If anyone has ever tried to tell you freelancing is easy, it's because they've never freelanced. When technology took off, it dragged many creative types along for the wild ride holding on for dear life. When the prospect of leaving regular day jobs for the freedom and excitement of "gigging" became a real possibility, a lot of people jumped ship, leaving their conventional jobs behind.
It was a glorious time of gigs as far as the eye could see. You want to write copy for a perfume company looking to expand its audience? That job is out there. You want to create blog posts anonymously for the design company you've been drooling over for the past year? Go for it! And then something happened. All at once it seemed like everyone realized the opportunity and the market became flooded with overqualified worker bees willing to do the work of a king for the pay of a peasant. The competition became incredibly fierce.
Giving up protection to gain freedom.
We are seeing that begin to level out now, because there is another aspect to freelancing a lot of people didn't consider--or did consider and have now reconsidered. That is the aspect of protection. You see, when you work for a corporation, they can offer you paid medical leave, health benefits, overtime pay, unemployment benefits, and so on. There is an incredible level of protection freelancers automatically exempt themselves from the moment they walk out the corporate door. If you have backup options like a Sugar Momma or Daddy and are OK to rely on yourself to secure this protection, kudos! If not, the struggles will be real.
Which brings back the original point: freelancing is hard. If you are OK to forgo the protection and benefits from a conventional job, you are one step ahead. But what about connections? You've all heard the saying "It's all about who you know." This definitely applies to working in what Silicon Valley calls "the gig economy." Staying connected to the outside world is one of the most difficult aspects of working solo as a freelancer. Most days, it is just you and your laptop, and I don't care how much you love it--eventually, you're going to get sick of staring at the screen and crave some real interactions.
Emily Leach, founder of the Texas Freelance Association, took this problem head-on by helping to launch the Freelance Playground, where you can combine connecting, learning, and celebration in six cities around the U.S. beginning in September 2016. Emily's podcast Genetically Unemployable is also designed as a place to welcome, educate, and inspire freelancers, rebels, and innovators alike.
There is a world of uniquely-talented people who feel empowered to go beyond conventional jobs and create businesses from unique vantage points. I want to make sure those people are respected, represented, and offered the same opportunities as those working for large corporations.
Emily has freelanced since 1992 and in that time she has identified the two things that catapult freelancers to success: 1) being a part of a strong network of like-minded individuals and 2) continuing education. The need for support for freelancers was so obvious that Emily decided it was time for a more formalized organization that could really help support freelancers through their biggest challenges and build best practices.
3 basic rules of freelancing.
- Know who you are: If your messaging is not clear, you will not work.
- Know what you offer: You should never be trying to do it all.
- Know who your ideal client is: You cannot be everything to everyone.
Basics, right? We've all heard these rules before but they are more important now than ever before. In a market that is experiencing growth unlike anything we've ever seen, it's a do-or-die situation. If you cannot clearly define who you are, what you are offering, and who you want to offer it to, there are plenty of others who can and are just waiting to jump right in.
53 million strong and gigging.
In 2015 there were an estimated 53 million freelancers propping up the gig economy. And this gig economy is no joke. We are talking about a $715 billion market contribution. And we should expect to see those numbers rise in the future as technology propels us into even greater ways to connect and design.
Based on those numbers alone, you better be following the best practices to make sure you can secure steady work as a freelancer. The competition is definitely fierce--53 million fierce--and work certainly doesn't fall from the sky. For you to squash the competition, go back to those basics. The timeless rules of business to help you segment and differentiate or else become obsolete don't change once you leave the corporate structure. They just become more imperative.