Jennifer Lacroix doesn't like sales and marketing all that much. But as the president of KMV Advertising, a Sausalito, California-based media consulting firm, if Lacroix doesn't market her company, she can't make the sale.
And that was the Catch 22-until she joined Guru.com, an online marketplace for independent professionals, last year. She posted her credentials, and now she bids on applicable projects that come along. She's since joined five such sites. Today, she says, easily half of her business comes directly from clients she's found by way of these sites-without her having to do any other sales and marketing.
"Between [the sites] and word-of-mouth, I haven't done any marketing," says Lacroix, who doesn't network, attend chamber events or answer wants ads. "It's such a lazy way to market yourself, but it's been really effective."
By some estimates, 25 million Americans work for themselves, says Dan Pink, writer and creator of Free Agent Nation, an information and community Web site for "free agents." But that doesn't mean they like looking for work. That's where sites like Guru, Crimson Consulting, FreeAgent.com, eLance.com, eWwork.com, smarterwork.com and eWanted.com come in. Employers and companies looking for help on projects post specific jobs, and in many cases, independent professionals like Lacroix reply with a bid for the project. The professionals can also post their own credentials, so a company can scan the listings and find the talent they need without posting assignments.
And these aren't small-time projects. Ants.com, based in Santa Barbara, California, has 70,000 "ants"-a.k.a. homebased or small business professionals-bidding on programming, marketing and design projects that average $10,000 each, says Rick Davis, Ants' president and CEO.
In most cases, companies are charged a fee to post a job, but professionals can post and bid for free. Guru charges $50 for a company to post an assignment; Ants.com takes a 5-percent commission on the transaction.
The fee-based model has worked well for Guru since the site debuted in July, 1999, says Greg Terk of the San Francisco-based company. To date, the site has signed up 50,000 hiring companies and some 400,000 "gurus," with about 5,000 independent professionals joining each week, he says. "What that means for the guru is that there are going to be lots of gigs and lots of people searching for them," Terk says. "First and foremost, gurus want gigs. We're providing them that access."
And the sites offer more than new business leads. Lacroix has surfed Guru for tax and accounting insights, for example. FreeAgent.com (for which the author of this article writes a lifestyle column) and other such sites provide information and tips for homebased professionals.
But for Lacroix, the key ingredient is the workflow. She shudders to think how she would have grown her business in the days before the Internet. "If [these sites] weren't around, if this was the pre-Internet age," she surmises, "it would be a lot harder for me."
Journalist and author Jeff Zbar has worked from home since the 1980s. He writes about home business, teleworking, marketing, communications and other SOHO issues.