Before turning our attention to freelancing, my colleague Cameron and I had a desire to create an educational site for marketers. Interestingly, our journey took an unexpected turn and channelled us down a very different path.
It was almost an accident when we discovered that two of our most viral articles were associated with my experience of hiring freelancers on oDesk. The more significant the response was, the more we wanted to share and disseminate our knowledge to help potentially millions of self-employed individuals build their ideal lifestyle from freelancing.
We decided to pivot and focus exclusively on educating freelancers, the pioneers of the future. In the process, we not only shared our knowledge, but applied it—we used a team of freelancers in four different countries to create and promote the content. The result? Three months later, we have published an eBook and have garnered more than 1,000 subscribers.
For anyone considering writing an eBook or building their own thought leadership brand, here are the exact steps we went through:
- Write articles to establish credibility and cultivate a community. While we were preparing interviews to create interesting educational courses, Cameron noted that we could also use this material to write articles for a blog and slowly establish a small community. I decided to write about what I had personal experience with—internet marketing and freelancing—and people began to pay attention.
- Spread the articles on social media to gauge interest. We quickly discovered that the articles about freelancing were far more popular on social media than the articles about digital marketing. For instance, an article called “Top 7 Cover Letter Mistakes That Cost Freelancers Work” had close to 100 social shares, which validated that we hit on a topic that people cared about. We also created a Facebook page to share our content with our community; it has reached almost 1,000 likes in two months!
- Interact with readers. This was a very interesting experience. As we wrote and published the material—in particular on the oDesk LinkedIn group—we got feedback from freelancers on what they liked and what additional challenges we should address. We even had a few conversations with oDesk staff (who were open to us sharing our content on their forum) and that also gave us ideas for other content to write.
- Look for commonalities in high-performing content. Looking for patterns in content that resonated with our audience not only helped us discover a niche, but it also allowed us to home in on particular areas that we could create a book around. From what we learned from our site’s analytics, there seemed to be a need for more detailed guidance on how to increase freelancer earnings on oDesk. From that, the eBook “7 Steps To Making Money on oDesk” was born.
- Write a raw manuscript. Although neither of us had a writing background, I had attended a seminar on writing for publication. From that, I learned how to use structure to repeat the same message multiple times in different ways—not only does this make it easier for readers to understand the key points, but it also makes for faster writing. Because of that, the draft of the entire book was written in less than two weeks while traveling between appointments on public transportation.
- Outsource to an editor for clean-up. Cheryl Humphreys is an experienced editor on oDesk from the UK whom I had worked with before on other assignments. She too understood the value of getting things done quickly and efficiently; however, unlike me, she had incredible attention to detail. She looked over the manuscript, identified what could be improved, added a few images, and sent it back.
- Outsource to a designer to make it pretty. I had found an amazing all-around ‘techy’ (as we say in Australia) on oDesk named Alex, who was from Romania. We sent him the manuscript and a few guidelines and asked him to put it together in a neatly presented package using nice graphics we found from a template on GraphicRiver. He took us up on the challenge and responded with a bespoke design that not only looked great but worked well with the overall theme of our website.
- Create a landing page. Cameron put together a landing page through unbounce.com. It was a simple template, and he was scrappy enough to do it on the cheap (connections at unbounce + Cameron’s smooth talking = discount on the software). He also used GraphicRiver to source an image for the book mockup that matched the original cover design. The landing page looked the part and was ready to be promoted.
- Share the landing page with an audience to get feedback. At this point many freelancers had contacted us for feedback on their oDesk profiles and, as we had given them our advice, we had a bit of goodwill to cash in on asking for landing page feedback. Most people were happy—and even a little excited—about what they saw in the eBook, so we took that as a sign we had created something they genuinely derive value from.
- Drive traffic. To test if the book was popular, we targeted people in India and the Philippines who liked the oDesk page on Facebook. Our click-through rate was around 3%, and our conversion rate was more than 55%. Additionally, whenever there was an issue with the eBook delivery, some freelancers went out of their way to contact us personally and ask for a copy of the book. After a few weeks of driving traffic we had more than 1,400 unique downloads.
Since writing the eBook, we have started working with the oDesk marketing team to provide educational content for oDesk freelancers. We look forward to continuing to support freelancer success, but we are also excited to help businesses become better clients as well. Both parties need each other, and better education for both sides will lead to better outcomes, higher quality of work and more freelance prosperity. Stay tuned!