I got an email today from Elance (http://www.elance.com/p/two-guys-in-a-garage-build-a-business-with-elance.html?rid=1TGRZ). It was about two young twentysomethings who have created a successful business by using contractors through Elance. If you’re not familiar with Elance, it’s an online referral network to professional services — a take-off on the “freelance” idea.
If you have a spark of entrepreneurship in you, definitely check out Elance, for several reasons. Even if you’re not in the market to buy services here, it shows you how people present themselves and their offering to the world. It’s a terrific learning field.
First, look for examples of services that sound like something you see yourself offering. Do your research in an area that you have skills in, to help you learn about presenting yourself to the world. You’ll pick up pretty quickly who has figured it out and who hasn’t. For example, few people will buy a service from someone who has no reviews. But if you’re just starting out, you may ask, how can I do that if no one has bought from me yet?
The answer is to start close to home and get people you know to purchase from you online, even if they do it for a ridiculously low fee. Your objective is to get a track record out there so people sense they can trust you and your work.
Second, notice that people who bother to get themselves certified by Elance as proficient in certain skill areas do much better. Let me explain. You can go into Elance and self-rate your skills, say as a web designer, a writer, or an artist. But you can also be more rigorous and go through the Elance certification process. Now who would you believe about skill sets — a self-rater or someone who bothered to be rated objectively?
I have used several people on Elance as sub-contractors on my projects. I have been happy with each provider. But let me add, that I also work hard, be it through email, IM, Skype or phone conversations to build a personal relationship with my provider.
I’ll leave you with a great example of a now trusted contractor I found on Elance. If you need technical website help — Dossy is your guy. You can reach him at http://panoptic.com. When I contacted Dossy, we chatted by phone, talked about technology and family, responsiveness and philosophy. He gave me two references, both of whom I consulted. Since we live only a couple of hours from each other (this doesn’t happen often) he even offered to drive to meet me, if I wanted a stronger sense of who he is and his work ethic (this did not turn out to be necessary).
Dossy and I built a relationship, and this is what is making our working collaboration succeed. So entrepreneurs, check out Elance as a field guide for developing your business. There’s a lot to learn besides who’s doing what out there.
We’ll talk more about Elance. In the next post about Elance and Entrepreneurs I’ll talk about the other side of Elance — how to be a professional looking vendor.