The world of virtual employees is here, and businesses everywhere are recognizing the benefits of contracting with freelancers instead of hiring permanent workers. What's driving this trend? Business owners are discovering that there's often a better value for their dollar when they hire freelancers. And they're able to choose from an almost unlimited field of skill-sets for each specific project they need help with.
With the freelance industry worth millions of dollars worldwide, as a freelancer, you have the ability to start a profitable business with a very low investment as well as have the flexibility to work almost anywhere, anytime.
But just where do you find the work? At last count, there were 110 freelance sites on the web--and that number's only bound to grow. Out of this large number of freelance marketplaces, there are a few, like Guru.com, Elance.com and RentACoder.com, that are hugely popular. Smaller, evolving sites like GetAFreelancer.com and Bid-Job.com are also starting to make their mark. To help you evaluate your choices, we've reviewed these five sites to determine how each stands out from the crowd.
- Guru.com With a service provider base of more than 481,000, Guru.com is the largest freelance exchange on the web. When you log on, you'll be struck by the website's clean and simple--yet instinctive--user interface.
What it costs: Freelancers pay quarterly registration fees based on what type of membership they buy. Prices range from the free Basic Membership to the Vendor Membership, which can cost as much as $130. In addition to the quarterly membership fee, the site charges a commission fee per project that's deducted from your earnings.
How it works: Guru's minimum bid is set at $25 for any project, and it follows what's called a "closed auction" type of bidding, meaning no one competing for a project can see their competitors' bids. Your bids for a project can be based either on hourly rates or the total project cost. This site also allows you to submit your proposals with basic HTML formatting for a professional-looking bid.
Once a project's finished, it's usually uploaded to the temporary "Workroom," which is only accessible to the contracted parties. An optional escrow service protects the mutual investments of both the freelancers and the companies buying their services--a very important service when both parties are in different cities or even halfway round the world. Another important point: The site has an excellent help and support system.
- Elance.com Elance.com is known for its outsourcing solutions for medium to large enterprises. No freelance site beats Elance in the marketing arena. Therefore, you'll pay a little more to showcase your portfolio, set up your own web store or even list "Buy Now" links.
What it costs: Registration fees range from $5 to $30 a month, depending on the type of package you buy and what type of service you offer.
How it works: Freelancers create a business profile and portfolio to highlight their expertise. They can create "Buy Now" packages or bid on projects posted to the Elance marketplace. The minimum bid rate here for most projects is $50 and follows the "open auction" bidding system. This means you can strategize and place bids after factoring in competitors' bids. Although the site doesn't have an escrow service, freelancers and buyers are protected by a third-party arbitration service called "Square Trade."
- RentACoder.com If you want to start your freelance business with a minimum investment and good gains, this is the website you'll want to register with. This Texas-based firm, more commonly referred to as RAC, has a service-provider base of 105,710 and counting.
What it costs: You can register free of charge for any or all categories, with one catch: The commission-per-project rate can be as high as 15 percent.
How it works: A main attraction of RentACoder is the excellent escrow and arbitration service--you don't start a job until all the funds are escrowed. There's no minimum bid, so don't be surprised to find a bid as low as $3 with a commission of equal value (which means you'd earn nothing for the project). Like Guru.com, HTML tags are allowed to help you "beautify" your bid proposals.
- GetAFreelancer.com This is Europe's answer to the U.S.-based freelance sites--the firm is based in Sweden and has a subscriber base of 65,000 freelancers around the world.
What it costs: Registration is free, although you can be a "Gold" member by paying $10 per month to get access to the site's higher priced projects.
How it works: On this marketplace, the buyers get to decide whether to allow closed or open auction bidding. The site has a very basic interface but makes up for that by having an excellent e-mail alert system that feeds relevant project leads to service providers. There's also a capability for basic formatting of bid proposals and an escrow service to help protect your funds.
There's no doubt the internet has revolutionized the way people work. Online freelance marketplaces such as the ones mentioned above offer freelancers a platform to garner a client base that's not limited by any boundaries. If you've got skills that can easily be freelanced, now may be the best time to get your own business started.
Amod Puranik is an IT consultant who has completed numerous projects he bid for and won in online freelance marketplaces. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.