THE BLOG
10/31/2012 07:11 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2012

Talent-as-a-Service: Why TaaS Is Here to Stay and How Workers Can Benefit From It

The concept of Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS, is something that most business owners in the U.S. will be familiar with -- as well as easy implementation, scalability and painless upgrading, one of the chief benefits of SaaS is the cost savings it brings.

Organizations, and particularly smaller ones, have begun to adopt similar strategies when it comes to other aspects of running a successful business. While small businesses and micro businesses are significant job creators in the U.S., with the economy in an uncertain state the pressure on these businesses to keep other costs in check is high. This is why the idea of Talent-as-a-Service (TaaS) has begun to take hold -- rather than sign people up to permanent contracts, businesses are hiring workers as and when they need them.

A poll of micro businesses showed that 54 percent of these companies employed a contractor or 1099 employee in the past year. Micro businesses -- those with fewer than 10 employees -- make up some 95 percent of all businesses in the U.S., figures in the same report show. It's been a shift that has had dramatic consequences for businesses as well as the one-in-three Americans of a working age that are self-employed.

It makes sense for small businesses to bring in short-term hires to deal with peaks in the overall workload, while keeping the organization lean when there is a trough. This isn't exactly a new phenomenon in itself -- many seasonal businesses have been run this way for many years -- but it's now something that is more common among all types of business, especially those who don't want to fork out on the overheads required for an office space and run a 'virtual' office, with contractors able to work remotely.

For example, if a development house strikes a deal with a major publisher to create a mobile app, it may need to take on extra developers to achieve this within the agreed timescale. Therefore it hires several freelancers with the appropriate skills on short-term contracts, knowing that if another deal of the same magnitude doesn't come along immediately afterwards, it won't be paying workers that it no longer requires. And this approach means businesses can pick the most appropriate talent for each project. Developers with iOS skills can be hired for iOS projects, and those with Android skills can be assigned to Android-based tasks. And if the business is running a virtual office, then the location of the freelance developer is no obstacle either.

But it isn't just small businesses adopting this approach. Microsoft uses a significant number of contingent workers -- one estimate puts the number at 70,000, compared to just under 100,000 full-time employees -- and it isn't the only large company doing this by any means. With around 42 million freelance workers in the U.S. alone, businesses that have embraced TaaS have a large pool of talent to choose from. So how can contractors make sure they put themselves in the best position to benefit from the TaaS phenomenon?

Making yourself stand out from the competition is one of the key considerations for any freelance worker. While full-time, contracted employees can reap the benefits of in-house training courses, keeping your skills sharp -- as well as developing and honing new skills -- is very much the responsibility of the freelancer. There are numerous online resources available to those who want to learn new skills -- for example, Treehouse is geared towards those who want to get to grips with web design, web development and iOS development specifically.

Also, don't think that you're limited to working only for U.S.-based companies. While many freelancers pick and choose where they work from already, the source of the work doesn't need to be confined to the 50 states. In the last 12 months, more than 20 percent of the job requests made through DoNanza were from outside the U.S. -- with the UK, Australia, Canada and other English-speaking nations accounting for a significant proportion of these -- and this figure is steadily rising.

And while sharper skills and increased flexibility will help, it's also very important to consider how efficient your operation is too. As a freelancer, any time you spend on tasks that aren't directly commissioned projects isn't making you any money, so consider using tools to help you automate everyday processes.

One further way to get ahead of the competition for work is to advertise your services online. On average, every job request posted online receives about 30 applications. This can result in a lot of failed applications -- again, something that doesn't earn a freelancer any money and prevents him or her working on projects that do have financial benefits. Online advertising will enable employers to find you more easily and give you a chance of connecting with them directly without having to compete with dozens of other applicants.