We spoke to CEO Gary Swart about the growing trend among Australian small businesses to outsource office admin.
oDesk is an online workplace service that allows business owners to list contract jobs and manage contractors to work remotely.
While this system might seem like it applies only to tech positions, many companies are now outsourcing other office admin necessities such as HR, legal advice and marketing. This allows small businesses to free up their internal space and staff salary requirements in order to grow.
Here’s what Gary Swart had to say:
What workers and industries are using your services?
Traditionally we started with mostly technical work. Things like web development, iOS, and web design, but we’re getting aggressively pulled into all categories of work. Things like administrative, even finance and legal jobs. And what we’ve noticed, as shown in our survey results, is that Australians are among the savviest businesses growing into other categories, the non-tech categories, compared to the rest of the world.
What are the leading categories that Australians are using oDesk for?
Australians are not too dissimilar from the rest of the network. We have about 60 percent of the work being in tech. The top categories in 2012 were web programming, web design and the like. But blogging, article writing, graphic design and marketing skills like search engine optimisation were leading categories in the non-tech area. The growing categories are things like technical writing, video production, translation and search engine optimisation.
You’ve recently conducted new research in Australia, what led you to do the research in the first place?
We’ve been growing quite aggressively here in Australia since 2009. The amount of work done on oDesk from Australian clients has increased more than eight fold. So when we saw such growth, we decided we wanted to get to know the market a little bit and see what was driving this aggressive growth.
What were the key findings?
They were pretty interesting. We found that 85 percent of businesses are mostly SMBs with a trend towards SMEs. But 85 percent said that oDesk makes their businesses more competitive. 89 percent said that now that they’ve worked this way, they’ll continue this way. Traditional hiring methods were painful but businesses need talent. They need access and they’re struggling to find good people within commuting distance from their offices. 70 percent said traditional hiring methods weren’t working. These small businesses needed a better way to get work done. So 85 percent of the clients in Australia that turned to online work said their businesses are now more competitive. And 73 percent say they’ll spend more in 2013 on online work than they did in 2012.
Was research conducted only among oDesk users?
It was. We surveyed more than 3000 users. An independent third party conducted the research.
Talking about SMBs, what do the findings means for other SMBs that might not be using the service at the moment?
Well, we had dinner with one of our clients and he said without oDesk, he wouldn’t have a business. Because he’s been able to leverage the internet to bring the work to the workers, as opposed to the worker to the work. It’s particularly a challenge for him because he’s in Darwin.
First and foremost, one thing we learnt was that it’s hard to find talent. It takes a lot of time. Our survey noted that it takes more than 23 days to hire an on premise employee versus three days online. It’s expensive, it’s hard to find talent and it takes time.
What about access to the contractors themselves? Can the SMBs determine where the contractor is based?
Well what’s interesting is that our clients tell us they want quality workers, and the internet enables us to work together regardless of where we’re located. So clients want access to the best talent regardless where it exists in the world. They are able to make decisions based on the feedback, the reputation and the verifiable work history of those workers, so geography isn’t the issue.
Is there a system to hire the person in a full-time, part-time capacity? Or just contract work?
It’s contract work but it tends to be time based in nature and long term. The idea is you find a good worker and maybe the demands are not high right now but they may ramp up, whether it be week to week or month to month. And so you might work together for the next 6 months 12 months or 18 months, but they just happen to do their work from another location. Once businesses have tried it, it really becomes a part of their long-term strategy, and we’ve noticed that happening in Australia which is why 89 percent say it is part of their long term strategy and they’ll continue to work this way.
Are you also seeing microbusinesses take up this service?
Absolutely. One client of ours actually has a full time job but has a web business on the side. He is able to work on this website but needs designers, copywriters and editing.
How does the oDesk system work?
Generally, a client who needs work done will simply post their job, and that’s free. We don’t charge a client for posting a job and we don’t charge the talent for bidding on a job. Then the talent can apply or the client can invite people from the database who they think have the skills that match what they’re trying to get done. We give you tools to manage the work, and then oDesk facilitates all the payments. So payments are just like time. You log an hour and get paid for an hour. Our team confirms that an hour billed is actually an hour worked. So you know you’re getting what you paid for.