One piece of advice I consider invaluable for contractors is to always be prepared. You may think that you've got everything you need to win any job - the experience, the skills, and the portfolio to back it up - but the truth is that you may be missing something essential that's keeping you from that goal. And because of that, your potential employer may pass on you in order to give the job to the next contractor in line.
To give yourself a head start, here's a 7-item contractor checklist to guide you and ensure that you have everything you need when applying for remote work:
- A complete oDesk profile - a contractor should have completed his oDesk profile before applying for jobs. Your profile is the first thing employers will see when considering applicants for his project, so make sure it’s presentable, updated, and more or less responds to their needs. Ideally, you're oDesk Ready, have an authentic portrait photo of yourself, and reviewed every section for spelling and grammar errors.
- An updated portfolio - employers will want to see the quality and scope of your work, so it’s important that you fill up the portfolio with updated screenshots, detailed summaries, and links to actual work that you’ve done in the past. If you want to increase your chances of winning the project, you should have samples of work that fit the employer’s requirements.
- A personalized cover letter - the cover letter is your key to winning the employer’s attention. It is in the cover letter where you will inform him three main things: 1) Who you are and what you do, 2) the problems he’s facing and why you are the person who can help him solve them, and 3) an invitation to contact you for an interview to discuss further. Personalize it the best that you can while maintaining a professional voice. Answer any questions the employer may ask or follow his initial instructions (except when he’s asking for spec work or cheap rates).
- Communication tools - an email address and an instant messenger like Skype are important when finding work in and out of oDesk. You need an email address to receive emails from employers (it’s also a requirement for membership on the site), and you need VoIP tools like Skype to communicate with clients in real time. Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, and Windows Live Mail are some very good places to grab your own work email address, while Skype, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Chat, and Windows Live Messenger are popular choices for VoIP communication.
- Payment methods - you can choose from a variety of methods to withdraw and receive your earnings. PayPal, Local Funds Transfer, Moneybookers, and wire transfer are internationally-accessible payment methods you can set up for your account. Each has its own unique fees and requirements depending on where you are located, so make sure to read the help pages for each option before signing up.
- Note-taking tools - as contractors, it is our responsibility to note down an employer’s project requirements and instructions before doing anything. Doing so will enable us to ask questions or answer his own questions without making too many mistakes. You can jot down notes using your favorite pen and paper, or use built-in apps like Notepad, Microsoft OneNote (both Windows), TextEdit (Mac), and third party apps like Evernote, Springpad, and Google Docs. Just remember to take those notes down during your meetings and refer to them in your communication with the employer about the work.
- Yourself - none of these would matter if you do not prepare yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally for online work. Employers are constantly looking for people who are interested in working with them, who are dedicated, and who have the right mindset to help them reach their goals. If you want to set yourself apart from the competition, you’ll have to show the employer that you are the best person for the job and that you have the interest, knowledge, confidence, and dedication to create a successful project for them.
What other items do you think should go into this list? Do you think you can do without one or two of these and still find good work online?