Lesson 2: Getting started

Hopefully you looked up oDesk and Elance. If not, this won’t make much sense so I suggest you go back and read Lesson 1. So, it’s time now for those of you who followed my advice and checked out the aforementioned sites to graduate into Lesson 2 – I am going to show you what to do to raise your chances of getting that all important first break. Ready? Here we go …

  • Complete your profile – this is extremely important. I know you’ll be in a hurry to just fill out some basics and leave the rest for later so you can start making quick bucks. WAKE UP! THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A QUICK BUCK unless you are willing to go to jail for it. Take your time; fill out all the little annoying details they ask you for. Past experience, education, skills etc. Be honest and don’t put things under your skills that you have only heard about but don’t know how to do. It makes a bad impression if a client asks you if you know html and all you know is the BOLD tag. Take your time, make it look as impressive as you can without being dishonest. Don’t worry about being boastful – CVs/résumés are all about boasting. 😉
  • To qualify to bid on projects on oDesk and Elance you will be asked to clear a simple test. But, it’s not THAT simple either. I flunked it thrice before finally clearing it with barely passing score. Read the instructions carefully, don’t get overconfident (as I did) and you’ll be OK. The good thing is you can take the test multiple times in 24 hours so you keep going till you get it. You may think this is just an extra hurdle in your way to becoming a VA imposed by these websites but trust me you’ll be thankful to have taken it and for what you learned from it because it’s a wild world out there and it helps to know the do’s and don’ts of your workplace.
  • Take the oDesk tests designed for contractors, that is, you. Some simple ones are good to build trust with your employers especially if English is your second language, such as the U.S English Basic Skills Test or the English Spelling Test. You have the option to make your score public so potential employers can see it when you bid for their tasks or you can hide it if it’s not impressive and retake the test after a few days.
  • Become familiar with the terminology being used. A client is a buyer and you are the provider. These are also called employers and contractors respectively.
  • oDesk offers jobs in 9 main categories. Go through them very carefully and identify the ones that best suit your skill set and you are most comfortable with. Remember, you are just starting and you want your first few clients to be absolutely satisfied with your work. When I started the only thing I bit on was website content and blog/article writing. I could have bid on creative writing or copywriting tasks and I know I could have done them well but I wasn’t a 100% sure of it so I stuck to what I knew I could do.
  • The best time I found to bid on new jobs and have a fairly good chance of getting them was between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. US ET. That’s ‘coz the clients have started their work day, cleared their inboxes and to-dos and decided they had more on their plate then they could possibly do on their own and they needed help. This is wonderful if you are on the same timezone but when you are working form say Pakistan or India it can be a huge problem. You’ll have to stay up till 2-3 a.m. your time to be the first in line to apply and this can be hard for you as well as extremely annoying for your fam. I have been there and I know it. But hey, who said life was fair.
  • You must not apply without reading the instructions. PLEASE, PLEASE DO NOT MAKE THAT MISTAKE. How many times have I seen client complain that the applicants weren’t bothering to read the instructions. Sometimes applicants will be asked to apply in a certain way like you might be asked to enter a certain phrase right at the top of your application so the client knows you read all the way through her job posting (Once and for all, I AM A SEXIST … get over it!), or they’ll ask you to write the cover letter in a certain font style or color so you have to make sure in your hurry you haven’t overlooked any of those simple instructions and your late night vigil hasn’t been for nothing.
  • Cover letters are extremely important. They can be the difference between getting a job and not – that simple. I kept a general cover letter and whenever I would apply for a posting I’d tweak it up a little, give it a customized feel so the client would feel the connection. You can’t keep sending the same thing over and over again and hope to get the job. Keep it short, about 150-200 words max. Edit the hell outta it so it’s crisp and to the point but at the same time gives the complete picture of why you are the best candidate.
  • Attach samples to your application whenever you can. It makes a great impression if you take the pain of writing an original article for the client on her particular topic. Same goes for coders – you can’t write the whole website but you can give a sample. If you are applying say for Administrative Support of course giving samples will be a problem but you can talk about how you know how to make pie charts or transcribe a video off YouTube and send a link to the client along with the transcript. Be imaginative – if you were paying someone to do the same task for you what would you look for in her?
  • Have an account on both Skype and Gmail in case the client wants to chat with you. These are the 2 most popular chat programs used.
  • BID LOW – yep – that’s what is going to lure clients your way initially. If the client is offering $5, offer to do the job for $2. This will make the client at least look at your application.
  • When accepting a job make sure the client has a verified payment method. This is usually shown next to his name/job posting.
  • Go for clients with at least 4-star rating. If she is new and hasn’t received any feedback she is worth the risk but if she has a bad review or rating STAY AWAY.

I hope I have covered everything. Don’t be scared … be TERRIFIED. It’s not easy as I keep saying and you have to be extremely determined in order to get anywhere. But once you do, I promise you good things will happen. Don’t forget to share your experience here. So long … xxx


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