'Free agents' vying for health insurance, guaranteed pay, VIP discounts

Published On: Jun 06 2012 06:25:14 AM EDT

For freelancer Joshua Warren, finding a steady stream of income wasn't always easy.

"It was very hit or miss; it was a lot of word of mouth," says Warren.

This is a common problem for the 42 million independent workers in this country.
That's roughly one-third of the US workforce, an area that's seeing growth, despite the recent recession.

"We expect that number to grow year after year because, essentially, people
are working by putting together projects and gigs and jobs," says Sara Horowitz.

And there's power in numbers!  Horowitz says an increasing number of organizations and web sites are offering perks and resources to freelancers.

"We want to make sure that people get the same kinds of protections that traditional employees get," she says.

that's why the freelancers union offers cost-effective retirement plans, as well as dental, disability and life insurance.  On the hunt for more affordable healthcare? Websites like Elance and oDesk offer access to discounted rates.

"They could also go to their Chamber of Commerce and see, are there any kinds of group plans?" recommends Horowitz.

If you're job searching, a growing number of sites not only advertise freelance gigs, but help you build a profile.   Many, like oDesk, also have feedback systems in place.

"After each job they'll get rated based on skills, quality, deadlines, communication, and cooperation, enabling them to build an online reputation," says Gary Swart, CEO, oDesk.com.

"I started out on oDesk at $15 an hour, and now its up to $95 an hour. And that is directly driven by the demand," says Warren.

These sites also act as virtual workspaces, complete with things like time sheets, status reports and digital to-do lists.  Some even make sure you see a payday.

"We guarantee payment whether we collect it from the employer or not," says Swart.

Other perks you can find include tax help, networking webinars and product discounts.

"Everything from gym memberships to office supplies to car rentals. People are getting 20, 30 % off," says Horowitz.

Warren has been so successful; he's turned his one-man show into a growing business.

"It's allowed me not only to find more clients, but also to find employees and
contractors that work for us," he says.

Membership to the Freelancers Union is free.  The organization is actively fighting for things like unemployment insurance, payment protection and fair taxation. Websites like oDesk and Elance take a small cut of the money that you earn.