Fiverr versus Elance

As a bootstrapping entrepreneur, I’m looking for low cost, high yield situations. Of course, that applies to any business owner, small or big. So, today, I’m introducing this site called Fiverr to you. It’s called that because you can get a specific service done for 5 dollars.

I dipped my toes in Fiverr as a service provider (I offered to edit pieces of writing), but stopped. I’m going to tell you straight. As a freelancer, I do not recommend you offer your services here. Go to Elance instead (beware they don’t take polymaths though). 5 dollars is not much if you’re doing it as a sole source of income.

That said, it works great as a side income. I’ve seen people offer to do maths assignments, VB.NET programming tasks and writing articles for $5. Here are some of the interesting ones:

I bought a custom signature (it will appear in the next issue of my magazine!). I also bought an ebook cover design for my book. Let me tell you, I’ve spent $30 and $50 (and those were the cheaper services) before on a 125 by 125 pixel square ad design, so $5 for an ebook cover is cheap. I’m a programmer. I don’t do so well with coming up with an ebook cover design, ok?

One thing to note. Do not expect professionalism from Fiverr service providers. I don’t mean they’re not professional. Some of them are professionals doing great work. What I mean is, some of them are putting up a gig for fun. Do not compare them with the service providers from sites such as Elance. Besides, it’s 5 freaking dollars. If you don’t like that person, find another who offers a similar service. Also, consider the hundreds of dollars, possibly thousands of dollars, that you’re saving from not hiring a “real” professional.

Quality is also suspect. Read the feedback for that gig. If there are samples of work, preview it. If nothing else, go with your gut feeling. I will say this again. It’s 5, freaking, dollars. Don’t spend half an hour agonising over your decision. Don’t spend half an hour ranting about your disappointment with the deliverable or result. It’s $5. Let it go. Your time’s worth more than that. Learn, move on, find another service provider.

So if you’re strapped for cash, but you need something done (for your business or personal reasons), check out Fiverr. You can also offer your own services (“I will write an accounting program for you for $5”). If nothing else, you can look at what people are willing to do for $5. Some of them are hilarious.

Response to Stack Overflow podcast 15

The recent Stack Overflow podcast is fantastic! Check it out here. Their fantasticness might have to do with Jeff and Joel answering listener questions more than directionless rambling. Some of the questions were interesting, and I want to add to their answers.

The one on time management

Like Jeff, I don’t really have a system. Like Joel, I got halfway through Getting Things Done and I decided the whole system is still too complex and I could have actually done something already. The concept of transferring tasks from your brain onto something, like paper (have a look at Todoodlist) or a PDA or a computer, is great though. I use my mobile phone to keep track of personal tasks, and the Outlook calendars and tasks to keep track of office work.

That said, my “system” if you want to call it that, is to keep people from annoying me.

Given similar levels of urgency, first do that task which has the most number of people irritating you.

It’s served me well so far.

The one on code review

I’ve never had a code review of my code. It’s not that I’m that good (it helped though), or I’m a pompous buffoon (I’m not). It’s that the people I’ve worked with, don’t care about code quality but more about whether the software worked. When the software failed, or was slow, then the code was checked.

The other reason is the small team I’m currently working in. There’s no one else available to check my code. My team leader trusts that I do my job and I’m grateful for that. The downside is, I don’t have anyone to talk to in my team. I’m the .NET guy! Or the front-end guy.

This is getting depressing. Moving on…

The one on interviews

I don’t know what it’s like in America, where the geographical context of Jeff and Joel’s conversation is. What I do know is, there was only one interview where I had to read and explain some code. It was something to do with string concatenation optimisation in Java. I believe it was an actual production issue, and the interviewers wanted to get a free answer from the interviewees.

Just go prepared. Read up on the company, prepare some questions of your own and revise some of the basic programming stuff. It might look bad if you asked for access to Google so you can find out the parameter signature of a basic function.

[Update] Joel also mentioned something about suits. If you’re not used to wearing office wear, and the company you’re interviewing for requires you to wear suits, well guess what? Practise wearing suits. My current job only required me to wear a long sleeved shirt, pants and (leather) shoes. And belts help too. Don’t you read fashion magazines? *smile* I remember squirming in that alien outfit for my first few interviews because I’m not used to wearing them… Don’t be like me.

I’ve heard of the puzzle questions in Microsoft and Google interviews. I’ve actually had one too. The puzzle had something to do with a cube.

The ones on managerial role and outsourcing

I’m linking them together because my answer is related to both: Offshoring. Occasionally, I’m in charge of a developer stationed in China. I had to write out instructions, program specifications, design layout and database table structures.

The only code reviews ever done was on the code of our Chinese colleagues. We’re (as in the Singapore team) supposed to be training them.

As I understand it, outsourcing means you delegate tasks to another company, usually in another country. Offshoring means you delegate tasks to another part of the mother company in another country.

Oh, you might want to read about my first outsourcing episode.

And that’s all from me. If you hadn’t done so, go listen to the podcast.

First dance with Elance

Outsourcing is becoming a major consideration for corporations, big and small. Even individuals are outsourcing some of their work. It has also caused concern for many people, who’re afraid of what will happen when their work is outsourced.

I, am a programmer. The company I’m working for does offshoring, which means work is given to other employees, but they are located in another country. I say that’s just a long-winded way of saying you’re outsourcing my work to another person.

So I’ve decided to experience being an outsourcer. The project I had in mind? A custom WordPress theme for this blog. I am totally capable of creating simple graphics, working out HTML/CSS and even going through PHP (which I’m unfamiliar with). I might even enjoy the design process.

However, the whole point of this exercise is not the blog theme, but the experience of handling a project with an outsourcee. I’m lucky in that I’ve prepared documents and work requirement for my offshore colleagues, so I leveraged on that experience. Now to find a freelancer…

There are many web sites I can use, such as Elance, Rent A Coder, Guru and Odesk. First, I need to know if the site can service my WordPress theme project. I spent some time browsing through the web sites, doing searches on “custom wordpress theme” and see what comes up. Using the unscientific method of gut feelings, such as “Do I like how the site works?” and “Do I like the general feel of freelancers at the site?”, I decided to use Elance as my base.

Hereafter I detailed some suggestions and advice for you, after I went through the whole thing.

1. Sign up for an account only
Elance gives you the option of posting your project and signing up for an account all at one go, if you’re a new visitor. DO NOT do both together. I strongly suggest you sign up for a new account first.

If you’re like me, you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time thinking up a user ID, and another chunk of time thinking up a password. Having to figure out how to post a project is going to add to your stress level.

2. Verify your credit card
The moment you login to your brand new spanking account, go verify your credit card. Elance requires you to have a valid and verified credit card, because that’s how you’re going to pay your service providers. The verification process takes 3 to 5 working days, depending on the credit card company and your bank.

What does your bank have to do with it? Elance actually charges you, through your credit card, two small amounts. You are supposed to login to your Elance account, where you’ll enter those two amounts, and thereby complete the verification process. If you don’t do Internet banking, you’ll have to either wait for your credit card bill to arrive or call the bank to ask for the two amounts.

Be at ease, because Elance will credit the two amounts back to you, minus currency conversion loss. I lost a few cents due to the US dollar and Singapore dollar conversion. I’ve decided to accept this level of loss. It’s a one time thing anyway.

The verification takes time, and service providers like to know that payment is assured. A project has a payment icon, featuring “Credit Card Confirmed” and “Elance Billing and Payment Confirmed”. The latter, which means your credit card is verified, is more likely to attract more and better service providers. Which is part of the reason why you should just sign up without posting any project, until your credit card is verified first.

3. Posting your project
There are quite a few options available. Depending on your project, you’ll have to decide which category to post it to. Choose one major category and the sub category. You don’t have to post it to multiple categories, because the service providers will be able to search for new projects. The last thing you want to do as a new buyer of services is to project spam.

3a. Project description
Be specific. Describe your project in simple, clear and unambiguous language. Even if you want ambiguity, state precisely that, as in “The requirement for the image is deliberately ambiguous to encourage your creativity.”

Note that your potential service providers may not speak your language as their main language. Be precise in your requirements. Do not state anything that might possibly be construed as having any meaning other than what you mean. Believe me, it saves time and anguish to do it right the first time.

Your project description will be seen with a shortened version when searched. Make full use of this short version. I think it’s about 240 characters in length, so put your main points in front. Full versions are seen when service providers log in. Some might just glance through projects, looking at only their brief descriptions without logging in. Just my opinion.

3b. Bid period
The default length of bidding is 7 days. I set it to 12 days, since I thought I could spare the time. Wrong move! 7 days is actually quite ideal. Any shorter, and you might fail to get enough good bids. Any longer, and you lose urgency. On hindsight, I should have set the bid period to 8 days. This should give prospective providers a full week, in case they don’t check every day.

Again, on hindsight, I should have posted on a Monday. I posted mine on a Saturday, and I felt I could have given my project a better chance if I had waited two more days. You can only choose the project post day if you signed up without immediately posting your project too. See, point number one is very important…

3c. Escrow
If your project has a justifiable high budget, consider setting it up as an Escrow project. What it means is that you pay Elance first, which holds the payment. Upon completion of project milestones agreed by you and the service provider, Elance will then pay the service provider. Since you are the new kid on the block, service providers are more likely to trust Elance to pay them than to trust you to pay them.

Of course, service providers can bid with an Escrow option. If you then choose them, your project payment will change to payment with Escrow, even if you initially set it to Standard payment.

4. Managing bids
Check out the service providers bidding on your project. Check their portfolio, their Elance history, their web site if any. Most importantly, take note of their payment agreement or timeline. This gives you an idea of how their business agreement will be phrased.

Then send them messages through the Private Messaging Board (PMB) provided by Elance. You are basically conducting interviews. Ask them questions just as if you are hiring them. Hey, you are hiring them. Now that your money is on the line, you should be questioning them.

The PMB records all correspondence between you and the service provider, and is used to settle any disputes or misunderstandings.

5. Be firm with your budget
Don’t have a rubbery budget. The first service provider I chose had a different idea of what they should be paid versus what I was willing to pay, even though I’ve stated my budget when I posted my project. Be careful when a service provider says the bid is there as a placeholder, and the budget can be discussed further in the PMB.

There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m just not ready to dish out tons of cash with a non-existent budget limit. I was willing to pay a bit more, so I negotiated a higher budget and still the service provider was unhappy. In the end, the service provider dropped the bid, and I had to choose another one. This cost me two days of messaging back and forth. Because I had a rubbery budget.

Perhaps I didn’t do enough research checking out the average prices for doing WordPress themes on Elance…

6. Note the time zone
Your service provider is probably from a different time zone than you. Take this into account when you communicate with them. Your service provider has their country listed. Just find out what time it is in their country.

I’m in Singapore, and my chosen provider is in India, so they are about 5 hours behind me. If I send them a message at night, I can expect a reply say 1 or 2 pm the next day in Singapore, assuming they start work at 8 or 9 am.

7. Be clear in your correspondence with service providers
Having clear project descriptions helps reduce correspondence time. Sending clear messages in the PMB helps too. Once, I said the heading was too “bold”. I meant that it looked too obvious, too in-your-face. My service provider took that to mean the font was bold, as in the font was bold. Always say what you mean.

8. Paying your service provider
Surprisingly, payment was easy. My project was posted with the Standard payment option, so I don’t know how the Escrow paying process is like. For the Standard version, all I had to do was enter the amount I want to pay the service provider and click “Submit”.

The business agreement between the service provider and me was half of payment at the start of the project and the rest upon completion.

Conclusion
So far, my experience as an outsourcer isn’t too bad. Elance is actually quite easy to use and navigate. From my experience dealing with my offshore colleagues, I’ve learnt to ignore certain levels of quality in the work. In this case, the payment wasn’t high, so I decided not to badger the service provider for too many changes.

This doesn’t mean you should settle for sub-par quality work! I’m just saying you get what you pay for. For me, this was a learning experience. Besides, I’m probably going to tweak the design further. Doing the changes myself is faster than sending a message to the service provider, have them do it, send it back to you, and it’s still not what you want.