September 21, 2009, 11:56 AM — When you need additional workers but you can't afford to hire employees, you might turn to contract help. If you lack the established connections to find the right person for the job--or you just want to try a new option--turn to an online labor marketplace. These services match companies with skilled freelancers.
A business posts a help-wanted ad pertaining to more than a dozen main categories. Beyond just tech support and administrative services, companies can solicit illustration, legal, finance, marketing, and many other kinds of professionals.
Consultants respond to ads from anywhere in the world, offering specific price quotes. With the service claiming 100,000 active freelancers, their quality will vary; businesses can browse feedback left by previous bosses to help find the right fit.
Plus, an automated ranking system weighs the amount someone works, their repeat business, and the number of new clients to give another way to gauge prospects. Unfortunately, Guru.com ranks paying subscribers ahead of free accounts, so rankings aren't completely merit-based.
Businesses can also directly contact workers and negotiate terms without posting an ad, which is handy once you find a stable of great contacts. Guru.com holds transactions in escrow and offers mediation and arbitration service, helping to avoid--or resolve--any disputes.
Companies pay nothing for the service. Freelancers without subscription accounts pay 10% of the project fee to Guru.com. Those on a subscription plan--with quarterly fees starting at about $30--pay 5%.
Guru.com could let you quickly scale labor for a temporary project or assist your regular employees if their workloads get too heavy. Since the community of freelancers represents so many industries, you should be able to find someone for almost any niche. And since workers are available from across the country and around the world, you could reduce expenses relative to hiring in your local market.
Zack Stern is building a new business from San Francisco, where he frequently contributes to PC World.