Outsourcing service targets NZ small business

Freelancer.com, a US-based outsourcing service that claims 1.8 million members worldwide, is due to launch a New Zealand site on Monday.

The Kiwi iteration of the service, Freelancer.co.nz, will be the company’s first country-specific site.

Something of a darling of the US business press, Freelancer, founded in 2004, has been covered by the Wall Street Journal, Time, The York Times, Forbes and others. It claims to be the biggest contractor marketplace on the internet.

The service lets businesses post a project. Freelancers register with the site, then bid to secure the short-term contract.

The spiel is that multinationals have long known that outsourcing can save them money. 2degrees, for example, contracted an Indian firm to develop its online store; NBR turned to a Bangalore outfit for its (now defunct) digital edition.

You can outsource, or offshore
Freelancer aims to provide small business with easy access to the same kind of domestic, or international, outsourcing.

A Bloomberg Business Week article about the service profile a Massachusetts couple who manage to run multiple small businesses by dint of Freelancer’s help. The almost too-neat-to-be-true scenario:

For $300, an Indian artist designed the cute logo of an infant peering over the words "Baby Fresh Organic Baby Foods" and Nicola's letterhead. A London freelancer wrote promotional materials. Randy has hired "virtual assistants" in Jerusalem to transcribe voice mail, update his website, and design PowerPoint graphics. Retired brokers in Virginia and Michigan handle real estate paperwork.

Those on the other side of the fence are not always so effusive. On various blogs, US writers and web designers complain that services like Freelancer but them in direct competition with contractors in the developing world, pushing down rates - in some instances, to levels that seem outrageously low to those in the West.

Kiwi contractors are somewhere in-between - facing competition from India and so forth for domestic freelance work - but also able to pitch for work in Australia, North America and further afield where currencies are stronger.

Click for larger image.

Plenty of freelancers. Wanted: buyers
Freelancer chief executive Matt Barrie will be in New Zealand Monday.

He won’t have any problem getting local freelancers to sign on. Thousands of New Zealand contractor have already registered for the international version of the site (as part of that 1.8-million-strong army, which also includes freelancers from Australia, and dozens of other countries … including, of course, India).

With that side of things sorted, a Freelancer rep told NBR that Mr Barrie’s focus would be on trying to encourage businesses to sign up and post jobs.

Outsource your life
“When people hear the name Freelancer they think automatically, What sort of freelance work can I do?” spokesman Chris O’Brien told NBR. “They should be asking, What aspects of my job/life can I outsource?”

A freelance journalist for example, could use the site to try to score short-term assignments but also to find a cheap-as-chips Bangalore service to transcribe interviews.

(My hero remains a Fortune writer who also used an Indian outsourcing service for everything from paying his power bill to phoning his wife to tell her he was running late.)

The key difference between Freelancer.com and Freelancer.co.nz will be that the new site will list contracts in local currency.

There  is no fee to register as a business wanting work done or as a freelancer willing to do it.

Freelancer makes its living by taking a 10% cut on whatever a winning freelancer gets paid for a job. (There are also TradeMe-style options to highlight a listing on the first page of a relevant section, for $US19.95).

The average commission is $US200; the smallest allowable is $US30.

Aussie run
Although it’s been so fawned over by the US business press, Freelancer is actually co-owned by Aussie and Swedish interests (and thus governed by the laws of those two countries) and headquartered in Sydney.

From Monday, businesses will be asking: can they trust Freelancer? Mr Barrie will be pointing to the site’s history (it has allocated $US64 million in work so far) and protections such as its milestone payment system.

I’m been set up with a trial Freelancer account, so check back in a few days to see how that goes. (I might even hire you.)

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