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Creative Freelancers Bid, and Sites Take a Cut

CHICAGO ( TheStreet) -- Does your company need a fresh look for the New Year? While overhauling your website and marketing materials might seem like a daunting -- and expensive -- project, online talent-scouting sites have made hiring freelancers easier and more affordable than ever.

Two factors have helped increase small businesses' access to creative talent. First, waves of layoffs at advertising agencies and media companies have left thousands of designers and copywriters out of work -- and looking to take on freelance projects. At the same time, there's been increasing interest in crowdsourcing, the concept that the "wisdom of crowds" can be used to solve problems.

Those trends have led to a new take on the temp agency: websites that match companies with workers on a project basis. Businesses post what they need done and what they're willing to pay, then watch the offers to work come in.

The plus for small businesses? You get access to a worldwide network of creative types, which is especially valuable for companies outside of major urban areas. Another bonus: The sites take care of all legal paperwork, so you won't be stuck haggling over intellectual property rights.

Here's a quick guide to the most popular sites by kind of job:

Graphic design
The recognized leader in this field is Essentially, the site allows you to offer an online design contest: You complete a written description of what you're looking for and what you'll pay, and submissions are posted for everyone to see. You rate each idea and offer comments and suggestions so designers can adjust their proposals accordingly. At the end of a designated length of time, you chose a winner. You have to prepay your fee (to show you're serious), and 99designs takes its cut from that payment. Recently, companies have been paying $250 to $500 for a company logo and $1,000 and up for website redesigns. works in a similar way, but allows for more confidentiality. (The current website of the powerful Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives was designed as a CrowdSPRING project.) The company charges a listing fee of $39-$199, plus a 15% commission on the price you pay for the project. The more you pay, the more privacy settings you can activate, so competitors won't know what you're up to.

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