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Summary:

Think of independent workers, and you’ll probably imagine a lone professional staring at his laptop all day, supporting himself in his slippers. But there are some freelancers who build their solo gigs into thriving, and lucrative, businesses, employing others. Here’s how they manage it.

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More and more folks are going freelance. It’s a trend that business leaders and analysts will be discussing in just a few weeks at Net:Work 2011 in San Francisco, where they’ll be focusing on new quantitative data about independent work, as well as the promise and challenges of the growth in independent workers. But what about the success stories: those independent workers who have gone solo and managed to build successful businesses for themselves?

They’re out there, and their stories aren’t all the same tales of solo practitioners earning the ability to work in their bathrobes and take home a comfortable but not impressive income. When we talked to oDesk CEO Gary Swart earlier this month, he shared examples of members of his platform who had built businesses by growing their client base to the point where they couldn’t handle all the available work on their own. Joshua Warren, a Dallas-based web designer, Swart told WWD, is a perfect example of this new breed of independent contractor turned mini-mogul. He started on oDesk at $15 an hour, then:

[W]ithin months he stair steps his way from 15, to 30, to $85 an hour, and even at $85 an hour he has got more clients than he can handle and he’s making more money than he was at his traditional brick and mortar job in Dallas. What he figures out is he’s an entrepreneur. He stops turning away business; he creates his own firm. So in March of this year he created a company by the name of Creatuity, and he expects to do over a million dollars in business this year. And he now is hiring on oDesk.

This idea of the million-dollar freelancer might seem unlikely, but Warren isn’t the only one to manage it. IT pro Sanjay Dange, in Nagpur, India, used various online labor platforms like Freelancer.com and oDesk to build a million dollar company. He recently spoke to Entrepreneur Journeys about how he built up his business using these sites:

I wasn’t very sure about venturing into the overseas market… Our Indian operations were yielding an annual revenue of around INR 10 million ($204,332). However the profit margin was going down and competition was increasing due to new players coming in. That’s why we also thought of expanding our reach by entering into the overseas markets. At that time, Freelancer.com was GetAFreelancer.com. We thought of bidding on it for three to four hours a day….

We started getting small value orders in 2005. The first major order was from ZZPerformance.com, a Grand Prix components manufacturing company in the USA. The order was to deliver a complete e-commerce site. We took it at a very low price of $1,000. The project was quite big in terms of technical requirements and it took us five, six months to complete it. It gave us a major breakthrough. Since then, we have worked on hundreds of dynamic content management sites and e-commerce applications.

We started with a small office of 200 square feet and three people… Today, we have a total office space of 6,000 square feet in Surat and 2,000 square feet in Baroda. We have 100 people on our payroll. We are on Elance.com. We are on PeoplePerHour.com. We are on various contest sites such as LogoGuru.com, Hatchwise.com, 99designs.com and a few others.

Curious to learn more about Dange? Check out the lengthy interview for a lot more detail. Or read our interview with Shane Pearlman, who turned too much freelance work into a sort of thriving freelancers collective, no online labor platform required.

Do many of us have outmoded and overly limited visions of what independent work can be?

Image courtesy of TaxBrackets.org.

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