For the last two months, I have been working online for a meeting place of employers and providers called oDesk. To see more about my thoughts on oDesk, look at my other blog.
One of the main issues new providers have with oDesk is that you are now competing with people who can live well on $10 a day. They often scream 'Unfair!' and either ask oDesk to set a minimum wage or expect a lot and sit around waiting for it. oDesk isn't about to set a minimum wage, so they sit. And sit. And sit...
Since I'm obviously in the same position - competing with people who can make 1/5th what I can, I did some research in the meantime. One part is that I've been willing to build - one person I read asked why he should be willing to work for less than he gets paid locally. While he's holding out for someone to take a chance that he's worth it, I've already clocked 40 hours. I started low, put in some work, and reference these blogs as much as I can. So first I worked for under $2 an hour, then $10 an hour for one hour's work and a good reference, and now $14. As I learn more about writing copy, I expect this to continue to rise.
The full answer, interestingly though, is to brand yourself and stand out in your niche. I know enough about computers, write well, have been published online and in a magazine in Taiwan, and have some specialized interests and strong points. I've been around computers, but am not an expert - and that's a lot of why I have my current job there. This same idea is true in other job markets, and in general. At first I didn't understand what they meant by "don't be a commodity." Now I do.
A commodity is a thing. Since the same 'things' are pretty similar, difference is made through looking nicer, being bigger, and costing less. So if you want apples, you'll pick the biggest, pretties, and cheapest of a type you like. On oDesk, if you're looking for a basic job done, volume and cost are what you're looking at - a commodity.
On the other hand, if you're looking for a special job - other things become important. The writer's style, ability to communicate and get you exactly what you want, or their knowledge that will predict issues you haven't even thought about yet. All of a sudden, they're paying for services, style, and specialties. And as everyone is different, you're not a commodity - not trying to be the biggest, cheapest apple around. Now, you get paid based on what your skills are worth, instead of the same as the cheapest person out there, because there is no one else to compare exactly to.
As we get into a time of high unemployment, and a market that favors the employer, remember this. Instead of trying to be the best deal around, brand yourself. Get hired because you're the one who's different, and can offer your boss something no one else can. Establish a specialty, and be remarkable. Look at books like The 4-Hour Workweek or Automatic Wealth. Find something that truly sets you apart from the rest, and let them be apples while you're something different. And then get paid what you are worth, not the 'going rate' for a body.