FOR SMALL businesses with even smaller budgets, a handful of web sites can help fill in your company’s staffing gaps at a fraction of the cost of hiring a full-time employee.
“It’s like eBay. But for services,” says Alok Aggarwal, chief executive of market research firm Evalueserve. Instead of bidding on office supplies, however, businesses bid for freelancers. “Crowdsourcing,” as it’s called, allows business owners to tap into a community of freelancers who vie for the projects they post. (Note: Posting projects usually doesn’t cost anything. However, the web sites that broker these deals typically take a percentage of the overall price paid.)
That competition alone is enough to keep the cost of crowdsourced services down. But there are other expenses, such as benefits, office space and equipment, that are also spared, explains Peter Allen, a partner and managing director of TPI, a Houston management consulting firm that specializes in outsourcing. You don’t have to set up a phone line or computer for someone who is working from their own home, for example. And if they’re not a full-time employee, you don’t need to provide them with health insurance or a retirement plan.
Of course, hiring freelancers is only appropriate for certain types of tasks, especially those that don’t need to be performed at the office, such as bookkeeping, payroll and marketing, says Allen. Hiring a customer relations director, on the other hand, is best done in-house since they will have almost-constant contact with your customers.
Here are five business tasks that you can save money on through crowdsourcing.
Web site and program development
Of course, you can create a basic web site these days for little to no cost. But for more advanced sites you’d better have some technological skills — or, at least, have a budget big enough to hire someone who does. For those with neither, outsourcing your web site’s creation and maintenance is a much cheaper alternative. To find web developers who can work on a project basis in the U.S. and overseas, head to sites like oDesk , Guru or Elance . For software coders, check out RentACoder . At all of these sites, owners can peruse developers’ portfolios and check out previous employer reviews.
Marketing and public relations
Can’t afford that quarter million dollar annual retainer? Crowdsourcing sites Guru.com and Elance.com are chock full of freelancers that have experience dealing with the media, promoting brands and even selling products. Check their track records by reading past employer reviews. At Guru.com, for example, there’s 2212 Marketing Group , which has worked with companies like Anheuser-Busch Cos. and Coca-Cola ( KO ), for just $12 an hour. On average, 2212 Marketing charges less than a third of what other firms advertised on the site charge. Despite the low cost, the company has received very high marks from two of its three previous employers.
Research and organizing
Your time is valuable so assign someone else to onerous research projects, such as tracking down the best price on toner for the printer or gathering intelligence on your competitors. Turn to web sites such as AskSunday , GetFriday and Red Butler . For roughly $60 a month (or on a per task basis), virtual assistants that can do such things as manage your schedule, dispatch online newsletters, organize your files and even filter through your emails.
Custom content and design
Want to create a blog or design a new logo? Freelance writers and graphic designers can be found online at sites like Elance.com and SerebraConnect.com. When Carson Conant, the chief executive of MediaFly , a Chicago-based video and audio podcast aggregator, needed a new media player for his site, he posted his project and desired price online at CrowdSPRING . For just $150, 20 designers presented their ideas for his task within hours. “We’re a small company,” says Conant. “I have programmers that have design capability, but when one of my best developers is working on a graphic design project, their resources aren’t being used somewhere else.”
Who says you need to pay loads of money to an attorney just to draw up a basic contract? Or to a certified public accountant just to balance your books? Find inexpensive legal and accounting help with such tasks as patent and trademark research, contract assistance and bookkeeping tasks at sites like Elance.com and Guru.com. Even though he’s a certified public accountant, Gene Marks, president of tech consulting firm Marks Group in Philadelphia, outsources his bookkeeping and accounting tasks. “We’re, of course, able to do our own taxes. But we get somebody else to do it to free up our time,” he says.
Write to Diana Ransom at firstname.lastname@example.org
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