Kickstarting a Freelancer/Collaboration Network

Kickstarting a Freelancer/Collaboration Network

I’ve been putting this off for months, putting out a call for people who do awesome work, so they can meet other people who value the same.

“I’m too busy to design the right program,” I hemmed.

“It needs to be just right, with a nice website,” I hawed.

Well, waiting is for chumps! I need to meet people now, as in yesterday.

Freelance Network Prerequisites

What I don’t like about most freelancing sites is that they’re oriented toward job listings and database searches. Boring! What I like to see is the actual work, and hear what people have to say about it. And then I like to know how to contact them, or refer them to someone else.

So the approach I’m thinking is that of an interviewer, both in the job sense and in the journalistic sense. For that, we need a kit of our work in a succinct form. Once the kit is available for review, I would then evaluate each kit from the perspective of how I see the value, and how I would use it. I would then write this perception—which should always be positive—as a note somewhere on my own “kit page”. The idea: by collaboratively creating and reviewing each other’s kits, we not only get to know people’s work, we also share how we can imagine using it under what circumstances. I think there’s something positive to note about everyone’s work.

Here’s the kit checklist:

  1. Pick three (3) pieces of your best creative work, code fragments, or what have you, that represents your professional best. They should be complete and self-contained source files and source code, if applicable. We are looking for a complete assessment, not a surface one.

  2. Write a few sentences about each of those pieces that describe: what you did, why you were doing it, what it was for, and how it performed in the field when other people actually started using it.

  3. Put all the pieces and text on a website where it can be downloaded by anyone.

  4. Provide some preferred means of contacting you.

The idea behind this is that people will hire based on what they can imagine being done on their behalf. To exercise that imagination, people need to see what you’ve done and draw their own conclusions. Guessing at what those conclusions might is a big part of marketing and self-promotion, but I know from experience that what people find interesting about your work is often something you never thought of. Here’s the review checklist:

  1. Contact the person who’s kit you’ve downloaded, and say that you’d like to do a quick IM, phone, or email kit review. Voice or face-to-face is better I think than text, but that’s just me.

  2. The goal of the kit review is to react honestly to things you like about the work and how you’d apply it in your own projects, while you are talking to the person. Hopefully you actually like the kit you’ve downloaded, so you will have good things to say. Since you’re looking at the source files too, assuming you’re familiar with its operation, you’ll also get a sense of how that person works. I can tell a lot about someone’s experience and level of expertise by looking at their work, personally. Most important is to listen to your gut: I like this. The person who’s kit you’ve downloaded will understand how their work is perceived by others, which is immeasurably valuable to someone just getting started or trying to crack the freelance market.

  3. After reviewing the kit, go to your own kit page and write up the kit review, with a link to the person’s kit page. Say what you specifically liked about it in a few words. Be honest. And only review people that you would consider working with yourself in the specified context.

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p>So that’s what I’m thinking of doing…I had hoped to have my website set up for it by now, but I thought I’d just prime the pump to see who was interested. I don’t even know what I’d put in my own kit page yet.

I’ll formalize this a little more later, but in the meantime feel free to comment or suggest other approaches.

18 Comments

  1. Jesse 13 years ago

    David,

    I love the idea – and it couldn’t come at a better time as I’m just formally starting my own freelance career. (Don’t even have the website done yet / can’t link to it. Damn!)

    I’ve noticed the same trends with the freelance sites (jobs and “101 Ways to blah blah blah” lists galore). It would be really cool to develop more of a community / peer group.

    Looking forward to the formalized details!

    -Jesse

    ——-

  2. Peter Flaschner 13 years ago

    Dave – great idea. I’m looking for a developer RIGHT NOW (well, I was until I decided I deserved a break and checked my feeds). Something along the lines of what you suggest would be brilliant. Where on earth are you going to find the time to manage this?

    I had a similar idea at sxsw 2 years ago. I envisioned a closed network that would be by invite and review only. Anyone could apply, but the work has to be of a certain high caliber.

    The core of my concept was a Taxi sign. Each member would indicate their availability using one of three criteria: available for hire, not available, and available soon. Members could then search within the membership and only see relevant results. Of course, a member could filter the search to show all.

    The key to making this work would be to make it as easy as possible to change one’s status. Ideas here include some way of changing it via email or IM, reminders that are sent a set period after a member has set his status, etc.

    I mentioned this to a couple of folks, all of whom seemed really enthusiastic.  Of course, I never got around to actually DOING anything about it, but would love to see it come to fruition.

  3. Dan Ott 13 years ago

    Dave – sounds like a great idea.  I think developers will really embrace it.  You’re right that job boards/databases are overdone and boring.  This sounds like something people can get behind because they want to, not just because they need to.  I’m looking forward to seeing more!

  4. Pete Holiday 13 years ago

    This is an amazing idea.

  5. y0mbo 13 years ago

    This is a great idea, Dave.  I was inspired by your last GHDR review and a post by Pamela Slim to really take it up a notch in the schemer/mentor/accountability department.  I find myself in a situation which may require me to move out of state… and there by leave all of my in-person network behind.  I was inspired by your goal to be mobile – I need the same thing.

    I really like the idea of the kit, but I’m curious how this would be possible with many developers like myself.  The code I write belongs, in its entirety, to the client for whom the work was done.  This makes it particularly difficult to secure copies of any of it for a kit.  (Shame on me for not having some things I’ve done on my own available, though).  I’m interested to hear the thoughts from others on how this could be done.

  6. Nick Lo 13 years ago

    Not to pooh-pooh the idea as I’d certainly pay attention to such a list but it sounds like you’re thinking of something like LinkedIn/Firmlist hybrid…

    http://www.firmlist.com/

    http://www.linkedin.com/

    …and the potential problems with those are numerous. For example you’d need to have a backend to allow entries to be kept up-to-date by the members. You’d need to have a decent way of categorising them. Would you focus on a certain area and if so where do you draw the lines? Anything with submission forms would be a spam magnet. Etc, etc…

    The other issue is that many of the current freelancer sites are not the place I’d expect to go to find quality perhaps because somehow most quality people are too busy to be looking for work via a freelancer site. Most have a hard enough job keeping their own sites up-to-date. The problem is how do you define and police your network to maintain the kind of ‘quality’ that it’s clear you’d expect to have?

    LinkedIn is fairly dry but it is perhaps that dryness that keeps it ‘professional’ …ergh, not comfortable with that generic term but you get the idea.

    I’m not saying it’s not a good idea as clearly there is a need for something like it but amazing ideas are two a penny on the internet. This is the kind of idea that sounds like you have a need, then do something, then find it’s a ton of work, then have to deal with it being abused and finally after several weeks you suddenly realise you’re doing more work trying to find a solution than the amount of work you started out with!

    All that said, why not? It’s the internet and if you want to build something there’s very little stopping you. Not even unpronounceable domain names!

  7. Mark 13 years ago

    I hope you’re planning on using microformats!

  8. Dave Seah 13 years ago

    Peter: Did we chat about this last year? I love the taxi sign idea with “available”, “unavailable”. Or perhaps I merely lust after having an actual sign I can turn on and off :-)

    Jesse, Dan, Pete: Glad this resonates with you…looking forward to hashing out the details!

    y0mbo: Awesome! I’m not familiar with Pamela Slim, will have to check her out! Regarding the “owned by clients” part: this is where it gets interesting. If you can excerpt a wholly-self contained element (for me, I am thinking of excerpting some classes I wrote for Flash), that may be good enough. The idea really is to have a deployable, self-contained portfolio piece that shows the inner rigging, if you will, so other freelancers can evaluate your work. They’re experts, like you. There are other ramifications here for knowledge sharing and also fixing the problem of dealing with inexperienced developers/designers by promoting excellent THROUGH EXAMPLE, not merely by words…the full explanation will take more space than I should use here :-)

    Nick: Heh, I appreciate your dry web developer perspective, though to quote Mythbusters: “I reject your reality, and substitute my own” :-)

    You presume a few things: that what I am proposing is a “better resource listing site”, and that value comes from good implementation and dealing with all the headaches that go into developing a first-class website with a really solid database schema and community policing mechanism built-in. Well, that’s tired Web 2.0 thinking. I’m thinking Web 0.0: rely on individual networking, and dispense with the automated tool-building mentality (at least initially). What matters in any website or resource listing is the high-density of quality information. If it’s a list of three quality things, that’s high density. If it’s 1000 things and 2 of them are good, that’s not high density. So quality is not a result of having scope (firmlist) or volume (linkedin). Those two metrics are indirect attempts at capturing the magic because the marketers and the engineers don’t really know what’s really important to people like us.

    The kind of list that is important to me is this: the list of three names backed by strong personal references I trust. This is about content, not structure. This is a mistake that developer-oriented types make all the time. What I am proposing is a methodology that emphasizes building the entities (the so-called kit) that enable these lists to be built in a way that’s easy to participate in, and at the same time relies on individual reviewers to provide their own standards of review. So long everyone is SHOWING their own standards of review, assessment will be clear. But I’ll have to explain this is more detail later.

  9. Nick Lo 13 years ago

    Ha, thanks Dave, somehow I quite like being called a “dry web developer” though I like to think of it more as not taking the whole thing more seriously than it really is. Applying that to my previous comments I should mention that while I’m on those sites, I really don’t use them. I think fundamentally they rob you of personality by, as you say, fitting you into a (their) structure. Also for reasons probably due, in part, to having to maintain their own integrity, too many try to control your interaction which somewhat devalues them.

    I’d like to suggest you ask readers to comment on the ways they like to participate in things like this. Amongst my own preferences would be the kind of interaction you get in good mailing lists and to a lesser degree forums. In these environments you can gauge the skill and personality of a person without even needing to interact with them. In many ways they can be more like the way we work together …you have a problem for which you bash out solutions and the proof of a persons skill cannot hide behind some resumé/showreel/portfolio nor can their personality.

    Saying all that I actually liked your attack on my comparison and it was presumptuous to even make it based on the outline you gave. As some justification though, I think what I meant to say is that I don’t really think those solutions are solutions. Or in fairness …they aren’t for me. Perhaps it’s because they don’t replicate what we need. Firmlist replicates the find, Linkedin the connect, when what we would value most is to somehow simulate working with someone to see whether you like what they do and how they do it.

    Finally, am I rambling or what?

  10. Dave Seah 13 years ago

    Nick: I’m glad you took “dry” the way I was thinking but not explaining, like “dry British humor” :-)

    I think it’s a good idea to ask readers how they like to participate in something like this, and I think it’s also a lot easier sometimes for people to REACT to a proposal than to synthesize one, so I tossed out my own idea of it. I’m not so much interested in creating the broadest appeal for the most people…I really want to create something that works for me.

    I’m 100% with you on the observational context…like how someone writes on a board, etc. For me, I know I like to work with people who are expressive and passionate communicators. Sometimes that doesn’t come out in text, so having alternate ways of seeing how they tick is really helpful. I had done an experiment a while ago starting a World of Warcraft networking guild for just this reason, and the handful of people that I’ve met through that I’ve ended up referring work to. Once you’ve quested together, you have a much better idea of the kind of person they are :-)

  11. Corrie 13 years ago

    My first gut reaction was: “Yeah! Count me in!”

    My second reaction was: “Uh… I don’t have time to make a cool kit!”

    So—since I’m a bit maxed out right now, I should probably wait for a “slow season” to participate. :) Which is probably when the networking capabilities would come in handy, anyway!

  12. y0mbo 13 years ago

    Dave,
    Pamela has a great blog called Escape from Cubicle Nation.  The article to which I’m referring is this one http://tinyurl.com/2rmlg6.

    and the tip to which I was referring was Tip #4 – Work with a mastermind buddy. It reminded me very much of your schemer post (http://davidseah.com/archives/2007/04/25/scheming-vs-collaborating/).

    What I like about this collaboration network is that it provides a more active skin-in-the-game activity than a forum/linkedin would. I use LinkedIn to maintain personal contacts I have, but it hasn’t generated any leads for me so far (at least, not through its interface directly).

    The idea of a forum as a place to build bonds with others is a good idea, provided the place doesn’t get too big.  I’m a lurker in general, absorbing information and occasionally posting, but the problem with places that get too big is just keeping up with the information becomes too difficult.  I have tried to find places to contribute where I don’t feel lost in a sea of other users.  I liked the PIE forum, especially a requirement for entry, but it never seemed to catch on.  I checked out the WoW forum, but since I’m not a gamer I didn’t feel the same connection.

    What I see as a strength to the kit review concept is the phone call. Its one thing to add someone as a LinkedIn connection, or to post a few comments, but getting to know a person over the phone has some very powerful connective ability.  As you mentioned, doing an “interview” tells you much more about a person than a portfolio alone.

    I could see using a network graph where relations to people is based on a number of factors: Have worked with (peer), have worked for, have hired, reviewed, know personally… these could define the “connectiveness” between two freelancers in the cloud.  Then a rating of their work could be weighted based on these factors.

    I’d also mention that I like the taxi sign idea… especially if it reminds me regularly to update my status in an easy manner.

  13. Katrina 13 years ago

    Hi Dave!

    I like the idea, but I am not sure how I would participate or use such a system.

    I retired early from my job as an internet architect at Verizon.  Now I operate a web design and event management company part time—Amber Eyes.  I code in perl, php, css and dhtml, as well as develop most of my own graphic designs.  I would love to technically collaborate with someone. The problem, however, is that my primary focus is leading a spiritual community, school and public ritual group as well as working on my finishing my first book.

    My work does not generate much money at the moment since most of my clients are friends and colleagues.  But I would love for that to change.  I have standardized on Drupal for web design, but most of my event mgmt engine is written in perl.

    My concern is, since I have other priorities, that I will not be able to commit the time nor have sufficient time to assist others or be able to make use of any assistance that may become available for me.

    I have even resisted the urge to help out local non-profits who advertise that they need help with drupal because I am not sure I can commit the time that is needed.

    And yet, I would love to work with someone else, to improve my craft and hopefully help someone else to do the same.  I crave feedback from folks who grok this type of work.

    It is both frustrating and desirable at the same time.

    I am not looking for you to solve this problem, but I just wanted you to know how much this type of collaboration is needed by folks like me.

    If you start up such a network, I would probably lurk.  Cuz at the moment, I am just not sure how I could participate.  …sigh…

  14. Dave Seah 13 years ago

    Corrie: When the time comes, you will know it! Plus, you’re already in because you’re a fellow productivista, so kick back and relax :-)

    y0mbo: Wow, great comment. I’m thinking of something even simpler: listing freelancers who’s kits you admire or like, and have reviewed, adding your own take on it. The power behind this relatively simple action is really the foundation of referral-based networking, I think…more on that when I get some time to write this up.

    Katrina: networking for lurkers? :-) On the surface it doesn’t seem like that’s possible, but I think you’re describing getting the kind of 1-to-1 relationships and craft improvement from the time resources that you can commit. And that might be just reading and being inspired.

    I think the nut to crack here is how to transform lurking into more than just a “take take take” activity. That’s what lurking is to the casual observer, though lurkers are also what helps spread ideas into places the original source does not reach directly. This occurs through forwarding of links, casual mentions over lunch, and so forth. That’s hugely important.

    I think the aspect that would be most interesting to a lurker is the kit. You may not provide your own, but others will provide their working, self-contained source code not only as proof of their expertise and working knowledge, but as examples to those who want to work at that level. This kind of information is VERY hard to come by when you’re just getting started out. “How do pros set up their Photoshop layers?” and “How long does it take to do this” are the kinds of questions I’m talking about. It’s possible, I suppose, that someone will turn around and reuse those files and techniques to better themselves, but I think one understanding that kit-builders will have is that yeah, this might happen, but as a kit-builder you should already be confident that someone basing their work off of yours does not diminish you in any way. The payoff for recognition is, I think, likely to be greater.

    Thanks for sharing that thought, Katrina…I think you’ve spoken openly and honestly for a great many people, and I appreciate that!

  15. y0mbo 13 years ago

    Do you see this as a closed network, or open for potential clients to view kits and ratings as well?  I think in this case you would see many more lurkers as they seek out qualified freelancers.

  16. Dave Seah 13 years ago

    Open network. Join by providing a kit. Value of your kit is measured by number of other network members who have commented on positive aspects of it (kitbashing is discouraged…let the work speak for itself to people who actually want to pay for it). Lurkers of the paying type are actually encouraged :-)

  17. Mirta 13 years ago

    Great idea – my thinking has been on the same line: a couple of weeks ago I have started compiling my own marketing – consulting – design kits, as well as brainstorming for specs regarding potential joint projects or assistance at others.

  18. Roy Blumenthal 13 years ago

    Hiya folks…

    Groovy idea. I think, in essence, Dave, that your idea is simple… excellent peers reviewing one another’s work for excellence.

    There’s a good mechanism to leapfrog off.

    Francis Ford Coppola’s zoetrope.com (I hope this link works) has a similar peer review basis.

    There, if I want to submit my screenplay (read: ‘Freelance Marketing Kit’), I need to give detailed, valuable commentary to five other screenplays first.

    More than this, the people who’s screenplays I’ve reviewed are able to rate me as a reviewer. One star means I suck. Five stars means I’m an excellent reviewer.

    At the end of the day, screenplays that are brilliant rise to the top of the pile. As do reviewers who are brilliant. Which means that the open source ethos of the place is rewarded. The more ‘good’ one does by reviewing the work of others, the more noticeable one becomes, and the more likely one’s work is to be looked at.

    Zoetrope.com is a semi-closed system. It’s at least three things… a workshop for screenwriters, a workshop for script readers, and a hiring ground for Coppola (and his network of producers, who are all active in the community).

    Blue skies
    love
    Roy