The process of establishing and enhancing your presence on the Web takes a lot of time – time that you, as a startup or small business owner, may not have. It also requires a full range of skills: content writing, online networking, search marketing, project management, web design, programming, etc. – things that you also might not have a lot of experience with.

Sure, it’s convenient to hire dedicated full-time staff members to perform a bunch of Internet marketing jobs for you – but is it really always worth it? Wouldn’t that deplete your resources, as well as the money and the infrastructure you need to run your business? We’re still in the midst of recovering from the recession, after all. Surely, there must be a better and more cost-effective alternative.

Like outsourcing.

If you think that outsourcing – online – might be a worthwhile option for you, there’s a marketplace where you can find freelancers and hire them on a contractual or per-project basis. It’s called oDesk, which, since its founding in 2003, has attracted the attention of tens of thousands of freelancers/contractors from over 150 countries, as well as professionals like you who need to outsource work because they don’t have the time or the experience to perform certain sets of business tasks.

What You Can Do with oDesk

oDesk basically lets you search, interview, and hire freelancers using an easy-to-use web-based platform that organizes freelancers by specialization. You can outsource workers for things like web development, software development, networking and information systems, content writing, SEO, translation, administrative support, design, multimedia, customer service, sales and marketing, and business services. oDesk is also a place where you can get your very own virtual assistant. There’s also an option for posting jobs so you can see who are interested in working for you.

It doesn’t stop there, though. Once you’ve hired your freelancer, you can then use the site to manage his or her work: to verify the billed hours using virtual timesheets and to send payments once jobs have been completed (thereby eliminating payroll hassle). Of course, before you decide to outsource work to someone who’s probably half a world away, you have to be careful about who you hire. oDesk makes that easier by providing essential data like freelancer feedback ratings, work history, portfolio, examples of past work, and even online skills and proficiency tests.

How oDesk Verifies Work

Typically you won’t be meeting the outsourced freelancer face-to-face. So how can oDesk verify that an hour billed is an hour worked?

Here’s how: by using a pretty impressive system wherein the freelancer has to be logged in while he or she is working on your project. This system takes a bunch of screenshots per hour, which then allows you to check if they really were typing up that article you had asked for, or if they were merely stalking their crushes on Facebook.

This is probably the feature that makes oDesk stand out among its competitors. (Yes, there are several other online marketplaces out there, like Elance and, but here at Lakeshore Branding we’ve come to really like oDesk.) Of course, the whole system is not absolutely dispute-free – there’ll always be ill-intentioned strangers in every corner of the Web – but this work verification system (structured in an hourly basis), as well as a clearly outlined file dispute policy, makes oDesk a safe enough marketplace for finding a number of qualified freelancers with certified skills.

Signing up for oDesk is free. The best part about a marketplace like this, of course, is that you’re hiring contractors – and not employees. It means you aren’t liable for employment taxes, employee benefits, and traditional employee payrolls. It also means you’re freeing yourself up – and freeing your wallet up – to do what you’re really good at doing: run your business.