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Is Bitcoin Worth Investing In?

2017 started off well for Bitcoin, as it has reached the $1 000 mark, and shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. I get emails from people very often asking whether or not this cryptocurrency is the only one worth investing in, and, to tell you the truth, the answer is not as simple as you may think.

Before I open up this conversation, I want to make sure that it is understood that Bitcoin is neither a stock nor a company –it is a cryptocurrency. If you are considering investing in it, it is vital that you understand that you will essentially be buying currency, although there are other ways of investing in it too. These include buying and holding, trading, investing in Bitcoin mining, or investing in companies that accept Bitcoins.

A growing number of internet-based businesses now accept Bitcoin, and you are able to transact using this cryptocurrency at an online casino, online retailers, travel companies and to purchase other online services. The more companies that accept it, the greater the demand, and many hope the greater the value.

Buying and Holding Bitcoin

The most common method of investing in Bitcoin is to buy it, hoping that its value will appreciate. This decision requires you knowing when the best time is to buy, meaning when do you feel the price is at the lowest it is going to be, and will thus make for a good profit when you eventually sell it at a later date.

Don’t rely too much on the free advice people are so eager to hand out when it comes to something they know nothing about, and focus instead on ways to make this decision on your own. Do your homework, investigate what you need to and learn as much as you can about this cryptocurrency so that you can come to your own conclusion –bearing in mind, of course, that this too is advice, and you should take it with a pinch of salt as well.

Pointers for Buying and Holding Bitcoins

  1. Don’t ever invest more than you are willing (or able) to lose. Bitcoin is a risky investment, as most of those which promise high payouts are, and it is essential that you keep this in mind at all times.
  2. After you have bought your Bitcoins, ensure that you move them into a personal wallet belonging to you –don’t ever leave them at the exchange. I personally recommend using a hardware wallet to store them. If you can’t afford one yet, try a paper one until you can.
  3. Only buy your Bitcoins through exchanges that have proven reputations.
  4. Buy your Bitcoins through Dollar Cost Averaging. This means that you don’t purchase all of them in one trade, and instead acquire a fixed amount of them every day, week, or month over the year. This allows you to average the price out over 12 months.

A Multi-Faceted Answer to a Simple Question

By now you have probably come to the conclusion that the answer to the question I posed at the start of this article is not a simple one –it is not just a matter of should you invest in Bitcoin, it also involves the different methods of doing so.

The only way to find the answer is to educate yourself: learn about Bitcoin, learn about what factors affect it, what advantages and disadvantages this cryptocurrency brings to the table, and hold off making decisions until you have armed yourself with the knowledge required.

 

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How to Buy Fractional Shares for Cheap: Stock Investing Tips

Here’s how to buy fractional shares in US stocks, with minimal fees. Fractional shares allow you to do a number of things, like dollar-cost average in a true sense (be able to invest $100 instead of buying say 2 shares are varying rates, every so often) and diversify into several stocks that are just priced high.

It also allows you stakes in multiple stocks, which can sometimes be expensive to own all by itself. After all, as of this writing, Berkshire Hathaway A (BRK.A) is trading at a price of $222,855. How many of us can truly afford even one share of this? Other stocks like Priceline (PCLN) trade at $1250, Google (GOOGL) trades at $513 and so on, which is also expensive for some, especially when you’re not looking for build up a ‘full position’ at one go, and instead want to build up your positions over a period of time.

So how to buy fractional shares for cheap? Traditional discount brokerages like Scottrade don’t allow for fractional shares. Instead, you need to purchase whole number of shares only. The best way I found was through Motif Investing. You can not only buy fractional shares in one stock, you can actually buy fractional shares in up to 30 stocks, all for the price of just $9.95. If you want to use a retail brokerage like Scottrade, the same would cost you $7 X 30 = $210, and you cannot even own fractional shares!

How Does Motif Investing Work?

Motif Investing is a very interesting concept. They let you create ‘Motifs of Stocks’, which is just a collection of stocks, usually following a common theme. It is a great way to diversify, but within an idea. It is also, in some ways, like an index of stocks, although you don’t buy any index funds, just direct ownership in stocks that you’re buying.

For example, say you want to get some exposure to Cyber Security stocks, but don’t want to risk it all on one stock, and if you buy two dozen of them, you’re going to end up paying huge amounts to your brokerage firm. Enter Motif. You can create your own Motif, or pick from one of the many created by others. In this example, there is already a Motif created for Cyber Security:

Buy Fractional Shares - Cyber Security Motif

Now, you can see this Motif has had a good month so far, being 22.3% up. Here is its Year to Date performance:

Buy Fractional Shares - Cyber Security Motif Returns

 

Now, here are the stocks that make up this Motif. There are 10 stocks, which would mean spending $70 on Scottrade to purchase. On Motif Investing though, it only costs $9.95 to buy this Motif. Remember the biggest factor is that you can purchase $100 or $1000 worth of this Motif, and you’ll buy fractional shares in all the stocks that make up the Motif. This is totally permissible in Motif Investing. In fact, fractional shares are the norm rather than the exception, since you’re looking at some percentages of the total amount invested in the Motif.

Buy Fractional Shares - Cyber Security Motif Components

 

Also, remember that you don’t have to purchase the Motif as is. You can always customize it, buy adding or removing stocks outright or by changing the percentages. Motif Investing seems like one of the best and cheapest ways to buy fractional shares of stock in US listed companies. You can buy several of these stocks at one go.

Use this link to sign up for Motif Investing and you will get $100 absolutely free to start trading motifs (both of us receive this credit). With a buy and sell fees of $19.90 together, you’ll still get a profit of $80.10 even if the motif trades flat during this time, so there’s no reason not to sign up and give it a shot.

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Beginner’s Guide to Bitcoin: Entrepreneurs and Enthusiasts Edition

BitcoinHere is a fairly comprehensive Bitcoin guide, how to get started and how to start making money in the Bitcoin economy. This is going to be a long, resourceful post. Feel free to skip sections that you already know about or aren’t interested in. I also welcome all comments and discussions and would like to hear your experiences and resources that you use for Bitcoin that I may have missed. Also, a few links are affiliate.

 

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a completely digital crypto-currency that uses a peer-to-peer internet protocol for its existence. It is very unlike other earlier digital currencies that came into existence, like e-gold, liberty reserve, etc. Here are some very fundamental ways in which Bitcoin is unique and first of a kind cryptocurrency –

  • There is no central agency or issuer of Bitcoin. Everything is ‘mined’ according to a pre-defined algorithm and no single person or agency can manipulate the supply of Bitcoins.
  • Bitcoin is non-inflationary. There are a finite number of Bitcoins that can be mined in all, which is very much in contrast to other fiat currencies or even gold. There can atmost be 21 million Bitcoins that will come into circulation by the year 2140.
  • Bitcoins are anonymous and secured by the best cryptographic methods. A few hacks in the past have been a result of hackers breaking into systems that stored the private keys for encryption. Once this is secured, your Bitcoins are secure. Bitcoin gets its power by being backed by cryptography instead of a central agency. The entire history of Bitcoin transactions are public. The code is completely open-source.
  • Bitcoin is very new. The network came into existence only in 2009. It has an exciting and uncertain future ahead. There are several copycat cryptocurrencies already, including LiteCoin, ZeroCoin, PPCoin, etc.
  • Bitcoin is divisible into 100 million parts, each part called a satoshi (named after the founder). This makes it incredibly easy to involve in micro-transactions. This is a great way to gain some experience with how the process works – as I’ll discuss in later sections, a number of websites built around Bitcoin give away a small quantity of Bitcoins in exchange for your time and attention, and such transactions are infinitely easier with Bitcoin than with traditional currencies with their high transaction fees.
  • Several businesses and online vendors are beginning to accept Bitcoins. This includes well known online businesses from WordPress to Reditt and a few offline businesses and entrepreneurs who are brave enough (like EVR bar in New York).

There are just some of the features of Bitcoin. Look at the resources section below to learn more (or drop a comment here).

Resources to Learn More about Bitcoin

Official Bitcoin Website: This is the official Bitcoin website that you can use to learn more about the whole concept. This is also the place to install the Bitcoin client to get your wallet that can be stored on your computer. Look at the getting started section below that provides a simpler solution to manage your Bitcoins.

Bitcoin Wiki: This is a great resource for people looking to dig much deeper into Bitcoin and looking to learn more. It contains a wealth of information and practical resources.

Wikipedia: As usual, Wikipedia has a great article on Bitcoins and useful references.

Bitcointalk Forum: This is by far the most authoritative Bitcoin forum that the founder of Bitcoin was also active in, before he disappeared. You’ll find the most passionate of people who are willing to help you in all aspects related to Bitcoin. If you have any questions, this is a great forum to browse. Also, the forum is the starting point for a number of online ventures using Bitcoins.

CoinChat: Not as authoritative a source as the ones mentioned above, but I’ve personally learned a lot of things from chatting with other Bitcoin enthusiasts at CoinChat. This could especially be useful for beginners who are looking for specific questions. The regular folks who chat here know a lot about Bitcoins and willing to help. It is sometimes good to connect with the community in real time. There are several Bitcoin chat sites, but I find CoinChat to be the best quality.

Getting Started

The first thing you need to get started with using Bitcoins is to get a wallet. You can download the official client at the official Bitcoin website for this. However, if you’re very new and don’t want to deal with public and private keys and keeping your private key secret, you can just get a wallet from a number of online services that will hold a wallet for you. I personally use Coinbase that recently got a $5 million venture funding from some heavyweights in Silicon valley and it has a very clean and nice interface that I like. I would recommend using their service for holding your online wallet especially if you’re new to Bitcoin.

If you’re outside the US or need more options, then Vircurex is the best option out there. A great feature of this is that it also enables you to easily trade other crypto-currencies (Litecoin, FeatherCoin, PPCoin, etc.)

Once you have a wallet, you can visit the section on Linked Accounts and you’ll see your wallet address. This is pubic information that you can use whenever you want to get paid in Bitcoins. The private key is kept safe with Coinbase (if you hold the wallets on your computer yourself with involving Coinbase, you are responsible for keeping the private key safe). Coinbase also acts as an exchange, so you can buy and sell Bitcoins if you wish by linking your bank account.

After this stage, you should try to get some Bitcoin into your wallet to see how the whole thing works.

Earning your First Bitcoins

Earning your first Bitcoins is exciting and the beginning of a journey. Since Bitcoins are divisible into 100 million parts, each part called a satoshi, it shouldn’t be hard to earn a few of these, considering they are not worth very much. However, this will be a great way to get introduced to the world of Bitcoins and the businesses and economies behind it. Each category below is unique in it’s own way and a great way to be introduced to the world of Bitcoin.

For all the cases below, you can use the wallet that you get from Coinbase or any other online wallet service.

Bit Visitor: This is perhaps the simplest and easiest way to get paid in Bitcoins. It is just like a traditional Paid-To-Click but without any minimum payout – you’ll get paid no matter how low the payout is. You visit an advertiser’s site and after 5 minutes, click on Next to be recorded. You can continue the process as long as you want – they have quite a few advertisers. No annoying minimum payouts and payment is quite fast.

Free Digital Money: This is a site that pays you in Bitcoin to do things like watching videos, filling out surveys, downloading apps/games, etc. It isn’t hard to reach payout here if you spend a few minutes doing the things they want you to do. Payments are also immediate.

Coin of Midas: Similar to Bit Visitor, but the payout is usually lower and there is a minimum payout of 2mBTC that can be hard to reach. Definitely inferior to Bit Visitor above.

Other ways to get some free Bitcoins is through faucets.

Free Bitcoins with Bitcoin Faucets

Bitcoin faucets are a uniquely Bitcoin feature that utilize the micro-payment system that is possible in the Bitcoin economy. The idea is simple – visit a website, enter your Bitcoin wallet and you’ll get free Bitcoins. No catch. The usual payout is a few uBTC which is a few millionth’s of a Bitcoin. These can add up though, and are completely free (no, you are unlikely to get rich by this method, but it is a great way to understand the system).

In the earlier days, Bitcoin faucets worked through donations. Now, it seems like many sites have figured out a way to make it profitable using advertising. Most Bitcoin faucets pay you very little, but again, it can actually add up, mostly because you can repeatedly request your free Bitcoins at most of these sites (some faucets you can request daily, others like BTC4You, every 30 minutes). All units below are in uBTC which is a millionth of a BTC.

Daily Bitcoins: Payout is 10uBTC. You can enter your wallet every hour. At certain times in addition you will get 5 times this as Peerbet credits. Peerbet is a peer to peer betting platform with no house edge (you compete against other players). More about Peerbet under the Gambling section. As of today, this faucet is the highest paying one out there.

BunnyRun: This isn’t technically a faucet but works the same way. You can get at least 4uBTC/day and up to 10uBTC/day. You need to pick a ‘bunny’ out of four, and depending on where it is placed in the race, you get the payout. You can only enter once a day.

Coin Ad: This gives you anywhere from 2uBTC to 10uBTC per day. If you create an account, you can get this every hour.

BitCoiner: This gives you anywhere from 4uBTC to 12uBTC per day.

CoinReaper: There are a bunch of faucets that payout 1uBTC and deposit this in coinbox.me. Once you reach 55uBTC there, you can request a payout. This doesn’t seem like much but it can add up fast, especially because a number of faucets allow you to get Bitcoins every half an hour. You can use Coin Reaper that keeps a list of all the sites you can earn quickly from or just find them yourself (or if you’re really interested, contact me and I’ll send you my list).

Make Money with Bitcoins for Bloggers and Webmasters

Bitcoin is especially conducive to make money online if you have your own blog or website that gets a decent amount of traffic. Since Bitcoin and Bitcoin based businesses are just taking off, there are plenty of opportunities to make money through advertising. Several forms of advertising are gaining in popularity – CPM/CPC and other innovative forms.

Anonymous Ads: I recently used a-ads and is the only ad block on my blog currently as I am still experimenting with it. It took my blog about 5 days to reach their minimum payout of 0.01 BTC (about $1.3 at this time) which isn’t great but isn’t terrible either. If you are a publisher or blogger of any kind, this could be a good addition to your ad blocks. This is a CPM offer – you get paid for the impressions. The payments are automatic. This is the site through which I have had the most luck, but it does require that you own a blog or website. The others mentioned below don’t.

Coin URL (link shortener): I have mixed feelings about Coin URL, but it is a very popular service in the Bitcoin community. The main use of Coin URL is as a URL shortener. However, each time you click on a Coin URL link, you’ll first be directed to an advertiser’s site and after a few seconds, you can skip the ad and then go to the main site that you intended to go to. This is how the publishers make money off this service – each time you, the reader, visit a Coin URL, the advertiser pays Coin URL for the hit and that is shared with the publisher. This is similar to adf.ly but you get paid in Bitcoins.

The down-side of this should be obvious – the user is one step away from what he’s looking for and it provides for a bad user experience. In general, when blogs and websites provide a list of resources, they usually encode these in Coin URL links to get some Bitcoins from people wanting to visit these sites. If I did that in this post, you’d probably be gone by now and not reading this post. This is why I stay away from Coin URL links but it’s entire up to you to use it.

The way to use it is simple. For example, if I want you to visit Google, I’ll redirect you there through here. Once you click on the ad, instead of being redirected to Google directly, you’ll visit a random ad page and when you click on ‘Skip ad’ on the top right, only then you are redirected to Google.

Coin URL (ad unit): Coin URL also provides ad units that are very similar to Google Adsense ad units. Webmasters and bloggers can make money through this route. Currently, most advertisers are businesses and websites build around Bitcoins, so these are especially profitable for those webmasters who get Bitcoin related traffic. Of course, things could very well change in the future.

Puppy Twist: This is a new CPC based advertising network, similar to Coin URL above. This is newer and not as popular yet, so I don’t have too much information to share. I am currently trying this out, and will update the post with what I find.

Bitcoin Mining

Bitcoin mining is a post twice the length of this article in itself. Mining is essentially verification of transactions that happen and get added to the main Block Chain. This requires a lot of computing power. At current rates, it is only profitable to mine if you don’t pay for your electricity and if you have a very powerful GPU (yes folks, CPU mining is dead). Instead of talking at length about how you can mine for Bitcoins, I’ll refer you to a TechCrunch article that outlines the steps.

Mining is extremely competitive today. In fact, the entire Bitcoin network is more powerful than the top 500 supercomputers COMBINED! You can only hope to be a small part of this. I personally don’t mine Bitcoins because they aren’t profitable in my case, but if you do want to end up mining, make sure you take into consideration all the costs (everything from direct electricity costs to cooling costs – you are going to end up with very hot GPUs!)

Accepting Payments and Donations in Bitcoin

eCommerce in Bitcoins is only just beginning to flourish and if you’re in the game, you’ll be one of the early adopters, even though big names like WordPress and Reddit already use Bitcoin donations. Since Bitcoin is a currency that completely lives online, it is very straightforward to set up a payment/donation system. All you need is your public wallet.

There are a lot of APIs – websites that make this even simpler for you. For example, there is a Donate Bitcoins button on my blog through which you can donate any Bitcoins to me (yes, they are very appreciated!) I am using the CoinBase plugin for this button, but there are plenty of more popular options, like Bit Instant.

Do note that you don’t need to run an online-only business to accept Bitcoins. There are a few traditional businesses that allow you to pay in Bitcoin and you can do the same for your offline business. The concept is the same. All your customers have to do is whip out their smartphones, scan a QR code and the payment is sent. No hassles, no swiping.

Bitcoin Gambling

No Bitcoin guide is going to be complete without a mention of gambling. I don’t advocate gambling, but if it’s your thing, then the Bitcoin gambling sites are far superior to the alternatives online.Why? Because the Bitcoin gambling sites have provably fair odds, and most likely, the good folks at BitcoinTalk gambling forums would have already figured it out for you (as a general rule, always check for the Bitcoin gambling sites in the BitcoinTalk forum and see what people are saying). It is possible to verify the house edge for each Bitcoin transaction/event that happens, which is very useful because you know that you didn’t get ripped off by manipulating the odds.

I don’t want to delve too deep into Bitcoin gambling, but I’ll mention a few sites that are really popular and unique in their category.

Satoshi Dice: This is probably the most popular Bitcoin gambling site. However, it is closed for US based computers.

Bit Bet: This is similar to Intrade for Bitcoin economy. You can bet on real world events.

Peerbet: The most popular gambling site with NO house edge. Peerbet is a peer to peer gambling network. Peerbet seems to make money only through advertising. You are only betting against other users and there is no house edge/house fees to play.

My Thoughts on Bitcoin’s Future

My guess is as good as yours when it comes to predicting the future. However, one thing is for certain – Bitcoin has shown what a truly digital cryptocurrency would look like. Sure, it might not stand the test of time, but has opened the doors to great possibilities. Here are a few things that the future of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency hold, in my opinion.

  • Transfer Money: Anyone who has tried to make payments around the globe would know the hassles involved in the process. True, certain services like PayPal make it convenient to use, but there are severe limits in some countries, it is unavailable in some countries and the fees can be quite high. The fees comes from two sources – a flat % fees and the exchange rate fees. There is also a significant delay in the transfer of money. With Bitcoin, all of these are eliminated. There is no transaction fees you need to pay for larger blocks (worth even a few dollars today) that you want to transfer. The payment is quick and immediate, as soon as it is verified in the blockchain. This is a vast improvement over the current infrastructure of transferring money.
  • Ease of Use: As businesses start adopting Bitcoin for payment of goods and services, the whole process of paying becomes extremely simplified. All you need to do is scan a code on your phone and the transfer is completed. You don’t need to swipe credit cards and wait for authorization. Merchants also don’t need to pay fees to companies like Visa and MasterCard for providing this service. This is again a great improvement over current methods.
  • Micro Transactions: The smallest unit of transaction for Bitcoin is a satoshi, which is a hundred millionth of a Bitcoin. This provides great flexibility in terms of crowdsourcing jobs and it can span a whole new economy of micro-transactions where everyone and anyone and plug into the Bitcoin economy for a few seconds/minutes/hours and earn some money. This could be similar to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk but at a far grander scale. Enabling micro-transactions can enable a number of entrepreneurial ideas.
  • Store of Value: Bitcoin is a non-inflationary currency. This means the total supply of Bitcoin at any point of time is capped, quite unlike other currencies like the Dollar or even gold. This makes Bitcoin a great store of value (until of course quantum computers break RSA but we got bigger things to worry about in that case I guess).

The future is an exciting place for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Lets see how things pan out.

Photo Credit: mises.ca

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oDesk Test Tips: A Guide to Increasing your Score and Better Pay at oDesk

oDesk Test Tips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These oDesk test tips should help you in overall success at oDesk, increase your average pay, and increase the number of conversions – the ratio of jobs you actually get hired for to the number of jobs that you apply. These oDesk test tips should be especially useful for freelancers who are new to oDesk because the test scores in that case could be a big factor in your hiring process. With good test scores, you can get the ball rolling sooner.

The Importance of oDesk Tests

Let me start off by showing you the importance of oDesk tests to get good assignments. These oDesk test tips that I discuss are especially important to freelancers who are starting out who don’t have much feedback at the site and don’t (yet) have a strong portfolio. The main objectives with selling yourself to employers at a freelance marketplace like oDesk (or Elance for that matter) are –

  • Higher Pay for the jobs that you apply to
  • Better Job Conversion Ratio, and thus more number of jobs, if required

When an employer looks at your oDesk profile, these are the most important criteria that you are in control of (psychology tells us that things like your country of living, profile photo, etc. also play a role, conscious or sub-conscious, but I am not talking about those in this post):

  • Feedback score and testimonials from previous clients
  • Work history and work portfolio
  • Test Scores
  • Cover letter for the job

You can now see that oDesk test scores are even more important for new freelancers starting out at oDesk. In addition to having the test scores visible on your profile, you can also mention it on your cover letter. For instance, if you are talking about how good your writing is, you can reference one of the English writing tests that you’ve taken and mention that you stood in the top 10% of the test takers. This can be a generic statement appended to every cover letter that you produce.

The oDesk Readiness Test

The oDesk readiness test is the only oDesk test that is mandatory to complete for freelancers to start working on the site. It also shows up on your profile page whether you’ve completed the oDesk readiness test or not. It is not hard to find answers to this test online. However, I would strongly recommend reading through the entire material and really understanding not just the bigger picture but even the nuances of working at oDesk. This will save you a lot of trouble and heartburn later on. If you want to know how people can have good and bad experience, read through the comments of my oDesk review post. You should learn and understand how the system works before spending your time and effort looking for a job.

oDesk Test Tips and Guidelines

Here are some general oDesk test tips for freelancers in all areas of their expertise –

Choose: I would advise against being all over the place. If you’re a graphic designer, don’t bother taking the call center skills test. This is pointless, but more damagingly, if you score better on the irrelevant tests, those can show up above the ones that display your core skills. It is much better to focus on a few tests and do them well instead of taking scores of tests not relevant to the kinds of jobs you wish to apply for. Bottom line is, choose the list of oDesk tests carefully and try to score well on those.

Prepare: Of course, like with any test, it comes down to preparation. Spend a little bit of time browsing through the topics that would appear on the test. Sometimes we all get rusty. It is good to brush up on the basics and a few advanced concepts on the way. There is no substitute for actually knowing your industry. Make sure you are as good as the test scores will make the employers believe.

Utilize the Complete Time: oDesk tests are timed. I have personally felt that it is possible to finish the tests way ahead of time. And then I realize that I’ve made some really silly mistakes on questions that I totally knew. To avoid this, just use the complete time that oDesk provides. If you do finish early, go through the questions again and make sure you didn’t miss anything. Some of the questions and the corresponding wordings can be tricky.

If at First You Don’t Succeed: Once you take a test, you cannot re-take that test for the next 30 days. This is a great constraint in place, in my opinion because otherwise the system would be much easier to game. However, you should definitely take advantage of this feature of re-taking a test after 30 days. Write down the topics or if you remember, the questions that you weren’t sure of. Also, research the areas where you performed poorly. This will help you score better the next time you take the same test.

A Case Against Cheating: oDesk does try to avoid you to be able to google for an answer. It cannot fully prevent it though (it probably can but doesn’t bother). I don’t want to moralize this issue, but do remember that you don’t want to appear much better than your actual skills, because it will cause high expectations in the eyes of the client, and if the work isn’t top-notch, then you’ll be penalized with poor feedback. And poor feedback is more detrimental to your future jobs than poor test scores. So cheat at your own long-term risk.

The next steps

The other important factor that you can control immediately is to come up with a good cover letter.

oDesk isn’t the first and last place to build an online career working from your home. For example, read Executive in Sweatpants that talks more about success in this niche. Although several freelancers have built a successful career at oDesk, it is important to explore the other options that might be more lucrative, depending on your skill set. Read about how to graduate from oDesk to greener pastures.
Photo Credit: Shinealight

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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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