The Highs and Lows

I have been really pathetic past couple of days. But we all need those days now and then. When you experience something that tears you between what you know is right and what you know will make you happy. It can be professional or personal life. “Succumb” – my heart tells me. “It’s not you” – my mind chastises. Not being a very strong person I always take the easy route. Turn to Him. Lay it all out into the open and tell Him to do for me what’s right because I don’t have the strength. So, when I was weak, He stepped in. I tell you dudettes, His decisions are realllllyyyyy tough and you gotta be a 100% sure you want an intervention. So I was saying … I have been down in the dumps, hating myself, hating on the world, hating on everything. And I am still not all the way OK but the worse is over. I am here writing this blog, ain’t I? So … deep breath … inhale … and EXHALE. Phewww …

Back to my former glory .. almost.

I was at Alauddin Academy. You know about that, right? It’s crazy fun, I tell you. And so gratifying. The online work workshop is going well thanks to the very hard work of Amna Zafar. Initially the plan was to just teach them basics of Elance and let them figure out other things on their own. But seeing how enthusiastic everyone is and what a wonderful bunch of students we have, we are now covering all the basis. So Elance, oDesk, Freelancer and LivePerson. Also, basics of blogging, creating WordPress websites using simple templates (tweaks really), Facebook and Twitter and how to use them for running small online businesses. Exciting, right!

Image

Image

Image

Image

Again, I request you … if you have any data entry work or SEO article work or some other small thing you think you wouldn’t mind getting done on the cheap while helping these women please ping me.

So long.

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

‘Sup, Doc?

Loads of cool stuff happening.

1. My First Event: I suck at organizing events no matter how tiny. But 2014 saw to it that I cross that bridge too. With the help of my very sweet student volunteer, Arooj Perzada, I gathered a group of about 35-45 people at the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) in Lahore, Pakistan for GIST’s live webinar “Crowdfund Your Startup Venture” showing from the State Department in Washington DC, US. You can see the album here courtesy of the amazing The AppJuice team which was our official social media partner. You can also read about the event here and here. You can also watch a recording of the live event here (they took a q towards the end from your’s truly ;) )

GIST TechConnect

2. Bringing Technovation to Pakistan: How many times have you heard that technology is just not for girls? That’s exactly what Technovation is trying to change. Its a Not-for-Profit based in Silicon Valley. It encourages school girls to make smartphone apps using a simple software that works like LEGO-blocks. Girls decide on a social problem, find a way to solve the problem via a smartphone app, and then build a business plan around it. Winning entries get to pitch to real investors in Silicon Valley. How cool is that? NO! That wasn’t a question. It was … kind of … if the answer is YES ITS AWESOME COOL!! *glare. OK so I have been in touch with the team for a while and this year I got some schools in dear ol’ Pk involved. We have the Liberal Arts High School from Islamabad, Alaudin Academy Lahore and Sedna School Hunza. I have high hopes for these girls. Also, if you or someone you know is a phone app developer and would like to volunteer their time (2 hours a week) please contact me. Let’s see how this goes.

Technovation Challenge Pakistan

3. The Portkey: I am suffering from a Harry Potter hangover. I miss it. *sob. Have finally found someone I think I can trust my baby with Yeah am talking about WDL. This company is making my web portal. Am super excited. This is something I have wanted since I started the company but just could never muster up the courage to actually work on it. Also, the fact I am perpetually broke didn’t help things much. I realize that now is as good a time as any. Gotta make it happen. So wish me luck peeps.

4. Elance Trainings: Am starting the first batch of Elance training in Alaudin Academy with a batch of 25 women. Amna Zafar, an Elance user and a very successful freelancer from Pakistan, will conduct the training. If you have any small data entry / data scraping projects you can send our way, please contact me.

Alauddin Academy

5. Guest from the US: Took a one day hurricane trip to Islo-land to attend a luncheon in honor of Catherine Russell, United States Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues. Had met her predecessor, Melanne Verveer, during the famous Project Artemis/GS 10k Women. Found out Saba Nazneen Ghori, one of our hosts at the US State Department, is temporarily working at the US Embassy Islamabad. It was so exciting to see her – like those 3 weeks weren’t just a dream. :) Met some exceptional Pakistani women including Dr Sania Nishtar, Sabeen Haque, and Saddafe Abidi.

6. Hunza on Elance: Great news coming out of Hunza. Just so haters won’t call me names, I am not taking credit for this. The IT Centers are run independently by KADO. I merely advise on best practices, chalking out course work, help with marketing and whenever possible, connect them to work. Trainess at the centers are finding online work. They are involved with writing projects with AllVoices, formatting eBook on Elance. I am soooo psyched for them. Can’t wait to meet them in the summers. Here are some of their stories that they shared independently. WDL NEVER shares personal stories of its service providers.

freelancers in Hunza Gilgit-Baltistan

Didar Ali Hunza KADO

7. Celebrity: 2013 was super awesome. WDL has finally started getting the recognition it deserves if I may say so myself. Was featured on Mashable, Virgin, Ashoka, ForbesElan, Express Tribune, International Business Times, WAMDA, Muftah, TechPresident, The AppJuice. It’s just been CRAZY! I am happy, proud, humbled, nervous.

Mashable

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

*The Elance Training at Alauddin Academy is not an official certification workshop. It’s conducted independently by users of Elance to help trainees use the platform.*

oDesk Wire Transfer

Went back to my oDesk account the other day after a long, long time. They have added an option for Wire Transfers now. For a moment I was excited. Yipppeeee … no more signing up for Payoneer and waiting forever to receive the card. No more setting up Skrill (formerly Moneybookers). I quickly went on and set up my account only to find out oDesk charged $30 per withdrawal via Wire Transfer. WHAT THE HELL! So the portal charges 10% of the withdrawal amount and then another $30 for the transaction and then another $4.99 as currency conversion fee. It’s ridiculous considering most of the tasks pay $1/hr and the fixed price projects are like $4 an article (for example). I can write about 5 500 word articles a day so let’s say I have a good month and write 5 articles every day for 30 days that would come to around 150 articles and a total earning of $600. oDesk subtracts their 10% and another $34.99 for the transaction and that leaves me with $505.

So for a whole month worth of work I get what? Only $505!!! Recently an SEO client-turned-friend from the US said the low rates were the fault of the contractors. They bid so low in order to get a job it makes the rates so pathetically low. It’s sad how the low employment rate in our country and in others like Philippines and India forces people to work for peanuts. I know how hard it is to get work on these portals and maintaining a good rating. There are predators out there that will hire you for pennies, give you an impossible task (25 articles 500 words each in 3 days) and when you deliver they will still bug you over the money threatening to give you a bad rating if you complain to the admins. It has happened to me so I know what I am talking about. And if it comes to the worse and you do go to the admins, chances are they will side with the buyer. So what options do online workers have?

What has your experience been like using these portals both as clients and service-providers? I know you will never comment coz you are probably here looking for info on “honesty and generosity” as per my stats. But miracles happen. Which reminds me of MJ … :’( “And I believe in miracles, and a miracle’s gonna happen tonite … “

Passion

The language of art is universal. What’s better still is that you can interpret the same painting, music, poetry in different ways. I was reading through Charlotte Bronte’s “Passion”. Look at these lines:

Wild, long, a trumpet sounds afar;
Bid me–bid me go
Where Seik and Briton meet in war,
On Indian Sutlej’s flow.

Blood has dyed the Sutlej’s waves
With scarlet stain, I know;
Indus’ borders yawn with graves,
Yet, command me go!

Though rank and high the holocaust
Of nations steams to heaven,
Glad I’d join the death-doomed host,
Were but the mandate given.

Passion’s strength should nerve my arm,
Its ardour stir my life,
Till human force to that dread charm
Should yield and sink in wild alarm,
Like trees to tempest-strife.

I don’t know what they mean to you but they struck a chord with me. Our country is going through some very hard times. Karachi is burning, Waziristan has burned already, a huge mass of the population is living in IDP camps under some very tough conditions. There are drone attacks, visits from some very angry US officials, there is an energy crisis, so much so, our industries are shifting to, lo and behold, Bangladesh. Sectarian violence, terrorism, target killings, people burning down their own country and going on killing rampages because they hate America, America sending in drones and causing civilian deaths and crushing the economy because it hates extremists. Either way, it’s a Pakistani that is killed, or suffers in some way. I get depressed. I get very, very unhappy on certain days. But then I ask myself; what are you gonna do about it?

Who? Me? I am a nobody. I have no power, no voice. And a voice inside my head says; “WRONG! You are somebody – you are YOU! So think hard and tell me what are you going to do about everything that’s upsetting you.”

I know nothing about politics so that can be checked off. I know zilch about governments and how they should be run, so another check off. I can go out and start a  revolution Egyptian-style only my family would kill me and I also am not sure what the Egyptians were doing (see, I honestly don’t watch TV or read the newspapers). So what can I do? Ah, I know. I can stop whining for one. Another thing, I can help a bit with the economy of the country and earning my own $$$ and not being a dormant parasite.

Go one step ahead and try teach others how to do same. Maybe even find them work because let’s admit it, getting work on oDesk and Elance etc is REALLY hard. Now if each one of us would just FOR THE LOVE OF GOD stop feeling sorry for ourselves and go and do whatever little we can do, that’d be much appreciated. It doesn’t take fancy speeches, it doesn’t take quoting verbatim from Rumi, or shaking our heads in dismay and saying, “Pakistan has gone to the dogs – I am moving out of the country soon as I sell my mansion in Islamabad”. It takes just a little bit of sincerity.

Become a VA. Have your friends laugh at you and think you need a job. Earn a dollar an hour and have your family pass snide remarks about paying their janitors more than that. Think SMEs. Think startups. Let people think you are an emotional fool who needs to grow up. As Bronte said:

Blood has dyed the Sutlej’s waves
With scarlet stain, I know;
Indus’ borders yawn with graves,
Yet, command me go!

Things are bad – things are REALLY bad – Sutlej, Ravi, Indus – they are all dyed with the blood of people who haven’t got a clue what they are fighting for. But hang in there and do your bit.

I promise the next post will be more about tools,tips and tricks, and info on virtual assistance. For now, thanks for bearing with me. Have got a lot on my mind lately.

OK BYeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Accounting

I hate handling money. I absolutely abhor it. I suck at it. For me managing money means spending it and not having any so you don’t need to worry about managing it. That’s BAD – really bad – I know. But what to do? I need an accountant, WDL needs an accountant – BADLY!

Here is what I do to keep a track of WDL’s finances: have a folder on my desktop with 2 sub-folders. One sub is for invoices that have been paid and another for unpaid ones. And THAT’S it! This is hara kiri, I am telling you. (what is hara kiri? GOD GALS – you don’t Google at all, do you? Now is a good time to start … :P) OK so you would think, that’s not too bad. It is! Because I often forget to add invoices to the folders or put them in the wrong folder or something like that. Why I am confessing this? Because unless I admit I have a problem I won’t be able to find a solution to it. About ‘fessing stuff, some people/well-wishers have come up to me and said this blog will be the death of WDL. To them I say thanks for the concern but I have made so far with “this kind of attitude” and I don’t have regular Girl Fridays or Happy Hour dates with my clients. It’s more like Hey there, Can you please work on xyz task and return it by 10 PM? and that’s it. How I talk or what I talk about outside of work hours doesn’t bother them. I’d be surprised if any of my 5 avid readers turns out to be a former or current client. :P Chillax!

Digression thy name is MOI!

Yeah, so what do you guys suggest I do? CFOs are expensive. WDL can’t afford one. Volunteers – dunno where to find them and if I do get someone am not sure she will take it seriously enough. Back when I was partnering as a service provider with a not-for-profit in the US I was surprised to see how almost all of their staff was made of volunteers and each performed her duties like she would at a paid job. Here, in my dear country, I am afraid that ain’t gonna happen.

So, what are my options? Any free software available that’ll manage WDL’s finances? At the business skills course, they’ll be giving us classes on accounting and finance. Am hoping to pick something there – fingers crossed.

So, if you are a VA, which makes you into an entrepreneur, like it or not, you must keep a track of your money. Know what comes in, how much goes out in payments to team members, how much is spent on office stationary and power backup (I have to change the battery for my UPS every year and it cost me Rs. 12k this time), etc. Don’t get super excited by the total figure at the end of the month – learn to differentiate between total revenue and profits. Put aside a certain amount every month no matter how irresistible the lawn sales are – there will be lows and you must be prepared for them. I didn’t listen when a friend advised me to do just that a year back and I found myself so broke I put Oliver Twist to shame – Please Sir, I want some more … (have you noticed how when you are broke even a Rs. 100 DVD, that is roughly $1.2, seems like a fortune that mean, old fate has deprived you of?)

Lap up these words of wisdom, Ladies! oDesk and Elance don’t teach you this. Only experience does. And of course MOI!

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Discovering Twitter

Yep … I have finally joined the brigade. I am on twitter and am tweeting. I DO hate the name twitter. How ridiculous. Ever since I heard some comedian compare it to a bladder control problem on the Jimmy Kimmel Show (I swear I hate that show, only know this coz of the constant ads on Star World) I have hated Twitter. But everyone is on it and harping on all the wonderful miracles it can perform so what the heck … I created meself an account.

Now twitter can help a lot if you have a product to sell and a decent website or blog. I for one don’t have a website or a blog I can show my potential clients because showing them this would be absolute suicide and my website is a complete mess (have a look here) but I am tweeting so I can test it for meself before I tell you to go try it. See, I care. Hope you appreciate it!

So now I have my twitter account but I am twittering alone. How do I find people with similar interests? A potential clientele? You can do it either by entering a search query for your keywords (I used virtual assistants) into the Twitter search box. Or, better still, by using Twiangulate. I went to Twiangulate and searched for all members who had mentioned the word virtual assistant in their profile. I filtered out the good from the bad – basically just started following members who had 250 and over followers. This gave me my target audience. Cool, eh?

So now I am getting tweets from fellow VAs about recent articles they’ve written, online seminars taking place for VAs, the odd job posting for online assistants. I have added my blog to my twitter feed so every time I write a post it gets “tweeted” out automatically.

If you are a VA (VA is used here in a very broad term and includes all kinds of digital work you can do online) and have a profile on oDesk, Elance, Freelancer etc you can tweet out a link to your profile with a few words about what you do and where to find you. So all in all, it’s a pretty neat tool. Give it a try.

What most clients want from Content Writers

As you take your first tentative step towards becoming a content writer you’ll see that most clients have similar demands: quick turnaround, (pathetically) low rates, native-like proficiency in English and content that’s passed from CopyScape. Now the first 3 are pretty self-explanatory but most of you would not have heard of CopyScape. Let me enlighten you …

What do I do when someone asks me to write 10 articles on getting rid of freckles? I rush off to Ezine or ArticleBase of course. There are other places such as HubPages and About.com etc but the first 2 are my fav. Both are databases of info about any and every thing. Anyone can join and start uploading articles as long as these are original. People use them mainly for SEO purpose. (What is SEO??? That’s for another post dahlins!)

The problem with these kind of databases is that  they lead to a lot of duplicity – you’ll come across the same info over and over again. So what was I saying about an article having to be original in order to be uploaded to Ezines, ArticleBase?? Well by original I just meant it has to pass CopyScape. You take an article off any of these sites relevant to what the client has asked you for, you rewrite the hell outta it, copy/paste it into CopyScape which runs it through ALL the text on the Internet checking for plagiarism and once your search comes out clean you are ready to send it to your client.

So for example, a client asks me to write 10 articles on getting stains out of a carpet I’ll search for the topic on the mentioned sites, take a couple of decent articles and start rewriting/rephrasing like this;

There is perhaps nothing quite so frustrating as spilling something on a pristine carpet, yet no matter how hard one tries to keep carpets in perfect shape, sooner or later, a glass of red wine, a plate of baked beans or something equally messy winds up on the floor. If this has happened to you, here are five tips on removing the stains and returning your carpet to its former glory. (This is an excerpt from an article on Ezines: http://ezinearticles.com/?Five-Tips-For-Getting-Stains-Out-of-Carpets&id=3976181)

1. Annoyed because a guest spilled red wine all over your new carpet? I know how frustrating that can be. Here are a few tips that will help ease your stress a bit.

2. No matter how hard you try it’s impossible to keep your carpets from getting stains. Tea/coffee, soda, gum are common culprits. Relax! Below are a few tips and tricks to get your carpet back to looking brand new.

3. Oh no, you just bought a new carpet and you accidentally dropped wine on it? Don’t fret – you can get the stain out in a few easy steps and no one will ever know. Here is how.

4. Dudettes, you don’t expect me to give you all 10 examples, do you? SERIOUSLY! *eye-roll*

It is boring and mind-numbing and you don’t have to get a masters in English Literature to do this but it’s good practice for bigger things that will come your way, trust me!

Anyway, so after writing all 10 articles this way, you just run them by CopyScape and you are done. The problem is that when you are reproducing a single article in 10 different ways you do sometimes tend to repeat a phrase that was in the original article and THAT my friend is a problem. Your client will always run everything you write by CopyScape and if a single result comes back pointing to the original you are dead meat. No client is going to hire you especially if you are working via oDesk/Elance etc because you will get a real bad feedback which will ruin your overall rating.

So, yeah, CopyScape is scary but at the same time it is a content writer’s best friend too because you know once it approves something you need not worry about any plagiarism accusations.

My advise? While you are waiting for your first client, try rewriting a couple of articles off Ezines and running them by CopyScape. It’s good practice and you realize how sensitive the tool is to anything that’s copied word for word form somewhere else even if it’s just a phrase.

Ciao for now.

Lesson 1: What is Virtual Assistance?

You don’t have to be a genius to put together the 2 words and get some sense of what it means. It means assisting someone in the virtual world … duh! But exactly what do you assist with? Who do you assist? How do you assist? And most importantly, how do you find someone willing to hire you for your skill-sets? Whoaaaaa … slow down your horses, take a deep breath and lemme answer all of above as best as I can.

Why the sudden need for VAs? There is a huge market out there for VAs and if you are in a “developing” country like Pakistan, India or Phillipines you are in luck. The WORLD loves you because it can exploit you (or so it thinketh!) … HELLOOOO outsourcing. Now don’t ask me what outsourcing is.  Just Google “what is outsourcing” … I can’t do everything for you :P Small and medium sized businesses are looking for tax-free, benefits-free, insurance-free workers who’ll work for pennies compared to what they’d have to pay someone in say the US where they have to pay minimum wages or face a law-suit (wait, I am not sure about the law-suit bit but I do know that they have minimum wages they have to adhere to – the going rate is between $6 and $8 these days depending on the State). Now with the economy being as bad as it is they can’t even pay that much and are not sure if they need to increase full-time work-force so they divide their work into bits and send it to us and we happily work for as little as a shocking $1/hr … I kid you not.

What do you assist with? Required skill-sets range from basics like writing content for website (how to get rid of cockroaches, where to find the best deals on iPods in San Francisco, quotes from famous Renaissance dramas, or even coming up with fake testimonials!!), transcriptions of YouTube videos, clearing up data on an excel sheet, transferring content from one website to another (basically just copy/paste) to very hot skills like creating websites (PHP, Joomla, HTML), graphic designing, database management, and accounting.

How do you assist? I have partly answered the question above but there is another side to it – what equipment(s) do you need to be able to work from home? This is the best part. And this is the worse part. All you need is a computer (single core P4 with an OK graphics card and RAM would do), a reliable Internet connection and electricity. Now all of my sisteren (“brethren” is a word so why isn’t “sistern”? I find English a bit sexist sometimes *annoyed*) in Pakistan know that though getting a cheap desktop with the aforementioned specs is no problem at all and you can even manage to get a satisfactory internet connection but reliable electricity is a whole different ball-game. IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO WORK VIRTUALLY WITHOUT A GOOD POWER BACKUP. Yep, had to shout that out. Do not even think about becoming a VA unless you have or can invest in a generator or a UPS. Your clients are busy people living a charmed life where they don’t know what it’s like to be without electricity for even a minute unless Katrina hits, or for that matter what it feels like not to have hot water … I could seriously cry now … :’(.  Ummm … where was I? Yeah, so get a generator or a UPS so you don’t miss out on deadlines. Trust me “We had a power failure” is as bad an excuse as saying “the dog ate my homework”. You simply can’t do that unless it’s a long term client you work regularly with and who knows you have a very high level of professionalism and would never delay delivering the goods so you can go to your sister’s friend’s aunt’s nephew’s wedding.

How do you find work? I know – this is the hardest part but no worries … you are with a pro … ;) When I first started all I had was a randomly dropped word “content writing” to begin with. I had left my teaching job, was going to have my 2nd child and was bored as hell so I googled. Have I ever told you how much I love Google? No? OK … I LOVE GOOGLE! So I googled and found several essays explaining what content writing was but hey you obviously don’t know zilch about me if you thought I was going to read all of that. I was looking for work/job postings. So tried a few different search terms and found Rozee. Have I told you I love Rozee? And BrightSpyre? Well, I do. Rozee was how I found, (for privacy’s sake let’s call her ASK) ASK … my introduction to the beautiful world of virtual work. She was a 20-something with a team of about 10 content writers. In my first month I wrote 200 essays/content articles at the rate of Rs. 100/$1.2 per 500 words which is SHIT right? But I have never regretted it. It was great experience, I learned a lot. Uhhh wait this isn’t about me but how you can find work … sorry … got carried away. On second thought, I am going to make it about me because THIS IS MY BLOG … I’LL TALK ABOUT WHATEVER THE HELL I WANT TO … :P. *cough, splutter* … ignore that. Um, so yeah after my first month my brain started working overtime … how does ASK find work? And who should come to my rescue but good ol’ Google. (Have I told you I love Google?). I googled her and HURRAYYYYYyy … I found oDesk. Now oDesk is this magic VA land where clients or buyers come to look for VAs or providers who can do tidbits for them that they are too busy to do themselves. You’ll find thousands of job postings for varying skill-sets. Now nailing a job can be extremely frustrating if you are a newbie. More on that in Lesson 2 or 3 or whenever it suits me to talk about it *evil grin*. You go and check out oDesk today. But it’s the site I found easiest to use, the most reliable and the one I can assure you will bring you success. Another great site is Elance but between us I find the interface pretty complicated and I gave up on it after the first couple of days.

End of Lesson 2 – I know no one is reading this – got a total of 8 hits – but hey one of you 8 might really need this and benefit from it and become a famous VA one day and leave me half your wealth when you die (I shock myself sometimes). So for you I hope this made some sense. It’s beginners stuff. There is much more but we are making a start. Any questions … just ask here.

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee