Is Contently the Next Revolution in Freelance Writing?

Contently

Contently is a New York based startup that is increasingly gaining popularity in the writing community. It is free for writers to join, and super-easy to create a portfolio of your work. You can then share this portfolio with editors and other potential employers. However, it doesn’t stop there.

The Problem

The main problem with a free marketplace like oDesk or Elance is it degenerates very rapidly. Although theoretically it is a good idea, on a practical basis, it is just a race to the bottom and freelancers compete on price. This is a self-destructing process because when you are trying to pay peanuts, the good freelancers will drop out. The employers will then find the quality pool of freelancers increasingly worse and therefore reduce the average price even further.

This is a common problem that happens at both oDesk and Elance and other freelance marketplaces too. There is no easy and straightforward solution to this problem.

The problem comes down to quality of both jobs and freelancers. These marketplaces were supposed to replace the traditional routes employed by freelancers but haven’t really succeeded. I don’t think the editor of Wired or New Yorker is going on oDesk looking for a writer.

Some popular freelance writers are strongly against spending even a minute on these marketplaces, like Carol Tice of Make A Living Writing. She makes a 6 figure income being a freelance writer. I advise my readers who join these marketplaces to ‘graduate quickly‘.

How Contently Fits In

Contently, for starters, reverses the model on its head. In these freelance marketplaces, the freelancer is going through a ton of low quality jobs to find that one decent paying gig. At Contently, each author creates a strong portfolio and the editors then contact them through the site if they like the author’s previous work. For example, here is my contently portfolio.

I can use my contently portfolio to submit to editors at different magazines and if they like my work, they can offer me a small writing gig and take it from there.

Contently tries to control the quality. I highly doubt I’ll get an email asking me to  write an article for $5 through Contently.

Being Selective – Quality Control

Contently is definitely selective. That’s one way it ensures quality. This is how it works – anyone can create a writing portfolio but only a select few are “accepted” into the network. Publishers pay to have the privilege of going through quality writers and journalists at one place and it is free for the writers and journalists.

Once the editor finds the right writer for the job, Contently handles all the logistics and payment.

They have the ‘pro status’ in beta, and I am looking forward to what they offer. Here’s the beginning of an email I got from them –

The editors at Contently spotted your excellent portfolio and have upgraded you to Pro status, which means you can now access premium features, including our Freelance Marketplace. You’re part of an exclusive beta group of journalists from some of the world’s best publications! We mean it. Fewer than 15% of writers make it in.

The company is still new – started in December 2010 but definitely has a lot of potential. It already has a lot of editors looking for freelance writers.

Conclusion

Contently tries to solve a very tricky problem through a mechanism that isn’t completely “free market”. We’ve seen such free marketplace ideas don’t work for quality writers, although the sites would consider themselves successful (just as Amazon’s mechanical Turk can be considered “successful” based on how many tasks are posted, but from an individual point of view, they’ll have to work a day to make enough to feed one person a Subway lunch).

How well it succeeds will continue to depend on the quality of writers/journalists and magazines/editors. It will be a self-enhancing loop if you can get one of them up to the standards. Contently focuses on getting quality freelancers. The editors will come.

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Graduating from oDesk

Graduating from oDesk

oDesk is a freelancing marketplace where employers post their projects and freelancers bid on them. It isn’t a bad place to start your freelancing search and build some connections. However, oDesk shouldn’t be your end goal but rather a starting point towards a more lucrative freelancing career.

Several experienced freelancers would cringe at working through a marketplace like oDesk. This is understandable – some of the best jobs in the industry aren’t really posted on sites like oDesk. Full-time professional freelancers have their own set of clients and contacts who they approach instead of seeking work through these sites.

However, oDesk can be a good platform for several freelancers. Before you join oDesk, be sure to check out oDesk review to know more. If you fall under these categories, oDesk may not be a bad option –

  • Learn and Earn: If you are relatively new to a field, oDesk can actually be a very good way to pick up on skills. After all, you get to work on real life projects with real people and you can learn your craft while also getting paid. It seems like a better option than or at least on par with what freelancers already do sometimes – work for free to build up a portfolio. In this case, remember your primary goal and bid on projects accordingly, i.e., the ones that will have the most useful impact on your portfolio.
  • Quick Time Fillers: Sites like oDesk can actually be pretty good for freelancers when they want to get some quick fillers to fill their time with while also making money. This isn’t necessarily the best practice, but sometimes you just need some extra cash and wouldn’t mind working for a little less. The advantage is the marketplace is really huge.
  • Building Connections: This is especially true if you are new to the industry you’re working in. If you are a computer programmer who is venturing out into the web designing sphere for example, you might want to build some connections and gain some experience. A site like oDesk would work well in that case.
  • Learning about Freelancing: Not everyone who enters the world of freelancing really understands what it entails. A freelancing marketplace is a gradual step towards this lifestyle and can ease the transition. If you are new to freelancing, you can use oDesk to gain a first-hand experience of what freelancing looks like.
  • oDesk Pays Enough: This could be true for a lot of people who live in areas where the cost of living isn’t too high. It is hard to make a living wage working on oDesk alone in the developed world (not that it isn’t possible) but if you live in a place where you don’t need a lot of money for a decent lifestyle, oDesk can actually be a great option.
The above are some of the good reasons to join oDesk. However, in any case, I suggest you “graduate” quickly from oDesk. In spite of a lot of advantages, oDesk doesn’t offer the true potential of freelancing. Not even close. Over time, you need to build your own set of clients and your own set of rules to find new well-paying clients. Don’t involve in a race to bottom on pricing which is what most jobs at oDesk entail. That’s also the reason why a lot of employers wouldn’t actually post jobs on oDesk (see oDesk review from an employer’s perspective).
If you are working at oDesk, concentrate on building a great portfolio for yourself and learning the tricks of the trade. Learn what employers look for and understand their needs. This will be useful in your next phase. Then go out on your own and look for better paying jobs. Pitch your ideas and your expertise to people who are genuinely looking to pay higher wages for quality work. If you want to learn more about this, I recommend the book  Executive in Sweatpants: A Handbook for Launching Your Work from Home Career

Photo Credit: Jacrews7

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SEO Business Guide for New SEO Consultants: Part-1

SEO Business GuideThis is a detailed SEO Business Guide for new SEO consultants who don’t yet have the business experience of SEO. A lot of freelancers and businesses involve themselves in the business of SEO as solo-entrepreneurs. SEO consultants can come from a variety of backgrounds – web programmers, designers, writers or just plain entrepreneurs who understand the industry.

This SEO business guide should help you get started, irrespective of how much experience you have had in the past. There might be some parts that might seem as if you know everything, but pardon me because I want this guide to be pretty comprehensive, irrespective of what your background is.

Why Become an SEO Consultant?

Why should you consider becoming an SEO consultant in the first place? Plenty of reasons –

  • Interest: Many people become SEO consultants purely for the joy of SEO. They like to see their actions produce results, and SEO consultants are constantly in the game for results. Your theory doesn’t matter, but the results do. If you are able to provide a value to your client with quality SEO, they should benefit for the rest of the life of their business. This is thrilling and challenging at multiple levels, and  that is what attracts a lot of talented SEO consultants to the industry.
  • Freedom: An SEO consultancy gives you a lot of freedom, in terms of money and also creativity. Typically, your clients will trust you to know and understand the nuances of SEO. You have a lot of freedom in terms of how you want to go about it. For instance, I do SEO almost completely through content marketing. This gives me freedom to try out different techniques from guest posts to trying viral marketing.
  • Money: Let’s be honest here – the money is good as an SEO consultant and that attracts a lot of people. Unfortunately, this also brings around a lot of unqualified people in the industry. However, if you are serious about being in the SEO industry for a while and don’t want to wind down after 6 months, the money is good and there are plenty of opportunities to pursue.

Broadly, those are the motivations of most people who become SEO consultants. If you have a strong motivation in any of the above categories, you can consider becoming one. Don’t work with money as your primary motivation though – it is hard to last through turbulent times in such a case.

What Should I know about SEO?

A lot! I don’t want to go into what SEO is and entails, but here is a great beginners guide that might help for those new in the industry. Remember that search engines are dynamic, so your tactics might change. However, you should have a long-lasting strategy that doesn’t change with every Google update. If it does, you are doing something terribly wrong.

What Motivates Search Engines?

Search engines were designed for a simple reason – to give people what they are looking for. It is a simple aim with mind-boggling complexity to get there. However, you should never forget this basic fact. Search engines aren’t designed to point to pages with most links or pages with the highest keyword density.

If you find yourself conflicted at any point of time, ask yourself what you would like to see when you search for a term. For example, if you are searching for ‘handyman service New York’, are you looking for how to obtain a Handyman degree? Probably not. Your target site should address the need in the keyword. Sometimes, keywords are more generic. That’s where your creativity comes in. If someone is searching just for the word ‘handyman’, they could be looking at a number of different things.

To keep the Google Gods happy, always answer how you can solve the problem addressed in your search query. Never forget this. Google is designed for the people who search everyday, and not for SEO consultants and such. The user should be your end target as well.

Educating Clients on SEO

This is something I believe every SEO consultant should actively be involved in, if only at the beginning of the project. A lot of people tend to think that keeping their customer in the dark means they can show ‘magical’ results. That’s not true at all, and in the long run, it is always good if your customer and you are on the same page. They are hiring you for your specialized knowledge. If they know something you know, it only strengthens your relationship instead of weakening it.

Many clients are surprisingly ignorant of SEO. At the very least, you should educate your clients about the following –

  • SEO takes time. You cannot expect results the day after your start the assignment. Or a week later.
  • No one (except a snake oil salesman) can guarantee you the first position in Google for a keyword. You don’t control the search algorithms and your competition can always be better than you in lots of unexpected ways.
  • Rankings fluctuate. You cannot expect to remain stable on a ranking every day. Lots of clients get paranoid when a ranking temporarily drops.
  • SEO is usually an ongoing process.
  • What your clients thinks about SEO is probably wrong or outdated.

Once you educate your clients about SEO and they are ready to hire you and give you a go-ahead, here is how you can get started.

Contracts, Agreements, Paperwork, etc.

I cannot stress how important this aspect of SEO is, because it is so volatile and there are definitely times, in spite of how well you educate your clients (see above) about SEO, when your client expectations are not met. When there is a clash, what do you do? Simple – refer to the agreement.

If you are an independent SEO consultant, I highly recommend you do this step right. Trust me, it is well worth the initial effort and your life will be so much better in the future. I personally use the SEO contracts from John Romaine and really like their content. He also gives a good SEO eBook that talks about how to set up your business and other details that might be helpful on the business side.

Again, use any method you want, but don’t go wrong here.

Two Broad SEO Categories

The SEO work that you will do for any client can be broadly divided into two categories –

  • On-page SEO: All the changes done on your client’s website come under on-page SEO. You have direct control over things because you own the site. Everything from site navigation to keyword optimization will fall under this category.
  • Off-page SEO: Everything outside the realm of the given site will fall under this. Most of the times, off-page SEO deals with backlinks, but another important aspect of off-page SEO is anchor text.

Steps to Follow for SEO

I’ll cover these in the next parts to follow. Each step needs a detailed post in itself. If I missed something or if there’s something you want to read about specifically, do mention in the comments.

Step-1: Analyze the Current SEO Efforts

Step-2: Analyze the Competition and Learn

Step-3: Keyword Research (Google adwords and also autocomplete)

Step-4: Content (keywords, infographics, press releases, social media content, viral content)

Step-5: Backlinks

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PostJoint Review: Guest Blogging Platform

PostJoint ReviewThis is my PostJoint Review. PostJoint is a new platform that brings bloggers and promoters together through content marketing. I like the idea of the site – there are plenty of blogs that are looking for high quality content and plenty of bloggers/internet marketers/SEO consultants and other marketers looking to promote a business through guest blogging. PostJoint tries to bring these two parties together.

I can see the utility of such a tool. The site is still in beta, and it would be very interesting to follow the site through its evolution, which it seems to be doing fast. I don’t want to be too harsh with my PostJoint review at this point of time, because I want to give them the benefit of doubt when I find any feature lacking. That being said, it is all about providing value to both the parties – bloggers should be able to find great content and marketers should be able to find great blogs.

How PostJoint Works

Before delving into the full review, just a quick introduction about how PostJoint works. If you know it already, feel free to skip this section.

The way PostJoint works is that a marketer or anyone who wants to promote her website or even her brand creates a piece of content. She then posts it on PostJoint and waits for offers. Several bloggers who are ready to post this content, make an offer to publish the piece of content on their website. The site currently allows up to 5 offers. Once you get 5 offers, you can now choose which one to accept. Some are free and for some the marketer pays a fee to get the content published.

If the marketer doesn’t like the 5 offers she receives, she can go back to the drawing board and resubmit the article for new offers and also make any modifications she might like. The process repeats.

As of now, in beta, PostJoint is free to join for both bloggers and marketers. This might change in the near future though as the site gains more traction. If I had to give them one advice, it would be not to rush through the process of asking people for money to sign up and instead first make a good following of bloggers and marketers and then start charging for some premium service.

PostJoint Review: The Good

  • Ease and Convenience: Traditionally, finding guest posting opportunities is a lot of work. You need to do a lot of research and dig deep into several blogs to find an active blog that accepts guest posts. For the bloggers, they don’t have a very good way to get paid for guest posts on their blogs unless some advertiser contacts them directly. PostJoint solves both these problems through their platform. Granted, you still need to do your homework because not all blogs are on PostJoint, but it is a great place to start and I find it promising. Also, I am not aware of any other site with the same idea (if you do, please let me know in the comments).
  • Ability to Reach out to Multiple Blogs: PostJoint allows you to discover a number of blogs and create content for them. If you are willing to pay for your post to be published on another blog, as SEO marketers might be, then you have an ever wider array of options. In fact, you can create a lasting and working relationship with a blog in your niche through PostJoint. As a content marketer, you don’t need to worry about spending all your time on finding where to post and instead concentrate more on the content itself. That’s a big advantage.
  • Text and Signature Links: PostJoint allows for two links per article and they are not restricted in the signature. In fact, some of the posts that I have personally submitted don’t have a link in my signature but instead have both the links in the body of the article because that’s where I thought there would be maximum benefit for me. Obviously you want the links to be relevant but I like the fact that you have the ability to include links in the body of the post. Compare this to something like article marketing at EzineArticles where you are only allowed links in the signature (they sometimes allow no-follow links in the body).
  • Bloggers can Make Money: I think it is a very good avenue for bloggers to make money from their blogs and can help diversify online income streams. Don’t overlook this fact – so far, PostJoint has attracted blogs that aren’t “there yet” and don’t have tens of thousands of visitors a day. Through posting good content, they might be able to make some money off posting good content that they need for their blog anyway. Of course your blog should be good enough that the marketer would want to pay to be featured there, but you can always start off small. In addition, if you don’t mind guest posts, you can rinse and repeat and accept multiple guest posts for your blog and thus make a steady income stream (this will be the case if there are more marketers than bloggers).
  • Quick, Easy and Diverse Backlinks: What really attracts me to PostJoint is that it is really quick. You don’t have to craft weird search queries in Google to find blogs that accept guest posts (although the site is small now and doesn’t have too many bloggers in all different niches but I am hoping that will change in the future). Niches of internet marketing, blogging and SEO have a good number of blogs already. For marketers, they can get as diverse a set of backlinks as they like by publishing content relevant to any industry they like. They are also getting real backlinks from different sites which is always helpful for search engines.

 

PostJoint Review: The Bad

Let me start this section by saying that PostJoint has posted on their blog about improvements in the future and so some of these might be improved or fixed then. I don’t want to concentrate on minor details but on the bigger picture.

  • Quality of Participating Blogs: This is a serious problem, and I understand the site is relatively new and hopefully in the future the quality of participating blogs might improve. However, it is a serious impediment to real growth. I have had offers from publishers who want to publish my post for $50 and their website is, in all aspects of traffic and quality, far inferior to this blog. That doesn’t add up. I can provide really high quality content to the participating blogs (I’ve even published on ProBlogger, so I know my content). However, I don’t want to provide my best quality content to inferior blogs, even if for free. There are options, even though it could be harder work. Also, I found that blogs are very concentrated in the making money online category and not so many in other categories.
  • Lack of Control Over Offers: I don’t like the lack of control as to who I want to get offers from. For example, I might not be willing to pay more than $30 for publishing my post on a blog, or someone else might want it only for free because she believes her content is of very high quality. Also, they might want to limit the niches of blogs – I have gotten publishing offers from a cooking blog when I wrote about SEO!
  • Limited Scope: I don’t think PostJoint is still an open and fair marketplace for guest bloggers. This is because of several reasons. For instance, I, as a content provider, am not able to charge blogs for publishing my content. I think this sounded “wrong” to them, but as a writer, I can definitely provide something very unique to the participating blogs and if they are not popular enough or cannot benefit my blog enough, I want to be able to charge them. Also, content provides are not able to register as bloggers/publishers right now, which seems too restrictive because I would like to be able to both write for other blogs and get backlinks and also be able to feature some others’ work on my own blog.

I think it will be an interesting journey for PostJoint from here on. It is still new and there are issues to iron out and they are aware of it. However, if they can do it right, I believe they can be pretty successful. Post Google penguin (to some extent even panda), the importance and appeal of guest blogging is only going to increase. It is a nice void to fill. The only question is, can PostJoint do it right.

Have you joined PostJoint? What has your experience been with them so far?

Photo Credit: Tetra Pak

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