IT Contracting: How to Get Started on Elance, oDesk

IT professionals are increasingly turning to online freelance marketplaces such as Elance and oDesk to start new careers as full-time IT contractors or to supplement their incomes. The CEOs of Elance and oDesk, along with IT contractors using those sites, offer 13 practical tips for getting started in the online freelance marketplace and for standing out in a sea of global competition.

Fri, December 11, 2009

CIO — Nathan Wenneker joined Elance, an online freelance marketplace, in August 2008 because he wanted to become a self-employed IT contractor. The web application developer had no interest in a traditional full-time IT job; he wanted control over when he worked, how much he worked and the kind of work he did.

Wenneker, 26, is one of more than 5,000 IT professionals who sign on with Elance every month. More than 50,000 IT contractors have joined Elance since January 2009. oDesk, another popular online freelance marketplace, is experiencing similar growth. In November 2009 alone, 14,000 technical providers signed up on oDesk, according to the company. Roughly 150,000 IT providers have signed up since the start of 2009.

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IT professionals are flocking to Elance, oDesk and other sites such as Rent a Coder, and LimeExchange for a variety of reasons. Some have been laid off and want to pick up freelance projects while they search for a new full-time gig. Others, who may have been victims of pay cuts, need to supplement their income with contract work. Yet another group, like Wenneker, is forging new careers as independent IT contractors.

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"If you get laid off or if you want a second income, Elance and other sites like it are an attractive option," says Nick Dalton, 43, who solicits work for his iPhone app development company, 360mind Inc., on Elance, and Rent a Coder. "It's a great way to get your name out there and get proposals without doing any of your own marketing. If you're a small company or just starting up as a freelancer, you most likely don't have a big advertising budget."

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There's plenty of business on these sites for IT contractors to land. About 30,000 jobs are posted on Elance and oDesk each month, those companies say. Hiring on Elance in 2009 was up 40 percent compared with 2008, according to CEO Fabio Rosati. He notes that more than 60,000 companies are hiring on Elance. oDesk boasts 85,000 buyers, according to CEO Gary Swart, and the number of hires on oDesk has grown by more than 70,000 during the last year.

"We're seeing massive growth on both the buyer and provider sides as more and more companies look for ways to get more done for less," Swart points out, "and as providers, tech workers, look to make more money."

The drawback to all the growth in service providers is that it's hard for new IT contractors to stand out in the sea of global competitors on these sites. Building a successful Elance or oDesk business requires hard work, patience and a distinct value proposition for prospective buyers.

In this get-started guide to IT contracting through Elance and oDesk, the CEOs of those two companies, along with experienced IT contractors using those sites, share 13 best practices for creating a user profile that will get you business.

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