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Big Tips for Small Business with Freelancer.com's Nikki Parker

Outsourcing, crowdfunding and getting things done for small businesses in the global web economy

Big Tips for Small Business with Freelancer.com's Nikki Parker
This article was originally posted to Small Business Patch by Jeannie Cambria in November 2013.

As  Freelancer.com’s Regional Director for marketing and communications for North America, Australia and New Zealand, Nikki Parker builds strategies and partnerships to grow Freelancer across these regions. Freelancer.com is a marketplace connecting small business owners and entrepreneurs with freelancers, and Nikki believes in the power of the web to spur small businesses to greater success.

Read below for our exclusive interview with Nikki, and draw from her experience!

What customer pain points does  Freelancer.com try to alleviate?

From a small business perspective, it's a common problem that business owners try to do everything - they try to wear many hats, and as a result the business can sometimes suffer. Often small businesses don't have the budget to hire the full-time staff or to get projects and tasks done that they need to expand and grow at the rate that they need to. What Freelancer.com does is provide that support: it gives you easy access to millions of professionals from around the world, and it allows you to grow, expand, change and develop at a rate that suits your business, cost effectively and easily.

How did you realize small business owners were taking on too much?

The company started out of a need from our CEO. He was working on a project, and he was very busy working on a whole range of things, but he needed to get some data entry done. He was calling his friends' children, cousins, the kids down the street, university students, anyone that may have some spare time and be able to work on this project, and take that large chunk of data work off his hands, but he couldn't find anyone. Finally at his wit's end, he actually hopped online and looked up how to get small jobs and how to outsource small pieces of work. He saw a site called  getafreelancer.com, and thought, "This is amazing! This is exactly what I need as someone who is working on a project by myself, and needs these helping hands so that I can go at the rapid pace I need to."

That's how he started, and looking around at small businesses, it was easy to see the pain points, and very easy to see that they needed this support. You can see that from the conversations that business groups are having, the conversations in media, and also just talking to local businesses in our community. Freelancer.com - being able to connect freelancers with employers - was a great solution for under-resourced businesses that need to get work done.

What was the strategy behind getting freelancers to list themselves on your site? How did you grow so fast?

The real strength of Freelancer is that we're the largest outsourcing freelance marketplace based on number of users and projects. We are a highly liquid marketplace where projects can receive bids within minutes. The reason for this liquidity is that we've built a dynamic two-sided marketplace, and that was our goal from the get-go. The most important thing is to have an adequate number of freelancers on the site to be able to meet the needs of our employers. The way we did that was making the site easy to access and clear to understand. We also provided the support that freelancers needed to get onto the site, learn how to interact with employers, and really work with both sides of the marketplace through the whole business process.

From there, it was word of mouth. Freelancers would say, "This is a fantastic way to earn an income" and businesses are blown away by the results. There's about 2.4B people online of about 5.7B in the world - that's not a lot! A lot of people are coming online from countries and places where they're earning less than $10 a day. So they can come onto freelancer and find they are able to earn a living. They're highly skilled and really driven - they use Freelancer.com as a conduit to do business, and they earn their month's wage in a matter of days. That's an extremely powerful thing and as a result good news stories about Freelancer.com spread very rapidly through word of mouth.

On the website, we have a ratings, reviews, and recommendations system. It's very much like how eBay does their reviews except it's for jobs and services. This is extremely important because freelancers develop a real sense of pride in the work that they've done, and it becomes their online reputation. It enables them to get future work and future jobs. Once they jump online and start earning money, and see the success they can have, it really snowballs from there. Having an amazing platform like Freelancer means that word of mouth really is the most powerful marketing tool.

What are the most common projects or jobs business owners turn to  F reelancer.com for?

There are over 600 job categories on the site, so there's a range. First, a big portion is website design, development and app development - the software and engineering side of things. Also graphic design in general - as a small business, it's amazing how much collateral you need. From a simple business card, to a corporate brochure, to a pamphlet, to a flyer for an upcoming event, there's just so much design work which is so expensive to do locally through an agency, but it's such a quick and easy thing to do online.

Freelancer has a feature called contests, which builds on the whole concept of crowdsourcing. You can put a design contest up for a Business Card, for instance, and have freelancers from all over the world submit their mock-up and show you their ideas, so you as a business owner can get a lot of inspiration before choosing the design you want to go with. That's a real opportunity for businesses who need a lot of that type of design work but perhaps do not know what they want or where to start.

Another area would be content creation- writing, blogs, social media. To stay relevant as a small business in the online world where there is so much noise, you really need a lot of high quality and constant content.

It's quite time consuming to write the amount needed, so we're seeing a lot more of academic research, creative writing and marketing material coming out of the site.

Freelancer is built on the concept that because of how business has evolved, and how "Software has eaten the world," as Marc Andreessen said, you really can do almost any job from anywhere. And though the online world and the software space is so important to a business, not everyone has those skills. In my mind, what makes a smart business owner is someone who focuses on what they are good at. If I'm front of house, or a marketing expert, or an engineer, then outsource the skills you're not that great at. By hiring freelancers you make sure you have experts working on every task at hand. I think freelancers and the concept of outsourcing is so powerful, because a lot of small businesses just don't have the money to hire staff yet. Using freelancers is a strategy for your business! It might be something you use constantly, or just in the development stage. It's one solution but a really powerful one.  

What have you found works in marketing Freelancer.com?

Social media is definitely important for us. We do a lot of things to promote the top freelancers on our site. There are people who have PhDs, former well-known journalists, excellent data scientists all working on our site. We do a lot to promote their work and give them a sense of pride in working on in global community.

One really awesome marketing thing we did was hold an "Expose Our Logo" contest 2 years ago. For $25K grand prize, we asked people around the world to "Expose Our Logo" - and that was just about all the information we gave them. People responded in the most crazy, out-there ways - we had 100s of entries - we had people skydiving with our logo trailing behind, we had people photo bombing the Today Show, we had people put our logo on the tallest building in Nepal.

But the team who won was in Bangladesh - they had a 70 foot banner that they marched through the streets of their town, and what made it so incredible was that, among the several thousand people marching, up front they had all the women. They marched into a stadium where they had computers set up with Freelancer so they could teach the women of the town how to use Freelancer so they could earn money online. It was extremely powerful to us - while it was wonderful for marketing, it also really showed us that in a lot of countries, being able to work online is an opportunity to earn an income that people have never had before. It reaffirmed to us the positive social impact that our global workforce is having.

What were the hurdles to expanding across so many countries, and what advice would you give to business owners looking to expand?

We have an incredibly accessible platform, and we pride ourselves on the fact that work can be done anywhere, in any timezone and on any device. From the get-go, it was designed as a global marketplace that transcends geographical boundaries and language barriers- we have the site translated into 31 languages now - and our goal has always been to make sure everyone around the world can work together.

I think it's important to think globally from the start. Get exposure in your local market, especially if you know it well, but always be thinking about how can I get this to the next person, the next market.

You also need to have a level of cultural sensitivity, have some understanding of the different countries, cultures and backgrounds you are dealing with. As long as you have that in mind, I genuinely think the sky’s the limit. There should be no barriers, and that is our goal as a company, to continue to break down those barriers to doing work.

What is the Freelancer.com hiring philosophy?

We have offices all around the world - Manila, Sydney, Buenos Aires and London- and in terms of hiring, there's two things: we're always looking for the best of the best, people that are passionate, successful and looking to drive their own skills. Secondly, we genuinely believe that we are changing the world - we saw that 10 years ago,through eBay and Alibaba, that buying goods online became so prolific and now it’s commonplace - now we're starting to see that with jobs and services. People are coming online and they're going to earn an income, and this can completely change their lives. That's something that we believe in, and we want people who work here to believe in that as well. That's the ethos and philosophy behind it. We believe that there will be a marketplace as big as the likes of eBay and Allibaba for services, we want to be that marketplace and we want our employees to come along for that journey with us.

What are your big tips for small businesses?

I'm constantly amazed by how few small business actually have an online presence. I did a huge road trip in North America, and I'd go into new towns and be looking for restaurant, or a place to cut my hair or buy a pair of shoes, and the first thing I would do as a customer would be to jump online and Google it.

Hardly ever did I actually find a website that would tell me where I could find a great steak or buy that pair of shoes I wanted. And the real problem there is that if you're a small business, and you're not online, your customers cannot find you. And we really need to encourage small businesses that it is time to open up to this new channel of reaching out to your customers. Big businesses do it so well- and that's where the huge divide is happening. We need to give small businesses the tools to make that presence happen. A lot of people put it in the "too hard" basket, the "I don't know how" basket, or the "too expensive" basket, and that's something we want to overcome.

In respect to hiring freelancers, the biggest tip I have is to look at your business and in the same way you would hire someone full-time, look at what needs to be done, understand it, and hire accordingly. Just because you're not hiring someone full-time doesn't mean it won't take time to integrate them into your business, to provide them a full project brief, and give them all the information they need to succeed. A little bit of pre-planning goes a long way! What we often see is that when small businesses build great relationships with freelancers, they will work with them for a number of years, and that bit pre-planning ahead of time can really make a difference.

This article is sponsored by Wells Fargo Works. Watch the video series, then enter the contest where you could win a similar experience, including $25,000 for your business.  Watch the videos and enter the contest here.

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