That online platform has been provided for a while by Elance, which then joined with oDesk. The viability of that model is clear in that the merged entity Elance-oDesk received $30 million in addition funding. Here is that coverage by Ryan Lawler in Tech Crunch.
A newer addition is Outsource.com. Also pay-to-play but with no freebies like Elance-oDesk, Outsource requires a subscription from the get-go. The most popular is for 30 credits monthly for a six-month subscription for about $130.
Usually, the pay-to-play route isn't the most lucrative or intellectually satisfying route to navigate the free agent world. As "What Color Is Your Parachute" recommends, the best is to pitch into the ether. That is, send unsolicited emails to possible organizations which might need our service. We track down the name of a leader there and the assignments could yield five times the revenue as the pay-to-play ones.
However, pay-to-play is useful to build a portfolio of samples in a niche we want to enter or to beef up our credentials in one we are already in. For example, we already are a brandname in personal finance. However, we don't have the knowledge base or the work samples about home mortgages. Since the residential real estate market is picking up there's a growing demand by financial institutions for communicators to explain the diversity of options available. We can get that experience more easily through pay-to-pay than by pitching directly to a financial institution or public relations agency.
Pay-to-play can also be leveraged to understand a market better. For several years I have been coaching global students and scholars about the strategy and content of the personal essay required to apply to academic institutions and medical residencies. I lacked the big picture. The gap is being filled by talking with those who post ads on pay-to-play.
In addition, slugging it out in the marketplace of pay-to-place can give the gift of overwhelming confidence in our ability as businesspeople. I can smell a scam, a low-baller, and players with garlic in their souls continents away.