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Freelance goes ‚e’

Last month’s arrival of the global freelance portal Elance in South Africa was inevitable: it already has a deep virtual presence, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

A few years ago, sitting in a conference in Maputo, where the content was dull but the WiFi was great, I called up my web site on my laptop computer. It struck me that my logo was in even greater need of refresh than the PowerPoint slideshow I’d been watching.

What to do? The last time I’d approached graphic designers to turn up the visual temperature, their quotes were so high, I’d decided to stick with the half-baked version.

But suddenly, the speaker referred in passing to an international portal for freelance contractors called Elance. I’d used it before, but it had slipped my mind. I quickly logged on, entered a search for logo designers, and instantly found hundreds of prospective designers, located across the world. I identified a dozen in South Africa, India and Pakistan who were showing off attractive portfolios of their past work.

I entered a job specification, and invited half-a-dozen freelancers to submit proposals. I was utterly unprepared for what happened next: before the presentation was over, I had three proposals for the job. One came from a designer in India who had done superb work for a variety of little-known American organisations. His price also happened to be one tenth of what I had typically been quoted in South Africa for the same job.

By the time the conference session had ended, the designer had been commissioned, the payment had been made into an escrow account, from which it would be released to the designer in India once I was happy with the job, and we had an agreement on a deadline: a mere week away. All of this negotiated while I sat in a humid hall somewhere in Mozambique.

In the course of the following week several rough designs were submitted, one was selected, and the final logo arrived before the deadline.

This was not a unique experience. Last year alone, 650 000 jobs were posted on Elance. In the last 30 days alone, the tally was 65 000. And no less than 1.3-million ‚contractors‚ have registered on the site to offer their services.

The truly significant statistic, of course, is how much these freelancers have earned. Last year, $150-million was paid out to contractors. Since the site first launched in 2007, the total has come close to half-a-billion dollars.

South Africa happens to be the tenth largest company in terms of number of contractors on Elance, with close to 10 000 having registered. Half of these placed themselves in the Creative category.

This did not escape the attention of Elance. When they were approached by Chris Savides, General Manager of FNB Complementary Online Services, to come into the country, they jumped at the opportunity. Last month their vice-president for Europe, Kjetil Olsen, formally introduced Elance to South Africa at the Design Indaba 2012 in Cape Town. In partnership with FNB, they announced a Paper Wallet Design competition to highlight the idea that ‚you can get paid for any extra effort that you put into creative exploits in your free time‚ .

Not that Elance is only about creative types. More than 1 700 South Africans registered on the site can be found in the IT category, around 600 in Marketing, and no less than 2 600 in Operations.

South African clients, on the other hand, have posted more than 7 000 jobs, at an average job budget of $1,061 ‚ somewhat more than I paid for my logo!

However, most of the South African contractors get their work from outside the country. They’ve earned an average of $32 an hour for their efforts on Elance, whereas South African clients offer an average of $17 an hour.

Elance has brought $1.4-million in revenue to South Africans since the service began, making this only the 17th largest country on the site in terms of earnings. That could be because locals are not quite as hungry for work as contractors on the Indian subcontinent. I never did hear from the South African design who was invited to submit a bid for my logo!

* Arthur Goldstuck is editor-in-chief of Gadget. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee.

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