (and correct any spelling or grammatical errors) before the brief is posted on oDesk.

    I would be pleased (to be invited, through the auspices of oDesk) to undertake this task for a reasonable (fixed) provider-fee of, e.g., $4.00 per brief, per 1 – 5 briefs, or $3.00 per brief, per 1-10 briefs, per month.

    Kind regards and best wishes,
    Elizabeth Sleigh

    PS: once the invitation has been extended (and accepted) and email addresses exchanged. All the buyer would need to do, is email the draft for the receipt of a (speedily) corrected brief via return mail.

  • oDeskProvider76

    At the risk of sounding like a pushover, WHICH I am not – he has a point.

    Its always been about business. Nothing personal. We don’t exactly have a ‘relationship’ going on whenever a job is agreed on.

    BUT –

    We all can use a more personal touch :) It makes the whole thing much easier.

    On a personal note, if you don’t like being micromanaged or being talked down to – don’t apply for a job that sounds like one.

  • Pingback: 5 Annoying Things Freelancers Do to Destroy their Business | Crash Survival Zone()

  • DarkStar

    @Miguel: I am not a native speaker, either. And I don’t even live in an English speaking country. I talked to freelancers who were worse than Google Translate, so it’s not just a “English is my second language” case. Anyway, I’d consider language barriers inferior to other problems.

  • Miguel

    I understand your point. You should understand that for some people this is not the native language. It is just about to open the mind. By the way do you speak Spanish? we can follow in Spanish.
    While you were having hard time to figure out what they just said, ….they were useful for you, or not?.
    Thanks, try again.

  • DarkStar

    I agree it’s beneficial to be on the other (buyer’s) side at least once and I have to agree with most of what you wrote, Nick.

    I recently was holding some interviews and one provider came 10mins late just to tell me that he was going to the office right now and would be available in an hour… Another provider kept using Internet acronyms like “lol” and generally taking liberties with me. Of course there are others who can’t speak English and I’m having some really hard times trying to figure out what they just said…

  • Fred


    I would agree that work from both perspective gives you a better insight. Before submitted a single proposal, I posted a job the understand the “buyer’s pain”. The experience has been valuable.

  • Cosmonaut

    As a freelancer I agree with every word, Nick. Good – not necessarily great – communication skills, both in email and over the phone, go very far in strengthening client relationships. And when you present or meet in person, don’t be pompous but also don’t yield your authority as the expert.

  • Miguel

    Nick, thanks for your points. I was working for American Medical Devices companies during the last 18 years, and I saw many things in this way, like as people in a con-call doing jokes, or writing formal letters with abbreviations that we should understand without any prior development.
    Anyway, I love this job, with the sense of adrenaline included and I like to thank you for your predisposition to share your experience and knowledge. Kind regards,

  • nick krym

    Miguel, i am with you; I moved to this country when I was 30 and learning to speak English was easier than dealing with many cultural differences. That’s tough yet important, learning to understand your client and speak their language (in more way than just English). Think about it in terms of famous sales mantra – If I could see world through John Smith eyes – I will sell John Smith what John Smith buys – best of luck!

  • nick krym

    Neil – great point, having been on the both sides of the table i can fully attest to what you are saying. There is also a lot to be said in terms of “eat your own dog food”, many freelancers can benefit from subcontracting services to other freelancers in productivity / quality / etc.

  • nick krym

    Keith – I understand where you are coming from. Using colloquial language / slang / etc. is totally OK after you have established rapport with the client. My warning was to freelancers who assume that would it would be OK in an introduction. More so when you know who the client is using their language is a good (best) practice.

  • nick krym

    Nancci – thank you so much! i enjoyed your comment immensely; take a look at my post – where i talk exactly about this problem and things called nixymorons – English is amazing language and i wish if spell checker would solve some of the problems someone who started learning it at the age of 30 have to deal with… the only thing i’m concerned with that you took it as throwing stones – that was not at all my intention… but as your moma probably said – the road to hell is paved with good intentions

  • Neil

    The best advice I can give as a freelancer is too experience the hiring process for yourself.

    Watching handfuls of people saying the same things and making the same mistakes ensures you’ll never make them again.

  • nancci maloney

    Sir, I understand some of your frustrations, but –

    If you are going to criticize someone, you need to be sure your own house is in order. You state your second pet peeve is not using correct grammer and spelling.

    Look at your 1st bullet – it’s a recycle ‘bin’ – been is a verb. If you had ‘read’ through your post you would know ‘red’ is a color.

    2nd bullet – your English is ‘a’ work in progress – sort of changes the meaning of the sentence. If you still ‘straggle’ with concepts then you need to look up struggle in the dictionary.

    Why would I entrust my paycheck to someone who can’t use spellcheck?

    There are other lesser grammatical errors in your post but I think you get the idea. My mama always said people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. It’s pretty sound advice.

  • Md. Mahmud Ahsan

    Thanks for publishing and sharing your thoughts. Some people like text chat than voice chat, this is for their speaking weakness. whatever good post.

  • Keith

    The only item on your list I don’t agree 100% with is #3. Granted, it’s not “proper” or “professional”, but most of my clients use those phrases themselves. I try to control my “net speek” when I’m working, but when you’re in a quick-fire IM conference and the other guy is using gimme, lemme, lesse, it’s hard to not go around the speed bump of correcting yourself.

  • Miguel

    Well, let me tell you that you are right in the numbers 1,2 and 3 phrases. The rest, only show a tipically American mind, “we do the things so…and that is correct” You should realise that this is an international enviroment, English is not the native language for everybody and some people have different cultures and different way to do the same, even a snake oil salesman. By the way it is not easy to do it.
    Thanks, good learning process.