MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Roughly a third of American workers these days are freelancers. It’s a rapidly growing industry and now people are joining forces.

For freelancer Joshua Warren, finding a steady stream of income wasn’t always easy.

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“It was very hit or miss, it was a lot of word of mouth,” explained Warren.

This is a common problem for the 42 million independent workers in this country.

“We expect that number to grow year after year because, essentially, people are working by putting together projects and gigs and jobs,” said Sara Horowitz with the Freelancers Union.

According to Horowitz there are an increasing number of organizations and web sites that are offering perks and resources to freelancers.

“We want to make sure that people get the same kinds of protections that traditional employees get,” she said.

That’s why the Freelancers Union offers cost-effective retirement plans, as well as dental, disability, and life insurance.

If you’re looking for affordable healthcare, sites like Elance and oDesk offer access to discounted rates.

“They could also go to their Chamber of Commerce and see if there are any kinds of group plans,” said Horowitz.

If you’re job searching, a number of sites advertise freelance jobs and work to help you build a profile. Many, like oDesk, also have feedback systems in place.

After each job they’ll get rated based on skills, quality, deadlines, communication, and cooperation, enabling them to build an online reputation,” explained oDesk CEO Gary Swart.

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“I started out on oDesk at $15 an hour and now it’s up to $95 an hour and that is directly driven by the demand,” said freelancer Joshua Warren.

These sites also act as virtual workspaces, complete with things like time sheets, status reports and digital to-do lists. Some even make sure you see a payday. In fact Swart said, “We guarantee payment whether we collect it from the employer or not.”

Other perks include tax help, networking, webinars and product discounts.

“Everything from gym memberships to office supplies to car rentals. People are getting 20, 30-percent off,” said Horowitz.

Joshua has been so successful; he’s turned his one-man show into a growing business.

“It’s allowed me not only to find more clients, but also to find employees and contractors that work for us,” said Joshua.

Membership to the freelancers union is free. The organization is actively pushing for things like unemployment insurance, payment protection, and fair taxation. Web sites like oDesk and Elance are also free, but take a portion of the money that you earn.


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