The Age of the Freelancer

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Last month, I attended Denver Start-up week’s the “Age of the Freelancer”; I arrived to a standing room only packed house at Craftsy’s downtown conference space to hear Aspenware’s Rob Clark speak about the following:

People are turning to freelancing in droves. Fast Company reports that the number of 1099s received by the IRS grew from 82 million in 2010 to 91 million in 2015, and according to ColoradoBiz Magazine, half the workforce could be location-agnostic by 2020. Why are companies using more blended teams and freelance talent, and how can tech freelancers take advantage of this ripe market?

I found Rob’s remarks to be spot on for what we’ve seen at Canopy over the past seven years.  Here are his key takeaways for freelancers and clients alike:

1)    Companies will use blended teams to meet a specific challenge at a specific time.
Rob argues that companies with a highly successful freelance strategy don’t simply outsource certain functions and let the freelancer work in isolation; instead, they augment their core team of employees with highly skilled freelancers to help the entire team complete the project better and quicker.

2)    Companies use freelance talent for a variety of reasons:

  • Immediacy:  hiring someone full-time is a time consuming and often lengthy process.  Getting a freelancer under contract for a specific project can happen very quickly.
  • Affordability: while a freelancer’s hourly/project rate may be more than a salaried employee, you only need to pay them when you need them.
  • Short-term: a freelancer can meet a specific need without a long-term obligation to the company.
  • Experience: Many freelancers have developed a specific expertise that companies can tap into without a lot of additional in-house training.
  • Flexibility: A company can craft their contract to be specific to what they need and when.
  • Independence: A freelancer will bring an outside, independent voice to the table.
  • Entrepreneurial spirit:  By nature of going out on their own, freelancers are their own mini start-ups: they’ve learned how to build a brand, build a sales pipeline and utilize resources carefully.  They bring that resourcefulness and entrepreneurial spirit to the team.

Hmmm…in looking at that list, it appears that freelancers work at the drop of a hat, with no benefits or long-term certainty of their future with a client…so what’s in it for them?

Rob’s argument for why so many individuals are opting into the freelance workforce is as follows:

3) Freelancers can chose work:

  • They are best suited for,
  • where they want,
  • for the period of time that makes sense,
  • along people they want to work with,
  • for a cause/company they believe in,
  • in exchange for fair compensation.

What I see as a common thread to all these good reasons is independence.  Freelancers, as mentioned in # 2 are entrepreneurial spirits who like being out on their own, picking and choosing projects that excite them, and having independence and freedom to create a work-life balance that works for them as an individual: it may be as a work horse putting in 80 hours a week or it might be limiting their contracts to 30 hours/week to be a parent, avid rock climber or bootstraping a start-up of their own.

One thing is certain – people have taken notice of this growing freelance nation and are creating tools to help the independent workforce and the companies who hire them.

4)    There are many new tech tools available for both sides:

Wave: accounting/tax software for independents
Shake: Legal support for independents
Timely: timetracker for hourly work across multiple clients
Freelancers Union: general support for the independent workforce
Aventeer: a site to find freelance developers and programmers
LinkedInProFinder: LinkedIn’s service to find independents
UpWork: A freelance marketplace
Built In Colorado: a hub for tech/start-ups


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