Online freelance industry gaining momentum

August 11, 2011

Amid the overload of economic doom and gloom, one subset of the workforce seems to be fairing rather well: online freelancers whose services range from graphic design to business writing.

In a country where unemployment continues to hover above 9 percent, it’s no surprise that demand for these contract workers is up more than 61 percent from a year ago, according to data from Elance, the largest online marketplace for this type of work.

“This new way of working has a lot of momentum and is continuing to grow,” said Ved Sinha, VP of interactive marketing for Mountain View, California-based Elance. “Small businesses are increasingly turning to online work because it’s more flexible.

“You get access to talent and someone that may not be in your local area,” he added. “You also get speed – you can hire someone very quickly. Not the least, it’s very cost effective.”

Among the most highly prized skills are infographics, which help companies to raise their profile using social media, Sinha said. Also popular were programmers with an understanding of WordPress, the online platform that facilitates blogging; and developers with skills in the development of Android and iPhone apps.

“Apple is on fire,” Sinha said.

Increasingly, growing businesses are taking the conservative approach and opting to use contractors for more of their historic full-time staff functions, said Sinha, citing the organic hamburger chain Elevation Burger as one such example.

“They’re a big Elance customer,” he said of the Falls Church, Virginia-based chain. “(The owner) started out with legal advice and this point he’s got engineers producing his ideas, logo designers.”


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It is a bit disingenuous to leave out the fact that freelancers (especially those on Elance and other Internet portals)are seeing their jobs increasingly outsourced to word mills and other sweat shop labor mills in India and Pakistan. Those who are hiring that refuse to outsource, because they want a higher level of quality for their assignments, still expect their providers to work for the wages of these third world mills and sweat shops.

Remember, there is no minimum wage for freelancers.

The increase of jobs these internet portals provide does not necessarily mean an increase in jobs for Westerners – and certainly does not mean better pay for those who are willing to take these assignments. It usually means that a professional living in the West must work extreme hours for what ends up being far less than minimum wage.

Internet portals such as Elance are why we have this race to the bottom, eviscerating the working middle classes. Freelancers are expected to have advanced educations and consistently give their absolute best while working for wages that would be considered poor in a third world country.

The pity is that Elance contributes to this by not following the lead of Germany (which still has a strong economy) by insisting upon a minimum wage for the type and amount of work provided. Those with talent and an education must either resign themselves to absolute poverty or must leave the freelance world.

Posted by RenLady | Report as abusive

True true what the above reader said. The relevant authorities should at least enact laws that control the minimum wage for certain types of jobs. If not, Elance among others should at least try enacting similar regulations.

Posted by Fred-Freelancer | Report as abusive

RenLady, I agree in spirit. Been there, done that. But…Elance is not the evildoer here. They merely provide a matching service where freelancers and ‘buyers’ can come together. It is not their responsibility to oversee minimum wage laws. The race to the bottom is not caused by Elance, any more than the proliferation of dating sites is caused by These websites simply capitalize on the opportunity to provide a service demanded by the people.

The real bad guy in all of this is the buyer, who for whatever reason, has decided $1 for a professionally written, SEO-polished, edited and proofread 500 word article is a fair wage.

The secondary issue is providers who are so desperate or insecure as to believe they should take any work at any rate.

Freelancing is a business model requiring, not only the skills prerequisite in your chosen industry, but savvy operation abilities. We are business owners first; freelancers second. If you are a great writer, but a lousy business person, don’t work for yourself. If you insist on working for yourself, take responsibility for your business and stop blaming everyone else for your failures.

Posted by VictoriaIpri | Report as abusive

Victorialpri – I agree. It’s the mindset of the buyers that, as soon as they buy services online, it should be cheap. But Online-Freelancing is just another acquisition channel for those freelancers. And buyers should be aware of that.
The demand is not only tremendously increasing in the states, also over here in Europe the market is growing and growing. Of course in Europe everything is a bit slower and we often wait if the concept proves in the states, but as the Online-Outsourcing is growing for years now in the US, Europe is picking up fast. Elance has just made its move to some European countries (e.g. Germany) to compete with big local players over there (like twago or MyHammer).

Posted by robertgoetze | Report as abusive

Generic Marketplaces are good way to find poor skills on a do nothing platform. Weblance is the only way to go. Better member standards, tools to work and they address quality!

Posted by JeWe | Report as abusive

In the era of globalization, where economic set back is uncertain, many nations in spite of inflation and employment problem have achieved remarkable progress through outsourcing.

There is no lack of talent in professional players, just need is to bring them out; and some outsourcing portals are doing this also.

Hiral Patel,

Posted by Hieral | Report as abusive

Have you already checked out This is a another great alternative site for work from home jobs. Employers who need to outsource their work can choose from their pool of talented staff for a lower labour cost.

Posted by RieAvis | Report as abusive