Trends in 2010: Freelance Nation

Trendspotters report that the Freelance work force will continue to grow as full time employment continues to disappear.   Sole proprietorships grew twice as fast as the overall economy during the decade 1999 – 2009 and our numbers now exceed 22 million (source:  SBA).

Employers are expected to continue practices begun in the late 1980s,  laying off  full time, benefits receiving employees and replacing them with part time workers and outsourced services wherever possible.  In other words,  Freelancers will be hired because we are perceived as being less expensive.

Unfortunately,  income generated will most likely be less than satisfactory.  Freelance writers,  for example,  have on average taken a huge wage reduction.  Receiving $2-$3/word for a 500 word article is nearly a thing of the past.   Many writers are now forced to accept 50 cents/word.

You know,  besides a university degree,  there’s not a whole lot that separates Freelancers from Cesar Chavez and the grape pickers.  A day laborer is a day laborer, whether working in an office or out of doors.  Meanwhile,  the videographers continue to make lots of money,  adding little vignettes to the websites of businesses and social service agencies in need of customers and donors, respectively.

Obviously,  it’s also been predicted that most Freelance professionals will continue to work from home,  because most can operate effectively and cheaply from a home office. Well,  you can’t beat the commute!  Technological advancements have made home offices a practical and efficient choice.  Email plays a pivotal role in all of business,  along with electronic  transfer of all types of documents—attach and hit the send button.   The once revolutionary practice of faxing has been much diminished.

If we need to obtain data on nearly any aspect of our business,  we are almost guaranteed to find our answers on line, often at no charge.  Market research has become lots more convenient.  It’s much easier to compile the data needed for business plans and strategic plans,  from within our company databases or from outside sources.

There are analytical tools whose cost once confined their usage to big budget companies now available at prices that a small business operator can afford. That has given a tremendous boost to our decision making capabilities.

On a more mundane level,  when we want to keep tabs on our competitors,  a visit to their website,  LinkedIn or FaceBook profile can give some clues.   A Google search may also be useful.  We check out our clients and prospects in the same way, to augment personal referrals or warm up a cold call.

The internet delivery system known as the cloud gives low cost access to advanced computer capabilities and reduces the need for IT support by providing back-ups and security.  The cloud is what allows us to use mobile computers like iPhones.

Of course,  those of us who knew life without computer proliferation know that technology giveth and also taketh away.  Millions of good paying,  steady jobs have been lost because of these and other technological advancements and they will never return.

Remember graphic artists? These days,  those who perform that function are mere computer technicians.  The old timers who graduated from art school and studied composition,  color theory and free hand drawing have nearly all been replaced.

Yes,  a few million IT jobs have been created,  but specialized qualifications are required.  Re-engineering a career is often not possible when one is 45 years old.  Besides, those jobs are disappearing, too.  They are being off-shored,  or collapsed down and handed off to one Freelance contractor who must do the work of 3 former full time employees.  Ask yourself:  is a flat screen TV and an iPhone worth more than an $80,000 a year job with health insurance,  paid vacations and sick days?

I would be remiss if I did not include the creative arts in our discussion.  Painters,  sculptors,  dancers,  singers,  musicians,  photographers,  actors  and  artisans  (e.g. jewelry designers)  are the original Freelancers.  In troubled economic times,  their numbers usually increase.

An opera singer friend,  who is part time faculty at The Longy School of Music,  told me recently that enrollment there has soared.  She also has more requests for private lessons.  Opera companies and orchestras are struggling and sometimes closing as a result of shrinking donations and ticket sales,  but nevertheless quite a few people have looked to the arts for a career or to reinvent themselves.  Damn the torpedoes,  I guess.

So where does all this Freelance ferment leave us?  More fulfilled in many ways,  I will say.  For lots of us,  going out on our own was the realization of a long held dream.  Your Diarist was disappointed with the corporate world a dozen years before the  exit.  I think most of us  enjoy being the captain of our own ship.

Alas  money,  or a shortfall thereof,  remains the sticking point.  Billable hours are thin,  sales are weak.  The answer to the riddle of how to survive and thrive remains elusive.  In this blog I will continue to put forth suggestions that may lead you to that answer.  I want to help  you—and myself!—make it successfully through the year.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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