Freelance Marketplace Connects Workers and Businesses Worldwide

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Small- and medium-sized businesses can feel the pocketbook pinch when hiring for specialty services: site design, illustration, development, and more. You probably don't have the resources—or justification—to take on these tasks in-house, but web marketplaces can help you connect to production experts. Or if your small business specializes in one of these areas, you could find new contract work by pitching yourself online.

One of these marketplace sites, Elance, connects online workers with companies in any of those creative areas and beyond. You could find copywriters or translators, administrative support, marketing experts, and even legal pros. There are so many specific areas of experience that Elance is especially suited to these often-temporary, specialized positions.

Companies with job needs post a description to Elance, stating their requirements and rough budget. A clock ticks down until their proposal deadline, similar to an eBay auction. But unlike a live-auction site, where people compete just on cost, bids can be sealed. In those cases, rates are shown only to they hiring company, keeping the site from diving towards cheap, low-quality labor. Businesses can also skip the bid process, searching for and hiring workers directly.

Freelancers maintain profiles that explain their expertise. Plus, hiring companies provide feedback and ratings after they complete jobs, helping inform the next company that's considering a contract. Since workers can compete worldwide, you might end up paying less than rates in your local market.

Elance usually holds payments in escrow, letting companies assign and release funds based on milestone achievements. Elance keeps between 6.75% and 8.75% of the total fee, depending on how much work freelancers have completed in the past 6 months. (The more they've worked, the less they'll pay.)

While a free membership plan is available, some options add additional costs, between $10 and $40 each month. For example, paid plans let freelancers expand their profiles and bid on additional contracts each month. (The free plan is limited to a paltry three bids.) Businesses that hire the freelancers pay nothing extra.

Elance and other marketplace sites let businesses connect with contract workers--or even other businesses--worldwide. Take a look if you need to hire for temporary jobs or your service-based company is looking for other ways to add clients.

Zack Stern is building a new business from San Francisco, where he frequently contributes to PC World. Follow him on Twitter @zackstern.

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