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Why I closed my Elance profile and you should too

elance

Yesterday I finally closed my Elance account and asked them to delete my profile. They say they’ll close it in the next billing cycle, so it’ll take a month for it to be deleted from the Internet – hopefully for good.

For writers like me, online bidding sites like Elance are a waste of time. In June last year I wrote about my experience with Elance and why the system just doesn’t work for me. I know I’m not the only one. Almost a year later, the company has bought out oDesk, arguably its biggest competition, and this makes them huge – but the market there is one where bargain-bin hunters hound professionals to provide them Pulitzer Prize quality work for the same price as a couple of cokes and a packet of chips.

I’m not even exaggerating. I was once invited to bid on a job where the client wanted to pay $20 for a 50,000 word novel. What shocked me was people actually bid on the job! What are they doing?

I left my profile open for a while because I did garner a few clients. Only one paid me a decent price for several articles. The others didn’t pay well at all (but admittedly were better than most of the work there) but I did the work for them to test a theory I often hear about Elance – that if you build a good profile and get good reviews, the decent paying clients will come.

Frankly, I don’t believe this for a second. The amount of time you spend doing the cheap jobs so that you can move into some bracket of decent-paying jobs can be better spent marketing yourself the old school way and actually writing and querying publications. Furthermore, I don’t think there really is a decent paying market on Elance – at least not a consistent one. Practically every job I bid on was badly priced, with only a few exceptions. The highest paying ghostwriting project I did bid on – and almost won – was offered at just a little lower than a decent ghostwriting rate. I lost the bid because the guy who won underbid me (surprise, surprise) and claimed that he was a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter. I checked out his profile and his stuff was pretty good. But I couldn’t help but wonder why, if this was the case, he was bidding on jobs at Elance – and for the price he undercut me for, too.

Decently priced jobs are honestly so few and far between that the time you invest to find them and bid on them (and then often re-bid when the client asks you to provide some speculative work) is not worth it. Why bother building a decent Elance profile if you can rather build a good profile with real people in your own city, through relationships, word-of-mouth, cold calling and a decent website?

The Elance online freelance model, despite the hype, actually doesn’t work near as well as it (a) could or (b) claims to work. Your time is better spent getting business the old school way. My suggestion to any writer these days is avoid Elance. If you’re starting out, rather build a portfolio through volunteer work – say, the local newspaper or your dad’s company. Real relationships and real people. Freelancing through online sites seems like an easy way to get things done but it’s more of a pain in the butt – one that will always be a pain to you if you invest in it – than the old way of getting things done.

My opinion of the site is so bad that I am going to insist that every trace of me on that site will not be found by search engines because being there just makes me look cheap and desperate. I think a writer ought to think about that. Don’t waste your time or ruin your reputation.

The Overall Goal in Business

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Meeting_over_coffee

Recently I’ve been exploring new business concepts that revolve around the main purpose of business and the idea that business is intrinsically good. The crux of the matter has been that the purpose of business is not to make a profit but to serve others (the community, individuals etc.). Profit is a means to that end. In other words, it’s not that service is the means to profit, it’s actually the other way around. This is quite counter-cultural when you think about how we’re typically told to think about business.

Perhaps it’s good to define “service” a little bit. Basically, what I’m referring to is anything that enriches people’s lives in some way. So, when you think about that, it all comes down to people, which leads me to my next conclusion: the overall goal in business is to cultivate relationships.

While the purpose of a business is to serve the community, it’s within this framework that people have the opportunity to inspire, encourage, serve and enrich each other. This is done not just through the product or service the business is selling, which is in itself a good thing (which should lead to us to asking serious questions about the quality of our product or service) but through the relationships that are formed during the whole process of buying and selling.

At the end of the day, what matters above all is people. This is why a corrupt business can carry so much power – it not only has the power to break the people that work for the business, but people can abuse the relationships formed through the act of doing business. Corrupt, criminal relationships can form. Business carries a huge amount of power.

It’s not what you know…

We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” This is usually said in a negative light, or in the light of finding a way to network for the purpose of profit. (It’s not that everyone sees it that way, but I’m sure you see my point.) Once again, if this is how we think about it, we have it backwards. The fact that my neighbour will sooner give me his business than the guy in the Yellow Pages because he knows me is actually a good thing, because the relationship is the key thing here. The business serves the relationship – the relationship does not serve the business. If it does, we miss the point and run into the risk of creating some kind of abusive or corrupt relationship.

Tentmaking

As an interesting side point that shows my point of reference, this is why the concept of tentmaking excites me. If you don’t know what that means, let me explain.

Paul in the Bible used to often make tents as a way to earn a living, instead of asking for donations. In this way he was able to much more easily enrich his relationships – people didn’t have to suspect him for another religious charlatan. He was the real deal. Plus, he could minister without needing to worry about money, which is often a burden for pastors (and a temptation, because if pastors get desperate, they can easily find ways to abuse others to give money. We all know that story!) Tentmaking gave Paul an opportunity to foster relationships with people.

In other words, it was all about people. His business served the relationships, not the other way around. Paul saw this as part of his ministry, not just some way to make money so he could carry on with the ‘real stuff’ of ministry. This was all part and parcel of the ‘real stuff’.

Networking and business

So, while it’s true that the best way for me to build my ghostwriting business, as an example, is through networking (this is usually the best way to build any business), the fact is that in my networking I am looking (or should be looking) to have my business serve those people I network with, not to have those people serve my business. I think the point is clear.

I find this a liberating concept. It means the pressure to impress is actually off. But the pressure to be real and, well, myself, is on. It means that I need to genuinely care about people, not pretend to care and build the right image so I can make some bucks off them.

But I also think that if you look at it this way, business becomes exciting and much more fun!

Why Business is Intrinsically Good

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Graffiti_dollar_sign

It seems strange that I would title this post as “Business is Intrinsically Good”. Many of us perhaps never thought there was anything particularly “bad” about it in the first place, but at the same time – and I know this from experience – we’ve only ever looked at profit and our job and work as only “necessary”, not something that is, in and of itself, actually a good thing.

My mind has changed. Whereas before I would see non-profits and churches and those kinds of things as where the real action of doing good takes places (over and above our personal lives and the family, of course) I always thought business had one real goal: to make profit. And so, because I’m not a guy who gets particularly excited about working with money, I always chalked up business as something the “business-minded guy” does. It’s not my gifting.

However, what if the idea that the goal of a business is to make profit is entirely the wrong idea? This is something I’m exploring and I’m suddenly seeing some fantastic opportunities that have been incredibly beneficial for my ghostwriting and copywriting business.

“We don’t teach profit as the end of a business. It is the means. The purpose of business is to serve. Profit is the means that enables the business to attract the capital it needs in order for it to pursue its first-order purpose.” – Jeff van Duzer

There’s a great quote you can read more about at the Seattle Pacific University website. Listen to it carefully – profit is the means that enables business to attract the capital it need to pursue it’s first purpose, which is to serve.

Think about it. When profit is the end we keep running into all sorts of problems. When serving is the end and both labour and money are ways to achieve that end, then we find certain other things happen. One, the labour finds meaning. Two, the labour is able to enjoy a fair salary.

It seems odd that we have to be reminded about this. Don’t all businesses talk about their ‘service’? But our general culture sees service as a way to profit. Good service equals great profit, and that’s the goal. But we have to turn that on its head – good profit equals good service, and that’s the goal.

Ok, but why do I say business is intrinsically good? Because business is the only method in which our lives are enriched. I can’t build a great house for myself, but architects and builders can. They serve me in this. This service is intrinsically good – it enriches the community in which it operates. That’s what all service does, whether it’s a “for profit” or “not for profit”.

Churches and non-profits perform one function and these are good functions. I don’t believe a church community should seek to make a profit from others. Rather, those in the church, which are the church, make the profit to enrich that church community, much like those in a family enrich a family when they’re providing and supporting it. Provision and support are intrinsically good, and business is also a part of that.

Interesting thoughts and I’m loving exploring this topic.

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What is the Main Purpose of Business?

mrgreedy

In my usual meanderings through the Internet I’ve recently come across work from Jeffrey Van Duzer, the business school dean at Seattle Pacific University and a former corporate attorney. He has some interesting things to say, including that maximising profit is not the top priority of business.

In today’s culture, that’s quite a statement! It seems that you really only have two choices when it comes to work and business: (1) Make a lot of money or, (2) If making money doesn’t appeal to you, do something else.

For many, many people, they are very good at what they do but they struggle to buy fully into the culture of the day, and for good reason! It seems, however, that sensible people who are sensible about business and money often feel as if maybe they’re called to something else, since they can’t “play the game” as the world plays it. This leads to us also viewing work and business in a negative light.

But Van Duzer doesn’t say this without offering a healthier alternative worth pondering:

“Probably the most controversial aspect of this view of business is that it relegates profit maximization or increasing shareholder wealth to a means and a constraint rather than a purpose. That doesn’t mean profit is not important. In the business school, we still teach how to run profitable businesses, but profitability is what you need in order to attract the capital that enables the business to do what it should be doing, which is to serve in the ways I mentioned.

“(These are: business… helps provide meaningful and creative work for people to do, which is part of how people express their God-given identity. Two, it produces goods and services that enable communities to flourish.)

“The dominant paradigm says the purpose of business is to maximize profit and increase shareholder value. This approach turns that upside down.

“Profit is like blood in a body. If blood isn’t pumping through your body, we don’t have to talk about your purpose, because you’re dead. Similarly, if profit isn’t flowing through a business, we don’t have to talk about the business’ purpose, because it’s bankrupt. Few of us get up in the morning and say, “Today I’m going to live to circulate blood.” Blood is important, but it’s not our purpose, and similarly for profit.

(Quoted from the website Faith and Leadership)

With my craft, ghostwriting, I’ve often wondered how I can run a profitable business when my heart is actually to just serve people; do stuff for people; use my talents for the community; and enjoy meaningful work. I’ve never been that excited about the bottom-line, about making the money, but more about all that other stuff. But yet I’ve known, somehow, that making money is something I should be interested in doing. Van Duzer’s putting this in a way that really makes sense to me.

It’s worth exploring this more, I think!

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Hashtags Come to Facebook. But Who Invented the Hashtag?

hashtag

hashtag

Facebook has announced that hashtags are now coming to its platform, meaning that you can post a status update and include a hashtag that you can click on and see who else is talking about that topic.

Hashtags initially became popular on Twitter and weren’t actually invented by Twitter itself. Chris Messina is the guy who claims to have invented them, proposing the use of them in a blog post.

I never imagined that hashtags would catch on as they did,” he says at Quora. He now works for Google.

For those of you who aren’t quite up to speed, all this means is that you can post something about the Rugby and follow it up with #Sharks. Click on that hashtag and see who else is talking about the Sharks. On Facebook, you’ll be able to follow conversations not only on Facebook but also on Twitter, Instagram and other services.

As per Facebook:

• Search for a specific hashtag from your search bar. For example, #NBAFinals.
• Click on hashtags that originate on other services, such as Instagram.
• Compose posts directly from the hashtag feed and search results.

As always, you control the audience for your posts, including those with hashtags.

Google+ incorporated a similar use of hashtags recently. I’m not sure this is really going to make me want to use Facebook over Google+, but it’s certainly about time!

The next frontier? Hashtags on the whole web, including blogs such as mine!

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Ghostwriting

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Many of us have great ideas. Many want to put these ideas onto paper – a book, an article, a blog. These ideas could be a great fiction story or the story of our lives. But not all of us can write. Not all of us have the time or inclination to refine ourselves as a writer before we can release a book or even write an article for a publication. Nor should we have to, because that’s where ghostwriters come in.

Ghostwriting is an old and distinguished profession. In the ancient times you had the scribe who often wrote letters for dignitaries who didn’t have the time or even ability to find the perfect prose. These days, there’s actually no reason why your story shouldn’t be told just because you aren’t in the position to develop your writing skills. And besides, isn’t your time best spent doing what it is you’re actually doing? What it is you enjoy doing? Serving where you’re meant to be serving?

Presidents, celebrities, professors, executives, pastors and many others use ghost writers to craft their autobiographies, papers, inspirational books, philosophical or theological volumes or even their fiction ideas. To be honest, I would prefer the president to be running the country instead of spending hours behind a computer screen writing because, after all, the former is what he is good at doing (or should be, at least!)

The same applies to people from all other walks of life. But that doesn’t mean they should never have the opportunity to publish a book filled with the lessons, wisdom or insight they have acquired. Or publish articles. Or run a blog. In fact, it would be almost selfish of them not to do so because their lives and revelations, and even their imagination, inspire us all in our own journeys. We need their stories as we shape ours.

Writing not only takes time to do but takes a lifetime to perfect. I don’t try and build my own furniture, I usually hire a carpenter to build it for me, because he has the experience, skills and the passion. I also don’t try to design a house on my own, rather I hire an architect to serve me in that purpose.

As a ghostwriter I’m here to architect your story, whatever it may be, for you. Like with an architect you have an idea and, to various degrees, you may know what you want. But the architect drafts the plans, sources the material, and conducts the building project. In my case, I systematise your thoughts, do the research, and write the book, article or blog for you – from the planning phases all the way to the end project, where it’s ready for publishing.

Contact me

Sound all good to you? Keen to get an idea on cost? Great, click here to get hold of me.

Website Design Overhaul

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Although I’ve received many compliments on my previous website design, I’ve had to change it as I’ve simply outgrown it, plus it wasn’t suiting my purposes.

My website was always meant to garner business while also showcasing my writing and drawing people towards my fantasy / sci-fi books and my books on my faith. Unfortunately, the previous design just showcased everything on the front page, sending a confusing message to potential clients who are interested in hiring me for their online content and strategy needs. So… I’ve had to look at a slightly more formal design that gives me more flexibility.

A few changes are still to come but WordPress is so fantastic that the changes needn’t take an age and I’ll probably have it all done in a day or two.

Any comments on the new design?