Seeking Platform Intelligence: How Smart Platforms Help Freelancers Succeed

The freelance revolution sits on a marketplace. Technically savvy friends explain that an important promise – or feature – of marketplace architecture is the capability to grow smarter, increasing in platform intelligence over time as transactions increase: To learn, grow and improve through network effects that produce real insight. As successful freelance platforms expand in their freelance membership and volume of activity, they also become more and more data rich – and potentially more intelligent – in ways that can and should benefit individual freelancers.

Most talent marketplaces aren’t large enough to benefit from the network effects available to big global platforms like Freelancer.comFiverr.com or Upwork.com that have millions of members. But, as platforms continue to grow and mature, the value of intelligence to their freelancers is obvious. In fact, it seems more than plausible that, over the next few years, as platforms compete more actively for top freelancers, those that offer platform intelligence in support of freelancers’ success provides those platforms with a strong competitive advantage.

Take freelance writers as a case in point, a professional area that’s seen significant growth in the past two years, amid increasing demands for content. With thousands of writers and editors working on marketplaces, and ensuing transaction volumes, we can begin to imagine what platforms could be learning and even proactively sharing with its writer members, and why freelancers would find this guidance compelling:

  • What’s hot and what’s not in my area e.g., copywriting in healthcare?
  • What types of clients and projects in my specialty area pay best?
  • What open projects on the platform best fit my skill and experience?
  • What’s the probability of my proposed project budget being accepted? What if its increased by 10% to cover inflation costs?
  • How have other freelancers found the experience working with this client?
  • Am I paying too much for administrative support services?

Platform intelligence is found when platforms offer members with easy, self-served, up-to-date, access to customized transaction data that helps them make better decisions.

This is a vision for platform intelligence in the foreseeable future and hopefully in the near future. It’s still early days, and challenging to identify examples of truly farsighted platforms. But, there are a number of very good examples of platforms that are growing and sharing intelligence in specific areas, and worth getting to know.

For example, UnderPinned.com provides freelancers with prescriptive intelligence: tools to build a successful freelance business. UnderPinned.com CEO Albert Azis-Clauson describes its service this way: “We built underpinned.com as a virtual office to help freelancers showcase skills, build a network, and manage all of their work in one place. Our goal was to help freelancers’ build a trust-based relationship with clients, and that means doing the right things at the right time in the right way, and some people need help learning what exactly that means. With over 50,000 current and former members, we’ve had enough interactions to be smart about what differentiates success and failure, and have turned that insight into a set of best practices and tools to help freelancers assess where they are strong and where they need to improve.” In critical performance areas like building a portfolio, growing a network of clients and colleagues, and pricing and financing, UnderPinned data provides members with feedback and specific improvement recommendations to succeed in the early stages of their freelance career.

Another helpful example of prescriptive intelligence is offered by Wethos.co. Wethos is often described as a “business in a box” platform for more than 30,000 freelancers and small independent business owners, 35% of whom earn over $100K a year. It provides the toolkit and relationships that makes it easy for freelancers to start and scale their businesses. In addition to providing software for billing and payments, Wethos distinguishes itself by distributing pricing guidance to its users, literally slicing and dicing tens of thousands of datapoints gathered from freelancers as they use the platform to price projects. Its algorithm helps freelancers to set the price for their service and to test contingencies: Are they are over or under typical pricing for their market, and what’s the likely acceptance of a 5-10% price raise or lowering? Rachel Renock, CEO of Wethos.co points out that pricing data is currently updated weekly, but the goal is real time. This is powerful platform intelligence, and Wethos is able to provide this information for over 100 categories of services across marketing, IT, creative, and consulting.

A third example of platform intelligence is Torc. Torc uses prescriptive intelligence to craft high performance enterprise teams, and improve the skills of freelance members. The platform launched recently by CEO Michael Morris, formerly of topcoder.com, Rob Biederman (co-founder of Catalant, now at Asymmetric Capital Partners) and former Cognizant leader Frank D’Souza. The team has created an AI-driven platform that matches software pros with enterprise opportunities and, over time, growing its knowledge of how to combine engineers into high performing teams. Performance measurement and improvement is a priority for Torc. Morris explains, “We provide freelancers with tangible quantitative feedback to assess and improve their expertise, which is also obviously invaluable for the company.” An early acquisition enabled Torc to integrate productivity, security and career development tools for freelancer self-assessment, and the platform uses gamification tools to ensure Torc builds communities that function as high performing teams with the right skills and shared cultural and quality values.

Another example of platform intelligence – insight that leads to new product or service opportunity – is suggested by the expert networks space. Inex.One, a leading aggregator of expert networks, and Sealed Networks a Singapore based expert network emphasizing SE Asia, both recognize – as did Economist.com and other periodicals – that the work and knowledge of experts reorganized in report format, and focused on a particular problem or opportunity, converts service to a product and creates value for both the platform and the freelancer. Moreover, as Inex.One CEO Max Friberg points out, “Our platform intelligence matches each client request with the right expert network(s). The system programmatically learns, over thousands of client projects, which expert networks are the best fit for a given request.”

Toptal.com offers a final example of platform intelligence, starting with the requirement that freelancers meet very high standards of expertise (top 3%). If invited to join the platform, freelancers receive guidance in setting rates based on platform data, as well as how much work, and what kinds of projects, they can expect given their experience and rate. Toptal is famously supportive of talent development, setting freelancers up for success through early support on profiles, frequent meetups, regular webinars, strong investment in both internally and customer directed blogs and even scholarships to train freelancers on new tech. Platform intelligence guides feedback on what’s in and out of demand from an industry perspective, and training based on what the platform is learning drives the development of hard and soft skills. Toptal’s Chief Economist Erik Stettler puts it this way: “We look at everything in Toptal through a data analytic and ROI lens, and bring that insight to our freelancers.”

What’s the future of platform intelligence? I asked one of the true experts in the field, Dyan Finkhousen, CEO of Shoshin Works and an advisor to Open-Assembly.com and here’s what she said: “Platform intelligence will soon be the ultimate moat and the defining characteristic of digital economy leaders – fueling the convergence of digital twins, human clouds, dynamic meta-marketplace protocols, and much more to optimize performance and elevate the human experience.” Want to win a spot in the future of the freelancer revolution? Invest in platform intelligence.

Viva la Revolution!