[Baypiggies] Consulting As a Career Choice / advice on using eLance

Glen Jarvis glen at glenjarvis.com
Sun Oct 31 20:34:11 CET 2010

On Sat, Oct 30, 2010 at 3:13 AM, Stephen McInerney
<spmcinerney at hotmail.com>wrote:

> Any advice from the pros on how to use eLance.com, do's/don'ts, how to tell
> a good or bad client or job, etc.?
> (or Craigslist Gigs for that matter)
> (as mentioned by Glen several times at Thursday's talk)

I don't know if I'm a "pro" or not. I do know that I was able to survive for
a year (without a start up savings account) by doing only python work --
when I had only learned Python a half a year before.

With that said, I took a lot of jobs that weren't ideal, I worked hard long
hours, I took international calls at 3 am, I worried a lot, etc. So, it
wasn't easy and certainly wasn't always ideal. It did keep me professionally
in Python, however (and THAT part was ideal). I also learned a *lot* -- it
was a great way to have "on the job" training on topics I wanted to learn.
I, of course, didn't charge my customers for the time I spent learning a
piece of technology that they needed in their puzzle that I didn't yet know.
And, I avoided projects where I didn't already know a good chunk of what
they needed.

It's amazing how much of your time is spent actually looking for work,
reviewing the websites, talking to people, etc. A lot of the time, people
wanted advice on how to get a website working. I would talk to them, explain
what I knew, and often explain what I didn't know (and instead referred them
to someone else). One could say that I "wasted" a lot of time by listening
to the clients for free and referring them to someone else. But, after a
while, I built up a relationship with the customers so that they knew they
could trust me. And, that led to a lot of good repeat work.

I hadn't done any contracting for about six months because my current job is
just too demanding. And, the contracting I've been doing the past year and a
half was away from elance. So, the website has changed a bit since I was
last on it.

I reviewed my Elance profile this morning and am looking at it now.

Here are some bullet points of what I'd be careful about:

* Look for projects that have several well defined milestones. I'd much
rather take a project with a bunch of small milestones than a project with
only one milestone. The milestones are a good check-point along the way (for
both sides).

* Pick milestones that appear realistic when it comes to the amount of time
it would take to complete. Even for, by the hour projects, these things are
estimated on how long they will take. Pick something that you think is
realistic and avoid any headaches for your first project. If someone wants a
web page that is a "competitor to Google" and they fund a milestone of $500
(or 5 hours) for the search engine, avoid that job like the plague.

* Don't start work until the customer funds the milestone in question. The
customer pays elance for the milestone before work starts -- so you know the
money is available. You don't get the money, however, until you've delivered
on the milestone and the customer clicks a link to release the money from
escrow. The customer can't get the money back once they have funded the
milestone -- they can refuse to release the money to you, however, if you
haven't delivered on what was stated. Elance can arbitrate -- so keep clear
communication and good records.

* Avoid projects that are fixed-billing/flat rate. Although there are
*wonderful* reasons for choosing a fixed-rate project, there are some pretty
big gotchas. Until you've build the experience and confidence of working on
such things, keep it simpler and pick jobs that are paid by the hour.

* Check a customer's past rating. Elance is like Ebay. I wouldn't buy
something big from Ebay if that person didn't have a really good rating from
other buyers. Likewise, I wouldn't take a job from someone who has a poor
evaluation. I'd also check out how that customer evaluated other jobs. This
will tell you how easy/hard they are to work for and what are the important
issues for them.

* Look at how much money the customer has paid other clients. If they've
paid other people for other jobs, chances are very high that they'll pay you
if you deliver what you promised to deliver.

* Use the elance escrow service. Sure, they will take a portion of what
you're paid from the job. However, you're guaranteed to get paid if you
follow their rules. Elance will cover the debt themselves if you follow the

* I'd pick a tiny (itsy bitsy) job for the very first project. You're
probably not going to make a million working with Elance customers. But,
it's a great way to see if this is even what you want to do. Picking a small
project, and delivering on it, helps to build your ratings. You have a
smaller risk on a project that only pays $500 than you would for a very
large project. If you want out, finish the $500 project and you're done.
Large projects take a lot more time and you can feel trapped.

* Use a contract when you negotiate the deal. I use a boiler-plate contract
that I downloaded from the IRS. It works wonderfully and makes certain
everyone agrees on the amount of work that needs done.

* Take the free Elance Python tests so you can demonstrate your skills to
your customers. It also doesn't hurt to have a portfolio of previous
customers. If you're trying to build that portfolio, do small projects and
work cheaply -- what you're building here is a customer base, good reviews,
and a portfolio. That's a great investment for future work.

Let's take the above and look a concrete example (it's still open for

Job: Python PS3 Theme Compiler
Link: http://www.elance.com/j/python-ps3-theme-compiler/21727078/
Budget: Less than $500

Do you already know what a Playstation 3 Theme files (.P3T) looks like? Are
you interested in learning regardless -- even if it costs you some time?

That is the main thrust of this tiny job. I'd normally be wary of the fact
that this is a fixed budget job. However, if I already knew the above format
(.P3T), this is a small enough job it trumps most of the concerns I had
about milestones and fixed-budget jobs. With that said, if I don't already
know the format (as I personally don't), I'd be very careful
about committing to this as a fixed-fee. Maybe this is a *lot* harder than
it looks and $500 is crazy cheap to do the work in question (maybe it's a
binary format you have to reverse engineer). If this is harder than the
customer thinks, you may explain that to them and say that you're willing to
work on it on an hourly basis. This can be negotiated up front before
any commitments are made.

I'd also be careful about this job because the customer doesn't have any
history of hiring jobs. It's small enough, however, that the risk can be
minimized. You don't know how they'll rate you, and reputation is uber
important here, so give them great service!

The competition that's bidding on this job looks like they know what they're


His python skill set (from the test) is above average. He has a five star
review (but has only been reviewed once), and he has earned about $10K
through elance. He has bid on the job, so he may well get it.

In summary, I'd say it all comes down to how comfortable you are with the
.P3T file format and the python you'd need to do this job. If you are very
comfortable, there's little to risk by bidding on this job if you can do it
in a reasonable amount of time.

Hopefully this helps answer your questions. There are other sites than just
elance. There's guru.com and many others.  It all comes down to how hard
you're will to hustle to get work and grow your skills. Also, if you can
keep great relationships with your customers, you can get more work through
referrals than you can keep up with, although that will take time...


Whatever you can do or imagine, begin it;
boldness has beauty, magic, and power in it.

-- Goethe
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