In his book The Age of Unreason, Charles Handy (1998) predicted how the world of stable, long-term employment would come to an end and how this fundamental shift in the workplace, would result in the emergence of the “portfolio worker” and the “portfolio career.”
Charles Handy wrote: “individuals will maintain portfolios of their skills, abilities, and achievements with which they obtain temporary assignments in a variety of organisations, rather than securing permanent jobs.”
I guess the age of unreason began some years ago, possibly during the last dot-com crash, when people were forced to question both their work life balance and longterm future. At the same time companies, under a great deal of pressure to cut costs, in order to stay lean and competitive, woke up to the idea of outsourcing more of their contextual services.
Taking advantage of this changing business landscape, people4business setup an online services marketplace where businesses throughout the UK – Buyers – can select professionals in any industry – Sellers – based on their skills, price, availability and location.
“Our idea was to create a model that made buying and selling services as simple and straightforward as buying and selling products. Millions of us in the UK are already using marketplace websites and are familiar with their search techniques. We’ve made it easy to use these techniques to find skills for your business.” said managing director Duncan Taylor
As a consultant myself, attempting to live the portfolio career, I decided to register on people4business. The process is very quick and simple. It enabled me to provide my CV, my skills and my desired rates as well as choose the dates I wished to work. This information is then made searchable to all buyers.
What I really like about people4business is, for their 10% fee, they do everything for you and its all online. The outsourced contracting company I am currently registered with sends me my timesheet (Excel) and expenses forms (Word) via email, but oddly require that I printout the forms and get them signed by hand before I send them back via snail mail?!
As a consultant you are expected to setup my own limited company, register for VAT and create my own invoices but with people4business they can manage all the invoicing and credit chasing on your behalf. They will also pay on a 30 calendar days basis, even if the buyer hasn’t paid them and for a small fee – of 3% of your total payment – they can offer Fasterpay, which brings forward the payment of your invoices to within 5 business days if you prefer.
One key feature of the site is their ebay-like rating system. As a Buyer you are able to leave ratings for a Seller after you have paid the invoice for that Seller’s work. Once you have left your rating, better still, the Seller in turn is able to leave a rating for you.
Another key feature of people4business is the fact that when searching, all Buyers and Sellers can see your rates. This price transparency means you can change your rates at any time to ensure you stay competitive or take advantage of high demand.
This model of price transparency, rating and reputation is thankfully becoming more common and I can see many more vertical markets where people4business’ model would be highly applicable and desirable e.g Builders, Plumbers, Nannies – in fact anywhere where we deal with people and markets we don’t know but where we have to frequently blindly trust they are reputable and offering a fair price.
Finally, in a future upgrade for people4business, I would like to see the use of tag clouds, microformats (hresume and hreview) as well as a linkedin style of social networking to enable consultants to connect with each other.
People4business is a well executed idea with one potential weakness. As a registered consultant the future value of this service will be determined solely by the quality of the buyers (corporate companies, agencies and affiliates) attracted into the system. If companies like Monster.com or TotalJobs utilised the service then I can see it being a great success.