There’s no question that constant access to smartphones and laptops has changed our lives. Nowadays, people have conversations entirely in emojis and rarely go to new restaurants or coffee shops before looking them up on Yelp. The influence of technology in everyday life has brought about another major change: the spread of the on-demand economy.
Through technology, people who don’t have time can instantly connect with people who need a job. It all started with Uber in 2009. Since then, the model of matching contractors with jobs has been iterated in a myriad different tech start-ups: DoorDash delivers food from restaurants, ezCater connects companies and caterers, and freelancers on Fiverr will translate a text, start your Wordpress blog, or leave a comment on your website for just $5. On the other end of the career spectrum, there are what the Harvard Business Review has dubbed "supertemps": highly qualified professionals such as managers, lawyers, or consultants who earn substantial salaries working for large corporations, either temporarily or on a project-by-project basis.
So who is doing all these jobs? According to a recent study, 34 per cent of the American workforce do freelance work. That’s 53 million people! Only 40 per cent of them, or 21.1 million, are full-time contractors, while the rest do part-time freelance work.
The general consensus is that this trend will continue to develop. Independent workers are expected to reach 60 million people, or 40 per cent of the American workforce, by 2020.
The rise of the gig economy means greater flexibility for both consumers and workers. However, it also means that competition for working on a project could become fierce. Whether you’re considering freelancing right now or further down the line, these tips will help you get ahead of the curve.
1. Build a portfolio
Sit down with pen and paper and write down the answers to these questions: Thinking about your skills and experience, what specific talents can you monetize? Who would pay for that kind of service? Whatever your area of expertise, you can build a portfolio by approaching start-ups or small businesses and offering to do their sales, marketing, web development or financial planning. This way, you can get some hands-on experience and gather case studies. If you would like to be self-employed further down the line, specialization is key. Choose a single area within your discipline, focus, and strive to become an expert in it.
2. Build a personal brand
If the very idea of self-promotion makes you feel queasy, I have good news for you: you don’t need it. The Harvard Business Review recently published an article admonishing aspiring "thought leaders" from blowing their own horn too loudly and reminding them that psychological studies have demonstrated that modesty makes people more likeable than excessive self-confidence. Still, personal branding will help you establish trust with potential clients. Maintaining your own website, writing on subjects you’re an expert on, engaging an online community, and publicizing testimonials and successful projects, will help you find new clients and maintain a great relationship with existing ones.
3. Tap into your network
Networking is key to becoming a successful freelancer. If you don’t have a company doing your marketing for you, you’ll initially depend on referrals for projects. Attending as many events and conferences and reaching out to people on LinkedIn and Twitter will help you build a robust personal network. Where should you focus your efforts? Professionals who are already freelancing in the area that you are interested could delegate small projects to you further down the line. Current and previous employers who are familiar with your work might be interested in continuing the relationship with you on a project-to-project basis. As always in networking, think about how you can help others – instead of ways they can help you. Offer to make introductions, invite them to events, and suggest interesting articles.
4. Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself
If you can afford it, taking a short business course like Ramit Sethi’s Zero to Launch, committing to a career bootcamp like Startup Institute’s eight-week programme, or a part-time skills course like General Assembly’s part-time courses could be a fantastic career decision. Programmes like these will teach you marketable skills, help you build a great network, and give you interesting assignments to help you build a portfolio. Most importantly, they will provide you with the emotional support and structure you need to fulfill your business goals.
5. First things first
Aspiring freelancers nowadays often hear advice about getting started with social media, building a website, or starting a blog. All of these things will make your life easier and help grow your business eventually, but you can only start thinking about them after you’ve secured your first paying clients. Register on Upwork and pitch a few projects, ask a small business owner if you can help them out with a small task, leave a poster about your services in some local businesses. Don’t quit your job and jump down the rabbit hole of SEO or blogging just yet – first, make sure you can find the people who will pay for your services.