Ever thought about hiring freelancers? You're not alone.

Elance, an online employment marketplace, just released a global survey of over 3,000 freelancers, with statistics regarding how businesses are hiring these resources. Elance CEO Fabio Rosati and CMO Rich Pearson briefed me on the survey and told me there are 158,000 active clients hiring on Elance to date and 90% of them are small businesses.

According to the company's survey, businesses spent almost $50 million dollars in the second quarter of 2012 hiring freelancers on Elance. Top jobs that the company sees trending toward the highest growth in 2013 include web programming, mobile app development, graphic and web design, online marketing and content writing. Additionally, the company sees Millennials (born after 1981) adopting this online work style faster than other demographic groups. In fact, 26% of the millenials surveyed have full time work and are using the platform to freelance on the side.

I've reported before about the ability to use these virtual workers as a start-up resource. Businesses can use Elance to help them scale their operations. "It becomes a question of core vs. non-core aspects of your business," said Rosati. "Do you need to have employees, or do you need something done? You can design a project in your location, and have it built anywhere--and this may be a key to success for small businesses. Once you assign a job, go home, and have results the next day from around the world, you start to see the potential competitive advantage."

Over half of the freelancers surveyed are reporting higher income in 2012, claiming a 47% average increase in earnings. Two thirds of these professionals also expect to earn more next year. According to Pearson, "Many of the Elance contractors are solo-preneurs, but once they reach about $100,000 in income they often incorporate." Adds Rosati, "Each freelancer has the ability to market themselves, and once they build a relationship with a client, that's their client and their relationship. We just provide the tools for exchange of information and management. The contractors are establishing their own businesses."

Have you hired outside workers via an online service? Are you providing these services via a platform like Elance? Weigh in and tell us your experiences.