How to Compete in a Freelancing, Crowdsourcing Economy

Tips for staying relevant and finding work in a tight job market.

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If you're looking for jobs, you are intimately familiar with the tight market, but have you thought about the reasons why there may be fewer openings in your industry? It may not be because there is less work, especially if your skills are in demand. Instead, perhaps your industry is following the growing trend of hiring freelancers and contract workers to get the work done instead of advertising for full-time help. What does the workplace of the future look like?

According to MBO Partners' State of Independence in America report, the number of independent workers is expected to rise to 23 million by 2017. New online platforms, such as oDesk and Elance, help companies and businesses connect with individuals seeking opportunities. Savvy job seekers are building online portfolios and learning how to succeed as freelancers.

There doesn't seem to be a question that freelancing and crowdsourcing will be key factors for anyone who wants a paycheck, but it doesn't necessarily mean there will be no full-time jobs. Rob Rawson, CEO of Staff.com, an outsourcing platform that focuses on full-time work, says, "We believe future hiring trends will focus more on full-time work, with companies hiring highly skilled staff members globally. Full-time work is not about to go out of style. Managers are looking for reliable income streams and companies are interested in people they can count on, so this type of full-time work is not about to be replaced by freelancing any time soon."

What's the difference between crowdsourcing and freelancing? Rawson explains: "In crowdsourcing, many different people work on a task that can be broken down into multiple small components. The idea is that the wisdom of the crowd can be greater than the results you achieve from hiring one individual." For example, Amazon Mechanical Turk is a platform for crowdsourcing small tasks for as little as a few cents per task. One example of such a task: categorizing images.

Freelancing, on the other hand, focuses on hiring one person to handle a particular job or project. Rawson notes, "This could be for design work, such as creating a logo. These are usually fairly small projects, for example the average project is $200 on Elance." Rawson explains that the international market affects the price paid for projects. For example, a project that may take weeks to complete and only pays $200 may not appeal to the U.S. labor market. "In countries such as the Philippines, where an average monthly wage is $279, a project paying $200 is a big deal and is worth spending two weeks to complete."

It's crucial for job seekers to recognize this global economy and how it factors into opportunities and how to find them.

What does the future of online work look like? Rawson believes the following are key factors for people to consider:

Increasing globalization. "It's clear workers can use any number of online platforms to hire from any country around the world," Rawson says. "These sites make it a whole lot easier for companies to offshore, and when the costs are sometimes two to five times cheaper than an on-shore equivalent person, it's a tempting option for companies."

Freelance work for certain types of jobs. Rawson says he believes short-term and small projects are well suited to freelance work. "Platforms such as Voices.com offer the ability to hire a high quality voiceover artist for only $200," he notes. "This type of work where companies are likely to need the person infrequently is suited to short-term freelance contracts."

Full-time work is not likely to go away. While it's clear that companies can break down projects into miniscule details or chunk them into pieces to outsource, some projects lend themselves to full-time workers. Lawson suggests that customer service agents are less likely to be hired for short-term projects, since companies want to connect customers with agents who know how to efficiently help solve problems.

Global competition is going to be fierce for knowledge workers. Lawson explains: "The types of jobs that are moving offshore on platforms like Staff.com are related to work that can be done over the Internet. Examples include software development, customer support or bookkeeping. Clearly, certain jobs are not suitable for online outsourcing."

Savvy job seekers will keep an eye on how market trends affect how their jobs are being filled. Those looking for work that can easily be outsourced, or even crowd sourced, should identify ways to stand out and avoid being a commodity. Determine how to compete on factors beyond price and learn to market you and your skills as a valuable solution for target employers.

Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success and 100 Conversations for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to reach their goals.


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