By Daniel Ishikawa, founder and CEO of Furniture Leasing Corporation
I founded my furniture rental company just three years ago, from my home, after I unexpectedly had to quit my job in finance. Since then, Furniture Leasing Corporation has grown to fill three warehouses, serving not only Germany, but also Switzerland, Austria and Western France.
And oDesk has been an integral part of it.
Turning back the clock three years, I had never started a business. I knew nothing about website programming. I didn’t have a single piece of furniture to rent out, and I had no prior experience in furniture other than sitting and sleeping on it. And if someone had asked me, I would have guessed oDesk was itself a piece of furniture, maybe something fancy.
When I first began, I relied heavily on friends and family to help out. But at one point, I ran out of people who were willing to “lend a hand” and I had to resort to hiring professionals who, while just as friendly and helpful as those who had volunteered their aid, would want cold hard cash in return for their services. But where to start?
A close friend running a website devoted to short-term apartment rentals had a good experience with oDesk so I figured, why not give it a try? Of course, with each new project, I learned how to make better use of oDesk and how to work more efficiently with the global team of freelancers available there. I’d like to share this experience with you.
My Very First Project: A Website
First, we needed an elaborate website (www.FurnitureLeasing.net). I was looking for something that would allow clients to browse a virtual warehouse of our rental furniture, choose the pieces they liked, arrange for a timely delivery to addresses in any of four countries—and hopefully pay us, too! Luckily, oDesk enabled us to find Vasyl from Ukraine, a superb freelancer we continue to work with to date.
My advice: 1. Clearly communicate your expectations.
2. Feedback is key. Look carefully, not only at someone’s star rating, but also their most recent reviews to get a broad understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.
3. Make sure you interview people before hiring them, just like you would in the “real world”— preferably by Skype or Google Hangout, not just by email.
Ready to Get Noticed: SEO
With a great website ready to go, we needed to be noticed. Everybody seems to talk about how important search engine optimization is to being discovered on the world wide web— especially for businesses like ours that offer niche services. Through oDesk we found Sergey from Tomsk, Russia—not too far from the Kazakh border—who helped us break down the difficult-to-understand project into manageable pieces.
My advice: SEO seems like a black box to many. On the surface, it can be as mysterious as ancient Sanskrit, and just as impossible to decode. Search engines typically do not reveal how they evaluate websites and rank them; and to make matters worse, once everyone has managed to figure it out—or at least think they have—the search engines change the whole process. If you’re going to hire someone to provide SEO services for you, be sure to read up on SEO at least a little bit before you decide to dedicate a budget to it. That way, you’ll know what you can expect to get for your buck and you won’t be unpleasantly surprised by lackluster results.
Ready to Advertise: AdWords
I slowly began to feel that I was ready to spend extra money on advertising. So I started to look into advertising spending. Where would I get the most bang for my buck? It appeared that internet advertising would be the ideal solution. We found Maxim from Israel, a great guy with whom I still work almost daily.
My advice: Don’t just go for the cheapest person. I would estimate that more than half of my company’s new business comes from search engines. Pick a freelancer you are comfortable interacting with almost on a daily basis, whether that’s by email or chat. The ideal freelancer is someone who has worked in your industry before, knows how to pick the right set of keywords and what to budget for, and is also willing to make constant changes to optimize your campaigns.
Branding Our Trucks: Logo & Graphic Design
As the business grew, we decided to purchase a truck of our own. We needed someone to design the logo to be displayed on this truck. We interviewed a number of different graphic designers before settling on Oskar from Nicaragua.
My advice: 1. With graphic design, it is really important to find the right fit. Whatever image you choose becomes the face of your company, and of course you’ll want that face to be as attractive as possible. When you’re browsing freelancers, take the time to get a feel for their portfolio of work.
2. Once you've narrowed down your applicants to a handful of favorite candidates, hire the finalists for a short contract (setting a weekly limit of a few hours) so they can come up with sample designs. 3. Compare as many design proposals as possible before choosing that one perfect person who really gets what your company stands for and can translate that into just the right image.
Too Much Work to Manage Alone: My First Project Manager
At one point, I had over 10 different projects, online and offline, running at the same time. I was overwhelmed. That’s when I first thought of getting the help of a project manager who had experience in bringing order to different strings of projects. oDesk enabled us to find a freelancer from Colorado, Don, who turned out to be an excellent choice. Don has previous project management experience with a number of blue-chip companies in the U.S. He still helps juggle so many projects for us with tremendous talent.
My advice: Don’t underestimate the added value a professional project manager can bring to the table, especially when it comes to coordinating different projects so the whole company works like a well-oiled machine. I sleep better at night with a number of key projects in good hands.
To summarize, as we speak, we work with a project manager based out of Colorado, a graphic designer working from Nicaragua, a programmer in Ukraine, Internet marketing specialists from Israel and Russia and countless others. While we’re at it, we are having voice-overs for our company video recorded by an actor in Australia.
And that’s not even the whole story. We regularly rely on the expertise of all kinds of freelancers from all over the world on a short-term, project basis. One such example is Paula from near Louisiana, USA who helped me edit this article. We’re almost competing with the United Nations, but perhaps this is a typical oDesk story...