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Online Freelance Marketplaces Find freelance projects--and get your revenue rolling--with this review of some of the top freelance marketplaces on the web.

The world of virtual employees is here, and businesseseverywhere are recognizing the benefits of contracting withfreelancers instead of hiring permanent workers. What's drivingthis trend? Business owners are discovering that there's oftena better value for their dollar when they hire freelancers. Andthey're able to choose from an almost unlimited field ofskill-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 profitablebusiness with a very low investment as well as have the flexibilityto work almost anywhere, anytime.

But just where do you find the work? At last count, there were110 freelance sites on the web--and that number's only bound togrow. Out of this large number of freelance marketplaces, there area few, like Guru.com, Elance.com and RentACoder.com, that arehugely popular. Smaller, evolving sites like GetAFreelancer.com andBid-Job.com are also starting to make their mark. To help youevaluate your choices, we've reviewed these five sites todetermine how each stands out from the crowd.

  • Guru.com With a service provider base of more than481,000, Guru.com is the largest freelance exchange on the web.When you log on, you'll be struck by the website's cleanand simple--yet instinctive--user interface.

What it costs: Freelancers pay quarterly registrationfees based on what type of membership they buy. Prices range fromthe free Basic Membership to the Vendor Membership, which can costas much as $130. In addition to the quarterly membership fee, thesite charges a commission fee per project that's deducted fromyour earnings.

How it works: Guru's minimum bid is set at $25 forany project, and it follows what's called a "closedauction" type of bidding, meaning no one competing for aproject can see their competitors' bids. Your bids for aproject can be based either on hourly rates or the total projectcost. This site also allows you to submit your proposals with basicHTML formatting for a professional-looking bid.

Once a project's finished, it's usually uploaded to thetemporary "Workroom," which is only accessible to thecontracted parties. An optional escrow service protects the mutualinvestments of both the freelancers and the companies buying theirservices--a very important service when both parties are indifferent cities or even halfway round the world. Another importantpoint: The site has an excellent help and support system.

  • Elance.com Elance.com is known for its outsourcingsolutions for medium to large enterprises. No freelance site beatsElance in the marketing arena. Therefore, you'll pay a littlemore to showcase your portfolio, set up your own web store or evenlist "Buy Now" links.

What it costs: Registration fees range from $5 to $30 amonth, depending on the type of package you buy and what type ofservice you offer.

How it works: Freelancers create a business profile andportfolio to highlight their expertise. They can create "BuyNow" packages or bid on projects posted to the Elancemarketplace. The minimum bid rate here for most projects is $50 andfollows the "open auction" bidding system. This means youcan 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 arbitrationservice called "Square Trade."

  • RentACoder.com If you want to start your freelancebusiness with a minimum investment and good gains, this is thewebsite you'll want to register with. This Texas-based firm,more commonly referred to as RAC, has a service-provider base of105,710 and counting.

What it costs: You can register free of charge for any orall categories, with one catch: The commission-per-project rate canbe as high as 15 percent.

How it works: A main attraction of RentACoder is theexcellent escrow and arbitration service--you don't start a jobuntil all the funds are escrowed. There's no minimum bid, sodon't be surprised to find a bid as low as $3 with a commissionof equal value (which means you'd earn nothing for theproject). Like Guru.com, HTML tags are allowed to help you"beautify" your bid proposals.

  • GetAFreelancer.com This is Europe's answer tothe U.S.-based freelance sites--the firm is based in Sweden and hasa subscriber base of 65,000 freelancers around the world.

What it costs: Registration is free, although you can bea "Gold" member by paying $10 per month to get access tothe site's higher priced projects.

How it works: On this marketplace, the buyers get todecide whether to allow closed or open auction bidding. The sitehas a very basic interface but makes up for that by having anexcellent e-mail alert system that feeds relevant project leads toservice providers. There's also a capability for basicformatting of bid proposals and an escrow service to help protectyour funds.

There's no doubt the internet has revolutionized the waypeople work. Online freelance marketplaces such as the onesmentioned above offer freelancers a platform to garner a clientbase that's not limited by any boundaries. If you've gotskills that can easily be freelanced, now may be the best time toget your own business started.

Amod Puranik is an IT consultant who has completed numerousprojects he bid for and won in online freelance marketplaces. Hecan be contacted at amod@amodpuranik.com.

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