Making Local Freelancers More Visible

Here’s a problem I’ve been pondering for the last few months, maybe you can say if my idea has legs…

This year I’ll be expanding my ProCasts at a rate of knots.  I intend to partner with a set of great freelancers (particularly animators and 2D designers) – but how do I find them?

The obvious answer here in Brighton is to attend BrightonFarm (I am – thanks Paul), but only a subset of all of Brighton’s (and near-by) creatives will attend.  How else do I find out who is active?  One excellent creative I’m meeting tomorrow doesn’t attend the Farm, I only heard about him through a personal recommendation.

What if I want to contact freelancers who’d never attend the Farm (BrightonFarm tends to attract web-devs but not, say, legal folk or niche non-web programmers)?  I guess it is back to asking around, reading directories and finding those who are great at marketing themselves.

A case in point – via my liaising with Sussex Uni I’m told that a couple of very smart algorithmic/Matlab/research chaps are looking for ‘tough problems to solve’.  I could direct them to the Farm but that’s not really the right locale and I can’t think of any other obvious place where they could say ‘hey, I’m available, here’s what I do!’.  Instead they remain (as far as I can tell) in obscurity and that’s just a darn shame.

An ‘active freelancer’ listing?

Something interesting happens when freelancers are more visible – more collaborations will result.  This helps build further resilience into our local economy and brings the skills of other’s a bit closer to us.

I suspect that SMEs as well as freelancers would benefit by noticing the skills that were on offer – just the act of making the skills visible would remind people of the range and depth of knowledge that’s available down here.

WiredSussex has a jobs-board and a projects-board and ProjectBrighton has a jobs-board – how about adding a freelancers-board?  A simple RSS feed that I can watch would let me see who’s active and available.  At the very least it would spark new conversations, at best it would help us point work at the right people and strengthen relationships.

WiredSussex have a freelancers showcase but Luke tells me it isn’t actively supported.  A twitter-like solution wouldn’t need any support time…

Filtered, restricted postings?

Spammy rubbish would be useless of course – so why not control the listing and only allow registered Brightonian’s  to post?  You’d only want occasional posts too to keep the signal:noise ratio high, perhaps I’d describe what I offered and what I was after and I’d only get to do so twice a year.

After setup we’d see a few posts a week – easy enough to keep an occasional eye on.  As a bonus, if a central authority can kill your right to post if you misbehave then you won’t mess around with spammy tactics – again keeping the signal clean.

If the listing is read by many (WiredSussex’s audience is pretty large down here) then those characters would count, making it worth spending time crafting a decent entry.  It would be a sort of ‘twitter-for-active-freelancers‘.

Does the idea have legs?  Any freelancers care to comment on whether being more visible would increase their chance of finding work?  Any non-freelancers think it’ll be useful to keep tabs on who’s active and what skills are locally available?


Ian applies Data Science as an AI/Data Scientist for companies in ModelInsight and in his Mor Consulting, sign-up for Data Science tutorials in London. He also founded the image and text annotation API Annotate.io, lives in London and is a consumer of fine coffees.

16 Comments

  • Hi Ian, I think it's a good idea. And yes, it seems to be something that's currently missing. Good thinking!
  • I had what I think is a similar idea for within the Farm, as part of the near-mythical Farm site 3.0 that's been on the cards for the last 2-3 years. Something that would let other freelancers and the public (or maybe not the public, depending on a setting) know if you were available / partly available / not available. This would help me a lot as I tend to refer a lot of work off to other people and it's nice to know who's actually free. The only problem I saw in it was people not bothering to keep it updated. I think the people who are going to update it are the sort of people who are quite pro-active about marketing themselves anyway, which means they're less available or you'd know how they're doing. All that said - I can certainly see the potential of it, and I'd find it useful, especially if people I don't normally meet are also using it. It feels to me that if you could plug in to something people are already using and make it very easy to update (e.g. direct messaging an account watched by a bot in Twitter, or something similarly simple to use rather than remembering to log in somewhere and use it.) While a general service would be good, I think you're right that some sort of admin would be very useful at stopping abuse of it. Wired Sussex have a lot of things they want to do and not a lot of developer time, though I'm sure they'd be happy to host it if someone can help make it. Alternatively, Freelance Advisor have a big update coming soon and it might be something they'd be happy to make as an add on to that. They'd want to do it nationwide/globally, but I don't see why there couldn't be localisation in it so you could pick where you want to follow. This may or may not cover the admin angle though. Anyhow, I think it has some level of legs as an idea.
  • This is something I'm interested in developing, especially after entering the freelance world recently from the corporate background. We were always forced to use agencies for jobs which would frustrate me because I knew the talent was out there, I just didn't know where to find them. I also knew freelance people who were frustrated about not knowing where to pitch work. can the gap between companies and freelancers be bridged? I think it has to be. We need a more efficient way of finding services in these challenging times.
  • Well, this is why recruitment agencies exist. Not that it's the only option, nor one I would choose, but finding the right people can be a lot of hard work. The social web makes it easier, but what you are essentially talking about is some kind of a community that takes time to build and plenty convincing for people to sign up and contribute. It's easy to start stuff, but maintaining and growing it is the hard bit. This has actually given me the nudge to do something I've been meaning to do which is to take down the wordpress/blogging front of Project Brighton and have the Club/network area as the main focus. The idea is that it will be easier for me to maintain, be more visible and hopefully encourage more people to participate. Groups are easy as pie to set up on the 'club', but not always so easy to maintain it, especially when it is not directly a money making thing. It will also make blogging much easier. There should be more support for small/micro businesses and freelancers. It is stuff I and The Werks are trying to address, but exactly how is yet to be determined.
  • It is difficult to get the signal to noise right, I personally tend to find things with single focus far more likely to keep my attention as the SNR is higher. I could see interest in something that offers just 'have skills and availability' and 'need skills have dosh'. I keep it really simple and avoid the whole recruitment agency matching nonsense as they always get it wrong by keyword matching and there is never a leveller for quality and everybody rates their skill differently. It it were both social and just allowed posts of the 'I'm looking for somebody to...., any ideas?' variety it leaves the door open for recommendations which tends to make a good proxy for quality. So in short, yes I see opportunity for something that would provide just enough scaffold to support conversations about work coming up and freelancers becoming available.
  • We've had this on our list of side projects for a long time now, almost since we started Inuda. Opening The Skiff has given it a significant boost up the priority list so it might materialise sooner rather than later. If anyone offered to step up and help us with testing, moderation, promotion and design we should be able to launch a first version within a week or two. We'd be very keen to take the approach James has suggested and go for the simplest possible solution that solves the core problem.
  • For a skill-specific example there's http://djangopeople.net/. Despite my profile not listing me as looking for work I've had a few contacts via it. Something fairly similar might work quite well. Just name, email/contact, location, bio, tags and list of URLs would be all you'd probably need. If people link to their "regular" site then it might not be too hard to work out when they are/aren't available even if they don't update the listing site too often.
  • I think it is a fantastic idea ! I guess the only (micro)issue is to get freelancers to know about the website / community / listings. It would either require a lot of resources or time. I guess if someone is ready to commit these, I don't see why Freelance community wouldn't thrive and grow !
  • Paul makes some good points - about people not updating it especially. Linking to Twitter would be great. Making it as simple and quick to use as possible is probably key. And yes, I believe Freelance Advisor are planning something that might do the job. I'll nudge Michael Rose...
  • it would be pretty simple to build a twitterbot to monitor statuses - freelancers could just use hashtags to update their status on the site. e.g. #flstatus i'm looking for work! the bot would ignore all other tweets. since people actually use twitter, it might be a good interface to encourage people to keep their status fresh.
  • It sounds like Ian is interested in potential projects or potential collaborations, which is a bit different from knowing about availability or a directory of freelancers. What I mean is, if you have a definite project, you can list it on a job site you trust, and cross your fingers you'll find the right people. But what I think we're talking about is discovery: who can do the kind of thing we (might) want to do? to what kind of quality? are they someone I want to work with? how do they work? can the project afford them? A simple directory would help "spark new conversations" (which is exactly what this is about) but I wonder.... ...should it be the other way round and have a directory of "possible projects"? Kind of a job site for jobs and projects that don't actually exist---but might exist if the right people are interested. If you look at it like that, the onus is on the person looking for freelancers to keep entries up to date and to avoid a reputation of a time waster (umm... that sounded horrible, but you get the idea). It might also encourage us to look a little further ahead, beyond today's project. Oh: did I just kind of rephrase what James said? Availability? I think it's a bit of a red herring. It isn't always a yes/no thing, as space can sometimes be made available for the right project. Or the right price.
  • All good ideas: * A directory of workers * A directory of opportunities * Feeds of new activity * A simple, focussed interface Some part of this could emerge from the as yet under-utilised wikis that already exist for local freelancers. E.g. those listed at http://sussexdigital.com/wikis I'd love to see some movement in this area. It would be useful, both for sourcing freelancers for new projects, and for getting involved in other people's projects.
  • Responding to nudge... The new Freelance Advisor site (I hate to say it... but it really is FA2.0) will have a community section that is designed to help UK Freelancers (Brighton, London and beyond) in just the ways you are calling for Ian. Sign-up, get a profile, list your availability. Recommend others. etc. Speaking as Editor of Freelance Advisor, we'd really love to invite local freelancers to come and use the community site we're building. In fact we'll need a few eager Beta-testers very soon please DM @freelanceadvice on Twitter if you want a sneaky-peek. I'm loving hearing the ideas here, I'd like to keep it as simple as possible, without being too simple. PaulSilver's idea of messaging a twitter account with status updates is a great one... I have already nabbed @freelancestatus and would love to open this up to anyone with ideas for making it work the way we'd like it to work. We've got a good developer working on the API for FA2.0 and I'll ask him if we can develop an "update your status" via twitter service... if not we should open it up for the community to help build. Glad we're on the right track with some of this... looking forward to developing this conversation.
  • Been thinking about this all day and have implemented a potential solution for you... or the beginnings of one at least. This might be a little bit too simple. It consists of two complementary websites, which could be hosted on their own domain names and with a tailor-made design: Skilled People in Brighton Looking for Projects: http://brightonskills.socialplume.com/ Projects in Brighton Looking for Skilled People: http://brightonprojects.socialplume.com/ Let me know your thoughts, or just start listing things :)
  • To my mind, the solution (whatever it is) lets freelancers (and tiny companies) state that they 'do XYZ'. By stating this they're suggesting that they're active and looking for work and this solves the 'out-of-date skills/availability' problem. It also spreads knowledge of their skills to a much wider audience. Think of the matlab/AI guys in my post - normally they couldn't really tell anyone else at places like the Skiff/Werks what they do unless they turn up in person and start glad-handing. Letting them (and voice-over artists, painters, modellers, UX people, copy-writers, sales trainers, python programmers, rails debuggers etc) voice their skills helps all of us learn what's on offer that's probably just a contact or two away. The solution should also let us ask 'I've got a project that requires ABC, can anyone help?'. Maybe the BNM does this bit adequately already? A perfect solution IMHO would use twitter - it is a free, easy to use tool that most of us already use. No logins, no new stuff to learn. Presumably if the feed is tagged 'project' somehow then the 'I've got a project...' posts could also be consumed by WiredSussex's Projects Board, that'd be an obvious presentation area for these micro (or not-so-micro)-projects. @Michael - you're on the right track letting people update their status via twitter, the solution *has* to be super-simple to use so it integrates with people's normal work practices. @Jon - very interesting approach! I love the uber-simple twitter inspired comms. How do the sites know who to watch? Can I follow the postings using twitter (best), or do I have to hook up rss (ok, but a pain)? Why two sites? Why not one that consumes both #freelancestatus and #freelanceproject from the twitter accounts it follows, then retweets those to @freelancersbyskiff? That way the site becomes even more light-weight, the process fits in with our use of twitter, there's only one website to watch (if we watch it at all) and you have a centralised point of control to block spammers. Could discuss further? Many thanks all for points so far.
  • Hi Ian. Looks like my previous comment didn't explain itself very well, I think we're on pretty much the same wavelength. The solution I've implemented almost does exactly what you describe the perfect solution should do. If it's a little rough around the edges it's probably down to the fact that I've not written a line of new code to make it possible - it's simply built on top of SocialPlume which is essentially a Twitter applications platform we've created. I think with a little more time spent on the design and the enabling of a couple of extra features we'll be there. The critical thing about this approach is that almost all the data is kept in the (relatively) public domain of Twitter, using logical, generic tags rather than polluting people's twitter feeds with yet another brand name. Anyone that wants to list a project simply need to post a tweet containing the hash tags #brighton and #projects or #project. Anyone that wants to list their skills simply needs to post a tweet containing the hash tags #brighton and #skills or #skill. The sites are watching the public stream so provided your tweets are not protected it will usually be up on the relevant site within a minute or two. It's trivial to turn the feed into a Twitter stream, I should be able to implement that tomorrow. We already have widget code so you can embed recent projects or skills in any web site and style it your own way. Let me know and I'll email it over. The reason it's on two seperate (but linked) sited was that it was the simplest way to get it up and running quickly using the current version of SocialPlume. I also liked the fact that there was absolute focus in each one. I should be able to improve this and combine them into one site in the next week. If anyone can suggest some customizations to the CSS or HTML I'll gladly include them. We can moderate anything that comes in and we can share that moderation facility with others in the future. If it gets heavily spammed with can go for a white listing approach rather than a black listing approach. Let me know of any more ideas you have to improve this.