Outsourcing & Crowdsourcing

A little over a decade ago, crowdsourcing didn’t exist. It wasn’t until two college kids decided to start an online, weekly t-shirt design contest that this idea broke into an ongoing business model. Threadless did a little over $30 million last year and they sell around 120,000 tees a month. Professors now teach their crowdsourcing methods at Harvard—not bad for two college dropouts. Currently, the company opens itself up to all sorts of graphic designers and artists and allows each to submit works to be voted on by an online community of fellow artists and designers. T-shirts that win receive a cool two grand and a $500 gift card to the company, which will score free t-shirts, laptop cases, backpacks and iPhone cases designed by those in the Threadless community.


Many successful business models use a form of crowdsourcing or outsourcing to produce phenomenal results from professionals around the globe. Essentially, crowdsourcing involves subcontracting single tasks to an undefined community, which is slightly different from outsourcing, where employers will send similar tasks to a group of professionals in a particular field. Soloprenuers, 9-5ers, and small business owners alike can use these two methods to increase productivity in order to not only become more efficient, but more effective. Websites like Elance, Freelancer, Odesk, crowdSPRING, 99designs and Fiverr provide an array of eager experts that can help companies and individuals complete projects, articles and designs for a fraction of the cost and time. Read More

9-5 Job?

After graduating college, most people begin looking for a normal 9-5 job with benefits and an office. For an actor, writers, video producers and graphic artists, jobs are difficult to find unless the person is searching in a large city like Chicago, Los Angeles or New York. Even then, most of us are relegated to only the über-flexible temp jobs and hospitality. Looking in the normal places for employment, like Monster and Craig’s List, is like looking down into an empty well for nourishment while everyone around you seems to be sipping on Mai Tais. The key for these creative-types is searching for work in freelance. Websites like Elance, Odesk and Freelancer have an endless supply of hundreds of jobs in several categories. Finally, creative jobs have their own oasis. Read More

Each voiceover demo CD was painstakingly burned on my MacBook Pro and carefully labeled with my collage of Buenos Aires’ Recoleta rooftops at dusk using an at-home labeling kit purchased from Office Depot. I lovingly placed each of the 50 disks in a slim jewel case, inserted a calling card, stuffed each one into a post-consumer recycled newsprint envelope (to prove how green I was despite the 1,000 years the enclosed CD would take to disintegrate) and pasted on a mailing label, “Attn: New Talent”. For the top 10 Chicago agencies, I even went so far as to include a cream-colored notecard, hopefully handwritten in cursive, no less. To the 25 or so agencies who would accept digital submissions, I emailed my demo.

After years of classes, private coaching, countless hours of practice and a few thousand dollars invested, all I could do was sit back and impatiently wait for the offers to roll in. Only, they didn’t. In fact, I didn’t hear a single word beyond “Return to Sender” for an entire month. Finally, a call from one of the digital submissions, Acme Talent. They had a “puppy mill” reputation, but hey, I was thrilled that someone, anyone, had called.

To the initial interview, Ms. Acme instructed I bring 20 voiceover demos and a headshot, not to the West Town address on the website, but rather, to a temporary location in Humboldt Park. Upon arrival, I was thrown off a bit because I had come, not to a professional building, but to a residence. Did I write down the wrong address? Were masked men waiting to beat me up and rob me? Despite my doubts, my desire for a voiceover agent was even greater, so I rang the bell. After several moments my fear dissolved when a sweet grandma-like voice answered, “Acme Talent” and buzzed me in. I should have left when I had the chance.

I entered into a small sitting area with an old green leather couch and a mustard-yellow wall full of more headshots than I cared to count. The room opened to a kitchen blocked by a knee-high safety gate from the long hallway beyond. The musty stench of urine filled the air and its sources could be heard barking somewhere in a closed-up back room. I was greeted by an elderly gentlemen in a bathrobe as he shuffled into the kitchen. He poured himself a cup of coffee and invited me to take a seat and wait until I was called. I sat and began studying the abundance of below-average headshots on the wall. The dogs continued to bark and I waited to be called. Called to what, I could only imagine.

After nearly 30 minutes of fighting the urge to simply stand up and leave, an elderly woman came into view. In the same grandma voice from the intercom, she informed me that the agency owner, her daughter, was sick she would be meeting with me instead. Past the doggie gate and into a small bedroom-office in the back of the house we went. Upon review of my demo and headshot, she asked me to read an excerpt from (the tragically relevant) Death of a Salesman aloud, which was recorded on hand held tape recorder. “We will represent you.”, she said and proceeded to reveal the fee schedule. It involved several hundred for demo and headshot reproduction, fees to have my demo, resume and headshot posted on the website and fees for the company to recoup marketing costs. I thanked her for her time, said I would inform her of my decision soon and took my leave.

Now, at this point logic would dictate that this is not a legitimate talent agency. Everything I had read advised against paying someone for representation. Not to mention the other obvious issues with the place. But then, when has a starving artist, living “You, Me and Dupree-style” in the spare room of his married friends’ place, ever been logical? I wanted an agent, damn-it! So, later that week I called the owner to discuss the fees associated with representation. I told Mrs. Acme that I would handle my own headshot and demo reproduction and that, while I desired a web presence with them, I did not have the budget to pay for it. “No problem”, she said,”we’ll post your profile and take the fees from your first job.” What did I have to lose?

In all, I must have sent a dozen follow-up emails containing my demo and resume to the web designer’s Yahoo address. Not a single response. The only response that came from Mrs. Acme was, “The web designer’s mom is in the hospital… indefinitely.” It was obvious that without my money in hand, there was no motivation to add me to their site. I finally gave up when I called two month’s later to find the number disconnected and website down. Maybe Mrs. Acme decided to open a doggie daycare funded by would-be talent’s broken dreams?

Feeling hopeless after the first agent experience and with no word from any other agency, I decide to take a break from my “big break” into voiceover work and go down to Costa Rica for awhile. After a month of giving kayak and snorkeling tours at a hotel in Papagayo, I was refreshed. It was time to give it another go. Inspired by an expat travel-writer I met, I tried a different tactic – freelancing.

Today the Acme Talent ordeal is but a distant memory and I generate a steady income from voiceover work. Oh, and remember those 50 demos I sent out? It seems that at least one agency liked it and kept it for almost a year before there was an opening in the roster. My agent now sends me out on regular auditions. There are no fees unless I book, no handheld recorders, no bathrobes. There is, however, a farting dog. We like him well enough though.

Dedicated and many thanks to J&A.

Unique Business Stationary

Check out this simple low-fat protein-packed spinach & lentil salad!

This salad has tons of antioxidants, protein, calcium & iron.  It’s low in fat and sodium.  Here’s how I made it…

  • Lay down a bed of iron rich baby spinach (approx. 6oz)
  • Top with cubed fresh mozzarella, halved grape tomatoes and avocado slices
  • Add previously cooked and chilled lentils (approx. 3.5oz)
  • Drizzle with your favorite vinaigrette (today I used a Briannas Champagne Caper Vinaigrette)
  • Finish with cracked pepper and sea salt

TIP: Check out Trader Joe’s refrigerated section for convenient pre-cooked low-sodium lentils that taste great warm or cold!

Go Daddy Deal of the Week: Get 20% off your order! Offer expires 7/17/12

When I was a kid, I mistakenly related vacations to holidays. We were brought up thinking that a vacation is a once-a-year luxury where nothing is too expensive as long as it wraps itself up within a week. Every summer, families attend these weeklong, holiday-like experiences together and blow the same amount of money despite which location they pick to experience that year. Years later, and after attempting a mock “vacation” or two on my own, I realized this doesn’t have to be the norm. The vacation model doesn’t need torevolve around Clark Griswold strapping suitcase to a rooftop one week in July. The model was evolving and it was time I evolved with it.

Websites like Craig’s List, AirBnB, WorkAway and CouchSurfing have literally changed the game when it comes to affordable travel on a “miro-budget.” For those who still picture themselves spending far too much on travel arrangements or can’t find a group of friends to go with, these websites offer new options for travel. If you don’t have a vehicle or simply don’t want to pay the current gas prices, Craig’s List offers another option. Under the “Community” section in each city, the website provides a category known as “RideShare.” Single-handedly, this service brings people together who wish to travel to the same location on the same day. Unlike trying to find a ride within a group of friends, RideShare allows travelers to find those who already plan to make the trip for a fraction of the cost. Nothing is out of reach in terms of distance or discount. A friend of mine recently made a five-hour haul for $25, which would have cost up to $200 to in gas for his SUV and even more for a plane ticket.

Before we dive too far into the deep end of this new world of travel, let’s address your doubts while we’re still standing on the diving board. This is somewhat equivalent to an online version of hitchhiking. However, rather than sticking a thumb out to any passer-by, users are allowed to use their wits and communicate through e-mail before sealing any deals. RideShare works one of two ways:  users either need a ride or offer a ride, and both should be examined. After finding someone with the same date and an ideal price range, consider asking a few questions via email before getting into the car or opening up the passenger seat. Some people understandable want to meet beforehand or even check an I.D. before allowing anyone into the car. Personally, I’ve never heard of any bad situations other than the occasional awkward moment but I’m also a guy and know that most RideShare gals travel with a friend whenever possible. Whatever the process, it still brings like-minded people together and those who travel understand that slight risk and large rewards walk hand in hand to make unforgettable experiences.

Most people who at least spend a few semesters in college understand the unwritten rules of instant friends in certain scenarios but many still have their reservations on the subject. Craig’s List’s “Sublets/Temporary” allow for people to find affordable and temporary residencies at a discount. Imagine spending a month in Hawaii for under a grand in housing. These websites offer the possibility. Rather than just being a renter, it’s also possible to be a temporary landlord. For instance, I rented out my furnished Chicago loft and used the excess to fund my first month in Argentina as I rented a fully furnished luxury apartment in the posh Recoletta neighborhood for only $800 through a broker—a good deal by Chicago standards. I quickly learned that I could rent a nice room from a fútbol-loving chef/sommelier in vibrant San Telmo (birthplace of Tango) for $100/week. It was there I met other international travelers who introduced me to micro-budget travel.

Now it does get more complicated once you leave the U.S. but the options are readily available. Workaway.net is similar to the other sites but often offers a chance to really dive into the culture. On this website, travellers can volunteer with a family or small organization and really get to know the area or master a foreign language. This option is for travellers who really like to lend to a hand. It’s a good idea to research customs and understand traditions of the area you plan to visit. It takes a lot for people to open up their homes, so respect this gift and plan to return the favor. It isn’t a hostel; it’s an exchange. Plan to volunteer a few hours of your time in exchange for a place to stay. In Costa Rica, I managed to align myself with a lovely local guide who drove me from San Jose to Arenal to Gulfo de Papagayo. Here, she helped me get a job leading snorkeling & kayaking tours at a resort in exchange for three square meals and a bed.  I even got to visit the mangroves, active volcanos, zipline through the rainforest and went surfing in Tamarindo all on the hotel’s dime.  And what I made in tips covered my flight, so it was a cost-neutral month.

Airbnb is an online service that links people planning to take a vacation with private citizens who offer rooms to rent. Much cheaper than getting a hotel room, the website has been up since 2007 and provides over 200,000 listings that include apartments, boats, tree houses, tipis, igloos, private islands, single rooms, manors and even castles. I’ve never stayed in a castle but once you get the hang of this, you’ll find that travelers know how to save money and bartering didn’t go out with paper currencies. CouchSurfing.org is as easy to sign up with as Facebook and has been featured in Time, Forbes, The New York Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker and on NPR. The website began in San Francisco and offers social networking and hospitality exchange. Whether you’re looking for a place to “crash” or for friends in a new city, this is a great website to meet real, interesting people and bunk for free. It’s as easy as using a search engine to find a place to stay. Security wise, the website insists on personal references, credit card verification and a personal vouching system so users know the trip will be safe. After time, users can expand their profile and link up with like-minded travelers to exchange stories or meet up in new places.

For those on a budget or anyone who wants to travel semi-professionally for less, forget the hotels and timeshare options. Learn how to pack light and sum yourself up in an email while simultaneously learning to read someone else through an email. The options are listed online in the hundreds and with micro-budgeting and the willingness to think out of the norm. I’ve made lifelong friends in Argentina, Costa Rica, Brazil, Aruba, the European Union, Israel and Australia that provide open invitations to return. It can be somewhat daunting and uncomfortable on occasion but the friends are well worth it. Not to mention, I’ve saved tens of thousands of dollars, which allowed me to go on more trips, more often. Anyone can experience the new model for traveling without having to countdown fifty-one weeks to pull out dusty, bulky suitcases to strap on the minivan.