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How Contests Help You Get Stuff Done

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So you’re just about ready to launch your startup and only have a few more things to cover, like, say, your logo design and maybe your calling card layout. Yes, it will be pretty simple to log in to Freelancer.com and post a project, get it done, and print it out. Or, you can post a contest instead.

Contests are opportunities to crowdsource projects. This lets you access a wider spectrum of ideas and insights. It promotes friendly competition among freelancers as well. In simpler terms, you get more options for about the same costs as hiring a freelancer for a project.

Contest by Uuncut
Contest by Adminize
Contest by Cups & Lids
Contest by SEVENTWONINESIX

At the same time, if you need ideas for that next big thing, why not ask 13 million people for their thoughts on just about anything and everything?

We asked some of our users who love hosting and joining contests and here’s what they had to say:

“Contests are great because you have a bit of creative freedom to really test your skills,” said Danny who just won a contest for making a logo.

“Contests allow me to get options at the fraction of the cost,” said Ervin, after asking designers to create a mockup of his website. He continued “Had I spent the same amount of money on just one freelancer, I wouldn’t have had the option of being able to draw from the best aspects of each of the entries.”

Host a contest here.

Living the Freelance Life: Keeping Track of Your Finances

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It can be quite easy to lose track of your finances when you’re a freelancer. You don’t get a fixed salary every month. Your income comes from multiple sources. You don’t have a company that automatically deducts taxes and contributes to various funds for you. You are your own accountant, business manager, and financial consultant. You have to watch over your money and do everything yourself.

All these things can make anyone want to sweep it all under the rug, but don’t let yourself get intimidated by the numbers. Take charge of your finances by creating your own financial game plan. The trick is to simply know exactly what you earn and break it down according to your needs and lifestyle. It will take some getting used to, but being able to manage the money you earn will make your freelance venture a truly worthwhile one. Here’s our hefty guide to finance for freelancers.

Take stock of your earnings.
As a freelancer, there will be times when you don’t know when you will be paid, how a check will come in, or where money will come from. Despite the uncertainty, you still need to take stock of your earnings. List down all your sources of income – regular jobs, if any, as well as the projected payments from upcoming projects. Having it all laid out in one place should give you an estimate of how much you earn every month. This will be the basis for all your financial plans.

Take precautions to ensure that you get paid.
Landing new gigs and waiting for the first paychecks can always put you on pins and needles when you’re a freelancer. How will the client pay you for the project? When will you get paid? Bank transfers are tricky to set up especially on an international level. Set up an account with Paypal, Skriller, or any other secure payment facility to make the payment process convenient for both you and your client.

It also helps to set up a milestone payment scheme with an employer before a project begins, since it lets you request advanced payment for the first stage of the project. This should help you avoid the risk of not getting paid after you’ve finished the entire project. Freelancer.com has a milestone payment feature that you’ll get a lot of use out of.

List down your expenses.
It’s hard to get into the habit of listing down everything you spend money on, but once you get the hang of it, it’s practically a walk in the park. Every time you pull money out of your wallet, just list it down. This habit will give you a clear picture of what exactly you’ve been spending your precious cash on.

Use a small notebook for this, or try expense tracker apps like Mint or Toshl. Are you spending too much on drinks after hours and pricey dinners? Are all those mid-afternoon coffee runs putting a strain on your budget? Is your sneaker addiction putting you in the red? You’ll soon realize just how much cash is coming out of your pockets.

Create a budget.
Once you know how much you’re earning and what your expenses are, you can create a budget that suits your lifestyle. Put in your basic needs first – groceries, rent/mortgage, utilities, transportation. Then plot in your other bills, such as insurance and credit card payments, along with your savings for the month. Allot money for the things you want – like a fund for that new gaming computer you’ve been wanting – only after you’ve set aside the required amounts for your obligations.

Having a set budget doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun though. If anything, a budget will show you exactly how much you can live it up without overspending until the next month rolls around. Being able to rest easy knowing that you’ve paid your bills will give you space to splurge a bit.

Track your hours.
Freelancer time is valuable time. When you’re being paid hourly for a project or job, take note of your work times. Each hour means money! Use apps like the Freelancer Desktop App to log your hours.

Pay your bills.
Bills are an unsavory but also completely necessary part life. Forgetting to pay them can wreak havoc on your budget, not to mention cause you a lot of inconvenience in the long run. If you’re the forgetful type, use services like Check – which alert you when everything is due – so you won’t ever miss a bill. Online banking helps as well. Not having to physically submit bill payments will save you a ton of time and effort.

Save for a rainy day.
The freelance industry can be very unpredictable – one day you have a project, the next you don’t – so prepare for a time when you might not have a job to fall back on. Try to have at least three to six months’ worth of earnings safely tucked away to live on in case you lose your job or encounter an emergency. It’s always best to be prepared for anything.

Open separate bank accounts.
Having multiple bank accounts may seem too much, but it will keep you from spending money you want to save for a rainy day. Put your savings into one account, your retirement fund in another, and you’ll find that it’s a lot easier for you to forget that you have money to spend.

Invest in your future.
Plan for the future and consider taking out insurance plans, such as health, disability, life, and automobile. Make it a point to set aside money for your retirement too because no one else will do it for you, and if you have extra money, invest in mutual funds or stocks to get the most out of your precious cash.

Make it a goal to be debt-free.
Believe it or not, some people actually lock their unopened credit card bills in a drawer, hoping it will all go away. It won’t. It’s best to deal with debt sooner rather than later. Try to pay a bit above minimum every time, and you’ll eventually get to the end of it.

Don’t forget your taxes.
Not having an employer to deduct your taxes automatically from your paycheck means you have to do your taxes yourself. Have a set schedule to work on it, and see if you can make quarterly payments so that they won’t feel as heavy as making a yearly one.

Keeping track of your finances and getting the most out of your earnings isn’t as complicated and tough as it looks. Just stick to your budget and live within your means. You’ll find that your hard-earned money can go a long way.

5 Brain Exercises to Practice on your Free Time

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Having the freedom to choose the time to work or take a break is a blessing for freelancers. More often than not, some actually find themselves lounging more than they usually would if they are working on a full-time, 8-hour shift. During these hours of idleness, you can still keep your brain active by doing simple brain exercises. Not only are these great pastimes, but these are also avenues for sharpening your memory, clarity, and alertness.

Below are five practices to train and exercise your brain:

  1. Playing mentally stimulating games – Completing Sudoku and crossword puzzles aren’t only mentally challenging but also fun. It is a nice companion to a hot cup of tea that will relax and prepare you for the next set of freelancing work. If you want to increase the difficulty level, set an astonishingly impossible deadline in solving a jigsaw puzzle. You will be surprised at the lengths your brain can reach when pushed to the limit.
  2. Telling stories – This can be a good way to start an engaging conversation that may bear fruit to exceptional ideas. Telling yourself stories can also be quite amusing when you’re alone (no matter how silly it sounds). Your stories can root from anything, but the best are those that lie deep in the crevices of your brain, waiting to be illuminated. Reminisce your most joyous moments and you may even find yourself inspired.
  3. Reading random articles – There is always a niche available for you to read lots about. Technology, fashion, current events, and travel websites are all over the Internet — you won’t run out of worthwhile articles to read. If you are the type who is a ‘read-all’ person, there’s ‘Wikipedia: Random’ for you. Stumbling on random articles allows you to learn something new everyday.
  4. Meditating – Meditation exercises the brain the same way as running exercises the body. During a meditative state, your brain strengthens its ability to focus, and substances that help you sleep and alleviate depression are released. Coupled with meditation are breathing exercises that increase the flow of oxygen in the body, which releases toxins during exhalations.
  5. Exercising – The most common yet very effective way of keeping your brain in tip-top shape is to keep your body healthy. The resulting increase in heart rate leads to better oxygen circulation and a release of hormones that provide a healthy environment for brain cell growth. If you are not keen on solving complicated puzzles or don’t feel comfortable talking to yourself, you can always rely on physical exercise. In general, what is beneficial to the heart works for the brain as well.

There are a lot more ways to exercise your brain, but these are the easiest to accomplish, especially if you are taking a short break from tedious computer work.

Tips for Designers: 5 Things to Consider When Creating a Logo

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A company logo speaks volumes about the history, values and identity of an enterprise. By influencing consumer perception, it can make or break a business or brand.

The process of designing a logo is one that you must approach with care. A logo must represent – in an accurate manner – the organization or brand it is for. It must be memorable and identifiable, which is why you must use the right approach when creating one. Here are five important points to keep in mind.

What the Organization or Brand Stands For
When designing a logo, it is very important to consider what the organization stands for. This means that you have to consider the type of business that it is supposed to represent, as well as its niche, if any. Products or services offered also deserve consideration.

The logo must represent the spirit of the business. If the company deals with sports equipment for instance, then the logo must be a representation of fitness. You could also have a symbol that consists of someone using the equipment the company sells. On the other hand, a logo that has an image of food will be a poor representation of what that particular business offers. Such a symbol would be more suited to a restaurant, food-delivery company, or any other food-related company.

An important factor in logo design is understanding the value offering and target audience of the organization or brand. Who are you talking to? What are you trying to say? Once you know the answers to these questions, put yourself in the shoes of your ideal consumer and tackle every part of the logo design process from their point of view. A successful logo will communicate the right message to the right person, in the right tone, at a sweeping glance.

Scalability
Any logo that you create must be scalable, no matter what size you intend to use for advertisement purposes. Design with the intention to make the logo as versatile as possible. Remember, this visual representation will be used on multiple mediums, including your website, stationery, business cards, advertising material and other company merchandise. A scalable logo is one that retains its original look and message, whether it is advertised in a large billboard or in the small print of a business card. Thus, moderate the level of detail, white spaces, complex gradients and other exciting elements to ensure that your logo is adaptable to different materials, sizes and mediums.

A logo that becomes distorted when it is either expanded or compressed is not a good choice. Such a logo will look bad when it is used to advertise the company through some types of media, which in turn will make a bad impression on the target audience.

Color Combination and Versatility
How versatile is your logo color combination? A logo design must look just as good in black and white, as it would in its original colors. The costs of printing logos are usually affected by the color choices that exist. Multiple colors cost more to print than black and white. This means that colors should be limited without compromising the overall impact of the logo.

Your logo design also needs to be made in such a way that the use of multiple colors during printing does not distort the symbols you have used. This means that faint outlines within your design should be avoided because they can cause multiple colors to blend.

The color palette that you opt for should also reflect the mood and impact that you want to achieve. Bold colors like yellow are a great way of showing that your company places emphasis on fun products and services. Darker colors like navy blue and black are an indication of stability.

Typeface
How your typeface appears will affect the impression that you make on your target audience. Different fonts have different styles, and these styles convey different messages. The typeface that you select will speak volumes about the nature of the business or brand by adding context to the graphic design elements in the logo.

Typefaces that are more modern would be a great option for your organization if your target audience is the youth. On the other hand, typefaces which are classic in nature would appeal more to a mature target audience. Doodle-like typefaces would be a wonderful option for a business, if the products or services were geared toward children. The choice of typeface really depends on the feel you are going for.

Uniqueness
It is easy to fall into the trap of short-term trends, but the last thing you should do is seek inspiration from what is popular right now. Fads will come and go, but a good logo is one which will last forever. In order to achieve this eternal quality, forget about what is popular in the design world and focus on drawing out the essence of your brand.

You must think differently and be unique. People will only remember what stands out from the rest of the crowd. Create something memorable that is easy to recall – the Nike tick, for instance. The last thing you want is to have a logo that will be mistaken for that of a competitor. The situation will be worse if the logo resembles that of an organization that is well-established. You may end up looking like a copycat, be sued for copyright infringement, and may end up needing to spend more money to source for another design.

Take the time to do your research. Check what other organizations similar to yours have. You can use their existing logos as inspiration, but your logo design must be distinguishable from theirs to prevent confusion among the people you’re targeting. Think outside the box to ensure that your products are always instantly recognizable even amidst the stiffest competition.

When you consider the factors listed above, you are sure to come up with a great logo. You can expect a cost-effective, scalable, and yet instantly recognizable one that makes a positive impression on your target market every time.

Ready to design? Start bidding on logo design jobs!

Desktop App: Where You Strengthen Employee-Employer Trust

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Freelancers rejoice! Did you know that the Freelancer desktop app can track hourly progress on your projects, help you earn more, and ultimately build employee-employer trust? Our data analysis from April to June 2014 shows that freelancers who logged in with the desktop app and used it to track their working hours earned an average of 88% more than those who didn’t. That’s because the desktop app can efficiently monitor your work and allow your employer to verify it. As a result, establishing trust between you and your employer is quick and simple!

How exactly can the desktop app help you earn more?
Once you log in to the desktop app, it takes note of the time you started working until the time you stopped — an effective strategy in monitoring your work milestones. You don’t have to deal with manual timekeeping anymore and just focus on your work. Therefore, you get a higher chance of turning over high quality output and impressing your employers more because you are able to concentrate on your tasks rather than keep tabs on your work hours.

DesktopApp
 

Aside from that, the desktop app takes a screenshot of your work in specific time intervals, which your employer can easily access. This is tangible proof of your work milestones and it shows them where you are with regard to meeting work expectations. It’s very important to meet your employer’s work expectations because that helps them realize your value, and in the process, you gain their trust.

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The desktop app can solve trust issues
Trust. The Oxford dictionary defines it as, “Firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” Lack or absence of trust may be one of the major issues that can arise in the freelancing world. It can be very difficult to trust an employee to do his or her work if you don’t have the right verification tools. With the element of face-to-face interaction gone, employers need to come up with a strategy that can help them monitor their employees’ output.

Good thing the desktop app can solve this problem! The screenshots bridge the proximity gap between employer and employee. It eliminates trust issues and provides an efficient venue for employee-employer convergence. When you log in on the desktop app, trust is not just established between you and your employer, but you get the opportunity to maintain it too. By using the app and building employee-employer trust, the chance or probability of getting repeat work increases, ergo, you can count on more future projects!

pvpdesktopapp
If you don’t have the desktop app yet, now is the perfect time to download it. Use it now to earn more money and build employee-employer trust! It is now available in Linux and was previously made available in Windows.

Living the Freelance Life: Avoiding Social Isolation

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Freelancing can be a lonely career path. When you’re a freelancer, you get jobs that are mostly autonomous. You don’t get to work in an office with people around. You rarely ever have meetings, and when you do, they’re usually held virtually. You don’t have access to an office water cooler or lunch room either, where people usually mingle around to exchange a word or two.

According to the 2012 Freelance Industry Report (which surveyed 1,491 freelancers in more than 50 different fields and professions), at least 2% of the respondents cited combating isolation as one of the challenges they face in freelancing. After all, it’s easy to find yourself isolated when you work alone, from home, and don’t have to deal with actual people to do your job.

When you feel the walls starting to close in, and you don’t know the sound of your own voice anymore, it’s time to find your way back to the outside world. Loneliness is not something to be taken lightly – it can bring your productivity down, make you lose interest in your job, and may even lead to more serious issues. Here’s how to avoid being lonely in this solitary profession.

Stick to a schedule. Having the utmost freedom and control over your own time is one of the great things about freelancing. However, it can also have you working on projects at all hours of the day and night. Set a time for work, and give yourself time to live after. Having a schedule will give you the space to be a part of the world – to touch base with people you care about, and, more importantly, yourself.

Remember to stay in touch. Just because you work virtually or from home doesn’t mean that you can’t stay in contact with your family and your real-life friends. Make the effort to stay in touch. Meet a friend for an afternoon coffee break. Have dinner with your parents or siblings once a week. Schedule regular date nights with your significant other. Go out and find new friends. Find people you already know on Freelancer and connect with them. It is tempting to stay cooped up in front of a computer day in and day out, but everyone needs human contact once in a while.

Consider co-working spaces. If you miss the feeling of working in an office, coworking spaces may be for you. These shared working spaces have sprouted all over, giving freelancers and road warriors the option to work on solo projects in an office setting, but with the company of kindred spirits. These places usually offer complete workspaces with computers, Internet, and even coffee, as well as the opportunity for social interaction and collaboration with like-minded people.

Make time for the fun stuff. After hours, give yourself a chance to unwind and relax. Take up a hobby or two. Read books. Cook up a storm. Play the guitar. Watch movies. Learn origami. Rediscover old interests and find new ones. Keep loneliness at bay by staying busy and having fun at the same time.

Go out and do things. Make it a point to venture out of the house from time to time. Work out at the gym. Window-shop at the mall. Sign up for a cooking class. Have a pint at the pub. A change of scenery can help awaken your senses and recharge your weary mind. If you’re getting tired of your house, pack up your laptop and work somewhere else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a library, a park, a café. If it helps you get work done, then it’s a good thing.

Freelance work doesn’t have to be lonely. Banish the blues with the right amount of activity, social interaction, and time management.

Tips for Writers: 5 No-Nonsense Ways to Deal with Writer’s Block

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Writer’s block is the bane of most wordsmiths. It afflicts those who put pen to paper, and frustrates even the most prolific of authors. It’s a condition that stops the flow of words and brings writing to a grinding halt.

When you’re a writer – especially one on a deadline – the sudden onset of writer’s block can easily cause a feeling of dread. An empty white screen or a blank piece of paper can mean all the difference between keeping a job and losing it. If you’re feeling that your well of ideas is starting to dry up, don’t panic. Here are some no-nonsense tips for dealing with writer’s block.

1. Just get started. Most times, writer’s block strikes right at the beginning of a project. Titles, headlines, leads, and introductions are often the hardest to figure out. Instead of getting derailed straightaway, skip to a part of the project that you already know. Start on the body and come back to the head later. The important thing is to get the gears turning.

2. Set a schedule. Writers have creative minds that don’t want to be tied down by things like timeframes and deadlines. Don’t let a set writing schedule intimidate you. It can actually help you nudge your brain into being productive by giving it a routine to go by.

In an interview with Neil Gaiman, Stephen King talked about how having an everyday writing schedule keeps him happy as a writer. “I sit down maybe at quarter past eight in the morning and I work until quarter to twelve and for that period of time, everything is real.   And then it just clicks off. I think I probably write about 1200 to 1500 words. It’s six pages. I want to get six pages into hardcopy,” he said.

3. Find the best writing conditions for you. Every writer is different. Some need peace and quiet to write, while some like to listen to loud rock music when typing up words. Find what works for you and stick to it. It doesn’t matter if you like writing in a comfortable nook, or you need a cup of tea to think. If it helps you write, do it.

Take a cue from JK Rowling, who wrote Harry Potter in a café. “It’s no secret that the best place to write, in my opinion, is in a café. You don’t have to make your own coffee, you don’t have to feel like you’re in solitary confinement and if you have writer’s block, you can get up and walk to the next café while giving your batteries time to recharge and brain time to think.”

4. Don’t let stumbling blocks defeat you. There are times when you’ve reached the middle of an article and a dilemma presents itself. Instead of getting discouraged and letting your project go to waste, look at it as a challenge. Find ways around the issue rather than force it aside. Be flexible. Sometimes, letting things take an unexpected turn could be the best thing to happen to your work.

5. Go easy on yourself. Don’t let insecurity get the best of you. Giving in to a bout of self-doubt can hinder the writing process. Just write what you feel like writing. When you’re done, that’s when you let your editor, or your client, or yourself snip, cut, and reword anything.

John Green deletes about 90% of his drafts. “I just give myself permission to suck,” he said.

Writer’s block can be a hurdle, but it’s not a curse. Use it as motivation to work even harder and make your writing even better. Neil Gaiman put it best when he said, “But it’s probably more honest to think of it as a combination of laziness, perfectionism and Getting Stuck. If you’re being lazy, don’t be. If you’re being a perfectionist, don’t be. And if you’re stuck, figure out where the story went off the rails, or what you got wrong, or where you need to go deeper, or what you need to add to make it work, and then start writing again.”

Ready to start writing? Check out Freelancer.com’s Writing & Content projects and show writer’s block who’s boss. 

Featured Freelancer Friday: Atif Shehzad

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Atif Shehzad (djdesign), right.

Name: Atif Shehzad
Freelancer Username: Djdesign
Location: Lalamusa, Pakistan
Member Since: 2007
Skills: Graphic design, SEO, Web design

ON FREELANCING:

Why did you decide to be a freelancer?

Freelancing exposes me to a bigger market, in just one platform! This is very convenient for me.

What are the things that make you happy as a freelancer?

Freelancer.com’s Milestone Payment is an excellent way of knowing if an employer or freelancer is serious, if they’re willing to use it. The terms and conditions help in proving if a freelancer has worked for an employer well. Lastly, I like the independence it gives me, with flexible working hours all year-round!

ON WORK ETHICS:

What’s your strategy in winning a bid for a project?

I bid only on projects that I am confident that I will be able to complete. As much as possible, I reply to all messages from clients as soon as possible, and I try to accommodate various types of employers by applying flexible working rates and hours.

What are the tools that you use at work that helps you finish a project or increase productivity?

I use several tools, including SharpReader, which informs me as soon as a new project is posted.

ON INSPIRATION:

Where do you get inspiration?

I get inspired thinking of how I started freelancing. My cousin’s friend used to work on Freelancer.com a couple of years back, and he recommended it to me. I tried it out, and after a few years, I left my job and have freelanced full-time!

If you could describe your freelancing experience in one word, what would it be?

Unbelievable!

AviationShake Set to Stir Up Aviation Recruitment Scene

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“Jay and I are both smitten with the industry,” says AviationShake co-founder Mike Beaton. “For us, it’s not just a job, it’s a life.” A pilot by profession, Mike and his partner Jay Markowiak, an account executive for an aircraft ground handling company, created an East-London startup that seeks to remedy some of the recruitment pitfalls in the industry by providing essential skills training for aviation graduates and professionals.

“It’s a fact that graduates from aviation management courses—both at the baccalaureate and masters level—have surprisingly little real-world knowledge of the industry,” Mike reveals. “We’re hoping to educate graduates on the realities of the industry, as seen at airports across the world today. ”

With AviationShake, the pair intends to prepare applicants by running workshops on writing CVs and managing interviews to improve their marketability and increase their chances of advancement. “Great candidates get lost in the noise. We’re hoping to give these people a better chance by teaching them how to market themselves properly, how to network within aviation, and how to conduct a fruitful job hunt after graduation.”

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“The name has all the right associations—we’re ‘shaking up’ aviation; we’re a path to getting that new job ‘handshake’; and we’re taking something relatively tried and tested and adding our own ingredients (kinda like a milkshake).”

To kick-start the venture, the company needed a visual identity that would make it stand out in the industry. Mike abandoned the idea of hiring the services of traditional providers. Although they considered it, it lacked the creative input they were looking for and many of the contracts limited them to only three to four designs based on their brief, with two to three revisions. “This didn’t suit us one little bit, seeing as we both consider our brand and image incredibly important. We wanted more options than this.”

And options they had—a full 213 of them—on Freelancer.com, the world’s most preferred outsourcing marketplace. Instead of doing a project posting, he staged a design contest. “We thought a contest would provide more valuable results for us than a simple job listing,” he says.

In the end, Satgraphic came up with the winning bird-and-airplane logo. “They came up with a concept that we were a personality-driven startup—which is exactly right—and then worked on extrapolating what our two personalities would look like in a graphical context.” He further adds that they liked the dynamism the design offers—the base design can be applied in various ways. “There was also this implied progression, which aviation goes through at some stage, from watching birds fly to being involved in large commercial jets. The levels on which this identity felt right are limitless—and we grow fonder of it every day.”

Going into this contest, Mike adhered to only two rules: every design gets feedback and feedback should be critical but supportive. When he first discovered the contest feature on Freelancer.com, he reviewed a fair number of the other contests to see if the quality of work was up to scratch. “I was amazed by the quality of work on display and realized very early in this process that we could really get what we wanted in this format, and the best way to ensure that was to be very involved from the outset,” he advises.

“Freelancer.com provided us with fantastic value for money and an excellent platform for our design contest. It is easy, exciting, and fruitful,” he concludes. “Without Freelancer.com, we almost certainly wouldn’t have the identity we now have, and we’d have paid a lot more for the privilege. I recommend the site to my peers who are looking for development or design work.”