July 16, 2009, 3:21 PM — More people are finding the path to gainful employment to be no further than their spare room at home, and today, it's not quite so unconventional as it once was. In fact, it's gained a lot of momentum, and has become a realistic career path that can be very profitable.
In fact, the recession doesn’t seem to have hurt small businesspeople at all who have taken advantage of Web 2.0 technology and B2B marketplaces to carve their own niche into the growing service industry. This was the case for iPhone developer Nick Dalton, who has built a solid business for himself ever since the very first day the iPhone SDK became available.
Nick had already written a book about the iPhone, called “101 iPhone Tips and Tricks,” which came out even before programming for the iPhone was possible. “When Apple announced the official SDK, that same day, the phone started ringing, and people were asking, ‘hey, can you build an iPhone app for us?’ And as I was downloading the SDK in the background, I said, ‘sure.’” And it started just that simply, with no marketing other than word of mouth.
But of course, when transforming tech skills into a small business or a one-person consultancy, word of mouth only goes so far. “I started to look at how to tell the world about this, so I created profiles on Elance, Rentacoder, and Guru.com,” said Nick. That was in March of last year, and today, Nick’s business has grown from being one man and a computer, to a group of ten iPhone developers—all of which keep very busy.
The availability of the B2B sites has made a huge difference for people like Nick. Although each board has its own strengths, for Nick, Elance has provided the biggest market, since the global board took an early role in cultivating the market specifically for iPhone developers.
Going from employee to independent isn’t for everybody, and Nick is the first to admit that it’s a lot of work, and takes a decidedly different approach. “You feel more driven,” said Nick. “And Elance adds another layer to this. Elance is a true global marketplace. I’ve had clients from all over the world, on every continent—but the number of clients that I’ve actually met face-to-face is less than five. That is challenging.” The traditional corporate modus operandi of constant meetings, and everybody working in the same building no longer applies—and in many ways, is less efficient.
Working in virtual isolation, communicating with clients only over the Internet and telephone, takes a lot to get used to, and it requires a different type of approach. As is the case with any business, you still have to develop a relationship, or a rapport with your clients—but doing that remotely calls for a different style of communication. It can be done though, and Nick has built a strong rapport with his clients over the past year, even though he has never met most of them.
Nick’s advice to people who want to go the independent route is to “research your market carefully.” Many people don’t realize that Elance and other B2B marketplaces are global in nature, and the competition is fierce in every category. “When you post your skills, you’re competing with people from Russia and India, and you have to find a niche where your skills are correctly valued.” His second piece of advice is to “take extremely good care of your customers. Go above and beyond to make them happy, so they write positive things about you. Your online reputation is your marketing. Business cards and brochures don’t matter in this world.”