The New World of Work: Flexible Careers and Freelancing

Is freelancing the new black? It certainly seems that way—in fact, you might call this trend the new world of work. A new study by Freelancers Union and Upwork backs this up, finding that more people are freelancing by choice. Today, a little more than one in three workers in the United States are setting their own hours and being their own bosses. The findings of the study were interesting—here are some of the highlights:

“The majority (60 percent) of freelancers who left traditional employment now earn more.” Nearly a quarter of those surveyed said they specifically left an employer in order to start working freelance. And while there’s certainly risk involved in dropping out of the traditional workforce to go solo, most of these new freelancers said that within the first year they were making more money than the more “full time” salaries they left behind. The data doesn’t indicate exactly where people are in their careers when they opt out of traditional employment, but my own anecdotal knowledge of the trend suggests many of these are folks mid-career or later, so it’s hardly surprising that they’re quickly able to maximize their incomes in this way.

“Technology is making it easier to find freelance work.” More than half of the respondents said they’d gotten a project online, which was up from only 42 percent last year. And those who didn’t source work online, and instead credited personal and professional contacts for their work success? Chances are, with social media, many if not most of those “personal” connections were certainly retained, if not gained, through online platforms. I believe the online-only component of this networking will continue to grow in the future, with even some of the most old-fashioned businesses being more open-minded about bringing on all manner of business partners and employees remotely. In the past, a business wouldn’t even consider an agency that didn’t have offices near enough to accommodate fairly regular face time, but in the age of video conferencing and cloud technology that makes connectivity and collaboration a breeze, this need is becoming obsolete. It’s no surprise freelancers are taking advantage of this openness, and it seems likely this trend will continue in the coming years.

“Freelancers, especially Millennials, are optimistic about the outlook for freelancing.”

An impressive 83 percent of the freelancers surveyed said they think the best days are ahead for freelancing. And interest is growing even among those who aren’t yet working this way—most non-freelancers said they’d be open to moonlighting if the opportunity was available to them. The fact that Millennials—many of whom are well into their 30s and not exactly workplace newbies anymore—are especially optimistic about freelancing is an indication that employers are going to need to become more open-minded about allowing their employees to start a side hustle. They will need to stop thinking of their employees as property, and start understanding what the modern job economy looks like.

Pros and Cons of a Freelance Economy

Clearly, there are many components of this freelancing boom. One is the popularity of freelancing among workers who are looking for more flexibility, and achieve it through the switch to a freelance career. But there’s also motivation in the growth of freelance from the business side, as well. But there are some downsides to consider as well. Let’s take a look.

The Pros. There are economic factors at work when it comes to outsourcing. Some businesses find it economically smart to blend freelance talent with full time employee talent, thereby reducing costs of benefits that go hand-in-hand with full time employment. Utilizing freelance talent can also make it easier for businesses to adapt and pivot quickly, and allow them to scale up or down quickly. Recruiting and hiring full time employees can be a lengthy process, so keeping a cadre of reliable freelancers in the mix can help ensure you can deliver, in any circumstance. For businesses, that’s a big benefit. Likewise, when work slows down, you know that your freelance team members are already in a good position to step up their work elsewhere, because they’re in no way beholden to you, and have maintained connections and contracts. They generally have multiple revenue streams, so their business model isn’t wholly reliable on you. For businesses, this can be very beneficial.

Another positive, from the business standpoint, is that when you assemble a freelance team to work on a particular client account, you can bring in talent that is ideally suited to the needs of that particular client. When you go the full time employee route, sometimes you’ve got a body on the payroll who might not be the best person for a particular assignment, but it’s a hole you’ve got to fill and it makes sense to fill that with someone already on the payroll. I don’t always think this delivers the best value for clients, but it is the way of the business world. Or at least it has been the way of the business world for a very long time. I’m happy to see that beginning to change.

Realistically, freelance work is like entrepreneurship-lite—or entrepreneurship without all the risk or stress. Freelancers gain the flexibility of not having their fate tied to one single business, one single boss, one single relationship. They get to set their own work hours, choose where they want to work, the clients they want to work with and the kind of work they most want to do—and how hard they want to apply themselves. And while that freedom comes with a certain amount of risk, it’s nowhere near the risk that being involved in a startup business often brings. We all know of the staggering failure rate of startups, and how devastating the failure can be. With freelancing, especially the work-from-home kind, you generally don’t need to invest loads of cash, even worse, go into debt in order to get started.

Cons. Not everyone is wired to be an entrepreneur, and every freelancer is, most definitely an entrepreneur. Some people who opt to work from home quickly find they miss the interaction and sense of community that goes that’s an integral part of an office setting. Some find themselves less motivated when working remotely than in a traditional setting. Some have trouble finding clients and work.

For businesses, relying on freelance talent can be inherently risky. If they aren’t beholden to you by way of full time employment and the agreement of work for wages that’s a part of that arrangement, you might occasionally find your freelance talent less than reliable when you need them most. They might be juggling other jobs and other clients and your work will have to wait its turn, which is only fair.

All in all, there are good and bad things about this trend toward more flexible careers and freelancing, but I think the good far outweigh the bad. What do you think? What’s your experience been with working with freelance talent and/or integrating freelancers into business operations alongside your FTEs? I’d love to hear the challenges you’ve faced and what you think of this trend in general.

Additional Resources on this Topic:

The Business Value of Adopting Live Streaming Video Collaboration
Here’s Why the Freelancer Economy is on the Rise
How Millennials Are Reshaping Work
How the Rising Freelance Economy Will Change Talent Acquisition Strategies

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The Rise of Influence in Social Business #TChat Preview

(Editor’s Note: Are you looking for full highlights and resource links from this week’s events? Read the #TChat Recap: “Can You Hear Me Now? Influence Goes Social.”)

Think for a moment about the brands that have the deepest impact on your professional life.

What companies and people do you look to for credible information, relevant insights and valuable connections? And which ones would you include on your “who’s who” list?

More importantly, how would you develop that list?

Influence Isn’t What It Used To Be. Or Is It?

In less than a decade we’ve seen a dramatic shift in the logic and tools we use to create and shape our professional circles. “Influence” is no longer limited to an elite and somewhat static class of highly prominent organizations and individuals. Today, social channels make it possible for anyone to claim a corner of the marketplace, earn a share of voice, and develop a loyal following.

So, what do these new social dynamics mean for the future of employer and employee brands? And how can we all do a better job in leveraging the “currency” of influence? That’s what we’ll explore this week at #TChat Events, with two experts in the art and science of influence:

•  Mark Fidelman, CEO of RaynForest, an influence marketing platform
•  Mark Willaman, Founder and President of Fisher Vista LLC, owners of HRmarketer software and Fisher Vista marketing services

To frame this topic, I spoke briefly with both guests in separate G+ hangouts. First, Mark Willaman discussed the “what” and “why” of influence:

Then Mark Fidelman offered a quick take on how influence is measured:

What are your thoughts about the role of influence in today’s world of work? Join us this week to share your ideas and opinions!

#TChat Events: Social Influence as a Competitive Advantage

#TChat Radio — Wed, Nov 6 — 6:30pmET / 3:30pmPT


Tune-in to the #TChat Radio show

Our hosts, Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman talk with Mark Willaman and Mark Fidelman about the role of influence in today’s social world of work. Tune-in LIVE online this Wednesday afternoon!

#TChat Twitter — Wed, Nov 6 7pmET / 4pmPT

Immediately following the radio show, we’ll move this discussion to the #TChat Twitter stream, where Cyndy Trivella will moderate an open chat with the entire TalentCulture community. Everyone with a Twitter account is invited to participate, as we address these questions:

Q1: How can “industry influence” impact the world of work?
Q2: In what ways does social listening shape culture, marketing and branding?
Q3: Why would brand influencers make better employees? (or not?)
Q4: How do leaders know who is an influencer, and how does this impact culture?
Q5: What social tools do you use for brand marketing and talent recruiting?

Throughout the week, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #TChat Twitter feed and on our LinkedIn Discussion Group. So please join us share your questions, ideas and opinions.
We’ll see you on the stream!

25 Jobs in One Career? Brace Yourselves

Recently, I participated in an unsettling Twitter chat, focused on career planning.

Usually that’s not a controversial topic, but this particular discussion disturbed many participants. Why? Because we projected the number of jobs a typical Millennial will accumulate over the span of a career in our so-called “New Economy.”

Do The Math

Consider these estimates from reputable sources:

By 2020, 40-50% of all income-producing work will be performed by short-term contractors, freelance workers and “SuperTemps
The length of a career already averages 48 years — by 2020 it will be 50+ years
Today, the average time-in-service for a Millennial at any company is 2.6 years

Admittedly, I am not really good at math. But this data is pretty conclusive…

At 2.6 years per job, over 50+ years in the workforce, plus several temp assignments and contracts means that Gen Y can expect to hold 20-25 jobs over the course of a career.

Here’s the problem… or, rather, several problems:

No One Told Gen Y

Those statistics genuinely scared #InternPro participants — most of whom are Millennials. No one had done the math. Plus, between parents, educators and old-school career experts, there seems to be a halo effect surrounding an old paradigm: lifetime employment. Many Millennials seem to believe that once they graduate and get that first job, their job search is effectively over. They are unprepared for the fact that it’s really just the beginning of a continuous process.

Traditional Higher Education Hasn’t Noticed

Many higher education stalwarts — not exactly known for quickly adapting to changing economies and markets — still feature old-school theory taught by tenured professors who’ve never held a position outside academia. Instead of teaching the skills that will be in demand in the “Freelance Economy,” we’re still shoving 1970’s courses and curriculum down the throats of unsuspecting students. Higher education must change fundamentally. To remain relevant, academics must start emphasizing transferable, marketable career skills.

We Aren’t Entrepreneurial Enough

Successful SuperTemps, solopreneurs and freelancers rely on one skill above all else: entrepreneurism. Why? Because, going forward, our livelihood depends on our ability to sell our skills, our value proposition and our niche — continuously.

In fact, with the average duration of a job search at about 40 weeks, there will almost never be a time when we’re not selling… us.

Old School Recruiters Haven’t Adapted

It doesn’t help that recruiters still haven’t caught-on. Old-school recruiters, unwilling to accept new workforce trends, discount job seekers whose resumes show they move every two to three years. They still consider this “job-hopping” — and many will not interview candidates with this tendency. They are labeled “disloyal” and a “long-term risk”.

Here’s the reality: between economic conditions, Gen Y’s penchant for moving on when they become restless or feel undervalued, and the inevitable entrepreneurial spirit that is becoming pervasive among job seekers, recruiters who stick to this now antiquated “rule” will lose out on high-quality talent. In the meantime, their competitors will thrive.

Fasten Your Career Path Seatbelts

Without a doubt, our new economy is already here. Members of Gen Y who cling to old standards — through fear and/or influence by parents, higher education and recruiters — will clearly continue to struggle. They will continue to do as trained — and will continue looking for jobs that no longer exist.

However, young professionals who recognize the new workplace for what it is, and learn the career skills required to win…

Strategic planning
Goal setting
Sales and digital marketing
Effective follow-up
Customer service
Integrity-based self-promotion

…will not only embrace the new economy, they will surround themselves with success.

What’s your reaction to the “average” career path of the future? How would you suggest that Millennials prepare to manage their careers more successfully? Share your thoughts in the comments area.

(Editor’s Note: This post has been adapted from YouTern, with permission.)

Image Credit: Stock.xchng