Are Platforms Like Elance and Guru Really Helpful?

Are Elance and Guru Worth Your Time?Millions of both small and large business owners turn to platforms like Elance and Guru every year to find qualified professionals for help with copywriting, web design, and even bookkeeping. The idea is a pretty simple one. You post your project (for free), then independent contractors (sometimes by the hundreds) bid on the job. You can review each contractor’s profile, his or her bid, and even previous reviews and statistics, then choose one who is right for you. It may sound like an easy process, but is it really right for your company?
The Benefits
Simply typing something like “Freelance Photographer” into a search engine might turn up thousands of results if you need someone to tackle a project for your company. Aside from good looking websites and portfolios, you probably won’t get any real sense of how the individual might perform for you. This is where platforms like this can be really helpful. In most cases, you get a chance to look at real reviews from previous customers.
The other real benefit is that you probably have a set budget for the job at hand. You can simultaneously look at lots of contractors who can handle that job for you at that price. You can place the money in escrow to protect both of you until the job is completed to your satisfaction.
The Drawbacks
As with any virtual search, the reality is that you’re never going to be sure exactly who is handling the task for you. There are lots of companies and individuals alike on Elance, and you may end up with an overseas company working for very little who can’t produce the results you need right away. You may also end up with a fifteen year old in his mom’s basement who has no concept of deadlines. At the same time, it’s absolutely possible to land a professional company that can provide exactly what you need within your budget.
In some cases, you’re only going to have virtual contact with your contractor, and that may be a problem if you have trouble expressing exactly what you want in writing. You can certainly request a conference call or work through something like GoTo Meeting, but if you’re working with a  contractor who is halfway across the world, scheduling it may be difficult.
As we put this post together, we really felt like there might be more drawbacks we didn’t mention, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on those. That said, it’s possible most of those drawbacks might be on the freelancer side instead of the employer side.
The Bottom Line
Elance, Guru, ODesk, and the many other platforms that help you connect with freelancers have some real benefits, but your best bet is to start with a smaller project, find a freelancer you like, then get moving with a bigger project.