Matchmaking On the Web

FRAMINGHAM (04/18/2000) - In the past four months, Sabir Semerkant has garnered some $2 million in revenue for his six-person consulting firm - and he hasn't paid for a single ad, sent out a single brochure, made a single cold call or negotiated with a single agency.

Semerkant, CEO of Rare Minds Inc. in New York, has done it all by posting his company's skills profile on two Web sites: Monster.com's Talent Market, an auction-style site for independent consultants and contractors produced by The Monster Board in Maynard, Massachusetts, and FreeAgent.com, an online matchmaking service for contractors and clients run by New York-based Opus360 Corp. Rare Minds works with dot-com start-ups on business planning and Web site development. It's currently working with four clients that hired the 9-month-old company after finding it on the sites.

"The sites are pretty much our sales force," Semerkant says. "Without them, we would be cold calling or sending out marketing materials to potential clients.

And as busy as we are - launching two sites every month - we can't really spend a lot of time seeking out new business. So, they're a big positive."

For small consultancies and independent information technology contractors, sites like Talent Market, FreeAgent.com and a bevy of others offer a hassle-free, low-cost way of building client rosters.

Even more significant, consultants say, is that the sites enable them to expand their businesses while eliminating the middleman. By sidestepping consulting agencies, contractors get higher rates, clients pay lower fees and both parties gain more control.

"It will take a few years, but agencies' usefulness - at least for contract work - will dwindle to near zero" because of these sites, says Joe Fitzgerald, a Boston-based independent consultant who specializes in back-end Internet databases and applications.

From the client's perspective, matchmaking sites offer a quick way to gain staff. For example, David Tabor, founder and CEO of Tabor Interactive Inc. in Denver, says he uses Talent Market when he needs people with experience in Allaire Corp.'s ColdFusion Markup Language.

"I've found contractors for about half the rate I would pay through an agency," says Tabor, whose firm develops Web-based strategies and tools for high-tech companies, including Qwest Communications International Inc., Siemens AG and Lucent Technologies Inc.

The sites employ various models of placing and accepting bids for work. At Talent Market, consultants post their profiles, along with their rates, and potential employers respond with auction-style bids for the consultant's services on specific projects. At FreeAgent.com and similar matchmaking sites, both consultants and clients can post profiles and search one another's listings.

In another model, employers post requests for proposals for specific projects, along with what they're willing to pay, and consultants respond with quotes.

Advice exchange sites, in a loose adaptation of the auction model, enable clients to post specific problems or questions, and consultants can respond with bids to provide solutions.

Sites based on the latter model aren't designed to land big gigs for consultants but can be useful marketing tools, says Joseph Shapiro, an independent C++ and Visual Basic developer based in Shelton, Connecticut, who specializes in Web site development. Shapiro has resolved discrete problems for three programmers via Menlo Park, California-based EXP.com Inc., such as providing guidance on available technologies to accomplish specific tasks or providing snippets of code to work around a programming snafu.

Goff is a freelance writer in New York.

Auction-style contracting and advice-exchange sites:

- EXP.com Inc. (www.exp.com)

An advice exchange service that covers a wide range of subject areas, including the Internet and technology (the most active area, according to EXP.com).

- HelloBrain.com (www.hellobrain.com)

An IT-specific advice exchange service that allows buyers (clients) to post queries for solutions to specific problems, along with the price they're willing to pay. Sellers (contractors) respond with bids to resolve a problem.

- Talent market at Monster.com

(www.talentmarket.monster.com)

Contractors post their profiles, rates and the type of projects they are seeking; potential clients place bids for their skills and services.

RFP-oriented sites:

- BizBuyer.com Inc. (www.bizbuyer.com)

Employers post requests for proposals (RFP). Contractors, who create skills profiles, are notified when RFPs match their profiles and may then submit customized quotes to the employers.

- SmarterWork.com (www.smarterwork.com)

Clients post projects and the prices they're willing to pay; contractors review projects that match their skills profiles and submit proposals and bids.

- eWork Exchange Inc. (www.ework.com)

A site designed to hook up project managers with contractors for Web-based and other IT projects. Fees are collected from both buyers and sellers, based on a free-market pricing model.

Matchmaking sites:

- FreeAgent.com (www.freeagent.com)

- Guru.com (www.guru.com)

FreeAgent.com and Guru.com's Web sites allow both contractors and clients to post profiles and search one another's listings.

- Newmediary.com Inc. (www.newmediary.com)It's not IT-specific, but it is IT-oriented, aimed at "Internet economy" companies. Consultants and service providers who register their skills profiles gain access to RFPs that match their experience.

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