Tech Tidbits for SMBs: Elance

I’ve had several interesting briefings in the last couple of weeks to tell you about. Since I won’t have the time to sit down and write them all up at once, I thought I’d dash them off as individual snippets instead.

First up is this post about Elance. Do you have too much on your to do list? Elance can help you find a contractor to help you get the job done. Or maybe you’re on the flip side of the coin as a contractor looking for work. Either way, Elance can benefit you. Its mission is to provide companies with “instant access to talent” through an online network of contractors and tools that make it easy to find, hire, manage and pay them.

Since my last briefing with Elance, it has grown at an impressive pace. Today, Elance has 1.3 million tested and rated contractors in its fold, and garners about 2,500 new job posts per day. While its original focus was on IT professionals, Elance has diversified to add lawyers, accountants, designers, writers and accountants on its roster.

No doubt that Elance owes part of its growth to the trend we labeled as that of “The Accidental Entrepreneur” in our SMB Group 2012 Top Ten SMB Technology Predictions. We discussed the fact that as unemployment has increased, so have the number of freelancers, contractors, independent consultants and others choosing to go it alone. According to the Census Bureau, small business without payroll makes up more than 70 percent of America’s 27 million companies, with annual sales of $887 billion.

The good news for these solo entrepreneurs is that Elance recently surveyed 1500 small businesses and found that 73% plan to hire more contractors online in the next 12 months. Why? Because it provides them with the competitive advantage they need to get things done faster, better and at lower costs–and helps them to present a larger, more professional image to their customers.

While it’s always tough to take that first plunge to hire a contractor online, Elance provides a community rating system to help you vet potential candidates. Once you select someone to work with, the Elance platform provides tools, such as a workroom with Skype, to help you connect and work together more easily. Real-time time tracking and status updates are built into the system, as are invoicing and payments. Elance also has an escrow process that protects both parties by pre-funding work and releasing payments only when results are approved. And Elance takes care of basic paperwork (such as 1099 forms) to help ensure compliance.

Whether you’re a small business that needs an extra pair of hands, or a solo entrepreneur looking for a new project, Elance could be a great fit.

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