Podcast: Driving the freelance market to new heights
Michelle E: Hi, I’m Michelle Esswein and welcome to my show. You can follow me now on Facebook. Type in Michelle Esswein and like my page to find out what’s going on in the business world and the community around you. I’ll also have information on the latest business buzz. If you have a question, be sure to let me know on my Facebook page or email me at Michelle.Esswein@iheartmedia.com, and I’ll answer it in my weekly business buzz.
CrowdSource is the industry leader in a multi-billion dollar market, providing clients with an on-demand access to a skilled and scalable workforce. They manage crowd-based talent to deliver content, moderation and transcription solutions to enterprise clients worldwide. The CrowdSource team is composed of a variety of talented individuals with different personal and professional backgrounds.
By leveraging its qualified workforce, software platform and experience, CrowdSource is the global industry leader in providing crowd-based solutions. Joining me now in studio is Erin Steinbruegge, COO of CrowdSource. Welcome to my show Erin, and thank you for joining me.
Erin S: Thank you for having me, I’m happy to be here.
Michelle: CrowdSource, what an interesting business you guys have going. Tell me a little bit about how the idea came about for CrowdSource.
Erin: So our founders, Stephanie Leffler and Ryan Noble, owned a couple online publishing services. One was called Juggle, and the other was called ROI Media. They had a need to evaluate and produce content at scale for all of the sites that they owned and were publishing content to.
So they tested a lot of things. They tested hiring internal copywriters. They tested hiring freelancers on platforms like oDesk. They tested Amazon Mechanical Turk and very quickly became aware of the pains of trying to build a scalable on-demand workforce.
So that kind of inspired the idea that “Hey, there has to be a better way to do this. We can build software that connects all of this virtual talent, all of these people that are working in the cloud, so to speak, with clients who have these demands to freelance at scale.” So that’s been the core focus of our business, and where the idea started from.
Michelle: The uniqueness, I think, of the CrowdSource is the fact that it’s available for everybody, whether you’re just graduating from college, or if you’re 55 to 65 and older, that you’re looking for a second or third or fourth career path, or maybe you’re in transition, and you’re not sure what exactly you want to do. Do you find that that has been growing since, so for example 2008 when the economy tanked, that people were out of jobs and looking for jobs, and entrepreneurs were starting more businesses? Are you seeing the trend increasing more since 2008?
Erin: Yeah, absolutely. So there are three things that are driving what we call the freelancing economy. There’s speculation that it started around 2008. People lost jobs, they were looking for ways to find work and bring home some income, and so they went to freelancing. So you’ve got the economic factors.
You’ve also got technology that’s making it easier to find and access work for the freelancers, and for businesses to actually make work available. Then you’ve got some millennial trends in there too. The millennials as a group, studies say they want more flexibility in working, and they’re not as focused on just pay or salary or titles. It’s important to them that they’re working on something that they’re passionate about, and that they have flexibility.
So kind of those three things have been coming together and driving this momentum. The statistics are really interesting on the freelance economy. There’s a study recently done by the Freelancers Union and oDesk, which is an online talent marketplace that’s a partner of ours. What the study came out with is saying that 34 percent of the US workforce, which is 53 million Americans, are already working as freelancers in some capacity.
So that includes people that are fulltime freelancers, people that are what you would call a moonlighter that they just want to work on special projects in the evening, and that also includes a contingent workforce. So people that are temporary workers that might be contracted with companies. So this workforce adds $715 billion annually to the economy.
Michelle: That’s a lot!
Erin: It’s a lot, yeah. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on. Then you have, there was recently an Entrepreneur article that came out that said less than half of Americans are satisfied with their job, and four to five executives say they will be using more freelancers over the next three years. So we have people wanting to be more entrepreneurial, wanting to be their own boss, and at the same time we have businesses realizing the benefits of using a distributed workforce model. That’s what’s really driving this ahead.
Michelle: Well I could see both sides to that, because the corporations I’m sure not wanting to pay also the healthcare benefits and all those extra benefits that they have to do when they have a fulltime person, where a freelancer they wouldn’t have to do that. I can also see for those people that are in a job that maybe isn’t paying as well, needing that freelancing to make up that extra income.
So I can see probably where they have a fulltime job and to your point, consulting on the side or doing some freelancing to make up some additional income revenue that they may want and find more their passion that they’re looking for.
Erin: Yeah, it’s finding a model for predictable additional income. For the businesses, even traditional outsourcing models have overhead. So you’re typically hiring a business of contractors, and it’s people that are dedicated to that particular outsourcing provider. They have the overhead of salaries. It’s really just moving work that was happening inside the office to another location.
Whereas our model, it’s a pay per output basis. So an output would be an item of work that gets accepted. So if our freelancers are writing a number of product descriptions for a large online retailer, that retailer is only paying per description they receive that gets approved, meaning it meets their quality standards. So it’s a predictable cost model. It’s really scalable and elastic.
They don’t have to have a long-term contract with any one provider. We basically match them with the right talent at any given time. So when you think of businesses that are highly seasonal like retailers, it’s a perfect fit for them. They can scale up and down and basically right-size their workforce based on the business needs.
When you have an internal team, it’s costly. You have people that are underutilized at any given time, so we’re trying to maximize the utilization of talent and build a more cost-effective business model.
Michelle: What types of clients do you have that you’re looking for freelancers?
Erin: So I mentioned the retailers. We’re not working with businesses that just need help from one or two freelancers online, like maybe they need a logo or something like that. It’s definitely businesses that use a large group of outsourced talent as part of their business model.
So the large retailers like the Staples, Target, Sears of the world, they have these large online websites, marketplaces, where they’re trying to sell products. They’re receiving feeds from multiple manufacturers, and they need descriptions for all those products.
Michelle: Any other than retailers that you look for?
Erin: Yes, so online publishers, that’s been a really good fit as well. These are publishers that own multiple websites and properties online. They’re continually looking for talented writers to produce that content, and they need a breadth of expertise, right? They might own properties that are very focused on Q&A in say the medical field or the legal field or just general questions that people want answered and they search for online.
So you need to have access to this large talent pool of writers that has this breadth of expertise to fulfill that type of work. So they’ve been a really strong fit. Also, online communities or applications that you think of that use user-generated content as part of their models.
So think of the Facebooks of the world, Instagram, Twitters. That content needs to be moderated on some level to protect the community, because unfortunately, you have people that submit stuff that you don’t want the larger community seeing, right.
Michelle: To be seeing, right.
Erin: So our workforce does a lot of moderation too. Those clients can connect to our API. It feeds content directly through to our workforce, and the people who we’ve qualified and said these people are good at moderating images or moderating videos will moderate it for them. If they say, “Yes, this content is okay. It checks out,” it goes back to the community, it gets published. They say “no it’s not,” it gets filtered out.
So that’s really protecting brand reputation for a lot of large brands. We’re not really pigeonholed into any one industry. Those are just a few sweet spots that on the sales standpoint, it’s a really nice fit. It’s really easy for us to explain how we can add value to their business model. But we intend to expand to other industries as well.
Michelle: What are the skill-sets that you look to fill those, so from the freelancers themselves. Is there a particular skill-set that you look for?
Erin: Yeah so we’ve established what we call a virtual career system, and before any freelancer can have access to work on our platform, they have to be qualified. There’s a number of tasks out there, so we like to say there’s something for everyone.
So there could be, for someone that just wants to do what we call a micro-task, very small size, bite-sized task, like image moderation, they take a test so we make sure that they can follow instructions, they understand the rules.
They can meet the client’s quality standards. As soon as they pass that test, they would log into our platform, and they would see work that they’re qualified to take. They can access it, claim it and work as much or as little as they want at any given time. We process payments daily, so it’s a very predictable income model for freelancers. So that’s one skill-set.
Demand for writing has really exploded. Content marketing is everything online, and all brands from small businesses to very large online brands need content created at scale. It needs to be engaging content. It needs to be expert content. So we are constantly recruiting writers and editors with various expertise in different topics for those clients.
So anyone out there who is listening who has writing skills, anyone from college students to teachers to people who work for other publications, we have writing projects that are a really good fit, and we’re looking to expand our pool of talent with writers.
Michelle: Then how is the price determined? Is that something that’s already predetermined between the client and CrowdSource? Or is that done between the freelancer and the client?
Erin: Yep so it’s predetermined by the client, and when we publish it on our platform – let me walk you through. So say you’re a qualified freelancer, you log into the platform. You would see what you might call a catalog of work. Again, that’s based on your qualifications. So the more qualifications you have on the platform, the more work you’ll have access to.
For any given task that you see, we give you a price. There’s a time limit on it, how long you can claim it. That’s how we keep things moving through the system. So in the event that someone claims a piece of work, and then something happens, they can’t complete it, once it times out, it’ll go back into the platform for someone else to claim.
So basically, it’s very transparent. The freelancers always know exactly what they’re getting paid for any given task. They can pick and choose the ones they want to work on. So they select typically by projects that are the right fit for them. They select topics that interest them, and pay, which is important to everyone.
Michelle: Do they ever have where they go over what they projected that it would be? So as the job maybe took longer than they thought, or you pretty much need to get it done in that particular timeframe that the client agreed to.
Erin: Yeah, so they need to get it done in that particular timeframe, but in the event – let’s say an item times out because you had two hours to complete it, you didn’t complete it. You can go back in and grab another task. We’re not penalizing you for that. We just need to make sure that –
Michelle: The job gets done.
Erin: There’s a constant flow of work moving through the system, so there’s access to all of freelancers, and that the job’s going to meet the client’s timeline. So that’s part of the power of our software platform. It manages that distribution of work. It understands which freelancers are qualified for which type of work. It distributes it, and it manages that velocity, if you will, of the project itself.
Michelle: Is there freelancers that maybe can go on, that maybe you don’t have a particular job available for, but they can at least put their information in that if you get a job, and they have those skill-sets for? Or is it you really just need to apply, and if there’s nothing there, it tells you nothing at this time, then you go back and reapply?
Erin: Yep, so that’s a great question. At the moment, if they can’t pass one of the qualification tests that we have available, they would not see any work on our platform. There’s a reason for that, I can explain in a minute. We’re approaching a point where we’re going to let anyone create an account with CrowdSource, and when they log into – we call it our Workstation, is a software – they can provide information on skills, interests, the type of work they’re looking for, the pay range they’re looking for.
We’ll collect that information, and when work becomes available, make them aware. So the reason that doesn’t exist now is we’ve been very tightly managing supply and demand. So anytime you’re getting a marketplace off of the ground, that’s important. So it’s been very important to us that for every freelancer we bring on, that we have work available to them.
We want to build loyalty with the freelance world. We want to make sure CrowdSource is one of the first companies they think of when they’re looking for work. At the same time, we want to deliver quality work to our clients. So we’ve been really carefully managing supply and demand, making sure that there’s enough work accessible, and that there’s always enough freelancers available for our clients.
In the last two years, again with the freelance economy emerging, more and more businesses looking to outsource work on this distributive labor model, we’ve caught enough momentum to where we’re going to open it up and make on-boarding with CrowdSource more accessible to the world as a whole. We’ve also been expanding into global markets. So we started with 100 percent US-based workforce and last year started expanding into those global markets as well.
Michelle: People can apply for jobs everywhere and anywhere.
Erin: Yeah and that is – you know we like to say we’re changing the way the world works literally. That’s a very inspirational component of what we do and something that makes me super passionate about what CrowdSource is creating. There are talented people that are educated and qualified all over the world, and they don’t necessarily live in a location where there’s a thriving economy and access to work. So we’re working with a number of labor partners and organizations to make work accessible to the world.
Michelle: How does CrowdSource get paid? Do you collect a fee then that has nothing to do with the pay that’s being paid between the freelancer and the client? So the client pays you to find those people?
Erin: Yeah, so there’s a margin that gets paid to CrowdSource per item of work that goes through the platform. So the client comes to us, we learn about their budget, what their quality standards are, the type of work that they need to get delivered. Establish a cost with them. Basically what the client’s paying, goes through to the worker, and then we have our margin on top of that.
Michelle: The freelancer doesn’t have to worry about that at all? What they see as their hourly or project paid. That’s exactly what they got, because you already have your part taken care of?
Erin: Absolutely. They see, for any given task, exactly what they will be paid for that task.
Michelle: Now if somebody is looking to either be a client or to be a freelancer, where do they go to sign up, log in or be part of this?
Erin: So they can go to CrowdSource.com if they want to join our workforce. That’s the freelancers, there’s a workforce button right there. They click that, and it will show you the tasks that we have available today. Again the task availability is subject to change at any time, because we’re managing that supply and demand. But basically you can access all of that information right on our website. There’s a contact form if you’re interested in becoming a client that will direct you straight to our sales team.
Michelle: Is that updated on a daily basis, or how often do people need to check back if they’re a freelancer on the new jobs and the new work?
Erin: So I would love to have them check back on a daily basis. I wouldn’t say it’s that fluid. The tasks that we have available now, I’m predicting will be steady for the next couple months. During that timeframe, we will have opened the floodgates, so to speak, where anyone will be able to go to CrowdSource, create an account, fill out that form and take a test. If they don’t see a test available that interests them, we’ll have that information and we’ll connect with them when there is work available.
Michelle: You’ll just basically store their information and their skill-sets, so if there’s something that becomes available, then you’ll match them up basically?
Erin: Yeah, absolutely.
Michelle: CrowdSource.com is where they can find the information.
Erin: That’s correct.
Michelle: Well Erin, I appreciate you stopping in and sharing the information with me. What I’ll do is I’ll put your link up on my webpage, keyword Michelle, so they can find all the information of how they can be part of the CrowdSource program.
Erin: Great, thanks Michelle.
Michelle: Keep me posted on all the new updates and as you guys expand and all the other opportunities for people to find jobs.
Erin: Absolutely, we’ll stay in touch.
Michelle: Appreciate it. I have to take a quick break but I’ll be back with more in just a minute.