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Five reasons why it’s never been easier to set up your own business

8:47AM | Wednesday, 20 August

There is no doubt that starting a new business is hard. However, the range of new products and services on offer means it is getting cheaper and easier to get up and running.   Here are some examples of what many new businesses are using.   Shared office space   More and more shared office space has been opening up across the capital cities, allowing new businesses to get desks for a fraction of the price of a traditional office. Often they are month-by-month and do not need you to commit to long-term leases.   There is a lot of press around the facilities provided by various incubators and accelerators; however, there are plenty of shared office spaces elsewhere. While rates can be as low as $400 per month, in Sydney it is more commonly in the $600 to $700 per month range if you want to be near the city.   Voice over IP   Essential to the operations of many businesses is a regular phone number. In the past the cost of getting a new number would run to the hundreds of dollars, and then ongoing monthly costs for a basic service would easily start at $30-$50 per month.   And that’s before adding basic functions for voice greetings, menus to direct callers to the right place, call queues or even just voicemail. These PABX features used to require small business phone systems to be purchased and physically installed.   However, this can all be provided over the internet using voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) services, which are quick to sign up to online and work on your computer or a cheap IP phone from a local electronics shop. They cost a fraction of the price of a physical system and generally do not have setup fees. They work over your internet connection, so there is no need to wait around for the technician to not show up.   A standalone phone number with Internode’s NodePhone service costs $5 per month, and services such as Edgetel offer PABX functions that allow you to automatically answer a call during business hours with a greeting and a “press 1 for support” type menu system. You can also divert calls to different numbers, at different times of the day, ring one number or handset first before calling others, or place callers in a queue. Everything you need to make you sound like a big company, for as little as $20 per month.   Online business applications   Gone are the days when to have your own email address [email protected] would mean buying your own server, connecting it to the internet and spending thousands getting things configured. The same goes for sophisticated systems such as customer relationship management or building an online shopping website.   The recent advent of software-as-a-service (SaaS) means business can now access these powerful applications online and pay for them by the month (often after a free trial). There are a huge range of applications in a broad range of categories. Some common examples include:   Office style productivity, such as Google Apps, Office 365 Customer relationship management (CRM), such as Zoho, Highrise, Salesforce Accounting (invoicing, payroll, etc) such as Xerox Websites and online shopping, such as Bigcommerce, Wix, Squarespace Project management such as Jira OnDemand, Pivotal tracker, Basecamp, Trello Source code management such as Github and Bitbucket   Offshore software developers   For new online businesses, or those who have a significant online component, the cost of software development is usually by far the largest expense. Offshore software developers are an effective way to cut down that cost.   All the software development can be moved offshore, or a blended on-shore/offshore team can be used to help maintain control and quality while still greatly reducing the price. Hiring an independent resource overseas is easy to do through myriad contract hire websites such as Freelancer and oDesk. There are also businesses such as SoftwareSeni that complement the offshore resources with Australian-based operations to provide an additional level of technical oversight and quality.   Hosting   In the old days, servers had to be bought and installed, and system administrators had to set them up and keep them going. Now there are a range of cloud-based hosting services like Amazon Web Services where you pay for what you use and you can increase and decrease capacity quickly.   Some of the more sophisticated ones, such as Heroku and AppFog, also provide online setup and automation which empowers developers to manage the hosting, removing the need for a system administrator.   Taking advantage of these “enabling” products and services will give you the ability to put your focus on your core business idea, as well as keep your cost base competitive with your peers both within Australia and abroad.   Paul Russell is the managing director of SoftwareSeni, a Sydney-based startup specialising in near-shore software development seat outsourcing.

OPINION: Will Freelancer's fortunes float?

8:35AM | Wednesday, 6 August

Freelancer claims it is “the world’s largest online marketplace for outsourcing, freelancing and crowdsourcing services”. But is it?   For all the hype, the Australian online sector is relatively sparsely populated. Unlike the United States, our ecosystem is dominated by a handful of brilliantly executed marketplaces like Seek, Carsales and Realestate.com.au. However, a new generation of titans is also emerging — with the media giving increasing attention to businesses like Atlassian, Bigcommerce, 99Designs, Xero (technically a New Zealand company, but like Phar Lap, we’ll claim it) and Freelancer.   For the most part, the new marketplaces have excellent prospects. While none are hugely profitable yet, most dominate their sector globally — in particular Atlassian, whose Jira software is the most widely used project management software globally, despite the business not having a sales team. Xero and 99Designs are also market leaders with exceptional growth. But there is an odd one in this group. Despite the hype that founder Matt Barrie is able to generate for himself and his business, Freelancer appears to be far more sizzle than steak.   Barrie became an internet folk hero last year after rejecting a $400 million bid from mysterious Japanese recruitment firm Recruit Co to float on the ASX. Freelancer offered a very small number of shares in its float, which initially sought to value the business at $200 million — but Barrie appeared to have the last laugh, as Freelancer’s share price shot up to $1.50 (from a listing price of only 50 cents), valuing the business at $600 million. Barrie was instantly catapulted into the BRW Rich List, with an estimated net worth of $255 million this year.   Some remained sceptical of Barrie’s heroics. For a start, there was never any actual evidence of Recruit Co’s $400 million offer (Recruit Co never confirmed the offer was even made, and Freelancer was vague about the specifics). But the bigger problem with Freelancer is its claim that it is “the world’s largest online marketplace for outsourcing, freelancing and crowdsourcing services”.   The claim to be the largest marketplace is critical for valuation. Investors (justifiably) place a significant premium on the No. 1 marketplace (like Seek, Carsales and REA). In some instances, a second or third player can also create real value, but a stiff premium is attached to the largest operator. This is probably why Freelancer have been so keen to make such a statement to the market in its prospectus and public statements.   Not long after Freelancer listed, two of the biggest players in the outsourcing space, oDesk and Elance, announced they were merging. This was quite big news, as the combined businesses generated US$750 million in payment volume in 2013. By contrast, Freelancer’s annual report noted that despite growth of 66% during the year, it had generated only AUD$84.4 million in sales during 2013. Not only is Freelancer not the largest marketplace globally, it is around one-tenth of the size of the dominant player.   Last week Freelancer released a quarterly cashflow update, noting that (on an operating business) the company suffered negative cash flow for the June quarter. The operating cash flow situation would have been worse but for Freelancer receiving a $150,000 government grant from taxpayers. Worryingly, it appears that Freelancer’s growth has slowed significantly. In 2012, Freelancer generated operating cash flows of $9.4 million; in 2013, cash flows increased to $18.8 million (and strong rise of 100%); in this year’s June half, cash flows were $11.8 million — meaning growth appears to have slowed to around 25%.   It appears that Freelancer is a distant No. 2 marketplace, whose growth has slumped and which isn’t able to generate much, if any, surplus cash flows from operations. The market it seems, has noticed, with Freelancer’s share price slumping from $1.54 in April to only 79 cents now — a drop of almost 50% in less than four months. The company, which briefly had a market capitalisation of $1.09 billion, is worth around $345 million now (less than the Recruit Co offer). Barrie, to his credit, hasn’t sold any of his Freelancer shares, but has seen the value of his stake drop from $520 million to $158 million.   Barrie has done a remarkable job rolling up a number of freelance businesses to form and float Freelancer at the perfect time, but it seems like the market is becoming far more sceptical to the spin and looking to the substance. Unless Freelancer can start generating significant growth, or extract some real earnings, even its discounted valuation of $345 million will appear generous.   This article originally appeared on Crikey.

Peep inside: Kate Kendall’s new venture and the future of The Fetch

6:46AM | Tuesday, 24 June

Kate Kendall is one of Australia’s best-known female entrepreneurs, kicking off #socialmelb in early 2009 before founding The Fetch. We catch up with her from her new base, New York, to hear about her latest venture, and the dilemma of choosing between two “startup babies”.   Things have come full circle for Kate Kendall, who has just launched a new startup called CloudPeeps, a marketplace for on-demand community managers, with her co-founder Shala Burroughs, four years after she held off on the idea believing that the timing was not right.   Instead, Kendall went on to create The Fetch, launched mid-2011, a popular curated email of digital and creative events, across a number of cities.   After relocating to New York and needing some help with the growing demands of The Fetch, Kendall turned to Zirtual for a virtual assistant and found the experience so rewarding against using a number of ad hoc freelancers, that she revisited her original idea around CloudPeeps.   “What got me excited about marketplaces like Zirtual is that until now a lot of these virtual marketplaces have been very open, like the Freelancers and Elance-oDesk, but this was completely different – it was a highly controlled experience,” Kendall says.   “It got me thinking about the whole verified approach and what we could do with that in relation to on-demand community managers.”   Kendall discussed her idea with Burroughs, whom she describes as her “accountability partner” and Burroughs agreed that the market timing was right, so they incorporated CloudPeeps in January and set about ‘beta’ testing with a goal of attracting 10 customers and 25 community managers.   The results confirmed they were on to something, with their beta testing resulting in 20 customers and 75 community managers, with a pipeline of 350 customers and some tentative distribution partnerships with accelerators, coworking spaces and event communities. Only around 35% of those who apply as community managers are approved.   They’ve also attracted Ligaya Tichy (who led the communities at Yelp and Airbnb) and Joel Gascoigne (co-founder and CEO of Buffer) as advisors.   The company operates on a subscription model starting at $699 a month and Kendall is hoping to automate the process to open up the current pipeline, but she’s quick to point out that at this stage the priority is on developing ways to allow CloudPeeps to take on more customers, and not on building out new features.   “Our mission is to make community building accessible to all business by connecting them with an on-demand experienced and authentic remote community manager,” Kendall says.   Four of their customers are Australian and Kendall is actively seeking professional Australian-based community managers to grow the market here.   What now for The Fetch?   So where does Kendall’s new venture leave The Fetch? She admits to feeling conflicted, as “they’re my two babies and I love both”.   This means, for now at least, Kendall’s time is being spent on CloudPeeps, which she says her instinct tells her is the bigger opportunity.   It’s far from the end for The Fetch though (which Kendall describes as currently being on “slow wheels”) with Kendall still aiming for her long-term vision to make it a successful events platform.   “At the end of the day, in its current format, it was just taking me too much time to write and curate all the newsletters, as well as manage all our volunteers,” Kendall says.   This means a relaunch for The Fetch, with Kendall putting together a crowdfunding campaign next month to spearhead a new build that would automate some of the process.   “The Fetch has phenomenal reach and even right now I have $20,000 worth of people wanting to sponsor and advertise on the site, but I had to make a tough decision,” she says.   “At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s a billion-dollar company, where CloudPeeps may be.”   Kendall says she has had acquisition offers, but that she still felt very attached to The Fetch in a personal way, noting it would have to be a “very attractive offer” for her to consider it.   “The Fetch is only three years old and it’s had enormous growth potential and community love,” she says.   “It’s certainly not suffering in terms of anything like that, I just had to make a tough decision for now.”   Meanwhile, stay tuned for the crowdfunding campaign.

The grey market is there for startups to capture: Airtasker chief

5:51AM | Tuesday, 13 May

It turns out the casualization of labour is not a Gen Y phenomenon. At least, that has been the experience of one Australian startup.   When Australian small job listing marketplace Airtasker first launched they believed their target market would be young university students wanting flexible casual jobs.   Two years later, the over-55 market makes up as much of their users as their younger Gen Y counterparts. Co-founder and CEO Tim Fung says they noticed the growth in older Australians signing up to their site about six months after they launched, believing it at first to be an anomaly.   As it stands, their top “runners” (people who post frequent jobs on Airtasker and get positive feedback) mostly fall into the older age bracket, growth that has been completely organic.   Fung says he believes the success of this age-bracket on their site is down to their strong work ethic and their years of accumulated experience.   “We’ve got people with fantastic experience listing on the site, there’s an ex-Silicon Valley engineer and an ex-SMCG marketer,” Fung says.   “Most of the users of the site are very digitally savvy and know how to promote themselves.”   He put the attraction of Airtasker to this market segment down to the fact that they often faced discrimination by large employers as well as being too young to access their super, so they were still looking for a means to support themselves.   The unexpected market segment had seem them change some of the branding and appeal of the site, originally targeted at the younger market, with pictures showing youthful uni students replaced with realistic ones of the older demographic.   Airtasker, which is not dissimilar to virtual marketplaces Elance-oDesk and Australia’s Freelancer, has seen 50% market growth month-on-month.   While still a tiny market play compared to its behemoth cousins, its focus is on hyper-local job listings, which mostly require a physical presence, though there are some virtual listings.   Airtasker founders Tim Fung and Jonathan Lui

Virtual staff: Getting bang for your buck

4:33AM | Tuesday, 22 April

Growing numbers of Australian businesses are either allowing staff to work from home, or hiring workers located overseas to save costs.   But how can you be sure you’re getting real bang for your buck when they’re not sitting in an office beside you? Here are six ways to be sure virtual staff output is up to scratch.   1. Use time trackers   Pay your virtual worker by the project for an outcome, rather than by the hour.   Luke Chapman of hire car comparison site Vroomvroomvroom.com.au uses time tracking software Time Doctor, which gets the user to log the task they’re working on and tracks the websites and apps they’re using. It also takes screenshots every six minutes.   “The user can delete their screenshots, but that time is then taken away from the total time worked,” Chapman says.   Melbourne city manager for outsourcing platform Elance, David Hobson, says when hiring a graphic designer, agree on the outcome, deadline and project cost. Then, how long they spend on it is up to them.   Utilising Skye and Google Hangouts is a great way to communicate with virtual workers, he adds.   “I do project costs for most things, as it’s a very powerful accountability tool. I prefer to pay people well and reward them, rather than using bonuses, as they may come to expect it.”   Using platforms like Elance and Odesk also works well as they are very accountable to the agreement because people are concerned about the feedback left by those that hire them, he says.   2. Set strict KPIs   Andre Pinantoan is head of marketing at Australian start-up, Pocketbook. He favours key performance indicators over time-tracking tools.   Make sure there can be measurable outcomes with hard numbers so there’s no dispute whether or not the work is done, and whether it’s done well, he says.   “We pay our virtual staff by the hour, but we have a KPI for everyone to meet, which we can then compare to virtual staff doing the same task to judge performance.   “And if you’re trying to hire one virtual staff member instead of a team, then you should at least know the usual amount of work a productive staff would do in an office so you can compare this.”   But sometimes, it just doesn’t work out, he says.   “Working from home requires a lot of discipline and many of those who didn’t work out performed well at first, but their performance slowly deteriorated from there. We can see they log in less frequently, for example.”   Spend 15 minutes at the end of every day to look at the report sheet that virtual staff fill out, he adds.   “Having a short review cycle allows you to catch problems early and fix it early. If you review it weekly, a whole week worth of work might be lost before you catch it.”   Nicole Williams of management advisory business, BRS recommends fixing the price when hiring freelancers, so you know exactly what you’re up for.   “You really need to be outcomes focused when working with freelancers. But it’s important to highlight that, like anything in life, you get what you pay for. It’s not about finding the cheapest person to complete tasks you can’t do yourself,” Williams says.   3. Go through an agency   There are plenty of agencies out there that hire offshore virtual assistants you can go through to lessen the likelihood of running into issues.   Business coach Glenn Williams, of nLIVEn, says engaging an agency that can find and manage the relationship with you is a popular approach.   You interview candidates, choose one, contract with the agency, pre-pay a month at a time and monitor the worker’s performance, he says. Some people may pay performance incentives, he adds.   “This way, they’ve already done some of the matching work for you, by negotiating some of the terms and conditions such as rates, availability and mutual responsibilities.”   He recommends starting with a flat hourly rate with a fixed number of hours.   “Once you both understand the nature of the role, each other’s strengths and allow a pattern of work to emerge, you can then start to think about reward and incentive programs.”   Like any employee, review the relationship after three months again agreed and documented expectations, he adds.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 4. Set and follow your own procedures   The founder of cloud software Way We Do, Jacqui Jones, says it’s paramount that you don’t get taken off course by virtual staff.   She recently set a job on a fixed fee and posted it to Odesk, hiring a freelancer from New Zealand for the task. However, he argued that a fixed fee was no good in case she didn’t approve the final output and decided not to pay him. He also wanted to use a different tool to the one stated in the brief.   “We agreed for him to work on an hourly basis, and for him to use the tool that he was experienced with. After 11 hours of work, the output wasn’t usable and we paid over $US330. Needless to say, we ended the project.   “In hindsight, we should have stuck with the project fee and offered to pay a deposit to demonstrate that both parties were sharing the risk.” She also regrets not following her own procedures for hiring off-shore staff.   “I didn’t spend enough time with him upfront educating him about the project and standards required. And I didn’t get him to work on one small part of the project first to test his ability before proceeding.”   5. Value the input   After many trials and tribulations, Rob Whyte has good virtual staff. It’s imperative to motivate them and understand how different personality traits are crucial to the right selection of candidates, the director of The Mortgage Gallery says.   “Our staff is motivated by acceptance and respect within our business, and to know their input is valued and welcomed, like most staff.   “Through support and training, they grow pride in the job as they deem themselves a fellow staff member of an overseas business and proudly promote and support through their own networks,” he says.   6. Give them your trust   Like any staff member, you need to make sure you extend some trust to virtual workers.   Toney Fitzgerald has been using a virtual assistant since 1998.   “You’ve got to be gracious in business. You need to extend some trust toward them, or there’s no way it’s going to work out.   “That means that once you’ve got a good working relationship established, let them get on and do the job for you. Don’t constantly hassle them about minor things.”

Affordable online services for startups

4:14AM | Tuesday, 1 April

Australian start-ups are turning to cheap online services in growing numbers to run their business. Here are eight popular services that save time and money.   1. Fiverr.com   All the services listed on fiverr.com set you back just $5, and include everything from graphic design, online marketing, video and animation and business card design.   This site is hugely popular among Australian business owners, who are prepared to risk a few bucks to see what they can get done at such a low price.   Digital marketing and self-publishing speaker and author Pam Brossman has used the service for transcribing, editing, formatting, book covers, video editing, voice overs, video intros and more and has been happy with the outcome.   “Many entrepreneurs have acquired their full-time contractors from using fiverr.com services. They test their work, turnaround time and professionalism by giving them a $5 job, and then if they deliver exceptional service, they hire them,” Brossman says.   “I really like this service because it’s like a resume of experts out there showcasing their wares.”   2. Hiring a virtual assistant   Hiring a virtual assistant for jobs like updating Instagram eight times a day has been a really cheap and effective outsourcing technique for the founder of fashion and beauty brand Cherry Blooms, Jellaine Ross.   She’s used oDesk and Elance to track down virtual assistants for times when no one was in the office, enabling the business to virtually trade around the clock. There are also a range of virtual assistant websites to help you track down the best person for the job, including virtualcoworker or virtualassistants.com   “You can’t get rich doing minor tasks, and you need a lot of mental power and energy to have a successful business, so I recommend delegating as much as you can to virtual assistants or interns and to be very precious about your energy. Good enough is better than not done when it comes to small tasks,” Ross says.   3. Salmat MicroSourcing   Renovator Store founder and MD Scott Pendlebury talks constantly to his Manila-based web developer and customer service manager from his Victorian headquarters via Skype.   Outsourcing these jobs to people based overseas has saved Pendlebury about 70 per cent of the cost of employing the equivalent people in Australia, enabling him to commit more cash to sales and promotion. Salmat MicroSourcing helped him find the right talent for the job.   “I think there’s a perception that offshoring is about cutting Australian jobs, but really, it’s a great way for small business to start playing in the same space as the big end of town,” Pendlebury says.   Renovator Store is one of about 80 Australian SMEs using the offshore services of Philippines-based Salmat MicroSourcing.   4. Cloud technology   A cloud solution can make a huge difference to the effectiveness of your business, and most cost next to nothing. In basic terms, the cloud refers to the ability to access your applications, information and data over the internet via a third-party provider, which means you don’t have the store this information yourself.   Business consultant and publisher of The Big Smoke, Alexandra Tselios, researched individual features, capability and simplicity before opting for DropBox.   “This service allows my team to remotely access our files and ensure that all employees work on the most current document at any one time. It also allows us to share resources without the traditional barriers of time zones or convoluted filing systems getting in the way of service delivery and operations,” Tselios says.   5. PicMonkey   The ability to customise images for social media or to use on your website can be a huge plus for business owners.   The founder of My Kitchen Garden, Alice Faeth, has turned to PicMonkey to create branded images for social media and website graphics, which is completely free. Some of these images have been widely shared on her Facebook page.   Creating these images herself saves a lot, particularly given a graphic designers costs around $120 an hour, which was beyond her budget for jobs like this.   “I still use professionals for material I want to get printed, but I really like being self-sufficient for social media images, especially when you want to capture an idea quickly.   “You can also play around with images and designs without wasting valuable time and money trying to get the right look,” Faeth says.   6. 15five.com   This cloud-based weekly team reporting app has revolutionised internal communications for online wine retailer Vinomofo.com, according to CEO and co-founder, Andre Eikmeier.   The app allows him to create questions for his team each week, which each staffer fills in, allowing him to read and respond.   Eikmeier goes through this process every Monday, which takes just 15 minutes.   “We use it partly to see how people are going in their roles, and partly to understand how they’re feeling generally and to see if there are any issues or obstacles.   “It means little things are getting bought to my attention every week, often before they escalate, and I can action them,” Eikmeier says.   7. Freelancer.com and elance.com   This is a staple site used by many small business owners, particularly to track down freelancers for website development, design jobs, content writing, research and lead generation and sales and marketing, with more than 600 job categories.   According to freelancer.com, Australians are awarding their projects to professionals in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the US, Vietnam, the Philippines, as well as to fellow Australians.   Another great way to track down appropriately experienced freelancers at reasonable rates is via elance, which Business in Heels CEO Jac Bowie relies on for design and programming.   It also appeals because the site also allows for feedback and escrow payments, she says. It’s also worth checking out 99 Designs and DesignCrowd for logo design.   8. Odesk   Having access to a virtual team able to complete tasks in various time differences was a big bonus for Emilia Rossi, co-founder of fashion jewellery store emiliarossi.com.au and second hand wedding classifieds site, capriess.com.au.   Being able to work with a virtual team of graphic designers, web designers, social media experts has been a huge bonus, Rossi says.   “I’ve trialled and tested these services, and know it works,” she says.   A word of advice   While often very cost effective, avoid wasting money on these sorts of sites by following a few rules.   The founder of management advisory business, BRS, Nicole Williams minimises her risk when outsourcing in a number of ways. Firstly, avoid language issues by only giving jobs that require a good grasp of English to people whose first language is English. “Also, I would never outsource anything of high value or importance. There’s always a risk when you outsource anything, and typically you get what you pay for, so your expectations need to be realistic,” she says.   Williams says some freelancers have been fabulous for the first few jobs, but then over time, become less reliable and take a long time to provide what she needs, or don’t respond.   She also admits that she finds long-term relationships much harder to find on these outsourcing websites.   “Make sure you keep track of what software and technology your freelancers have access to, so that if jobs go pear-shaped, you can easily change passwords, so that your content isn’t compromised.”

How can I get traffic to my website cheaply?

3:31AM | Tuesday, 4 March

How can I traffic to my website cheaply? Is it all about advertising banners and buttons?   So you don’t have much money to spend, but you want to get some traffic to your website.   Sure, you are going to reinvest in your website after you rollout the first stage and make some money, but you need that first bump of cash to get you started.   Top three cheap ways to get traffic to your website are:   1. Google Adwords:   Here is where you are going to need to search for a $100 voucher for Adwords in Google. Find one, sign up and start paying for some traffic. This is going to give you traffic in one hour. It’s going to cost you but you will get traffic.  Cost benefit – This tactic is a sure way to get qualified traffic but if your niche is competitive it can cost you more money than a new customer is worth. Test it – What you want to do with this one is test it. Spend only a small amount of money and then find out what works. You will probably need to tweak your website or form a little and then you want to load up another $100 or so from your credit card and try again. You have to treat this business expense as part research and part marketing. The end outcome you want to achieve is a channel of traffic that is coming in and making you money day in day out. That way you can spend more time trying each of the cocktails on the drinks menu as your website keeps making you money.   2. Search Engine Optimisation:   SEO is a time consuming and slow build process in your business that can bring in serious traffic once you crack some big keyword rankings. Here are four quick wins:  Keywords – Ensure your website has the keywords you want to rank for in the content of your homepage and unique title tags for each page of your website. There are loads of other things you can do but if you just start with these two things it will help get you to that first 100 visits.  Get some listings – You need a few early win links to your site, some directories, a link from a friend and any other links you can scrounge up. List your business in an Australian directory as opposed to an American one. It gives you a better chance to get actual relevant traffic and will help you more with your rankings.  Add some new content – Add some new content to your website that is about topics in your niche. Spend $35 on some new articles with a writer from oDesk or Elance and build out your website.   3. Email:   Sending emails to people inviting them to your website for a high valuable reason is a great way to start. For example: All the daily deals websites at present work by sending people emails of the latest deal. The only way you can become one of those deals is by offering an insane price and offer that will cause you to lose money, otherwise the deals website will burn their list as it wasn’t a deal. You could try a daily deal site but its best to do some maths first to see if you can handle the volume. Here are some other ways to get email traffic:  Send an email to your peers – Collect up all your business cards and put them in a list, send an email announcing your new site and ask your colleagues for feedback on what they think of it. The sheer process of researching your site will imprint it in their minds and they might refer your site to someone else in need!  Write an article – Add a helpful article to a friend’s business eNewsletter and you will get a few residual visits from their site. Make sure you make your article 100% dedicated to their customers and just educate and inform. The keen visitors will come through.  Forward an email – If you find an email or some article that is helpful, forward it to someone who might use it. Ensure you have a call to action in your email signature and you might get some residual traffic if it’s forwarded on again.  Build a database – You will also want to be getting email subscribers from your website, so ensure you have a form on there. Offer a free guide or eBook if they sign up and you will probably get a better response.   Here are some of the other ways you can get traffic but you might want to consider them after you have around 100,000+ visitors.   Banner ads   – Banners are pricey and their click-through rates are low; around 0.1% yes that is 0.001! People do click on them. But you have to buy a lot of them. Top tips to try when starting with this:  Use cost per click – Buy your banners so you pay each time someone clicks, not by the number of impressions.  Pay per sale – If you can get a deal set up like this through the performance media channels of the different networks, try it!   Facebook ads   Everyone is on Facebook but they aren’t on it for the same reason as Google. On Google you are searching to find something and take action. On Facebook you are there to hang out with your friends. Use Facebook ads when you have a competition or timely campaign that is relevant and catchy. For example: If you are a charity and you are having a toga party to raise money, you might want to try Facebook ads and target young single males.  Test it – You can burn money FAST on Facebook but it’s again worth testing.  Basic metrics – Facebook’s advertising reports aren’t quite as sophisticated as Adwords, although you can still set up conversion metrics with it. It’s messy, but worthwhile.   Twitter, Viral, Facebook and that social stuff:   Social media and getting traffic from it is again a slow build. You need to build your profile and interact. Think of it like going into a new town, you want to meet people and become friends with them before you ask them over to your house for a BBQ. The best ways to do this are:  Help people – Be helpful. Helping others makes you a go-to person. The more helpful you are the more people like you and the more influential you will become.  Regular – Keep plugging away. Keep helping people. Short no talk stints are ways to get your tweets and status updates ignored. Be interesting – Boring tweets and links get ignored and you unfollowed.   Offline:   Don’t forget that people aren’t online all the time. People who come from offline media to your website needed to remember your URL and have made the effort to turn their computer on and go to your site. Market to offline media like: PR and magazines – A good story and bring in a solid amount of qualified traffic.   Leaflet drops – If you want local customers, just canvass everyone house in your local area. Eventually they will see your leaflet!   Signboards – If it’s cheap or free to put a sign somewhere, put up an ad, it’ll just tick away! Business cards – Put your domain name on there and a reason to go to your site. Get a free phone, free eBook or free video.   Events – Speaking at an event makes you authoritive, some people in the audience will really resonate with you and you need to put your website up so they can get more of you! What specifically you give them when they arrive needs to connect to what you were talking about otherwise you will lose them.

The Weekly Digest: New partnerships, investment news and plenty of tips

12:10AM | Friday, 20 December

Despite many corporates slowing down and packing up this week as we roll towards Christmas, the Australian start-up community has been powering along launching a car made entirely of Lego that runs on air and announcing new partnerships.   The big one this week was Tiger Pistol, which is now one of two companies listed as Facebook’s preferred marketing partners. Co-founder and chief executive Steve Hibberd spoke to us about what this means for his company, and how they got in touch with Facebook after 18 months of perseverance.   Investment announcements haven’t slowed yet, with an education app start-up announcing a Commercialisation Australia grant of $50,000 and an emergency response system start-up that planned to raise $500,000 but ended up raising $1.2 million after tweaking its pitching material.   Also in investment news, an angel investor expert has warned the Australian angel networks to develop slowly, and the director of new ventures at NICTA, Andrew Stead, crunched the numbers of 71 investment deals made in 2012 and shared his findings about what Australian investors look for with us here.   For every start-up that receives funding, there are plenty that don’t. This start-up decided to pursue their dream to go global with no extra capital, and all of their friends telling them it was a bad idea. They made it work after working through the overwhelming stress.   The government announced it was abandoning two tax reforms that would have boosted the start-up scene, but it’s been a rougher week for workers at car maker Holden. The local start-up community in Adelaide has thrown open their doors to welcome any aspiring entrepreneurs among their number.   Many local entrepreneurs are exploring ventures in the outsourcing and freelancing market, so the merger of international outsourcing giants Elance and oDesk is sure to change the playing field a bit.   In other international news, an Australian start-up has returned from the 10X accelerator based in Ohio and another entrepreneur shared his insights after attending the Lean Startup conference in San Francisco.   Closer to home, we shared tips to get the best work-life balance you can over the summer holidays, how much the average freelancer is charging, and three tips for creative entrepreneurs who can struggle to sell their work without selling their soul.   Finally, we heard from a start-up tapping into the power of the crowd to compete with roadside assistance heavyweights, an award-winning education platform enabling anyone run an online course, and shared an infographic on how to master your fears as you move forwards as an entrepreneur.

Freelancing platforms oDesk and Elance merge

12:40AM | Thursday, 19 December

Worldwide freelance platforms oDesk and Elance have announced they will merge, but pledged to continue operating as two separate platforms.   “This merger is a landmark in the evolution of work,” oDesk chief executive Gary Swart says in a statement.   “With online work growing at least 10 times more rapidly than staffing overall, oDesk is thrilled to join with Elance in order to innovate faster.   Elance chief executive Fabio Rosati said in the statement that the companies would “greatly improve how businesses hire and people work online”.   “This merger will create unprecedented access and flexibility for people to find job opportunities regardless of their location, and will allow businesses of all sizes to more easily access the best available talent.”   Elance and oDesk provide platforms for freelance workers and employers to connect anywhere in the world.   The statement says the new combined company will have a community of more than eight million freelancers and two million businesses in over 180 countries with about $US750 million in billings in 2013.   There are no plans for the fee structures of Elance and oDesk to change with the merger.   It says it expects the key benefits of the merger to include significant investments in technology, better matching of freelancers with businesses, and accelerated global growth.   Freelancing and the platforms that enable it are attracting considerable interest as tasks able to be done online, such as coding or design work, become accessible to almost anyone with an internet connection.   The sector has also been helped by the successful sharemarket listing of Australian-based freelancing site Freelancer.com.   Nikki Parker, Freelancer’s North America and Oceania regional director, told StartupSmart the company didn’t believe the merger of oDesk and Elance would have a material impact on Freelancer.   “We believe the IPO (initial public offering) spurred a lot of activity and interest in the industry,” she says.   The Elance and oDesk merger is subject to regulatory approval and is expected to occur in the next four months.   Rosati will be chief executive of the merged company while Swart will act as a strategic advisor.

Offering your services on outsourcing platforms? How to be the freelancer who gets chosen

12:45PM | Tuesday, 10 December

Independent creative freelancers and sole traders are one of the main targets and beneficiaries of rising outsourcing platforms such as Freelancer, oDesk and 99designs. But standing out from a crowd of similarly skilled freelancers can be a major challenge.   Kyri Theos, Australian country manager for outsourcing platform Elance, told StartupSmart the key to success was taking a holistic and long-term approach to winning jobs.   He shared his top six tips for getting chosen.   Create a stand-out profile   No matter how good your bid is, as soon as you bid for a job most people who are offering jobs will check out your profile to get a feel for how professional and reliable you are.   Theos says investing the time in developing a good profile will lead to more job offers.   “Make sure your profile is well written with correct grammar, spelling, and well-constructed sentences. Tailor the tone to your target audience. It could be bright and friendly, or conservative and business-like,” Theos says.   He adds profiles with professional and engaging photos do better than those without and you should schedule regular updates to your profile into your diary to make sure you’re sharing the most up-to-date and comprehensive portfolio.   Focus on a specific niche and on each pitch   Despite the temptation to go for every job you’re equipped to do, Theos says focus is the key to sustainable and successful pitching.   “Clients want to know what you can do for them specifically. Instead of providing a complete overview of your entire work history, highlight the skills you’re most advanced in. Back this up with credentials, testimonials and examples of your past work,” Theos says.   He adds only pitching for jobs you’re well suited to will also free up the time to craft each pitch email, and this will increase your success rate as well.   “Don’t cut and paste templates. Show the client that you have put serious consideration into the job and understand the requirements. Ask thoughtful and relevant questions and outline the process you’ll follow to complete the work,” Theos says, adding including timelines and attaching relevant work examples will impress clients even further.   Price fairly and over-deliver   Price is not the only factor future clients will consider, but it’s a significant one. A disconcertingly high or low price can rule your proposal out before your well-crafted sentences are even read, so Theos recommends setting a competitive price that works for you.   “Outline a sensible, fair, and clearly stated pricing policy. Make sure your clients know exactly what your products and services will cost them. Don’t overcharge or undercharge – be fair to the client and fair to yourself,” Theos says. “Don’t compromise on price as there are plenty of clients who appreciate great quality and are willing to pay for it.”   Theos says the good freelancers always deliver what the client expects, but the most successful ones on Elance always provide more than what the client expects.   “Exceeding expectations is what great customer service is all about. Focus on delivering a better product, faster delivery, and prompt and courteous communication,” he says.   Time matters so stay involved and monitor the job boards closely   Staying on the ball and being one of the first few proposals a client sees is a powerful way to make sure your proposal gets the attention you’re after.   “When a client posts a job that fits your skills, be one of the first to submit your proposal,” Theos says. “Once you’ve started a project, use your smartphone to stay connected and respond quickly to questions and requests for information.”   Seek feedback and develop a reputation   Theos says the more experience you have and the bigger and better your reputation is, the more you’ll be able to charge.   “Feedback is one of the most important elements a client will look at. Complete jobs on time, treat clients respectfully, have excellent communication, and above all – do high quality work!” Theos says.

Three-week-old start-up in the top 10 eCommerce options in the Global Startup Battle

12:56AM | Tuesday, 3 December

Kapcher, an online community marketplace for photographers and videographers launched just over two weeks ago, is in the running to take out top honours in the eCommerce category of the Global Startup Battle.   The Global Startup Battle is an international start-up competition of Startup Weekend graduates. Currently, start-ups are vying for popular votes to make it into the top 15 start-ups, which will then be assessed by a judging panel with the top three accessing prizes.   The eCommerce category is led by the founders of BigCommerce, and the overall winner will be able to be mentored by their team in the US for a month.   Kapcher founder and chief executive Thai Huynh pitched the idea at the recent Sydney Startup Weekend after realising he wanted to get involved in the start-up community.   “I realised that my start-up dreams required action. If I wanted to get into that world I needed to get involved. I went to the weekend in order to learn and network, but we got into the second round, and suddenly I had a team and we decided to go for it,” Huynh says.   Huynh is currently recruiting developers to build a minimum viable version of the outsourcing platform which he plans to launch within three months.   He adds a challenge will be differentiating between Freelancer.com and oDesk, which include photography offerings. The platform will include the functionality for photographers to showcase their portfolio.   “The main difference is these platforms don’t focus on photographers and videographers. We want to focus on a niche market,” Huynh says, adding the idea for the platform emerged from his own struggles to use the larger platforms effectively for his own photography practice.   Kapcher will trial a transaction fee as their primary revenue source when they launch. They’re currently recruiting the talent side of the marketplace, as Hunyh says getting this part right is critical to their chances of success in a crowded marketplace.   “Our strategy right now is to get in touch with as many photographers as possible as better suppliers are key to our success,” Hunyh says. “My first step is to reach the small to medium businesses and these are the ones with needs and a little bit of money. They need corporate shots and introductory visits but they’re not ready to fork out thousands.”   There are already two customers using the assembled freelance photographers. He adds they’re not counting on a win to make the start-up work.   “Our main purpose is to use the competition as leverage, to get ourselves out there and to test the idea and see how far we can go with it. Our goal right now is to get beta users signed up and to start contacting businesses to get our first users,” Huynh says.

Leading incubators and accelerators announce partnership program with oDesk

9:59AM | Thursday, 19 September

Start-up accelerator programs Startmate, Pollenizer and AngelCube have partnered with international outsourcing platform oDesk in a new support program, oDesk Upstarts.   Start-ups involved in these programs will receive oDesk credits worth $US200 and recruitment support worth $US400.   The start-ups in the program will be able to access mentoring with the oDesk executive online, but also when the oDesk team is in Australia or the Silicon Valley.   Matt Cooper, vice president of business development at oDesk, told StartupSmart they were just moving out of their start-up phase and were looking forward to supporting Australian start-ups to avoid some of the painful mistakes they made.   “We’ve had lots of fits and starts about how do we use our own model to support our business,” Cooper says. “We see Sydney closing the gap with Silicon Valley rapidly. There is a lot of energy and focus, and a lot of great companies coming out of Australia and increasing interest from international investors.”   The idea for the program was born earlier this year when members of the oDesk executive were in Australia. This is the first country they’ve rolled it out in. Cooper says they intend to run similar programs internationally.   “We realised the vibrancy of the start-up ecosystem in Sydney, and all the great people, and we wanted to find a way to help them and become a more integral part of the start-up community here,” Cooper says.   Cooper says they’re looking forward to being part of the increasing start-up community cross-pollinisation between Sydney, where Pollenizer and Startmate are based, and Melbourne, where AngelCube is based.   Cooper says start-ups have always been a core market segment for them, and this program formalises historically strong relationships to the start-up community.   “What we’re most excited about is it puts some real structure and meat around this relationship. The start-up ecosystem is well known for helping each other out and if we’re going to become central to how start-ups build their business, we want to make sure we fire the first volley and help these companies get up and running,” Cooper says.

Online work officially out of beta: new statistics reveal what Australians are outsourcing

8:30PM | Thursday, 8 August

Global outsourcing company oDesk says Australian enterprises are increasingly outsourcing tasks online as the company passes $US1 billion worth of projects.   Matt Cooper, vice president of enterprise and international at oDesk, told StartupSmart passing the project work milestone is a sign that outsourcing work online has entered the mainstream.   “It’s a big thing for us to break that one billion barrier milestone, but the bigger story is that online work is officially out of beta,” Cooper says. “It’s very early still, but it’s a nice recognition that this is really starting to break into the mainstream.”   The figures released by oDesk show Australians have been outsourcing both technical and non-technical tasks over the last two years.   “This is driven by the huge demand for technical talent. I’m in San Francisco but everywhere you go you see articles about the Australian tech talent shortage,” Cooper says.   Game development outsourcing has grown by 437%, engineering and technical design by 276% and mobile app development by 258%.   Other fast growing areas that Australians are outsourcing include human resources/payroll and recruiting, which both grew by 227%, and legal which grew by 267%.   “The growth in Australians outsourcing legal was an interesting one for us,” Cooper says. “As more and more companies look to grow internationally, they need legal support and talent in a range of countries.”   Cooper says the growth across non-technical tasks in Australia is part of a worldwide trend.   “It’s indicative of a broader trend that online work is no longer tech. When you look at our business in 2008 and 2009, it was almost entirely technical work, but we’ve seen rapid expansion into legal, finance, writing and translations,” Cooper says.   He adds that in terms of dollars earned, technical work now makes up 60% of revenue, compared to 90% in 2008 and 2009.   “Our largest categories are technical, but the fastest growing categories are things like payroll, HR, blog and article writing, and translation services,” Cooper says.   With an increasingly global market of outsourcers and freelancers, oDesk is seeing more niche skills being sought and sold.   “The dynamic we see at play here is the same as what we saw in the early days of eBay. What drove their marketplace was being able to aggregate quite obscure interests into one accessible marketplace,” Cooper says, adding this is especially true in booming emerging industries such as big data.   “We’re seeing the same thing, with obscure, specialised skills that maybe one or two people have in each city, but you aggregate that globally you get a liquid marketplace.”   According to Cooper, one of the highest paid specialities on oDesk is start-up consultancy services.   “If you’re a start-up in the Middle East or Darwin, you may not have access to that kind of mentorship for business plans and investors,” Cooper says, adding a lot of the freelancing work is going to people based in Silicon Valley, London and Sydney.   While outsourcing continues to increase, Cooper adds it’s important to remember it’s a new field that requires new skills.   “If you’re a mediocre manager when you’re sitting next to the worker, you’ll be a really bad one when they’re on the other side of the world,” Cooper says. “You need to communicate more and be more specific, and be more engaged as they work. It does pay off, but it is a new skill for a lot of people.”   Australia is a significant market for oDesk. Cooper says based on per capita spend, the Australian market is almost double that of the US.

Six ways time-poor entrepreneurs can get more mileage from content marketing

7:31PM | Sunday, 14 July

Content marketing is being hailed as the holy grail for marketers and start-ups everywhere.   But what we often overlook is that it’s hard work and time-consuming, so it’s easy to see why time-poor entrepreneurs simply don’t get around to it.   That’s why there’s an easier way to reap the benefits of content marketing without needing to do all the grunt work yourself. Here are six tips:   1. YouTube interview   Too busy to dream up your own content? One of the oldest tricks in the book, and still one of the best, is to interview someone. Some people use this technique to build entire careers and they never have to create their own content!   If you’re in person, use your smartphone to record it – there’s no technology excuses anymore. If you’re not in the same location, you can use Skype for free and Skype Call Recorder for $20 to record it. Then use a low-cost online service like Elance or Fiverr and get someone to convert it to a YouTube video. Or use iMovie if you want to do it yourself.   2. Use the audio version as a podcast   You can also just take an audio version of your interview and embed it on your website as a podcast for people to listen to.   3. Get a transcription for your blog   Take the YouTube URL of the interview and use a tool called Speechpad to transcribe it for you.   From $1 per minute of audio, this sure beats hitting play and rewind and typing it all up yourself. You can spend that time running your business or lining up the next interview.   4. Take a handful of transcriptions and turn it into an eBook   You’ve already got all the content you need to release an eBook and you don’t need to pick up a pen (or open your laptop). Compile four or so video interview transcripts and shoot it off to your designer on Elance or Odesk to whip it into a PDF eBook.   Some of the bestselling books of all time are just interviews. This format means you’re the author, but your guests have provided all the content – perfect for us time-poor entrepreneurs!   5. Email the top five insights to your subscribers   You wouldn’t usually send 40 pages of content via an email but why not send the ‘eBook highlights’ via email and attach the entire eBook for people who want to read the whole thing?   6. Do the final 1% of sharing it around   My final tip is to remember that the “easy wins” occur after you hit publish (which is when most people think their job is done). It takes minimal extra effort to post your content on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram once it’s live.   And the biggest goldmine of all is LinkedIn groups. Share your valuable content in the appropriate LinkedIn groups you’re a member of and interact with the readers who are kind enough to leave a comment.   It’s no secret that it’s hard work running a business and hard to do good content marketing, but leverage your time and use these tips and it gets easier. Feel free to download this free editorial calendar template to help keep yourself on track too!

77% of Aussie entrepreneurs would do it all again: Report

5:17AM | Wednesday, 22 May

Almost 80% of Australian entrepreneurs would start up again if given the chance, new research shows, despite almost as many citing lack of access to credit as their main challenge.   The research comes from flexible workplace provider Regus, which surveyed more than 26,000 business managers and owners in 90 countries, including small business owners in Australia.   A small business is defined by Regus as having zero to 49 employees.   The research reveals 77% of Australian entrepreneurs would start up again if given the chance, despite the fact that 75% cite lack of access to credit as their top challenge.   Accessing credit isn’t the only challenge Australian entrepreneurs face.   More than two thirds (67%) of the local entrepreneurs surveyed cite red tape as a top challenge, followed by lack of government support (56%) and current economic conditions (56%).   More than half (52%) of Australian entrepreneurs also cite market domination by large corporations as a serious hindrance.   According to Regus, the results highlight the nimble and flexible nature of Australian entrepreneurs.   “Who knows what state the economy would be in if entrepreneurs decided to play safe and downsize like a lot of their larger and arguably better resourced competitors,” says Jacqueline Lehmann, country head of Regus Australia.   “What I can say, from seeing a lot of entrepreneurs here who work with us, is I think this is a great testament to what we call the ‘Never say die’ attitude.”   According to Lehmann, Australian entrepreneurs are willing to deal with challenges in order to remain autonomous.   “It really seems that once someone has been exposed to really being in charge of their own success and their own destiny, that it is going to be pretty hard to go back to corporate life,” she says.   A separate study from Millennial Branding and oDesk shows people are indeed drawn to entrepreneurship because of the perceived freedom and autonomy.   Millennial Branding is a US-based research and management consulting firm while oDesk – also based in the United States – claims to be the world’s largest online workplace.   They commissioned independent research firm Genesis Research Associates to conduct a global survey of 3,193 people, all of whom are independent workers and active oDesk users.   The survey found 72% of those still in “regular” jobs would like to quit “and work only for myself at some point in the future”, with freedom cited as the top reason.   Almost 90% said they would prefer to choose when and where they work rather than being tied down to a corporate job.   According to oDesk chief executive Gary Swart, the results are not surprising because “no one today wants to be confined to a cubicle”.   Interestingly, almost 60% of the professionals surveyed already classify themselves as entrepreneurs.   According to 90% of the survey respondents, an entrepreneur is defined as someone who has a certain mindset.   When asked to identify aspects of this mindset, respondents said an entrepreneur is a “self-starter”, “risk-taker”, “visionary” and someone who “spots opportunity”.   Only 10% of respondents defined an entrepreneur as “someone who starts a company”.   Like the Regus research, this study shows entrepreneurship is challenging – 47% of those familiar with the term “entrepreneur” said there are downsides.   However, 53% said being an entrepreneur is “an entirely good thing”.   Meanwhile, 75% of all survey respondents said the benefits of being an entrepreneur outweigh the downsides, while 38% would recommend pursuing a “promising start-up opportunity” over a traditional university degree.

Nine top outsourcing tips for mumpreneurs

10:14AM | Wednesday, 3 October

When you are the only one working in your business and wearing so many hats, it can be hard to give each area of your business the attention it needs to grow effectively.

Should I hire an advertising agency?

6:09PM | Monday, 11 June

I’m trying to piece together an advertising campaign myself, which seems quite time consuming and involves a lot of skills I don’t really have.

Google Drive offers free content sharing service to mixed reviews

4:05AM | Thursday, 26 April

Google is hoping to draw in business users with its new Google Drive cloud storage service, despite mixed reviews from local analysts.

Perth-based start-up will present at global gaming summit

4:27AM | Saturday, 21 April

A Perth-based gaming start-up that allows players to monetise virtual casinos will present at a global gaming summit in San Francisco, ahead of a $5 million IPO in Australia.

Artchu

2:48AM | Monday, 27 February

Art and business don’t always marry well, but the founders of crowdsourcing website Artchu have found a way to combine business acumen with their love of art.

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