As I shared in last month’s deep dive into why brands should care about the gig economy in a newly hybrid world, the gig economy — also known as the sharing economy or the collaborative economy — is unequivocally transforming the future of work. In fact, it’s made such immense strides in the U.S. and global economies that the gig economy is not only transforming the future of work, but actually is the future of work.
Freelancers — or as we call them at Voices, talent — are quickly becoming the backbone of the future economy. Representing roughly 35% of the global workforce, more than one billion people participate in the gig economy as freelance talent for hire. In the U.S. alone, freelancers contribute more than $1 trillion USD to the economy, which equates to about 5% of the total U.S. GDP. This is especially impressive considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the 2020 economy, during which 75% of freelancers stated their wages remained stable and reliable, unlike many traditional jobs.
With 33% of Fortune 500 companies turning to freelance marketplaces to outsource their work, it’s undeniable that the way people think about the gig economy is shifting. More and more talent and businesses alike are pivoting toward freelance marketplaces to have their needs met and projects completed, leading to projections that freelancers will become the majority of the workforce by 2027.
“The freelancing economy has grown exponentially over the past decade, and I believe we can now firmly say that the future of work has arrived. Obstacles that could slow or hinder freelancers’ ability to grow, connect, and be successful have been removed,” said Scott Galit, CEO of Payoneer. “Freelancers from all walks of life and every corner of the world are empowered to acquire work, set their own wages, market their skills, and get paid how and when they want.”
In short, there has never been a better time to be a freelancer.
How It Works
If you work in freelance, you already know how the gig economy works, but here’s a recap just in case.
You, the talent, offer your services for hire on a project-by-project or, more rarely, a contractual basis. These may be creative services such as voice over, music composition, copywriting, graphic design, audio production, translation, and more. They might be administrative in nature, meaning you look after administration tasks, data entry, scheduling, reporting, editing, etc. Or perhaps you offer task- or trade-based freelance services, like errand-running, financial advising, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, or any of the other numerous services under that umbrella.
A buyer — often a brand or company, but also at times an individual or group — who requires the service you offer to complete a project or task then hires you to bridge the gap in their needs. This can be done via personal networking or word of mouth, but is more commonly done through freelance marketplaces. Some of these marketplaces offer a vast array of services and host almost innumerable freelancer profiles, while others are more curated and targeted in their approach. Voices falls into the latter category, with a focus on creative services: voice over, audio production, music composition, and translation. It’s up to you to determine where you want to specialize and how you want to market yourself.
How the Newly Hybrid Gig Economy Benefits Freelancers
When asked what the biggest benefit of freelance work is, our talent community continuously comes back with one answer above all: freedom and flexibility. In fact, 68% of freelancers state that they turned to freelancing in order to experience more flexibility in their schedules. With the ability to choose which jobs they do and don’t want to take, the hours they want to work, and the holidays they’re able to enjoy without worrying about time off requests or missing days in the office, being able to make their own schedules is widely regarded as the number one perk of working in the freelance world.
In a TechFunnel interview with Shahar Erez, Co-Founder and CEO of Stoke Talent, he said “As a freelance gig worker, one can control the type of projects they want to take and diversify the portfolios of industries they work in — a total opposite of permanent jobs where you have little to no say in what projects you pick or don’t pick. The idea of having a flexible lifestyle where you choose how much you work and create your balance between a personal and professional life is a unique benefit for freelancers.”
Erez’ sentiment is echoed by the millions of people who elect to pursue freelance work over a traditional corporate job, especially when considering that peoples’ genius sparks at different times and is not always between the hours of 9–5 in an office setting in a specific geographic location.
With more than 10 years of experience in the freelance market, Abbi Head of the Visuals Adviser has shared: “Remote working means I have gained precious time not spent on travel to both work or networking meetings. I have also created workflow harmony by being flexible and balancing personal and work life demands. The extra time I have acquired I now dedicate to personal and professional growth. This shift has seen me develop as a freelance designer and consultant as well as improve my skills.”
In a world inundated with Hustle Culture — also known as Burnout Culture — it’s hard to argue that most of us wouldn’t love a career that offered us that kind of freedom and flexibility. And, since many of these skills and services don’t require face-to-face or in-person meetings at any point throughout the process, freelancers truly can work from anywhere with an Internet connection. The good news is that it’s out there and it’s possible for anyone with a skill to offer. The better news is the newly hybrid and remote work models borne of pandemic necessity have made freelancing even more accessible to the masses.
Not only is freelancing more accessible in our new normal, but some freelancers are even attributing improved workflow, portfolio-building, and employment success to the shift toward virtual work.
Kim Forrester of Kim Forrester Photography is a full-time professional photographer running a full-service mobile studio. When asked about the changes she’s seen in her workflow in 2021, she shared: “My workflow has become much quicker and more efficient, between initial inquiry to fulfillment of my client’s orders. There is less time required for logistics like scheduling in-person meetings and traveling to client’s homes. Being able to quickly outsource various tasks on a global level, such as photo editing, has allowed me to take on more bookings and focus on taking photos and serving my clients.”
Veronica Moss, on the other hand, leveraged her freelance experience to secure a full-time role as a Marketing Strategist and Content Creator. “I started to see an increase in views and purchases from complete strangers with minimal marketing [since the pandemic began]. Due to an increased work volume, I built up an even heftier portfolio, and was able to use that to my advantage when applying to my current position, which is much more stable and predictable. So even if someone doesn’t intend to support themselves with gig work forever, it can help them to secure more permanent work and build up their skills and portfolio.”
Beyond the arguments for work-life balance, workflow improvement, and employment success, it would be remiss not to mention the lucrative possibilities that come with freelancing. For some, freelancing is a full-time occupation, while others utilize freelance work to bolster their regular income. Either way, freelancing offers abundant money-making opportunities — just ask the millions of people who have turned to freelance work.
“After an (unsurprisingly) patchy 2020, things really seem to be heating up in 2021 in my [freelance] industry: content writing. Rates seem to be finally creeping up as well — clients are seeking quality and experience from their freelancers,” notes Ben Taylor, Freelance Writer, IT Consultant, and Founder of homeworkingclub.com, an advice portal for aspiring freelancers.
When considering finances, it’s important to note that, like in many other industries, building your skills and knowledge takes time. You likely won’t be raking in $5,000 per month when you first start out. But with dedication and effort, it’s possible to join the 36% of freelancers earning $75,000 USD per year, or even the 12% who earn more than $100,000 USD annually. Unlike with traditional work models, the time, effort, and ultimately the return are completely in your hands.
But what happens when something is out of your hands? Prior to the pandemic, many freelancers were hired to work on projects or provide services in person. If the talent were unable to physically get to the office, studio, or workplace, they weren’t able to secure and complete the job. This was frustrating and ultimately, clients’ work policies aren’t something that you, as a freelancer, have the power to alter.
When COVID-19 hit, the world shifted to more remote work, effectively halting requirements for in-office work. As more businesses recognized the ability to be amply productive in remote work environments, policies that required work to be completed on-site had to adapt accordingly. Now, not only is the virtual aspect of freelance work introducing new job diversity and paid opportunities, it’s also allowing freelancers to reestablish working relationships with previous clients.
“I wasn’t able to consult for a previous legal firm because all their work was in the office and I couldn’t do the commute. Now that they’re allowing remote work, I can provide services again and the law firm gets my expertise back,” Alex Sinatra, Founder & CEO of Your Potential for Everything, shared with me. I am able to work for a variety of companies now in multiple time zones which helps me to curate a work life and personal life that work for me.”
What the Future of Work Means for Freelancers
As the future of work continues to transition toward freelancing and as reports project freelancers will soon make up the majority of the workforce, it’s reasonable to deduce that more and more people will take up freelance work as their primary and secondary sources of income. And, like anything, the freelance economy is subject to the laws of supply and demand.
But that doesn’t mean those considering freelance work or those already involved in freelancing should be deterred from participating in the future of work. Just because there are more freelancers doesn’t mean there are fewer opportunities, and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t differentiate yourself and make yourself stand out.
As a freelancer in this new virtual world, the first step is being present. Sign up on a number of freelancing platforms. Build your portfolio and ensure your profile is complete. Having a complete profile — including a professional headshot — and robust portfolio are the prerequisites for everything that follows. Be sure you’re updating your profile, which is essentially your resume, as time goes on. Just like a conventional resume you’d submit to a job posting, you want to ensure the most relevant and recent experience is highlighted and easily visible.
Perhaps most importantly, be willing to do your research. Watch the videos, attend the webinars, and diversify your knowledge. The “10,000 hours” anecdote is often shared amongst business and entrepreneurial circles, meaning you’d need to spend two hours per day, five days per week, for 20 years to become an expert in your chosen area of interest.
Thankfully, that’s factually inaccurate. There’s no exact science for determining precisely when you reach an expert level in something, but Josh Kaufman stands behind his 20 hours methodology. “Feeling stupid doesn’t feel good, and the beginning of learning anything new is feeling stupid,” Kaufman says. “20 hours is doable — that’s about 45 minutes a day for about a month, even skipping a couple of days here and there. You must commit to sticking with your new activity for at least 20 hours. By that point, you will be astounded at how good you are.”
I’d suggest blending the two. Because freelancing is, for most, a job driven by monetary gain rather than a hobby, you want to learn as much as you can as quickly as you can so you can get the ball rolling and the money rolling in. Becoming established and successful takes intense effort for a short period of time. If you can dedicate five hours per week to achieve mastery of how the freelance economy works, you’ll likely save hours and hours of time over the years, avoid mistakes, and shorten the learning curve at the outset.
Finally, differentiation will be crucial now more than ever. Find what you’re good at and make it your niche. While variety is nice, you don’t get quite the same level of recognition as you might when you specialize in a particular skill or service. When you’re determining what your specialty will be, you want to find the intersection of what you enjoy doing, what you’re knowledgeable about, and what you can get paid for.
When I asked what changes could be expected, freelancers offering an array of services all reaffirmed the need to set oneself apart as the gig economy continues to expand.
Christopher Liew, Creator of Wealth Awesome, shared “The Internet and remote tools have made it possible for everyone to connect and collaborate regardless of geographical boundaries, which means that it’s now easier for clients to connect directly to top-tier talents. Hence, freelancers need to continuously upskill if they want to stay relevant in the future.”
Though it may seem overwhelming to attempt to differentiate yourself by becoming an expert in your niche, the reality is that it’s not so different from trying to excel in a traditional job role. Companies often invest in professional development opportunities for their employees, so as the sole employee of your business as a freelancer, shouldn’t you be investing in yourself, too?
Why You Should Care
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” This proverb has been printed and shared countless times and the author is unknown, but the sentiment rings true. As the COVID-19 pandemic has likely forever altered our world as we know it, it has also favorably changed the landscape of the freelance economy. With the tremendous opportunities for freedom, flexibility, and financial gain, there is no better time to delve into freelance work than the present.
If you’re interested in offering creative services in translation, audio production, music composition, or voice over, you can sign up for free on Voices today.