How to wake up at 5AM everyday

After my last post on super productivity, a few people were curious about waking up at 5 in the morning. The common question was, “How to wake up early?”

Well, there aren’t any tricks per se, but a few things from my own experience/reading might help you fine-tune your biological clock, get you motivated & achieve super productivity.

1. Go to bed early

A good deep sleep of around 4-5 hours is sufficient for an adult. So, if you’re planning to get up at 5, retire early. 10:30 to 11:00 is the ideal period.

2. Track your deep sleep

Use a cheap (or costly) wrist-band activity tracker to track your sleep. I bought the cheapest Mi Band at Rs. 999. It does a decent job at counting your steps and tracking your sleep patterns. Although the mobile app is not that great, it gives you a fair picture of your sleep. Else, you can use apps like Sleep as Android and keep your phone near your pillow while going to bed. (but there’s a catch, read point #3)

3. Keep your alarm clock (phone) away from bed

That’s right. Make snoozing a difficult affair. Pressing snooze is second nature, and if your alarm resides near your pillow while you’re trying to build a habit, all the best, you’re never going to wake up early. So keep it at a place where you’ll have to get up from bed to shut it down. Now that you’ve already risen from bed, it’s much easier to convince your sleepy mind.

4. Track your habit

I use an app called 7 weeks to track my perseverance on forming a new habit. According to various research, it takes anywhere between 7 weeks (49 days) to 66 days to form a new habit. Apart from the obvious benefit of visualizing your performance, 7 weeks app motivates you to keep moving towards your goal.

5. Stay away from TV, Laptop, Mobiles atleast 15 minutes before going to bed

Your bed should be a no-electronics zone. Don’t tax your brain with new information, social media clutter, chat sessions or the blue light of playing a game while laying down. It will hamper your deep sleep. In the end, you’ll end up sleeping more and waking up tired.

6. Use a smart alarm

Apps like Sleep as Android have a feature to schedule your alarm according to your sleep patterns by finding optimal wake up moments. Quoting directly from their documentation:

Waking up in light sleep feels natural and can be compared to waking up on a weekend, without any alarm.

In contract, deep sleep wakeup (which is common with ordinary alarm clocks) leads to an unpleasant wakeup experience accompanies with feeling of being tired, sleepy, disoriented etc.

In other words, it’ll fire the alarm the moment the sensor (in your wrist band or mobile app) notices that you’re in light sleep.

7. Go to bed planning to get up early

I’ve no scientific evidence backing up this personal experience: going to bed thinking positively about getting up early actually makes me wake up without much difficulty. In contract, if I don’t plan it, either I snooze or have a really hard time convincing my sleepy brain the next morning.

I intend to keep adding new insights, tricks and tips to this post.

I would like to end with a quote I read somewhere,

“Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do.”

Pro tip #8: While trying to convince your sleepy mind to get out of the bed, try reciting the above quote. It works for me.

Welcome to the 5AM Club!

My experiments on how to be super productive

Lately, I’ve realized that I have read a lot of material on two topics viz.

a. How to stop procrastinating
b. How to be productive

And I was wondering if it would make sense to share my progress with the world so that I get more inputs & suggestions from people who’re trying something similar. So here’s the plan: I will keep sharing life hacks, tricks, tools, utilities, apps, habits, daily regimes, factoids, scientific findings and everything in between on how to be more productive in life.

So here are the things I follow at present:

1. 5:00 AM to 6:00 AM – The holy hour

The one thing that’s common between successful people around the world is that all of them are early risers. It gives you enough time to headstart & plan the day instead of simply rushing to your office.It also gives you a moral edge of being at ‘work’ (working on yourself) while the rest of the world is still asleep.

2. The 20-20-20 morning regime

After trying out different regimes, I’m happily following Robin Sharma’s 20-20-20 morning routine.

Here’s what I do in 20-20-20

5:00 to 5:20 –  Get up, brush, make tea, simple exercise & stretching
5:20 to 5:40 –  Open my todo app and plan the day. (e.g. what’s the frog of the day)
5:40 to 6:00 –  Read one or half chapter of a book (Currently reading Imagine -how creativity works. Wonderful book)

3. Pick a ToDo App

I’ve found this super useful. Instead of processing multiple threads in my mind, I jot down everything that’s to be done & set reminders. Again the rule I follow is to identify the most hard/tedious job at hand as the ‘frog of the day’. I eat the frog the first thing in the morning at work. After trying out multiple apps (that work seamlessly on mobile and desktop) from Any.Do to Wunderlist to Todoist, I finally found the one that suited me best: TickTick. Nice Android app and I like their desktop version too.

4. Keep track of your micro-thoughts

Micro-thoughts are the moments of insights that we think we’ll be able to recollect later but alas! that’s the biggest lie to tell to ourselves. You can never recollect a micro-thought. Take my word for it. So note it down. I use Evernote as my default note taking app. It’s on my phone, on my desktop as a Windows application and on my browser as a web clipper.

5. Check email only twice a day

This was a tough one and it was eating all my time without even me realizing. Never ever start your work day with email. I’ve formed a habit of reading emails at 10:30 AM and 3:00 PM and I’ve TickTick reminding me when to check the email.

6. Use Pomodoro technique at work

Earlier I used to work for hours at a stretch and gradually realized that post afternoon, I didn’t have enough mental energy to process anything that demanded attention or creativity. In short, my brain muscles were all tired and used up with the ruthless work marathon since the beginning of the day. Then I read about Pomodoro. In its classic form, you work for 25 minutes, then take a break of 5 minutes. Repeat.
I use Clearfocus Android app to work for 45 minutes and then take a break of 10 minutes. (I generally take a brisk stroll)
 

7. Stop thinking about what to wear everyday

Wear the same thing everyday. The logic behind wearing a uniform is simple: stop using your brain to make mundane decisions that are going to tax your brain. Steve Jobs, Mark Zukerberg and a lot of other successful people follow this regime. I decided to give it a try after years of  “I have nothing to wear today” or “I have nothing neat/ironed/new to wear today” mornings. It works for me. I bought these 6 nice solid deep blue tshirts that are comfortable & keep switching. Trust me, it’s a headache off my list.

8. Getting shit done

I’ve found the only trick that works if you’re fighting procrastination: get shit done immediately. When I started with my todo app, tasks kept on piling up because I kept clicking ‘Snooze’. Don’t. If you’re supposed to buy a bulb but you forgot & now you’re comfortably sitting on your couch, don’t create a task on your todo; get up and go to the market, get shit done. I’ll be honest, I’m still trying this one very hard. But the kind of results I’m getting, I’m sure I’m going to stick to getting shit done.

9. Experimental: Report to yourself

At Storypick, since there’s no one asking me questions on my progress, I’m trying to play around with the idea of reporting to myself at the end of the day. After some quick search, I stumbled upon IDoneThis, which basically is an awesome team performance management tool. It has a free plan for individuals. So here’s how it works: It sends you an email at the end of every workday asking one simple question: What did you do today?

And I can just reply to it via email. This is the best part. More often than not, it dawns upon me that while replying to this simple question, there are days when I’m ashamed to cheat because I wasn’t as productive as I intended. It’s been a few days, so this is experimental.

Do let me know if you happen to try anything from this list. Do share your progress, tips, habits and productivity hacks.

Dear Sahil Baghla (founder @Bluegape), Please Don’t Poach My Teammates. I’m Afraid.

Here’s the summary of this article

1. Bluegape blatantly copies content word-by-word from Storypick & other publishers/competitors.
2.  Bluegape then makes random calls to Storypick team members to poach them. Offered random jobs and salaries on unsolicited calls.
3. Bluegape founder, Sahil Baghla whines when being called out.
4. So here’s a fact/evidence based article to call out Bluegape publicly. 

Here’s what happened:

1. Since January 2015, we at Storypick noticed that a site called Bluegape had started plagiarizing each one of our original articles. Word by word, image by image, they won’t even change the title. Inspiration is different, and word by word copying is different.

2. There was one instance of copying, we ignored. There was 2nd instance of copying, we ignored. Then they started copying all of our articles, we decided to ignore them completely because copying cannot be a scalable business model. Neither can it be the main strategy of a publisher. Here are the screenshots of some of the articles they lifted directly from Storypick: 


Click here to view list of other articles stolen by Bluegape from Storypick. 

3. Moreover, it’s not only us. Here’s an article from Scoopwhoop they copied. So their strategy is to plagiarize from every publisher. We still decided to ignore because we (unlike Bluegape) have to create our own original articles.




Here’s a similar complaint from The Daily Moss: 

4. In the meantime, I decided to check the story behind Bluegape & I wasn’t surprised when I read this article from NextBigWhat from December 2014 on Bluegape shutting down. Here’s the gist of the article titled: “Bluegape Shuts Down Due To Copyright Issues”

Bluegape started as a fan merchandise & customization platform where users can create art and sell it online. They had to shut down when these ‘users’ (*cough* fake accounts *cough*) started selling copyrighted stuff online. 

Ring a bell?


Yes, they’ve a history of lifting original content. Habitual plagiarizer? And even after raising investment, they resorted to plagiarism and had to shut down operations ultimately. And then from 2015 onwards, they decided to pivot to publishing lists. But clearly, they hadn’t learnt anything from their past mistake: they resorted to plagiarism in publishing too. (Evidence as shown above)

So why am I writing this story? Why should I be bothered?

Here’s why.


1. A couple of days back, one of my champ creative writers received an unsolicited phone call from Blugape hiring (poaching) team. They offered her a direct job. She laughed at the caller’s face. Why would someone join a team of copy-cats? Whatever be the salary, so she politely declined.

I decided to ignore.

2. Day before yesterday, the Bluegape poaching team rang up another champ of Storypick & offered her a direct job of leading their content team. And said, “Just tell a number, we’ll pay you.” Our champ politely hung up the call.

I decided to ignore. NOT.

Because there’s a line you never cross. And Bluegape got on my nerves when they took our polite behavior for granted. You copy once, okay. You copy twice, okay. You copy every article, okay. You ride on traffic created by copied articles, okay. You stalk my employees, find their phone numbers, cold-call them, offer them jobs, offer them blank salaries, okay.

Then you’ve the audacity to call my 2nd employee, and waste our time and money….that’s when you cross the line. That’s when you interfere with my business. That’s when you enter a territory you’re not welcome; not only by me but also by my team. I just can’t keep ignoring a habitual plagiarizing stalker who can stoop down to any level.

That’s when I got pissed off and sent out this email to Sahil Baghla.



 

I would like to stress that in the past I’ve politely resolved less severe conflicts with respected publishers and competitors. But clearly, Bluegape didn’t deserve any better. Hence, I don’t regret this email.

The dude replied with a nonsensical list where he basically wanted to say:

That’s the best he could come up with. Because obviously, he can’t manufacture facts against us out of thin air. So I decided to write a response article which is fact based.

oOo 

Poaching etiquette

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or a casual reader wondering if there are ethical unwritten rules to follow while poaching employees, here are some references by people who’ve been there, done that:

– Thou shalt NOT poach from a startup whose CEO is your friend!
– Thou shalt NOT poach from a startup that has not raised a round of funding!
– Thou shalt NOT poach from a startup that has less than 10 people!
– Thou shalt NOT poach from a funded startup whose CEO is your friend, until you’ve talked to said CEO and received his/her OK!
   
Read more here: http://www.techstars.com/startup-poaching-etiquette-be-a-richard-not-a-dick/



Basically, it says, “Don’t be a dick.”

Sahil, now you can ask your team to copy this article and post it on Bluegape.

What can Lord Ganesh teach us?


Img courtesy: Vinay Bavdekar on Flickr
Image courtesy: Vinay Bavdekar on Flickr
Staying in Pune, Maharashtra, I don’t need a Hindu calendar to know the date for Ganesh Chaturthi. The drum rolls and the festive mood tell me that today is the day. 
I was born on Ganesh Chaturthi. (Now my birthday rarely coincides)
Although, I’m an atheist, I find deep gratification in questioning, discovering and understanding the reasons behind mythology/religious doctrines. The stories revolving Lord Ganesh are no exception. I would like to share two moral lessons that are neatly woven into Ganpati folklore.

Circumnavigating the globe

Everyone knows the story where Ganesh triumphs over his younger brother, Kartikeya, in a race around the world, by circling around his parents, Shiva and Parvati, while his brother flies around the actual globe on his peacock.
The key moral lesson conveyed beautifully through this mythology is respect for one’s parents. The story leaves a strong impression on the mind and reinstates the truth: one’s parents are ought to be one’s world.
In my humble opinion, this comparison tries to draw our attention to another key psychological idea or concept: mind over matter. The point is you cannot treat everything ‘objectively’; to truly understand the mind/body/spirit complex one needs to contemplate ‘subjectively’ on many matters.

Symbolism of Ganesh’s vehicle: the mouse

One of the most subtle yet powerful symbolisms hidden in the Lord Ganesh mythology is his vehicle: a mouse. The moral lesson behind this symbol is that the largest and powerful things often depend on the smallest and trivial things. 
Great people don’t achieve greatness by jumping ladders. Morever, the media never glorifies or covers the small achievements that eventually enables a person to make her mark. Greatness emerge from the interaction and interference of seemingly trivial and tiny things.
In other words, his mouse is a reminder to the fact that no person, however strong and powerful, should harbor personal ego and take full credit for her brilliance or greatness. We should recognize that small events manifesting from time to time woven together finally make the whole big picture.
Simultaneously, it also teaches us that if we want the stupendous power of Lord Ganesh behind us, then the small and humble processes of the mouse are our vehicle.
May the force be with you. Ganpati bappa moriya!

Can a smartphone save your life?

In an earlier post, I wondered about a wearable security/safety device that can be triggered at times of personal danger esp. in cases of molestation, rape, risk to life, burglary, robbery etc.
Now that Samsung has launched Galaxy Gear smart-watch, which basically is the first crude version of a wearable device that lets you interact with your phone without pulling it out of your purse or pocket, my thoughts are on a roll again. Coz that’s exactly what is needed in times of sudden danger: something that can quickly help us raise an SOS.

Image courtesy: Reuters
Life saver? Maybe.

The idea

So here’s the refined idea: an app for the Galaxy Gear that will do the following –
  1. Quick trigger: There should be some quick actionable trigger on the watch. E.g. a huge icon that can be tapped in case of emergency. To prevent accidental tapping, we can make it ‘swipe and tap’ or something similar.
  2. Actions: The following parallel actions can take place
    • Notification to SOS contacts: SMS & call (to family, friends & police), update on social media.
    • Notification to nearby volunteers: Every app owner can volunteer to help out if someone needs help. Since traditional help (in terms of police etc) won’t be able to make to the scene of crime quickly to prevent the crime, a band of networked volunteers nearby (on getting the alert) can raise an alarm, assemble a mob and rush to the spot for help.
    • Video recording: Galaxy Gear has a small camera attached to its band. Immediately, audio-visual recording should start. In the background, data service should be activated & compressed videos (in bursts of say 5, 10 seconds) should be uploaded directly to any connected cloud storage. E.g. Dropbox, Google Drive etc.
    • Alarm: Maybe a high pitched sound/alarm can be triggered to ring from the phone. I’m not sure if it’ll act as a deterrent or provoke the attackers further. Possible feature.

Samsung has not released the Galaxy Gear SDK yet. I’m planning to build a minimum viable version 1 once it is out.
What do you think? Please share your concerns, ideas & features to include.

Getting started with Freelancing? Here’s the Ultimate Cheat Sheet

INTRODUCTION

At the outset, let me clarify that I’m not a freelancer. Then why did I write this post? Who is this post intended for? Well, this post is a result of an experiment I successfully pulled off recently. (More on that shortly) And this post is intended for anyone who’s struggling to get started with freelancing. (Read: haven’t grabbed their first project yet).

I wanted to pick up AngularJS and learn LESS. So I decided to put myself in a situation where there would be an incentive to learn and a constraint to perform. In short, I was thinking how can I get paid to learn, how can I work on real life use cases to experiment. I decided to give freelancing a shot. My stint lasted for 10 days after which I returned to my startup life.

In the said 10 days, I made close to Rs. 45,000 working on 4 low risk projects and picked up LESS.

WHY THIS POST?

There are barriers to entry in the freelancing arena. I saw many freelancer profiles that are yet to clinch their first project. Since I hacked my way through it and managed to keep getting project offers, I decided to share what I have learned.

CONTENTS

  1. Getting Started
  2. Grabbing your first project
  3. Working on your first project
  4. Withdrawing your first payment
  5. Parting Shots

GETTING STARTED

Choose a platform

There are many freelancing websites. Each one has its own pros and cons. While Freelancer is full of low risk small to medium projects, Elance mostly has medium to high risk bigger projects. You may also check out oDesk, Guru etc. I started with Freelancer since I wanted to work on low risk projects.

Create a profile

Choose the free plan and get started. Creating an impressive looking profile is of utmost importance since every prospective employer will surely scan your profile before offering you the job.

Hacks

Display Name: You can simply state your full name. It seems like no brainer. But most of the times, employers will look out for teams so that they can get their work done faster. So even if you’re just an individual, it doesn’t hurt to have your display name as something like, “Your-name and Team” etc.

Tagline: Have a crisp and compelling tagline that highlights your credibility and expertise. E.g. if you’re going to work only on PHP, then a tagline like, “10+ years of PHP experience” should be sweet. If you’re going for all kinds of projects, you can try something like, “Our promise:     Quality + On Time Delivery” (btw, that’s what I used)

Display pic: Now, this is very important.

  1.  A high quality smiling headshot of your own – Smile is the key. Show some teeth, you’re not at a funeral. If you look too young, then use 2nd option.
  2. A high quality image/art of a cult personality – I don’t know why it works, but it works. Maybe because there’s already a personality attached to the image. Being a Big Lebowski fan, I chose a vector image of The Dude. It looks geeky, calm and the red shades make him look like a psychedelic saint. I would want such a person to handle my project, won’t you?
    Let me handle your project.

Description: Fill it up to the brim. Mention every technology, language, library, tool, software you know about. There goes a saying that “There’s no lie big enough not to fit in a resume”. This is not unethical because no one’s going to expect you to know all you brag about, but our motive is to shine in front of other freelancer profiles. Don’t overdo it. Strike a subtle balance.

Skills: In Freelancer, you can include upto 20 skills if you’re a free member. Use them judiciously. This is where you don’t lie. Mention every skill that you want to get work on. Go to “Browse Projects” and get a hang of projects that interests you. Then check the skills they mention as mandatory. Note them down on a notepad. Later, shortlist 20 out of the list.

Portfolio: This is the heart of your profile. Leave it empty & wait for eternity to get your first project. Freelancer provides 5 slots to build your portfolio. (For free users) That means you can create 5 folders with 5 files each. But in case of videos, one folder can contain only one video.
The trick here is to make 4 folders with 5 pics each (that cover the best of your previous work) and 1 folder (with 1 video) that will showcase your whole portfolio.
Put related works in each folder. E.g.  “Logos and corporate identity”, “Website design”, “Bootstrap templates”, “Cartoons, Sketch, Animation” and “Complete portfolio” can be perfect for a web designer.

You should make a short video with all the screenshots of your previous work and mash it up like a slideshow. I used Windows Movie Maker to make a quick video and uploaded it to a folder named “Complete portfolio”. This will enable you to hack your way through the folder constraints.
Another hack is to create a public folder in your Dropbox account and upload everything from your portfolio there. Make sure you include your best work at the beginning of your folder. (Rename them as 1, 2, 3 etc.). Keep the link handy. (More on it below)

Hourly Rate: This is very important. The common logic prevalent among newbie freelancers is that if we state a very low hourly rate, we’ll get hired. Not true at all. The hourly rate displayed on your profile has nothing to do with your bid on projects. You can still quote a cheap price on a project even if your hourly rate mentioned on your profile is high. But it is very important to have an hourly rate north of $30. Why?
It’s sad but most employers from US and Europe have had very bad experiences with freelancers from the sub-continent (read: India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka etc.) maybe due to a multitude of problems: careless non-professionals, miscommunication (or lack of communication) etc. Hence, when 60 freelancers (say) bid for a project, employers tend to filter out cheap workers first. There’s a filter in Freelancer that can hide freelancers that has a very low hourly rate. So anything below $25 or $30 is not worth looking into. The logic is if you’re an Indian freelancer and your hourly rate is $40, then you must be good. Faulty logic, but why not work it in our favor. So pimp up your rate.

Test: Take the free Freelancer Orientation Test. On completion a shiny little badge will be displayed along your bid. Adds credibility. (Tip: To get an idea of the test, Google it; you’ll find historical dumps easily)

GRABBING YOUR FIRST PROJECT

Choosing projects

Now that you’ve created yourself a robust profile, it’s time to go hunting. Freelancer provides 10 bids for free account holders. So we’ve got 10 attempts to grab our first project. So utilize your bids judiciously.

Hacks

  • Go to “Browse Projects” – “My Skills”. This will then filter out projects based on your skill-set mentioned by you in your profile.
  • For your first project, look out for something small that can be completed in a matter of days so that you get your first feedback. Feedback is important since it shows up on your bid and adds hell lot of credibility. It also allows you to skip all those first timers who haven’t yet clinched a project. Also look out for project by US or European employer only. (Why? Because they can pay you handsomely)
  • Best bet is to choose a project with a budget of around $100. Either bid for $99 or $109. Ending your bid in ‘9’ increases your chances of getting picked.

Now there are three things that will get you your first project

  1. Speed – Speed is your weapon when you don’t have a glorified profile/past history to show off. By speed, I mean, the speed of bidding on a project and getting the conversation started with the employer. The trick is to impress the employer before everyone else bids. Keep refreshing “My Skills” page (sorted by “Most Recent first”) and wait until a project shows up that matches your skills and is doable in a couple of hours/days. If you’re the first, second or third bidder, chances are good. Place a bid. Now comes the tricky part, what to write and how.
  2. Writing Skill – If you can’t communicate crisply, you can’t get a project. Period. You can read my favorite book, “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath to learn the art of rhetoric. The art of persuasive writing is important because that skyrockets your chances of getting a project. In fact, I believe your message to the employer while placing a bid is the most important factor that decides if you’re going to get the project or not.

The trick here is to write a short and crisp one liner public message and a crisp (but a bit longer) private direct message.
Let’s break it down:
a.    Read the project description completely and never bid unless you understand it properly. (This is important as some smart employers use description to filter out bots and habitual serial bidders. They will ask you to start your sentence with some keyword and whoever doesn’t get it, ends up being dumped. Simple.)
b.    Do your homework: If the project mentions any existing website, visit it to get a hang of the quality of work expected. Note colors, note defects that can be solved, note things that can be done better.
c.    Now leave a very simple public message with your bid.

E.g. Hi there, We have done Twitter Bootstrap customizations for all our projects. Please check private message for details. My team can start on this immediately.

d.    Now it’s time to leave a persuasive private message that should include/address the following questions:

  •    Have you understood the expectations properly?
  •    Have you done your homework?
  •    Have you done similar projects in the past?
  •    If yes, where are the links?
  •    Why are you the best person to do this project?
  •    Any other value addition/advatage?
E.g. a sample private message for a blogger template for an existing blog can be:

Hi there,

First, I went to your website (http://www.example.com) to understand the quality of the site & to get an idea of the work expected. The site can be improved tremendously.
We have done several Blogger templates recently and we are well versed with the new Blogger interface.
You can check out our past work on our Freelancer profile or visit this gallery before making your choice. https://www.dropbox.com/yourLink
We’re a perfect blend of artistic mind armed with technology. We are a small close knit team of computer engineers and graphic designers.
Waiting for a positive response. Please don’t hesitate to ask any queries you might have. And we can start working on it immediately. I’m always available on Skype so communication won’t be a problem too.

Best Regards,
Myname and Team

e.    Be online after bidding: Keep the tab open. When you’re among the first few to bid, most employers would be online too and would probably reply to your private message. The routine gets messy after a few dozen of bidders. So speed is important. Get them talking to you early.
Now it’s upto you not to screw up the chat interview, my only tip would be to act like an introvert in front of an introvert and be an extrovert to an extrovert. But don’t sell yourself short, write judiciously.
3. Strategic bidding price – Don’t give the impression that you’re a cheap freelancer. Every employer expects her project to be treated with care and wants premium results. So acting cheap might get your small and petty projects, but you can always strategically place your bid between the average bid and lowest bid. If you’re charging premium rates, back it up with solid persuasion it in your private message.

WORKING ON YOUR FIRST PROJECT

Now that you’ve won your first project, time to get to work. Wait, not so early!

Precautions

Freelancer is full of scamsters who will try to squeeze free work out of you and walk away without paying you a penny. Good news is that it can be prevented.

  • While accepting a project, always request a ‘Milestone’ creation. After accepting the project, this is the first thing you should be doing. Create 2, 3…N number of milestones depending on the number of deliverables. E.g. if you need to deliver 2 logos for $200, then ask for two milestones $100 at 50% and $100 at 100% work completion.
  • Never ever start any work unless you get a notification from Freelancer that employer has created a milestone. Don’t fall for sweet talk. Unless there’s a milestone created for a project, you can’t raise a dispute too.
  • Share your alternate contact id (Skype etc) but make sure to re-post important discussions/announcements/file transfers through Freelancer messaging console. It’s always good to have an official record.

Hacks

  • Make a note of your employer’s time zone. Try to mutually decide on a time when you’ll provide her feedback, clarify doubts or report progress. Always keep your employers updated.
  • During chats, try to understand your employer’s business or make suggestions on how their project can be further improved etc. Propose your availability for any related projects or future projects. Repeat hires are important because there’s an indicator (or score) displayed on your profile for repeat hires. Boosts credibility of your profile.
  • When you’re on the verge of completion of the project, ask your employer to leave you a good feedback. If you’ve done a job well, don’t be shy to ask for a favorable rating.
  • Always leave 5 star ratings for your employers.

WITHDRAWING YOUR FIRST PAYMENT

You’ll find numerous blogs over the Internet claiming Freelancer to be a scam website. Many people face problems with their withdrawal. I was very skeptical of the process too. Hence I read a lot and took some measures. Here are the things to note:

  1.    You need to have a paid account to withdraw money. Choose any paid plan before proceeding.
  2.    You should have a minimum of $30 in your account.
  3.    Opt for Express Withdrawal if you’re in India.
  4.    For the first time, the withdrawal will take upto 15-20 days. So be patient. Keep tracking the status in your withdrawal dashboard.

I took some time to understand what might be the cause of delays and cancellation of withdrawals and had a long chat with one of the support agents. Sometimes, employers use stolen credit cards to pay freelancers. Hence Freelancer double checks each transaction before releasing it to the freelancer. A bit harsh on the freelancer, but rules are rules.

Hacks

If your withdrawal fails for some reason, raise a support ticket and pray to God that your problem gets solved. In most cases, it won’t. So, it’s time to take matters into our own hands.
I had no problems with my first withdrawal. But my second and final withdrawal failed for no reason. I raised a support ticket but alas! Nothing happened. Frustrated, I shot an email to Matt Barrie. Who is Matt Barrie? Well, he’s the CEO of Freelancer.
I’d written twice to him on two different occasions & both the time the person handling his email (or himself) replied back with a very polite email that not only solved my problem but also tried to pacify me by offering free credits and free upgrades. Attached is the screenshot of one of his replies.

  •  So when nothing else works, shoot an email to the CEO. It works.

PARTING SHOTS

My short freelancing stint was fun and it allowed me to pick up and learn something new. I chose low risk projects and thankfully, the gamble paid off. My employer repeat hired me for two more projects and was very happy with the deliverable.

That’s the crux: Build your reputation by delivering quality stuff. You cannot hack your way to the top.
I might have missed a few things, please feel free to add your own observations. You can reach out to me on Twitter.

8 stories to read this weekend

6 stories to read this weekend

The idiot-box is getting smarter

Apple TV interface (source: Apple)

Lately, I’ve been following the advent of the Smart TV phenomenon. At first glance, connected TVs (with or without a net-top box) do seem like the future of home entertainment where you can stream your own content, subscribe to original series instead of the whole channel, watch movies on demand and enjoy YouTube from your couch. But there are challenges.

Challenges to mass adoption

1. Market is fragmented

Apple TV, Roku, Google TV, Boxee (now part of Samsung) and dozen others (find full list here) are currently trying to break into the market. While smaller startups will eventually be merged with bigger players, the market is currently too fragmented and nascent. Consumers are particularly worried about the fact that their choice of vendor might suddenly be acquired and shut down. (see Boxee). Although, there is enough room for smart new entrants and nimble incumbents, the space will finally be ruled by bigger companies who has clout and influence. Why? This brings us to challenge two: content.

2. Content

The reason this space needs a biggie like Google, Apple or Amazon is the fact that they have the capacity to influence, partner and rope in cable networks in the near future. Let’s admit it, we’re not going to pay a monthly subscription for a box that doesn’t include some of our beloved shows from cable networks. E.g. travel shows, discovery, Nat Geo and particularly kids shows (remember, today’s early adopters will be young parents in the near future). There’s no reason we will look at Smart TVs as a secondary screen. Who wants to pay for two subscriptions. Cable and Internet has to merge.
Moreover, bigger companies can more easily partner with multiple streaming content providers and already has a perfectly laid out content distribution channel.

3. Incumbents

How can you make someone your channel partner when they themselves are selling a product that competes with your offering? Why would a DTH provider promote a Roku? They have enough reasons not to. When people are paying for a whole channel to watch only a particular serial, why would any business want to offer pay per series package?
Why would any company who has invested millions in designing, developing and marketing set-top boxes team up with another box company? Maybe they can partner and come up with a combo sister offering. Maybe not. I don’t know. It’ll be interesting to watch how things unfold in the future.

4. Broadband penetration

You need atleast a minimum of 1.5 to 2 Mbps broadband speeds to properly stream using a smart box. In countries like ours, where broadband penetration is comparatively less and broadband speeds are costly and limited, we’ll have to wait till India catches up with the world.

5. Product support

Hardware is a costly investment. So most consumers expect to get product support for several years. Even for software, Microsoft will be ending their support for Windows XP (launched in 2001) somewhere in 2014 (a cool product support lifespan of 13 years). Recently Boxee had to bear the brunt of the media and consumers when they failed to maintain support for older models.
Irrespective of these challenges, I see opportunities. There is ample space for new startups to fill the voids in the ecosystem. Imagine a future where you can tap your Smart TV remote (which is nothing but your smart phone) and instantly buy a pack of detergent, right after the detergent commercial is aired, while you stream your favorite sitcom in a split screen. Win!
What are your thoughts?