Online freelancer platform Upwork is introducing a new service offering, Upwork Pro, a premium sourcing solution for mid-sized businesses. Upwork Pro will also be available to larger businesses that use the Upwork Enterprise suite.
The launch of this offering represents yet another step by Upwork to engage mid-sized businesses and large enterprises and to meet their urgent need to source highly qualified talent. These businesses, while strapped for talent, have not yet tapped into a burgeoning, alternative source of skilled talent: online freelancers in many locations across the world. Upwork’s freelancer marketplace — what Upwork calls its “Earth-sized Talent Pool” — hosts millions of skilled freelancers in more than 180 countries.
Upwork, formed through the merger of Elance and oDesk in Dec. 2013, is by far the largest online freelancer platform in the world (based on spend). Upwork reports that payments to Upwork online freelancers exceeds $1 billion annually. To date, smaller businesses account for well over 80% of revenue. However, Upwork now distinguishes itself as the only online freelancer platform that has developed a solution, Upwork Enterprise, to address the needs of larger enterprises. Upwork Enterprise and now Upwork Pro represent steps Upwork is taking to move beyond smaller businesses and address the needs of talent-hungry, mid-sized businesses and large enterprises.
“Midsize and enterprise businesses have been asking for a way to source and engage online freelance talent — something which has been going on for awhile,” Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel told us regarding the new offerings. “Until now, the industry didn’t have a solution for this. And I think Pro and Enterprise are now the solution to that need.”
Access to an “Earth-sized talent pool” of millions of online freelancers is clearly of extraordinary value. However, searching and finding just the right freelancer can sometimes require a bit of experience and skill. (Not Boolean search, but it can still sometimes take some work.)
Enter Upwork Pro.
Upwork describes the new offering as “a premium talent sourcing service [that] helps mid-sized businesses identify top talent quicker by providing access to handpicked, prescreened freelancers for long-term project needs including developers, graphic designers, content writers and customer support professionals.”
To achieve “Pro” status, freelancers are put through a rigorous three-part vetting process.
- Upwork leverages data science and advanced profile filters to identify freelancers who will perform the best.
- Those freelancers are then invited to take an intensive technical skills evaluation to see if they qualify to be a “Pro” freelancer
- Final qualified candidates will complete a behavioral interview to evaluate communication skills, teamwork and professionalism to determine if they are fit for the role
Upwork Pro offers busy hiring managers a way to find and engage the right freelancers with little time and effort. Unlike the standard self-service model that Upwork businesses have been using, Upwork Pro is a high touch model, from beginning to end. The service includes a dedicated account manager, who will discuss the general freelancer hiring needs of a customer and provide best practices training for building and managing remote teams. The account manager will also facilitate individual search and selection processes with the customer.
Once a customer communicates its request for a freelancer (or group of freelancers), the account manager goes to work, searching and finding matches from within Upwork Pro’s precurated talent pools of top-notch “Pro Freelancers.” The end result of the process is to present the customer with “hand-selected group of freelancers (two to three per request) who have been carefully vetted through portfolio and work history reviews, technical evaluations and live video interviews.” Customers may engage further with any of the vetted candidates or have the account manager continue the search. (Time-to-hire can be as little as two to four days and rarely exceeds three; by comparison, it can be 30 days with a staffing agency.)
Upwork Pro is priced at $149 per month and a client service fee of 10% on all freelancer or project payments. At this time, the service is available for engaging frequently used freelance talent to assist with development, content marketing, design and customer service projects.
While Upwork’s online freelancer marketplace platform provided an “Earth-sized talent pool” to all comers, more was required to serve large enterprises with (often procurement-based) contingent workforce management programs with VMSs and MSPs. Hence, Upwork Enterprise was brought to life in 2015 as a solution that would allow large enterprise employees to source and engage freelancers from their own private talent clouds, providing the ability to scale the use of freelancers, while maintaining visibility into and control over an enterprise’s use of and spend on freelancers.
At the time, Upwork Enterprise was placed, with a number of other software solutions, in the category of freelancer management systems (FMS). But what set Upwork Enterprise apart from the rest of the pack was its unique capability to deliver freelancer talent from its global online freelancer marketplace platform. Still, while it rapidly became clear to all of the solution providers that FMS would need to integrate with VMS, significant questions remained about how FMS solutions would address sourcing and compliance.
The new release of Upwork Enterprise brings enhancements that address those two nagging issues.
- First of all, the Upwork Pro sourcing service (described above) is now available to Upwork Enterprise clients.
- Secondly, the new release incorporates a new set of advanced classification compliance capabilities and services. Upwork reports that it can now take on the responsibility of “properly determining worker classification,” while “offering indemnification from misclassification risk.” Upwork further reports there is a two-step process: (1) an initial classification assessment is determined based on Upwork’s data analytics and “proprietary compliance workflow engine,” then (2) the initial assessment is then reviewed by Upwork’s in-house compliance team to determine the correct disposition.
A third important set of enhancements included in the latest version of Enterprise encompasses onboarding, purchase-to-pay and reporting capabilities. Upwork references its “proprietary” management dashboard that allows businesses to customize their onboarding processes with steps and checkpoints that could include skill tests and background checks.
The solution also supports tying of POs to freelancer contracts and payments. Lastly, enhanced drill-down capabilities are now available to provide visibility into and analysis of freelancer spend.
Upwork Enterprise may be catching on, with reportedly nearly 20% of Fortune 50, as well as other brand name customers, using Upwork Enterprise in some capacity.
Spend Matters Perspective
Upwork’s release of Upwork Pro and the new capabilities of Upwork Enterprise represents further progress toward what Spend Matters regards as the inevitable inclusion of new platform-based, independent workforce talent sourcing and engagement options within enterprise contingent workforce and services procurement programs. There are a number of interesting points that we would highlight:
- Upwork is the only player that is actually offering FMS capabilities that connect to a global talent pool of online freelancers.
- By adding freelancer compliance and sourcing capabilities, Upwork is further closing the gap on what enterprises require to become active, large scale users of online freelancer talent.
- Upwork Pro, in particular, provides a “missing link” to support no-hassle, effective sourcing of right-fit freelancers. This service mirrors the sourcing and recruiting functions of staffing firms, but with direct digital access to millions of online freelancers with much faster time-to-fill and much lower transaction costs.
- As a single, unified platform that extends from business users in enterprises to a vast digitally connected population of online freelancers, the potential data-based visibility would be orders of magnitude greater than visibility into current staffing supply chains.
- Finally, Upwork Enterprise appears to be moving beyond FMS-vetted talent aggregation to become more like an e-procurement solution as well.
Spend Matters will be getting a demo of the new releases later this week, which should provide us with further insights. We also hope that Upwork will eventually provide more information on its enterprise engagements and any relationship that may be developing with VMS and MSP players.