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Online resources for freelance workers

April 4, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
When you're a freelance worker, it's easy to feel on your own. In reality, you're part of a nation of millions. Freelancers are now making a power play for things like health insurance, guaranteed pay and VIP discounts.

For freelancer Joshua Warren, finding a steady stream of income wasn't always easy.

"It was very hit or miss; it was a lot of word of mouth," said Warren.

This is a common problem for the 42 million independent workers in this country. That's roughly one-third of the U.S. workforce, an area that's seeing growth despite the recent recession.

"We expect that number to grow year after year because, essentially, people are working by putting together projects and gigs and jobs," said Sara Horowitz, Freelancers Union.

And there's power in numbers. Horowitz says an increasing number of organizations and websites are offering perks and resources to freelancers.

"We want to make sure that people get the same kinds of protections that traditional employees get," said Horowitz.

That's why the Freelancers Union offers cost-effective retirement plans, as well as dental, disability and life insurance.

On the hunt for more affordable healthcare? Websites like Elance.com and oDesk.com offer access to discounted rates.

"They could also go to their chamber of commerce and see: Are there any kinds of group plans?" said Horowitz.

If you're searching for a job, a growing number of sites not only advertise freelance gigs, but they help you build a profile. Many, like oDesk, also have feedback systems in place.

"After each job they'll get rated based on skills, quality, deadlines, communication and cooperation, enabling them to build an online reputation," said oDesk Chief Executive Officer Gary Swart.

"I started out on oDesk at $15 an hour, and now it's up to $95 an hour," said freelancer Warren. "And that is directly driven by the demand."

These sites also act as virtual workspaces, complete with things like time sheets, status reports and digital to-do lists. Some even make sure you see a payday.

"We guarantee payment whether we collect it from the employer or not," said Swart.

Other perks you can find include tax help, networking webinars and product discounts.

"Everything from gym memberships to office supplies to car rentals. People are getting 20, 30 percent off," said Horowitz.

Warren has been so successful, he's turned his one-man show into a growing business.

"It's allowed me not only to find more clients, but also to find employees and contractors that work for us," said Warren.

Membership in the Freelancers Union is free. The organization is actively fighting for things like unemployment insurance, payment protection and fair taxation. Websites like oDesk and Elance are also free to access, but take a small cut of the money that you earn.

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