We often hear about Americans' losing jobs as employers send the work overseas to save money. But have you heard of reverse outsourcing: foreign companies hiring American workers, especially when a specific skill can only be found among U.S. talent?
I looked at two global Web sites where this is happening: Elance.com and oDesk.com, popular online marketplaces that connect freelance talent with businesses of all sizes around the globe, both of which say the growth in non-U.S. companies' hiring Americans is accelerating at a rapid pace.
Sure, companies can -- and do -- hire low-cost workers worldwide to perform technical tasks and other back-end work. But in many cases, Americans have the edge when it comes to customer service and support, public relations, Web site content, branding and marketing to a U.S. customer base.
American freelancers earned more than $15 million in 2009 from non-U.S. companies for work performed through Elance and oDesk, and many of them earned even more money by building relationships with the same businesses on their own. That figure is expected to double this year as companies in India, Singapore, Thailand, Germany, Israel and beyond seek U.S. talent for short- and long-term project work.
Here's how to grab some of that money for yourself:
Create a thorough profile. Visit Elance.com and oDesk.com to create profiles. (You can work for one or both sites. They're free to join, and they take a commission of about 10 percent on earnings.) Just limit your profile to the basics: Go in-depth instead by adding links to your work history and take the system assessments to certify your skill level. That gives businesses more confidence in your skills when considering you for projects.
Don't wait for businesses to find you, start bidding on projects. Just as it's unlikely that an employer will find and select your resume among thousands submitted to databases, the same is true on these sites. You're more likely to be hired if you apply -- or bid -- for projects instead of waiting for someone to discover you.
Consider low-rate projects to get started. This is a common complaint about both sites: The wages are so low, making it impossible for U.S. workers to compete effectively with overseas talent for jobs. While not everyone has experienced that challenge, those who do -- and have overcome it -- suggest accepting a low rate for the first few jobs just to get a foot in the door, so to speak. That helps you build a track-record, amass positive feedback and develop credibility in the marketplace.
Think globally but small world. When bidding on projects or connecting with companies, find a connection. Have you ever vacationed in their country? Do you have friends or family from there? Do you like the cuisine? Have you seen a movie made on their turf? Make it personal, to let the company know you're interested in where they are and who they are.
Be flexible with hours. Flexibility is never more important than when working with overseas clients who are likely in a different time zone. You may have to take a conference call at 3 a.m. It won't happen every day, but don't be surprised if it's required occasionally.
Embrace technology. Instant messaging and Skype make it possible to see and speak to businesses anywhere and everywhere at anytime, which can eliminate barriers of distance and culture. If you're not yet comfortable with such programs, ask a friend or family member for a tutorial. You'll pick it up in no time.