Cool App of the Day: Spike Email

Full disclosure: I’ve written two blogs for the manufacturers of Spike email, including a spike-emailreview of it, but after trying it out for a week it’s become a part of my desktop.

Spike calls itself conversational email, and that term makes total sense. Your email conversations look like text messages, down to the “…” on the screen when the person you just emailed is emailing you back.

It’s a really clean look because it wipes out all the headers and signatures and messages from previous emails. You’re talking to the person and they’re talking back, that’s it.

I also love how quickly you can delete multiple messages. My bane on email is letting stuff sit in my inbox that should be in the trash, but I get so many messages a day they just fall back a few pages. Spike lets you search and destroy those emails all at once.

It’s got a ton of other features that I haven’t really explored yet, but it’s a great looking and handling software that was fun to write about and has been very efficient to use.

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An old Upwork vet gives Fiverr a go

When you get going as a freelancer, you’ll eventually hit a lull. Or two. Or seven. When work dries up, a natural reaction is to hunting for more, leaving your traditional venues behind and trying to get as much coverage for yourself as possible.

fiverr-logoWhen this happened to me during 2017, I took a suggestion to sign up for Fiverr. I submitted some of my work in hopes of joining their Pro program and filled out my profile and portfolio on their site. About a week later, my work picked up and I largely forgot about Fiverr until this past spring when I received a notification that I had qualified for their Pro program.

Upwork has been great to me and I’ve got many clients who have transitioned off there into a Paypal-based relationship with me. Still, we like to cover all our bases and I got on Fiverr to see what I could do. The learning curve was really steep for me. Preparing gigs and selling myself seemed inherently backwards after all my time spent scouring Upwork for jobs, crafting cover letters and getting myself a really strong rating and following.

I won’t lie, it took me more than 2 months before I finally got my Fiverr profile and gigs approved by a very helpful CSR, then another 3 weeks passed without anyone even sending me a message (other than spam) on the sight.

Finally, a breakthrough, a chance to interview an Israeli author and write a story about him. The process went smoothly over 48 hours and they loved the piece, which is what matters most.

Sometimes, you just have to turn the computer off

Summers can be tough on full-time freelancers because the peace and quiet you get used to during the day can vanish in a heartbeat and take a three-month vacation.

Such is the case for me with the Twin Miracles and my wife all out of school/work from late May to mid-August. My home office very quickly goes from Tranquility Base to the asteroid field that the Millenium Falcon flies through in The Empire Strikes Back.

That was the case Friday morning when my wife woke up barely able to talk with a miserable sore throat. That left the Twin Miracles under my direct supervision, and after taking about 2-1/2 hours to finish an article that would normally take me one, it was clear it was going to be one of those days.

So for once, I just embraced it. Friday day work would have to become Friday night work, and my gratefully put on my full-time fun dad hat. The Twin Miracles and I hit up McDonald’s for lunch, a local play place, and picked up a dessert pick-me-up for their mom on the way back home.

I took the laptop along for the ride, with dim hopes that the play place would offer wireless, but that was a no go as well, leading me to catch up on my mad skills in both Hearts and Solitaire while the girls played dress up, climbed towers, and emulated the best of the World Cup on a miniature pitch.

And now I’m working late on a Friday night, but truth be told, I work a lot of Friday nights.  Freelancing is all about flexibility, even if it’s flexing your family muscles not your professional skillset.

Celebrating 5 Years with Upwork

I had an email this morning from Upwork celebrating my 5-year anniversary as a working freelancer on the site. I took a look back on my epic list of complete contracts and sure enough, on January 16, 2013, I finished my  first-ever job for the website formerly known as ODesk.

Those were some humbler times for me, considering I had 17 years of professional experience under my belt, but was a novice online freelancer and thus taking jobs with salaries I hadn’t seen since high school, all for the motivation of that coveted first 5-star rating.

The job was writing 15 book reviews (300 words each) in 24 hours. The price was $27.78 ($25 of that to me). I got the job because I had read 5 of the books – all by J.R.R. Tolkien. The downside was that I hadn’t read the other 10 and thus winged those reviews based on listings on Amazon (back when it mainly sold books).

The 5-star rating was worth more than any monetary sum at that time, and the same generous client hired me seven more times over the next eight weeks, giving me a 5-star rating every time.

About a month later I got my first $100 contract. Two months later, I edited a spy thriller and got paid $500. Our girls, the twin miracles, had just turned 1 year old, we were paying out the nose for childcare every week, and I was gone from the house from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

We rolled the dice on me becoming a stay-at-home dad taking care of the babies during the day and freelancing at night. The first year was a bumpy ride, every one since has gotten better and better.

Today’s the kind of day where being a full-time freelancer is brilliant. My hometown of Houston is totally locked down with frigid temperatures and accumulating ice and snow. But I’m not losing any income today because I can work from anywhere. It’s a career I never thought I’d end up doing but boy am I happy to be here.

Beware the “SEO-Millars” Scam!

73924887_455685725I was invited to interview for a job on Upwork yesterday wanting a host of articles every day about all manner of things – entertainment, food, retail advertising, etc. I talked to a lady (I guess) on Skype who was offering $22/500-word article or 25 articles a week – a tidy $550 week.

As the conversation on, my “Danger, Will Robinson!” sensor began to flare as there was no mention of a contract, an agreement, even a website connected to the job. I asked the person at the other end where I could find their website or what the company was called and got the response “SEO-Millars”. I Googled that and found …. nothing. Now, if you know the Internet even a little bit you know that there’s something for every search on it.  I just made up the term “unicorn salad dressing” in my head and a ton of stuff came up.

I was now about 99% sure it was a scam and when I sent the empty Google search screenshot, the Skype contact told me they were partnered with Scripted.com and I should search that website for them. Naturally, Scripted has no search tool because it’s a business. I grabbed the contact’s info, sent it to Scripted’s service desk – which sent a nice response about an hour later stating they were working with Upwork on it – and blocked the party from sending me Skype and Upwork offers.

The moral of this story? The good offers are usually too good to be true. Do your due diligence on any high-volume job offer so you’re not left holding the bag.

 

 

Breaking Up is Hard to Do – When You’re a Freelancer

It’s never easy to say goodbye to a client if you’ve worked together for any reasonable length of time and success.

It’s counter-intuitive to leave someone who’s paying you for your services, because, it’s money! We make our living by finding clients who are willing to pay us for our services. It’s a hustle, a competition, and any other buzzword you want to slap on it. Cutting ties with someone who regularly exchanges their dollars for your sense (get it?) just feels wrong.

But when it becomes harder and harder to justify continuing the relationship, that means it’s past time to go. For me recently, it was a missed invoice payment that broke the camel’s back. I invoice once a month and the payment comes out on the 16th of the following month. Except that this time it didn’t, and with no advance warning, just a “Oh sorry” email the night it was due to be paid.

The promise of payment the next day became promise of the week after. Five long days went by without the intended money, making me very aware of how many late nights I had spent poring over jobs for this company to hit its deadlines, only to rewarded with “sorry…”

It wasn’t the first time this had been the case, but definitely the longest. When I contacted the founder to state my imminent departure he countered with an offer of more money .Now that just stinks, because it tells me you knows me you are aware I’m worth more…you just aren’t going to pay it.

 

 

 

Upwork’s Price Change: Squeezing Both Sides

If you’re an Upworker like myself, you were probably outraged by an email sent two weeks ago that was disguised as good news. “We’re lowering our rate to 5% on jobs above $10,000!” it trumpeted in the subject line, only to reveal the real sucker punch inside – it was also raising its fee to 20% on jobs under $501.

Upwork management has been on serious damage control in the days since – its message boards alive with fury and venom, especially once we also found out that it was now charging clients 2.75% on every job they hire for, after that service was free for the length of the website’s existence. That means in one fell swoop come June 1, Upwork will go from making 10% of the sum total of a job to making 22.75% on anything under $501.

In one giant greedy move, they’ll go from making $50 on a job of $500 to $113.75 on a job of $500. That’s the equivalent of a hotel randomly deciding that instead of $129/night, it was going to start charging $293/night. Same hotel room, new rate. Or if a car that used to cost $30,000 now cost $68,250. You’d ask the salesman, “Wait, what did you do to the car to suddenly make it worth $68,250?”

“Nothing,” he’ll reply. We just have to stop losing money.”

It’s not just on the community forums that people are expressing their anger. Forbes has put a story online about it, as has Staffing Industry Analysts.

Ironically, it was just about a year ago that Upwork was born from the Elance-oDesk merger, with the new CEO claiming revenues would grow from $1 billion to $10 billion in six years. $1 billion in revenue and you’re losing money? Guys, somebody needs to figure this out.

One of my best current freelancing clients is a cat named Christopher who lives in Florida and owns a company specializes in wealth management. He knows more about the financial markets than I could hope to learn in 10 lifetimes, but he’s generous and likes to engage in conversations with me like we were on equal footing. He mentioned the price hike by Upwork yesterday, and his exact words were “What a bunch of idiots. They’re gouging their client base right in the eye and doubling their costs for what is essentially a dating website.”

Fortunately, Christopher and I already closed out our initial Upwork contract and have moved on to a payment system through an alternative platform, one that doesn’t decide it needs to fix its business model by alienating the people that use it.

If you’re as upset about Upwork as I am, spread the word through social media, blogs, and every format you can think of. They might not get the message today, tomorrow, or even this year, but as their client list shrinks and freelancers start exploring other options – I recently joined LocalSolo – eventually they’ll figure it out or fail.