Now is the time to join the online economy. This is how.
Updated: May 27, 2020
Due to current events, the job market as we know it may undergo a drastic change. We are in the middle of a transition wave; some of us will not be affected, but for others, this wave threatens to sink them. There are many, like my 55-year-old dad, who were put on unpaid leave and do not know if their workplace (or even industry) will be there tomorrow. I genuinely hope the effects of this mega event will soon vaporize into thin air, thatI, too, will be discarded as a false prophet. But these times also present us with an opportunity to explore alternative streams of income.
Here, we’ll explore the process for a professional individual to shift or start their career in the online service and eCommerce world.
I write this for my dad, wife, friends, and anyone else looking to offer their assets online, or wishing to supplement their income. Whether it’s been imposed on you - or you are just grabbing the opportunity to diversify your assets - this should be a good place to start. I also write this to you, the business owner who, in my opinion, should start using online freelancing services; understand how this world works so you’ll know how to hire the right people online.
I’m sure most of the effects caused by Coronavirus, like social distancing, are temporary. But I do think that we are on the brink of a small scale ‘industrial revolution’ type of evolution -it will take time for the financial market to recover from the hard hit the crisis. This will drive organizations to the “Operational Effectiveness” race which takes place after every financial crisis.
When companies are in the dark regarding market shifts, they abandon long-term business strategy in favor of process improvement and reorganizations, aiming to to bring down operational costs. Companies are likely to outsource a significant volume of work to the online freelance economy, because the first thing that gets cut right when the “Operational Effectiveness” race whistle blows is manpower and hiring costs.
This period will help a lot of people - consumers, manufacturers and suppliers alike - to embrace new remote solutions for their supply chain, that will keep their stickiness long after this is all over. Here are two key trends: the decline in direct employment, and the increasing adoption of alternative solutions. I suspect that while the demand for a hired workforce goes down, the demand for alternative online services and products will increase. We can already observe first signals for this trend.
This is not a bleak picture I’m painting here. I believe a cultural transition to an online freelance based economy can be positive. It will allow professionals to tap into the global economy and will help “‘level the playing field’, So more people will have a more equal opportunity.
For businesses, online freelancers will help shrink sunken costs related to direct hiring or working through agencies, thus helping them to rebound faster, hopefully sane consumer prices. Less sunk costs, less middleman fees, more value.
The only thing missing for a smooth transition is a robust social safety net. By 2027, 50% of the U.S. workforce will be freelancing to some extent. A social safety net should provide freelancers the same financial security and social benefits that employees enjoy. But that too will eventually come. Unfortunately, as always, after the due time.
Reading this now, you have the opportunity to get a head-start. To build the foundations needed to be part of the change - instead of getting hurt by it. The coming article is meant to provide an overview of the different online career options and the steps you need to take to achieve success. This guide is a kickstart to a very personal learning process. Hopefully, after you read this, you’ll have a clearer map of what you need to do to achieve your goals.
Short disclaimer; I work for Fiverr: the world’s largest freelance marketplace for creative and professional services. In the past year, I’ve been in charge of business development and partnerships, part of Fiverr’s business strategy team. And this is precisely what positioned me to understand the mechanics of this world. This is not only a first-hand account of some individual success stories that I've observed. ather, this is a compendium of knowledge and insights gleaned through my work with Fiverr: by interviewing both sellers and buyers, selling and consuming online freelance services myself, observing cohort behaviors and market trends, and by researching other platforms. Although I work for Fiverr and believe we’re the most innovative player in this field, this is not a promotional piece. I will try to give a full perspective on this entire ecosystem, from beyond Fiverr’s point of view.
First step - Set the Mindset (Aka it’s a bloody arena out there)
After reading this article, I hope you’ll see how straightforward it is to jumpstart your online career if you have the right map. But it’s important to understand that the same mechanics of any profession, online or offline, also apply here. The demand in the market for what you sell is determined by, well, the actual demand, the quality of the product or service you produce, and the way you present yourself in the world. And like in any career, the only way to achieve quality and master the way you showcase yourself is by combining persistence, learning, and practice. In our case, the quality is measured by how good you are at your craft. The way you present yourself is the level of mastery you have over the communication bridges you need to build to your potential clients. These bridges are the different online channels marketing your services. It’s a process, you will have failures before you enjoy successes. I recommend taking Albert Camus’s recommendation to heart: “imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Second Step - Show me what you’ve got
Now, time to get practical.
Generally speaking, the online economy is divided into four categories. If you already have an asset - profession, skill, or experience, that fits into one of these categories, then you’re halfway there. If not, you need to understand in which of these areas you might have an edge, or which digital career path you want to learn and develop;
1. Creative Services. If you are an artist or possess a creative skill, this is you. Designers, musicians, photographers, writers, filmmakers, and calligraphers are all professions that fit this category; they are diverse, with numerous fulfillment paths. Creative services are in demand both through horizontal marketplaces that offer a broad catalog of service providers, such as Fiverr and UpWork, and through vertical marketplaces dedicated to specific areas of expertise, such as ClearVoice, a platform for writers and editors. Some creative talents are applicable in different domains, which enables additional revenue streams. Let us look at two examples:
Nadav is a photographer. He is offering full product and campaign photography services on all the big freelancer marketplaces to businesses that send their products or models to his studio in Tel Aviv, but he started his online career from offering picture retouch services to other photographers who needed to outsource this technical, yet masterful, part of their work process, and sometimes to the occasional couple’s DIY wedding album project. Most of his own work is presented in galleries or niche magazines. Still, once a month, he takes a day when he shoots hundreds of the most searched terms on stock photo sites and posts them there for some supplementary passive income. In our times, there is a very small market for art and very few can make a living out of theirs. But Nadav was able to build strong professional foundations that allow him to continue doing his while paying his rent on time.
Shiran is an illustrator. She provides illustration services both for businesses and individuals. She specializes in marketing campaigns and brand merchandise. She also designs logos directly for businesses who are looking for a more tailored service through the marketplaces or to newborn initiatives and startups through different logo makers. Also, she sells her illustrations on different fashion products through Redbubble and Etsy. She knows that the fact that she has a “mini-brand,” including her commerce website, and a diverse portfolio of works and merchandise which also makes her more attractive to businesses.
2. Professional services are relevant for programmers, architects, accountants, engineers, researchers, doctors realtors, and lawyers. They are also services that involve providing specialist business support to businesses of all sizes and in all sectors. This can include business and marketing plans, tax advice, H.R. consultations, market research, I.T. services, or providing management advice. The target audience is mainly businesses, but sometimes also individuals that seek medical advice, I.T. help, their next home, or the interior design for it. The big freelancing platforms provide these services; Fiverr has a strong architecture store and even stronger game development category, as an example. But some of these professions will find that they have dedicated marketplaces that work better for them.
3. Content creation. This category is often thought of as an extension for talents in creative services - they’ve already mastered the creative skills required to create content. But that’s only if you’re looking at it the wrong way.
Content creation, whether it’s for entertainment or knowledge distribution purposes, is driven by an audience and the quality of the content you create. The medium through which you will communicate your content is secondary, and derived from that are your channels of distribution. That is to say; If you are a lawyer and you have something original to say about your profession or the world in general from your specific professional point of view, you may have an audience . Now, if you have basic creative skills, you can make them your medium. And then, you need to master the right channels to combine that medium and your audience. We live in an age when you can harness the powers of online services to your favor and enhance your medium.
Do you think my written grammar is as proper as what you’re reading right now? Come on, my native language, Hebrew, is literally backward compared to yours. I’m using Vickyweber to edit everything I write, the same way you can use other professionals to enhance your expertise and medium. This way, you can use your expertise in building presentations and your mother-given charisma, hypothetically speaking, and turn it into a bestselling course on Fiverr Learn or Udemy.
4. eCommerce is the buying or selling of goods through online platforms. Commerce is relevant if you are a producer of products, art, food, or tools, or if you had any prior experience in the offline commerce world. If you are a producer, you’ll need to learn the relevant platforms, eCommerce practices, and fundamentals of managing an inventory. If you are not a producer but understand the methods of offline commerce, you might want to explore the world of online reselling.
The eCommerce world has the same mechanics as the service provider world; most of the practices in this article are relevant to eCommerce. Bear in mind the internet is littered with more in-depth knowledge. Invest time in learning from a few different sources and implement thoroughly whichever elements seem to repeat.
Whether you come with a prior asset or you are just starting your path in one of the above, you need to become a continuous learner. The online economy is evolving far more rapidly than the offline world. Stay on top of the latest trends, technologies, and practices. You must actively engage in eLearning platforms. They are the best source to learn both the hard skills - which serve as the foundation of your online career - and the soft skills, which enable you to promote yourself and flourish.
Some good sources for eLearning are Fiverr Learn, Udemy and Coursera. But there are plenty more. Also, you need to be part of online communities that are relevant to your profession, and tap into the corresponding news source. Often, they are the first port of call for new information about market trends and are good drivers for collaborations, but don’t get hooked into being too active on these things. Remember, it’s a work tool, not a pastime activity. Treat it as such.
Third Step - Do your research (and understand the battlefield)
After a few days will pass, and you let the new-found knowledge sink in, you might be tempted to “Just do it.” Don’t just do it.
Even if you refined your talent, immersed yourself in the relevant communities, or are already someone skilled in an online economy category, you’ll need to learn the rules to which your communication channels adhere.
Separately write down each skill you have. Under each skill, write down which service or product you can offer to the world. If you aren’t sure, research the major platforms in your domain. For example, if you’re experienced in graphic design, go into the Graphic & Design category on Fiverr and explore each sub-category, marking down relevant services that you could offer. Then, list all the platforms through which you can monetize these services or products. This means you need to search Google for each service or product you’ve written down and then note the first 3-4 results you get (If you can’t find it, neither can your clients).
For a musician, for example, it might look like this:
You need to research each platform you write down. You can evaluate the probability of getting customers through a platform by looking at its monthly visits and by searching their name in online communities, social networks, and getting the industry talk.
You need to know your way around the platform itself, so take the time to go through the tutorials. Take notes and look at the service providers or products with the most reviews in your categories. How do their profile pictures look? What keywords are in the descriptions? What is included in their portfolio? Some platforms allow you to see how long they have been selling; There is more to learn about online “storefront” aesthetics and profile building from high ranking newcomers which started selling recently, then legacy users that grew with the platform.
After you go through the above process, which is as essential for the off-beat paths it will send you on as for the written map you will produce, you can start “doing it”.
Fourth Step - A/B test your way to glory (Because you need to focus)
This is the point when you understand you are effectively a one-person startup. You need to start thinking about yourself as such because startups have battle-proven methods of reaching a target audience and growing it on minimal resources. Eric Ries, writer of “The Lean Startup,” defined startups as a “human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” Sounds about right?
The most important term from the startup world you need to implement is A/B testing. Real A/B testing is a research methodology which consumer-facing internet companies perform to understand what elements are more effective in converting users from browsing to buying. It includes randomized tests and a lot of statistics that you do not have the tools, or the need, to perform. That said, you do need to implement the logic behind it to your one-person startup.
So how is this practically relevant for you?
After you’ve finished all the previous steps, you probably see that you have multiple services, maybe even multiple skills in different domains, you can monetize on. You might be lucky and find that you are able to execute them all, but if this is an entirely new world for you, you’ll need to ensure the fastest entry point to allow you to start earning and growing. That’s why you should focus on the possibilities which are the most likely to have significant demand.
Choose the top 3-5 platforms you’ve listed and set up your profiles, stores, gigs, and services. Invest time and implement your learnings to create appealing profiles and storefronts. They don’t need to be perfect, but they do need to attract potential buyers. It’s preferable that these platforms have a seller dashboard that allows you to see the number of impressions and clicks your products receive because the next step is to choose the 20% that received the most traffic. After you’ve set up your “storefront” and products, let them run organically for a week. Some of you will start selling right away. This will most likely occur with sellers that were already freelancing offline, found a good niche, or are in a domain where demand significantly outweighs supply. Many of you won’t, which is the normal state of affairs, so please don’t get discouraged. You can now see which of your services has the most demand but don’t convert to purchases. You need to divide each of these services into factors and start A/B testing and tweaking each factor until you reach conversation. These factors are pricing, portfolio, copy, and images. You should experiment with different variations for each of those for short periods. Stick with the ones that spike up the traffic and, in the future, with the elements that drive more conversions; you need to keep testing and tweaking long after you’ll start selling.
Fifth step - How to sell (AKA: Sometimes you need to feed the algorithm)
In parallel, and as necessary, you need to “feed the algorithm.” Most of these platforms try to show more relevant and high-quality freelancers or products to their demand-side users. This relevancy and quality score relies heavily on the things we’ve discussed in the previous step, but also on the number of sales you make and the reviews you receive. It’s the same way Facebook shows your posts to more audiences, the better they convert impressions to likes for your close audience. In the more competitive fields and categories, you may need to jumpstart that wheel by yourself and bring your own traffic off the platform.
This is especially relevant if you already were in business offline. Some of the platforms have a “Bring Your Own Business” program, in which they give-up their commission fee to clients that come through a personal link they provide you. It’s a win-win situation; you get paid more and get to feed the algorithm. But even if your platforms do not have a BYOB, or you don’t have a previous clientele, it’s essential to utilize your personal reach and social channels to promote your new service or product. The most significant value proposition online marketplaces are offering you is an effective tool for streamlining clients. Some of you might need to work harder to drive the first sales, but the snowball effect that will happen once things start rolling is worth the hard work.
Sixth Step - How to deliver (Also: where I get blunt)
Once you’ve started selling, your top priority is to deliver the best damn thing you can and provide excellent customer service. I cannot overemphasize this, so I’ll write it for the third time:
From all the things I’ve written here, the only thing that matters is that the person that trusted you and allowed you to earn your value in this world will receive what they expect. At least. Not the best product or service there is, just one that is worth it’s paid value and meets expectations. This is your responsibility.
I promise you; It might take more time and effort for some, but if what you sell is of real value, eventually it will meet it’s crowded. But even if you hit the jackpot with your Product-Market Fit and communication channels, when your product is shit, you’ll be out of business faster then the post-Corona baby boom. And also, this is your strongest viral client acquisition channel; more on that later.
To make sure that your clients receive what they expect, you need to set the expectations. Make sure you understand exactly what the client expects to receive, and what are the limits of your creative input. There is a saying in the IDF; When in doubt, eliminate the doubt. If there is any aspect that might be prone to miscommunication or expectations not aligned, make sure to straighten them out. Pre-sale or post-sale. After this is settled, all you need to do is your absolute best to outperform these expectations.
Seventh Step - How to grow
The lifecycle for every successful business is divided into four stages of evolution: Penetration, Growth, Operational Optimization, and Expansion. Each stage is the foundation for the next one. This is also true for your own personal business. Hopefully, after implementing persistently all of the above, you have penetrated your initial target market. Now you need to grow your hold in this market before you continue your expansion to other market segments.
Think of it this way. With all of your efforts to this point, you have fashioned a fish-trap with different baits to potentially attract different types of fish, as you have no idea what fish are in these waters. It’s difficult to attract any kind of fish to your fish-trap because it’s all over the place, and some fish can’t see the baits they are looking for. Despite the sub-optimal situation, some fish do find the right bait and start munching. Once you have 5-7 fish coming for the same bait, it’s time to cast another fish-trap, this time only with the relevant type of bait for these fish and catch them all.
Practically, this means that once you have a thin stream of clients, you’ll start seeing a pattern for both what they seek and who they are. Eventually, some patterns will accumulate enough, and you’ll be able to form a group around a certain set of buyer characteristics.
An easy example: if I’m a speechwriter, I may recognize fairly early that my most frequent buyers are college students, according to their age, listeners, and topics. They request speeches for graduations and other college events. Gradually, you can adjust service or product and messaging to answer this group’s needs better. Titling a service “I will write a speech for your college graduation” converts to purchase far better than a generic, “I will write your speech.” You can also adjust your communication and marketing channels to reach specific groups so it will be easier for them to find you. Think of online communities or places where your clients are and find creative non-intrusive ways to raise awareness for what you offer. Later on, the groups you will recognize will also serve as a reference point for possible growth and expansion paths. They can be vertical growth opportunities that serve the same clientele, like finding additional relevant events for speeches or other types of copywriting services they might require or horizontal growth opportunities, like online tutoring about speech writing your clients’ classmates that major in rhetoric. All the while, you keep your initial net spread and keep bettering it so other types of fish that arrive in your waters find you (damn I’m leaning hard on this metaphor). Your next steps will include the “Operational Optimization” phase, which will allow you to be much more efficient at what you do and will enable further expansion.
It’s not easy to build a lasting and profitable online career that can serve as a primary source of income or effectively supplement it. It requires mastering new tools, practices, and even terminology. That aside, it’s still relatively pristine domain, in which the potential gains far outweigh the effort. As we all experience daily, the internet is an effective amplifier where successes and assets accumulate exponentially. This is especially true if you hit the golden trifecta of excellent product/service, strong demand, and mastering the communication channels. This article is meant to serve as a gateway, the step before the first step of your journey, but I hope it helped you to form a clearer vision of what this journey might look like.
Have you got something I’ve missed, got wrong, or need to update? Do you have your own additional or utterly different insight worth sharing? Would you like me to go more in-depth on a particular subject or reference useful resources? Please tell me through firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article will be updated here with your insights and requests (please tell me if you do not want to be referenced).
Fiverr seller Vickyweber proofread and edited this article. If you are using an online freelancer for publicly distributed work, please help support their community and credit their work.