The gig economy is not a new term. In fact, it’s one that has been making headlines for many years. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 55 million people in the country were freelancers or ‘gig workers,’ making up a staggering 34 percent of the workforce. They projected that number to rise to 43 percent by 2020, and now, experts say it could be even higher.
Given the financial impact of the pandemic that’s left 40 million unemployed, more professionals than ever will consider becoming their own boss. Or, at the very least, seeking a more flexible arrangement that allows for remote work.
This uptick in freelance interest will definitely fundamentally change the industry. While, in some cases, it could be for the worse, in others, it could be for the better. While more freelancers to go up against can feel disheartening (and scary!), a landslide of new opportunities could mean more clients than ever.
Here, we spoke to remote hiring experts on their predictions for the future of freelance. Plus, they share their best advice for remaining competitive.
7 predictions for the future of remote work
What will ‘professional life’ look like as more companies move to a remote work model? Twitter already announced the option to WFH permanently, and Google and Facebook will remain closed at least until 2021. Will these shifts mean freelancing will become commonplace? Or stressful?
These expert-guided insights provide a look into this industry’s crystal ball:
- Video interviews with clients will be the norm — and expected.
- Freelancers will need to have a more diversified client portfolio.
- Freelancers may have to fight harder for fair rates.
- Those who can illustrate productivity will thrive.
- More global freelancing opportunities will emerge.
- Freelancers will be better integrated into the team.
- Project-based client work will increase.
1. Video interviews will become the norm.
A few months ago, Zoom was a relatively-known platform. Now though, nearly everyone has heard of this video platform. And more to the point: many professionals have figured out how to use it effectively for work. Pre-pandemic, professional freelancers may have had a handful of phone calls every week to touch base on client progress. A ‘face-to-face’ session, however, wasn’t as typical.
Moving forward, though, Jason Myers, a senior account executive for The Content Factory, says Zoom will be the norm, and an expected part of conducting business. His employer is a digital marketing agency that’s had a 100 percent remote-workforce for a decade. To keep up-to-date with every deliverable and all freelancers and/or employees, they turn to video to create human interaction and drive accountability. Since many leaders have grown accustomed to this practice, he predicts it’ll become the new norm.
2. Freelancers will need to have a more diversified client portfolio.
Freelancing requires a bit of thick skin, since clients come and go, and the landscape is volatile, to say the least. Though it may be terrifying to stomach, remote work expert, and CEO of Green Rope, Lars Helgeson says that the unstable nature of income for freelancers will require them to be even more diversified in the coming months.
Say, for example, the majority of your clients were in the travel industry. With that sector of business particularly impacted by the pandemic, a pivot may be necessary to remain relevant. You may need to find an alternative way to use your expertise and benefit those within your niche. To reap the most success, he recommends freelancers develop ways to expand their skillsets for a more robust offering.
3. Freelancers will need to fight harder for their rates.
The most basic supply and demand model can illustrate the next year of freelancing. With more people dipping their toe into the market, there will be an increase in supply. And thus, some professionals will work at a discounted or more-affordable rate than others. To keep your rates standard, Helgeson says freelancers will need to demonstrate more than ever their unique knowledge. “Specialization and familiarity with modern technologies will keep prices for freelancers up. The more a freelancer can address a specific need or niche, or bring value by introducing new technologies or business practices to a client, the more valuable that freelancer will be,” he adds.
4. Those who are the most productive remotely will thrive.
Sure, more companies are comfortable with remote work. But they may not be as easygoing about hiring freelancers. So, when their bottom-line requires them to invest in solopreneurs, they will look for those who have proven time and time again, they can be productive from afar, and without being a full-time worker.
Myers predicts job seekers (or freelancers looking for new clients) with significant, verifiable experience working remotely will move to the top of the pile. “If the glut of ‘How to work from home’ articles choking the blogosphere in the past three months is any indication, a lot of people are extremely new to the concept and possibly won’t be as reliable as those who have years of experience working from home or as digital nomads,” he adds.
5. Global remote work opportunities will emerge.
Since remote work will be expected, industrial-organizational psychology practitioner Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D., says more global opportunities will become available. This is a positive development since, in the past, she says many business owners used to feel more secure having a local freelancer, just in case an in-person meeting or visit was required:
“Now that remote work is the new norm, location is less of a concern. The quality of a candidate might open the door for someone in another geographic location to get the gig.”
This makes it potentially beneficial if you’re a freelancer who speaks various languages fluently and/or you have experience working in other countries or cultures.
6. Freelancers will be integrated into the overall team.
When onboarding a new client, freelancers quickly realized how hands-on or hands-off they may like to be. While some require constant check-ins, others simply assign and expect quality work in return. Moving forward, founder and CEO of Breakaway Bookkeeping and Advising, a fully-remote company, Kristen Keats predicts more clients will want their freelancers to integrate within the overall team. This may mean adding them to Slack channels, including them as part of the ‘virtual’ happy hours, and other morale-boosting activities.
7. Hiring will be more project-based.
For those freelancers who are used to working on a retainer that comes with a six-month contract, the tides are, unfortunately, about to turn, according to the president and CEO of the remote company, CertiStar, Shandee Chernow. How come? She says with the economy still feeling very uncertain and with businesses being very cautious with spending and hiring, there will be more work. But, it will feel different than before. This gives freelancers an opening since the work still needs to be done, but also they may see this type of work as a Band-Aid rather than a permanent solution.
As Chernow explains:
“For project-based work particularly, hiring remotely doesn’t seem to feel as risky as hiring for a permanent position. When I hire for a permanent position, it’s essential to me that quite a few people on the team are interviewing and meeting the person and that we have those conversations in various settings. I always want to make sure that the person represents the company well, and we’ve found that people behave differently in different environments. For a shorter-term contractor or freelancer, those concerns are significantly lessened.”
7 ways to remain competitive
Your ability to not only adapt but thrive in change will set you apart from other freelancers. And with so much unknown in the immediate future, being nimble is a requirement. If you’re not sure how to remain competitive in the transformation of the industry, tackle these tactics from experts.
- Step up your Zoom game.
- Add ‘remote work’ experience to the top of your profile.
- Create polished work examples.
- Find and communicate your unique value proposition.
- Explain your organizational systems.
- Demonstrate your impact in growing numbers.
- Activate your network.
1. Step up your Zoom game.
Rather than resisting this shift, lean into it, Myers recommends. This doesn’t mean you need to upgrade to the expensive state-of-the-art technology, but you should sign-up for a free account, at the very least. Also, create an area within your home that has as few distractions as possible for video calls. Though people are more understanding of an unruly toddler or a loud dog, it’s best to try and keep background noise quiet during your first meeting.
“The recent move to video conferencing from home has given everyone a glimpse into the lives of their colleagues, but if you’re meeting with a potential client via video, chances are those folks are going to judge the way you present yourself in the interview as the potential way you might represent their company,” he explains.
“Dress and groom yourself the same way you would if you were walking into an office for the job interview.”
If you’re worried about lighting, look on Amazon for ‘studio bulbs’ that will create a beautiful effect on your face. Setting yourself up with a white wall facing a window to reap the benefits of natural light is also a smart idea.
2. Add remote work experience to the top of your profile.
If you have years of remote working experience, Myers says now is the time to slide that nugget to the top of your website, your CV, your LinkedIn and all other portfolios. This will be more attractive than ever to clients who are new to hiring remote workers and freelancers. And make sure you are creative in the way you highlight and describe your expertise. After all, since you’re positioning yourself as an expert, you need to sound like one.
“Are you a digital native who thrives on outperforming the metrics set in your work objectives? Find creative ways to let the hiring teams know that you’re a motivated self-starter who prefers to bury themselves in work rather than mull around the water cooler talking about the latest reality show. You don’t have to be a soulless robot, let your personality shine through, but today’s skillset demands some discipline that previous generations weren’t required to prove.”
3. Create polished past-work examples.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but Hakim reminds freelancers of the importance of presenting themselves in a professional, polished manner. Not only in the way you pitch your services to leads, but also in your work examples. Whether on your CV, a website, LinkedIn, or anywhere else, these should include concrete data that illustrates growth, input and impact, and so on. “This shows the potential client that you are serious about your profession and that you will take his/her job seriously,” she adds.
4. Find your unique value proposition.
Before you head into your next client call, do a little research… on yourself. In a more cutthroat marketplace, you have to identify the key differences that make you a better freelance hire over someone else. As Hakim recommends, consider the top three reasons why your potential client should choose you for the job. Are you more expensive than others, but you come with a proven track record? Do you work more quickly than the competition? Do you have more experience in a specific field or niche? Are you more creative than the competition? “Differentiate what makes you special and share this when chatting with a lead,” she notes.
5. Explain your organizational systems.
Since many companies will be new to the era of remote hiring and onboarding freelancers, Brianna Foulds, the senior director of talent acquisition at Cornerstone, recommends presenting yourself as a highly-organized professional. In fact, she says providing information on various systems you use — whether Slack, Kanban boards, Pomodoro apps, Dropbox, or Calendly all illustrate that you are focused on productivity and delivery. When potential clients realize you already have systems in place, they are more likely to hire you.
6. Demonstrate your impact.
David Kreiger, the president and founder of SalesRoads, a remote work company, says focus equals growth. This means your portfolio and elevator pitches should be clear, to the point, and highlight how you’ve helped companies grow in the past. He suggests focusing on one aspect you do well. Even if you have many talents, seek the most compelling one.
Here, an example provided by Kreiger:
- Copywriter A: I am a copywriter who can write in all industries for all channels.
- Copywriter B: I am a remote copywriter who has helped SaaS companies generate significantly more engagement and leads on LinkedIn by writing targeted posts and articles that often go viral and generate thousands of likes and comments.
Which one would you hire? It’s pretty obvious, don’t you think? “By focusing on a target industry which a very specific solution, you will stand out in a competitive freelancer marketplace and accelerate the growth of your business,” he adds.
7. Activate your network.
With a high rate of unemployment, it may feel strange to tap into your network to let them know you’re available. But before you shy away from posting, remember this: if you don’t tell them, they will never know you are open for business.
That’s why Chernow says it’s time to activate your networks via email, social media, and other channels. “You never know what connection may lead to work for you or who might recommend you to someone else in casual conversation,” she adds.