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Inside e-ployment: Online staffing services put temporary labor within reach of small businesses

Christopher Null | July 24, 2013
Never mind all the stories about unemployment. American businesses are still clamoring for workers. They just may not need them for a full 40-hour week.

Never mind all the stories about unemployment. American businesses are still clamoring for workers. They just may not need them for a full 40-hour week.

"Temps" have long been the go-to solution for businesses that need extra hands during busy production cycles or for special projects. In the old days, when you needed temporary help, you had one real option: The temp agency. Temporary staffing agencies--which are still around, mind you--might specialize in administrative workers (to handle that filing project that no one else wanted to touch) or hook you up with programmers or project managers (for more complicated, but temporary, projects). Either way, the relationship was generally between you (the employer) and the temp agency. You often had limited control over who came to work on Monday morning and even less over how much they got paid. The agency controlled the relationship, taking the employee's fee and excising a healthy cut before passing the remainder on to the worker as a salary.

This system worked for years. Many temps were happy to bounce from job to job, much like substitute teachers, waiting for the call as to where they'd report the following day for work. And many temp agencies treated their workers as regular employees, withholding taxes and sometimes even offering benefits.

But that model isn't proving sustainable. The deep cuts temp agencies take--up to half of a worker's take-home pay--means most temps can't make much of a living with irregular work. Meanwhile, employers are increasingly on the hunt for deeply qualified individuals with specialized skills. Those individuals may be located anywhere in the world--and willing to work for much less than previously imagined.

Online staffing services are a shortcut to finding these individuals. Offering a database of professionals--sometimes these workers number in the millions--you can now find just about any type of worker with just a few clicks. On most sites, you can either post your project and have contractors bid for it, or search for workers and reach out to the ones you are interested in directly. The sites all handle payment services and often curate the workers (though the degree to which candidates are vetted varies widely); but, typically, you can at least see who you're dealing with based on the feedback and ratings of prior clients.

That said, as a group these services offer quite a bit of variety, since each has dug into its own niche. So study up on how they differ before you decide to do business with one. Here's a closer look at seven established and upcoming online staffing services.

 

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