I read a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article recently titled, “The End of Employees”. It’s a good read and you should check it out when you have a moment. The article talks about the growing number of companies that are using freelancers, contractors, etc.
Freelancing is more than a trend. It’s a business dynamic that deserves attention. There are lots of different terms for it – some call it a contingent workforce or the gig economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines a gig as “a single project or task for which a worker is hired, often through a digital marketplace, to work on demand.” Regardless of what you call it, there’s a lot of it going on.
According to the Freelancers Union (and yes, there is one), freelancing is a $1 trillion industry (that’s not a typo – trillion with a t). Freelancing represents 35 percent of the U.S. workforce. And probably one of the biggest things to know is that a growing number of individuals are choosing freelancing as a career (63 percent). We need to shed the stereotype that freelancing is this thing people do when they can’t find a job.
As the WSJ article mentions, organizations are benefitting from using contingent workers. They can tap into specialized talent when they need it. They can flex up or down their operations easily. This is the “borrow” component of a buy, build, and borrow recruiting strategy.
But there are a few things that I would add to the WSJ article. If you’re an organization looking to develop a contingent worker strategy, or an individual wanting to start freelancing, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Organizations that want to hire freelancers:
Put a process in place to source, select, and onboard freelancers. If you’re bringing on freelancers because they have specialized skills, then this isn’t a “lowest fee” hire. Do your homework and understand the market. Select a freelancer who will work well with the team. And give them the tools to be successful. If they will need to attend an internal training session, let them know that in advance.
Engage your freelancers. The goal of developing a contingent workforce is to have people who will drop everything and help you when you need it. The way to accomplish that goal is to keep them engaged with the organization. We’re not talking about dangling an occasional carrot. Engagement can be keeping them informed about what’s happening. Possibly inviting them to an internal gathering. Or sending them a thank you note for a job well done.
Individuals who want to freelance:
Learn the critical skills associated with freelancing. Being an employee and freelancing are two different things. They both have their advantages. But freelancing includes acquiring reliable technology, having a workspace to be productive, and budgeting for your own professional development. Freelancers must know how to price, sell, and service what they do.
Get comfortable with the unknown. Freelancing involves not getting a paycheck every week. There’s no such thing as paid health insurance. On the plus side, you also don’t have to ask anyone for a vacation day. Freelancers should be comfortable with working on their own, with little guidance at times. They must budget their time. And they need to be okay with occasionally not having a client.
The real success of the gig-economy isn’t how many people are using it. It’s how many people are using it successfully. Individuals need to learn the skills to be successful freelancers. And it could make some sense for organizations to teach employees how to become successful freelancers. Because if that’s the direction we’re heading, then organizations will want people to have those skills long before they need them.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby after attending the Great Place to Work Conference in Austin, TX