Sara Horowitz on The Power of We Freelancers
Okay, bloggers, we see you out there. Writing great thoughts while wearing your pajamas. And then you post them online for everyone to admire.
Well, how’s that for stereotyping? Portraying bloggers as a bunch of lazy slacktivists who can’t even bother to get dressed.
The truth is, bloggers are among the most socially engaged people on the planet. To recognize their efforts, there is the annual Blog Action Day.
First observed in 2007, Blog Action Day celebrates the power of bloggers as a force for good. Previous Blog Action Days have focused on Environment, Poverty, Climate Change, Water, and Food.
The 2012 theme is “The Power of We.” According to the event organizers, this year’s theme was chosen for two reasons:
- The popularity of community, equality, transparency/anti-corruption and freedom in the Blog Action Day theme poll.
- Recognition of people working to make a positive difference for people they know or for people they may never meet.
The “Power of We” is a fitting theme, as global interest in worker issues and the positive contributions of unions is on the rise. With these thoughts in mind, let’s turn to a New York City-based union that is working to better the lives of freelancers.
Noting that freelancers are now one of every three American workers – or 42 million people – the Freelancers Union was formed “to build smarter solutions to health care, retirement, wage security, and other broken systems.”
The Freelancers Union
The organization was founded by labor lawyer Sara Horowitz, whose exposure to the harsh realities that American freelancers face came through a job she had during the 1990s.
Horowitz’s employer mis-classified her as an independent worker, which prevented her from receiving fringe benefits like health insurance. Then, as now, the United States does not have national health insurance. Instead, health insurance is largely provided through employers.
Now, let’s meet Sara Horowitz. First issue on our agenda: The modern American workplace vs. the laws governing it.
Most of the current workplace laws were built for the New Deal industrial era and still haven’t accounted for the shift to independent work.
The days of working 40 hours a week at a massive corporation are over. The economy is at an inflection point, driven by the rapid increase in independent workers – 42 million at last count. This freelance surge is the Industrial Revolution of our time.
Mini History Lesson
Before the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, most people worked for themselves or were employed by small businesses. Afterward, large organizations dominated the employment sphere.
Like the Industrial Revolution, the workforce is changing in ways that could dramatically improve the lives of workers – giving them the independence to work when they want, follow their dreams, and build networks together.
That’s what we all need to do first – build sustainable, sturdy networks to show clients and elected officials that we are not alone. This is a growing movement. (The best way to help build the movement? Join Freelancers Union).
When freelancers realize that they are not alone, they start to share experiences with others. It’s been happening here on FreelanceSwitch for years. Call this place War Story Central.
One of the least favorite freelancer war stories is The Epic Battle to Get Paid. You know the drill: You do the work. You get paid.
Only problem is, the money part isn’t so easy. Seems that those clients are just full of excuses when it comes time to compensating you. Or maybe they skip the excuses part and just disappear.
Enter The World’s Longest Invoice
The Freelancers Union created it earlier this year. The idea was to show how big – and expensive – the problem of getting stiffed really is. The World’s Longest Invoice total blew past $3 million in its first day.
What was so inspiring about The World’s Longest Invoice was that freelancers got to see they weren’t alone in this challenge. And, from that, they were able to give each other tips, ideas, and help on how to deal with clients who won’t pay.
One of the best ways to make sure you get paid is to get a solid contract. That’s why we worked with our members to create Contract Creator, which gives you a ready-made template to build your own custom contract. That idea came from freelancers and was built by them.
So did the Client Scorecard, where freelancers can review past clients. It helps freelancers decide whether a new client is worth their time. And I know we’ve heard from several clients who had gotten bad reviews, so it’s got to be working.
We need more of those types of solutions – for freelancers, by freelancers.
What’s Next for the Freelancers Union?
What we keep hearing from freelancers is that they want to broaden and deepen their connections with other freelancers. That’s at the top of our list for the rest this year and into 2013.
We just started Freelancers Medical in [the New York City borough of] Brooklyn, which is a patient-centered health program combining primary care with preventive and personal wellness services like health and nutritional counseling, yoga, and meditation. The freelancer-focused primary care practice will open in Downtown Brooklyn on Nov. 5.
Also, in 2013, we’re sponsoring new nonprofit health plans in [the American states of] Oregon, New Jersey, and New York.
Economic Mega-trend Alert
Corporate America and its counterparts in other countries don’t seem to be terribly interested in hiring employees. So, the ranks of freelancers will continue to grow. The Freelancers Union is ready to help the rookies get launched into this brave new business world.
The biggest challenge for freelancers just starting out is exactly that – starting out. How do you build your network? How do you get a tax ID number? How do you balance your life with your clients?
Next month, I’m releasing a new book, The Freelancer’s Bible, which will help give freelancers – new and experienced – the tips they need to build their business and make a life that works for them.
I’ll be on tour throughout November in Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. Follow me on Twitter at @Sara_Horowitz for more details as they come.