In the outsourcing space, there are several players that offer freelance job posting services (for businesses to post jobs and freelancers to submit proposals). The two big ones are Guru.com and Elance.com; there are others but those are the big two.
There was a time when oDesk might have vied for placement among them but I don’t think they are anymore. What oDesk has done is quite wise: Rather than trying to be the #3 provider, they went another route: They still offer freelance job posting services but their emphasis is on virtual team management.
When you compare apples-to-apples, there really isn’t a lot of difference between what you find at Guru, Elance, and oDesk in terms of backoffice functionality: They all have job posting and submission functionality; they all have filesharing and message board functionality. But there are some differences. Guru (and Elance, last time I checked) emphasized the one-business/one-freelancer relationship while oDesk allowed for teams to work together in a virtual environment. Their entire backoffice is designed around this idea of working within a team with team rooms, work diaries, and reports, plus project-manager-specific links, too.
oDesk has clearly made itself different. Their vision for the company — to help manage virtual teams — guided their innovation and sets them apart. For example, they a downloadable app that sits on your desktop and operates as a timer, message center, and screencam, allowing you to time your work and communicate with a project manager much more easily.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOU
If your business is lagging behind other larger competitors, take a page from oDesk’s book and redefine who you are and what you do. You may still offer similar services (and oDesk has freelance job posting) but you place the emphasis on some other aspect of your business and you can change the story of your marketing.
This change will influence what you say in your marketing and it will influence what you invest in down the road. It’s classic Blue Ocean Strategy.
In my business, I’ve done exactly that within the last year and a half (give or take). Rather than be “just another” freelance writer competing on price with a bazillion others, I started to focus. I already focused on specific industries but I’ve also intentionally shaped my work to include content strategy as a critical — and often overlooked — component of my work.