Some Career Lessons from Losing a 16-Dollar Contract

Some career lessons from losing a 16 dollar contract

Reducing my university course load for the next few months has given me the opportunity to take on more work (and remember what having a life is like).

Last week I conducted an experiment in curiosity I’ve called Just Say Yes (Project JSY) to agree to any suitable work opportunity. In order to get Project JSY running, one of my first steps was to add freelancer capability to my client account on Upwork, one of the world’s most popular outsourcing web sites.

Over the last week, little happened with new work but life lessons came thick and fast. Three of these are valuable for anyone who is stuck in a work rut or is experiencing career complacency.

Reputation is essential

In an increasingly crowded online world, companies have to shout more loudly and creatively on the web to be noticed, but reputation still counts when purchasing decisions are made. This ethos is reflected in Upwork with its feedback system: freelancers and clients grade each other out of five stars when tasks are completed. Each party builds a reputation score based on this feedback.

My non-existent rating as a freelancer meant that my profile went unnoticed, regardless of my portfolio and high rating as a client. I did not win a job all week*. Even with decades of experience, new relationships need to be developed and trust earned before opportunities are awarded. Business development mangers should be nodding their heads sagely right now.

The life lesson is that a solid reputation is earned slowly and carefully: changing a career, network or path in life requires persistence, determination and commitment.

*I was contacted to record several thousand phrases in an Australian accent for a speech recognition project. Feedback on my ‘strine’ is pending.

You realise you’re not special when you lose a 16-dollar job

Project JSY stretched boundaries in relation to defining reasonable work. A 20-dollar job to convert a document into a new template would be a ‘no’, but I had time and a new, hungry attitude. Even Upwork’s ‘changed’ payment terms to take 20 per cent of fees for smaller jobs did not deter me from submitting a proposal (for a now 16-dollar job less bank transfer fees).

I followed this opportunity out of curiosity. Within 20 minutes, the client had more than 10 applications to review. I didn’t really want the job but, with so many competitors, I suddenly wanted it badly.

Two minutes later, my e-mail pinged with a message saying that another freelancer had been selected.

Oh, the humility.

The life lesson is that in Australia we are big fish in a fairly small pond. In a global pond, we are sardines. Don’t forget it. Even if your job is safe and your clients are loyal, there could be someone cheaper, better or hungrier who wants what you have.

Know your unique selling points (USPs)

Many thousands of people in manufacturing, journalism, customer service and IT already know how large-scale outsourcing can tear the heart out of local industry. Freelance sites also offer opportunities abound for companies to outsource writing, editing, personal assistant services, web site and app development, graphic design and translation services to name a few. This offers opportunities for locals to work more flexibly and access global markets, however, it also offers lower-cost workers opportunities to tap into the Australian market.

A lesson to contemplate is how you differentiate yourself in the market. In the online freelance world, most Australians cannot compete on price so other factors come into play, such as a five-star reputation, quick response or offering niche services. Some freelancers have cleverly built businesses turning work around overnight for American companies so jobs are ready when clients wake in the morning. These local freelancers may not be the cheapest, but they have tapped into a ready market that demands top quality and guaranteed service.

What are your unique selling points?

While last week’s activity was an experiment and I have plenty of other secure, sustainable work, it’s been worthwhile re-thinking my value and how to be more competitive in the marketplace. I recommend some time facing job discomfort for anyone facing career ennui or complacency (not that I was, but I feel fresher and sharper after the exercise).

Have you outsourced your work using a freelance site, or have you worked on one yourself? How did you find the experience?

Image source: Wikipedia Commons



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