Imagine an illustrator in Russia or Chile pulling in the same hourly rate as a hot designer in New York City. They can. That's the beauty of eLance, an online service marketplace where freelancers can post their services and others can bid. It's easiest to think of eLance as a kind of eBay for services, but the Web site, which is scheduled to launch March 1, is more than a marketplace. You can rent a workspace on the eLance server and use software tools on the site. Both buyers and sellers can use the shared file system to exchange and view files, and can communicate on private message boards. And instead of investing in all sorts of software, the freelancer can rent time on PhotoShop or project-management tools. The site even offers a solution for the payment problems that challenge commerce sites. Using what it calls a "Global Trust System," ELance will take payment from the buyer or bidder and put it in an escrow account. When the job is completed satisfactorily, eLance will disburse the funds to the freelancer in the appropriate currency. As a participating freelancer, you'll incur some costs, too. The site will charge a nominal posting fee of $1 to $2 and then will take about 5 to 6 percent on a sliding scale, depending on such factors as the size of the project and how often the buyer frequents the site, says Beerud Sheth, chief executive officer of eLance. Buyers and sellers have been testing eLance free of charge since August. The site already boasts hundreds of unique services ranging from computer engineering and Web site development to poets and feng shui experts. Services are grouped by category, such as Computer, Creative, Family & Household, Medical, Personal, and Miscellaneous. Service providers write a profile and set their own prices, which vary greatly. Each service provider's profile also includes feedback from previous buyers. Online buyers can search for a particular service or scroll through the numerous listings. Buyers can also initiate the search by posting a request for a proposal, which freelancers can peruse for work. When a match occurs, the buyer and seller negotiate directly by e-mailing a short form that includes the project specifications. Once a job is accepted, the two can communicate directly or can use the eLance workspace or Message Board. ELance goes beyond the services of similar sites, such as guru.com. It aids in handling currency exchange to bridge the gaps among countries, and aims to help freelancers by offering them the workspace and software for a fee. It's not surprising that eLance has already become popular with freelancers around the world. In fact, 40 percent of those participating live outside the US, representing 140 countries.