In part 2 I brushed upon this subject looking at sites like Amazon's Mechanical Turk and CloudCrowd but these were generally very simple, generally unskilled, and relatively quick tasks. CloudCrowd offers the opportunity of some skilled work but is limited to English editing and language translation. For a wider variety of skilled (and therefore hopefully more lucrative) work you would need a different system to connect with your potential employers. An industry of freelancing web sites has developed over recent years connecting service buyers with qualified freelancers, not surprising when you consider that these sites typically charge 10% commission on any payments. A lot of the work on offer is, as you would expect, mostly based around computing skills such as programming and web development but there are also areas such as secretarial services (for instance being a virtual private assistant), copy-writing, article rewriting as well as even traditional professions such as plumbing and building.
People Per Hour is a UK-centric site covering a wide range of professional areas. The site is well presented, and clearly has plenty of potential clients listing work there. It is free to sign up however there is a 10 bids a month limit and the free service has less preferable payment terms when compared to the premium subscriptions. Commission charges on earnings range from 4.5% to 10% depending on your chosen plan, with a £10 to £15 minimum commission. PeoplePerHour can hold payment in escrow for the protection of both parties and has their own dispute process.
The site looks like a decent option for the half-time to full-time freelancer, but the minimum commission of £15 discourages smaller work items and, combined with the other limitations of a free account, make this probably not the best option for someone just looking to freelance a few hours a week to supplement their income. This may be a deliberate move on their part to avoid being swamped with very small proposals, making the site more attractive to the medium to large scale requesters.
Freelancer.com is a global site offering a huge variety of work that covers just about everything that you could think. Computer Programming and Web Design/Development feature quite prominently in the line up of work but the site also covers areas such as graphic design, various forms of writing, specialist engineering, and business services. The site has the option of using it for free, or paying $19.95 for Gold membership. If you opt for Gold membership you pay less commission on your earnings (3% rather than the normal 10%) and will be visible to requesters as a gold member, which freelancer claims will help prove yourself as a stable provider and increase your chances of obtaining work. While Gold membership may be an option if you find yourself doing large volumes of work through freelancer, the free account appears to be perfectly adequate for those wanting to test the waters.
Disputes are resolved through a combination of automated negotiation and arbitration by freelancer themselves. The respective parties are given 3 opportunities to first resolve the matter by submitting proposals and counter-proposals. If this process fails both parties can then opt to involve freelancer.com (for a fee) who will then make a decision based on evidence they are submitted by both parties. If either party drops out of the dispute procedure at any point the dispute will be automatically decided against that party.
The site offers online certifications to boost your profile to potential customers, although a charge is required for these (most are $5). The commission charged on undertaken projects is 10% or $5 (whichever is greater) of the total project fee, or 3% for gold members. This minimum fee effectively means there is little point bidding for work under $50 unless you are a Gold member. Freelancer.com supports a number of different methods to withdraw your earnings: a freelancer.com Debit Card, PayPal, Moneybookers, and wire transfer.
oDesk is based along similar lines to Freelancer in that it is truly global and covers a wide array of work types. The first obvious distinction is the use of the oDesk Work Diary. Workers run an application on their computer which is activated when they are actively working on the project. This enables the employer to see when an employee is working and to check screen grabs which are taken every 10 minutes. oDesk supports fixed-price projects and hourly charged projects when using the oDesk diary application.
oDesk makes its money by charging a 10% commission on what the employer pays the contractor. There appears to be no minimum fee for this, making it suitable for micro-projects. There are also no membership fees to be paid by the contractor whatsoever, making this appear a very attractive option for those just starting out in freelancing. A number of payment options are available to withdraw your earnings through, such as direct transfer to a US bank account, moneybookers, PayPal and wire transfer.
On joining oDesk you will be first presented with a selection of instructional videos, these provide an induction into the oDesk environment and give helpful advice on how to market yourself and win contracts. This is a nice touch and will be especially useful to those not used to landing work this way. To further enhance your profile, oDesk makes available a number of qualification tests so you can demonstrate your abilities to employers. Unlike some similar sites, all these tests are available free for contractors. To restrict multiple attempts at tests there is a 30 day cool-down period between attempts.
Overall, oDesk leaves me with a positive impression and is a site I will look into using more.
vWorker, formerly known as RentACoder.com, has been around for a number of years and is well established as a medium for outsourcing software development tasks. The re-branding to vWorker marks the shift to a broader range of work areas comparable to the other e-lancing sites.
Visually the sites looks a little dated compared to the other sites, but includes a substantial amount of articles and other resources to help workers get started on the site. Financially the charges between 6.5% and 15% commission (with a $3 minimum) depending on the structure of the project and the services offered. Withdrawals can be made by PayPal, Payoneer, Snail Mail Check, and via Western Union. There are no fee to using vWorker however and every user enjoys unlimited bidding.
There is little else to say about vWorker. It lacks many of the features found on other sites, such as qualification tests, but in their favor they have been around than most other sites and have an established requester and employer base. They also claim to provide a superior service to the other e-lancing sites.