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02/06/2015 10:33 BST | Updated 19/06/2015 15:00 BST

The Guide To Crowdsourcing - How Can Crowdsourcing Help You?

Imagine getting the help you need to build your business without the worry of paying a regular wage. In fact, instead of a small team, you can hire… well, pretty much everyone. Welcome to the magical world of crowdsourcing.

It isn’t the same as crowdfunding. You’ll have heard about the incredible success stories there. From the tech innovation of Oculus Rift and video games like Star Citizen (which raised over £50m), to fan-funded entertainment such as the Amanda Palmer album and the Veronica Mars movie, not to mention wacky ideas like the floating swimming pool in the middle of the river in New York, the crowd has spoken – if they’re into an idea, it’s happening.

crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is different. In simple terms, crowdfunding asks a crowd to invest money, while crowdsourcing invites the crowd to share their skills. The term comes from shortening the word ‘out-sourcing’, even if crowdsourcing is completely different. Outsourcing is basically paying a different company to the job to a rigid schedule on a set wage, whereas crowdsourcing draws from a global pool of talent, is flexible and comes with no fixed cost.

In a nutshell, then, crowdsourcing means a group of people compete to get the job, in many famous instances, for free.

Which begs the question: why? It all depends on the incentive. There’s the kudos of seeing work in print (we’re looking at you, Huff Po bloggers), the satisfaction of sharing knowledge (take a bow, Wikipedia contributors), uploading a creative project to be part of a community (we hear you, Soundcloud artists), and showing off tech know-how (big shout to all the countless independent software developers who helped create Linux).

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Sometimes, the crowd even does it for money! Competitions that offer prize money are like honey to bees, but even there it’s more to do with prestige than earnings (in the case of the X-Prize, competitors have been known to spend more money trying to win it than the amount offered to the winner).

Which is all well and good, but how can it help you? Given that your small business doesn’t (yet) have what it takes for workers to wear their toil on your behalf as a badge of honour, you’ll need to cough up. But it still means you have a huge selection of workers vying to dazzle you and win your custom.

Here’s how it works. You advertise the job on one of the many crowdsourcing platforms like mTurk, Clickworker or CloudCrowd. Research carefully to find the crowdsourcing solution that’s right for you. Some are high in volume but low in quality, which defeats the objective.

When you’ve found a crowdsourcing site that specialises in what you’re after (the positive and negative reviews from the crowds who have used those services come for free!), consider offering a “challenge programme” by way of incentive. The pay-per performance model is one of the major motivational drives in the crowdsourcing world.

But it’s not just about getting a job done. Budding entrepreneurs can use crowdsourcing for a wealth of other benefits, including:

Ideas: Need to bounce ideas off experts? Crowdsourcing platforms like Chaordix, or online communities such as Quora are filled with people happy to impart their wisdom for free.

Investment: Just as how crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo create interest among investors, you can use crowdsourcing sites to target potential business partners to raise your capital.

Marketing: The expensive business of market research has been replaced by asking your target audience, usually via online media, what it is they are after. Companies such as Lego use crowdsourcing for opinions before launching a new product.

You need ideas, you need information, you need funding, you need to get the job done by the best person for the job. Sounds like you need crowdsourcing.