When you’re a worker looking for a job or an employer trying to find the perfect candidate, there’s no shortage of Web sites to investigate. But if your goal is to find or fill a contract position—where full-time employment is not the objective—move FreeAgent.com to the top of the list.

FreeAgent.com describes itself as “the most powerful hub for freelancers, consultants, and independent contractors.” So what does the site offer for job seekers and CIOs scouting for new talent? Is it easy to find the position you’re looking for? Here’s what we found.

How it works
To search FreeAgent.com’s database of listings, click the Get Work tab from any page on the site. This sends you to the “Xchange.” If you haven’t already registered, you’ll need to. It’s free and fast.

After registering, you can browse projects (FreeAgent’s universal term for job, listing, position, or contract) by clicking on the 24 general categories. Included are Internet/New Technology Management Consulting and Technology.

You can also fill in fields to perform targeted searches by location, industry, skill area, company size, and whether or not the employer will work with off-site contractors (telecommuters).

I browsed the Technology category and found more than 3,800 projects, shown 20 at a time. Some of the projects are merely spam come-ons. But the majority of the projects outweigh the questionable ones.

In the Technology topic, for example, I found calls for C++/UNIX programmers, load testers, Web designers, NT Systems Administrators, and more.

By clicking a link, you’ll view project details. If you feel the project is a match, you can click an envelope icon to respond to the employer.

If you’re an employer or staffer, you can pursue two paths: freely troll the talent pool or set up a project posting for a $50 fee, and let them apply to you.

The same type of targeted search the agents use to find you can also be used to find them.

If you’re looking for a network administrator, for example, you can search all prospects by typing the job title into the Keyword search field. That would pull up hundreds of national and international candidates, though. If you prefer people from your backyard, try the Criteria search, which lets you search by name, skill classification, city, state, and country.

Who uses the site
Since FreeAgent.com launched on July 4 last year, the site has logged more than 100,000 registered users, said Allen Berger, senior vice president and general manager.

“We’re trying to aggregate the largest pool of free agents in the world,” he said.

The site has also enjoyed praise from the industry. In its March listing, PC Data Online ranked FreeAgent.com number one among project marketplaces with the most visits.

FreeAgent.com lists dozens of corporations—including Microsoft, Pfizer, Ernst & Young, Lucas Films, MetLife, Lucent, and Xerox—that have used the site to hire consultants and contractors.

Our review
FreeAgent.com uses consistent and intuitive navigation. At the top of each page are six tabs that take the user to the six areas of the site:

  1. Get Work
  2. Business Services
  3. My e.portfolio
  4. Work Support
  5. Network
  6. For Employers

We’ve spent a lot of time already talking about Get Work, the meat of the site. Consultants and contractors who visit FreeAgent.com will spend most of their time there.

The Business Services area offers links to information on 401K plans, insurance, event planning, shipping, and banking. Most of the services offered here, however, are not yet in evidence, with “coming soon” a familiar label.

My e.portfolio, a free online resume service, is impressive for three reasons:

  • It gives free agents their own URL at FreeAgent.com, a handy thing to put on stationery and e-mail correspondence.
  • It’s connected to the agent search database, which means skills listed become accessible to employers.
  • It offers 3 megabytes of online storage space that agents can use to “attach” any kind of file that will showcase their work.

Behind the Work Support tab is what FreeAgent calls “e.office,” a consolidation of services and benefits. It’s a suite of services you can purchase if, as FreeAgent advertises, “you want to be your own boss, not your own secretary.”

Chief among e.office’s advantages is eliminating paperwork—free agents can shift invoicing, collecting, and tax-filing chores to an assistant at FreeAgent.com. The site’s e.office comes at a price of $279 per month, which Berger estimates at $2 an hour based on billing.

E.office also becomes a personalized human resources department, bundling retirement planning with insurance coverage for an extra fee. There’s also an income calculator to help prospective consultants decide if they should take the leap into independence as free agents.

By plugging in estimated billing rates per hour, billed hours per week, and other factors, workers can estimate what their take-home pay would be if they were self-employed.

The Network section offers discussion boards where agents can come together to help each other, asking questions and offering advice. Forums are grouped by category, which includes:

  • Technology
  • Creative
  • Sales
  • Human Resources
  • Management Consulting
  • Executive
  • Internet/New Media

Discussions may also center around one of the articles featured on the site. One such article is the tip-packed “Five musts for your next project pitch,” written by marketing consultant Martin Edic.

The For Employers area is where employers, recruiters, and resource consultants—anyone in charge of hiring with a position to fill—can post projects for free agents’ perusal.

FreeAgent’s front page has slimmed down since I started visiting the site. It used to contain a busy collection of links to articles and features inside, but it’s reined most of them in. I’m glad it kept the tabloid-style promos to the “Expert Advice” columns. Who could resist clicking the “I’m dating a corporate man” link in “Sex@Work”?

Overall impressions
FreeAgent.com surrounds itself with context and community. Besides the usual listings where job seekers and employers hook up, the site offers a variety of helpful articles, forums, and business services designed to help independent contractors, consultants, and freelancers succeed in striking out on their own. The pieces form a sticky package that both free agents and employers will keep coming back to.