Features of the Freelance Economy
As the unemployment rate in many industrialized countries continues to languish in double digits – or close to it – government policy makers are devising all sorts of programs that will put people back to work. Most, if not all of them, focus on the creation of jobs.
Now, since this is FreelanceSwitch, the j-word is something that provokes a rather strong reaction. Many of us have not had the happiest of experiences with conventional employment. And we’re not going back to the job world unless it kidnaps us. Which is unlikely to happen.
But when it comes to the world’s economic recovery, we’re anything but a sideshow. If anything, we’re a major part of the solution. To the point, we’re building a new economy.
This article takes you on a tour of three of this freelance economy’s major features.
Credentials? Who cares?
The conventional advice given to young people is that if you want a good job, get a college degree. However, there’s a growing body of literature that questions the value of a degree.
Researchers Richard Arum and Josipa Roska go so far as to assert that very little learning takes place of college campuses. They’ve recently published a statistics-laden book, Academically Adrift, to illustrate their point. Not-so-fun fact: Students spend far more of their time recreating than they do on classes or studying.
The anti-intellectual atmosphere on many campuses gets a thorough thrashing in Craig Brandon’s book, The Five-Year Party. Much of the book is devoted to warning parents about such under-reported issues as campus crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and peer pressure.
Then there’s the crushing amount of student loan debt that many people graduate with. In the United States, the amount of student loan debt recently surpassed credit cards. And in this, the land of the free and the home of the brave plastic card wielders, that’s something.
Anya Kamenatz took up the cudgel against youthful indebtedness in her first book, Generation Debt. These days, she’s on a crusade to make schooling and learning a much more affordable experience. Her second book, DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education introduces many of the people and organizations behind this trend.
[W]ritten on the premise that there are a lot more people out there who find college both too expensive and inaccessible for other reasons, such as family and work responsibilities, who could benefit from accessing both free resources and communities, as well as more flexible courses and assessment programs that allow them to take a more active role in designing and navigating their education. It’s a less elite, but much much larger group.
So, in just a few short years, we’ve gone from being awed by a degree from a very prestigious University to figuring out how we can learn useful things without putting ourselves into debt servitude for several decades.
As freelancers, we’ve always been more concerned about what someone can do than where they learned it. And, if we sign up for formal schooling, we’re very goal-oriented. Take, for example, the recent FreelanceSwitch profile of 20-year-old designer Trevan Hetzel. He earned a community college associate’s degree in business a year after he graduated from high school.
About that experience, Hetzel said,
[C]ollege mostly helped me learn more about running my own business. I was planning on going back to get my Bachelor’s degree in marketing, but if this summer is any indication as to how my freelancing career will go, I’m not yet sure if I will.
And how does Trevan handle professional development? Like this:
Staying on top of the latest advancements in design is critical for any designer because standards change so much. I’ve learned almost everything I know through design blogs and tutorials, and I check many sites (including FreelanceSwitch!) daily to stay on top of changing trends.
We didn’t exactly volunteer for this thing, but…
With companies downsizing right and left, there are a lot of people joining the freelancing ranks whether they like it or not.
One of these involuntary freelancers is Caitlin Kelly, who recently wrote a book about her experience as a laid-off 50-year-old journalist. After she was cast out of the New York Daily News back in 2006, she found that the solitary life of a freelance writer wasn’t for her. She was lonely. And she found the never-ending process of selling herself and her writing – and all the rejection that comes with it – to be especially discouraging. Then there was that matter of money – she needed steady cash.
So, she went over to a nearby shopping mall and got a job at The North Face, an outdoor clothing store. Her book, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail, isn’t the sort of thing that will put smiles on the faces of The North Face’s management, but there it is. Malled is full of tales about nasty customers, indifferent coworkers, clueless management, hard-to-clean display shelves that have to remain spotless, a stock room that has more safety hazards than an iron foundry, and the transformation of Caitlin Kelly’s freelancing career.
After a few months of selling sleeping bags, shoes, backpacks, and parkas, Caitlin found that pitching her writing got much easier. The rejection bothered her less. After all the writing-rejecters were a lot nicer than those nasty shoppers at the store.
So, a bit of career advice: If your freelance career is flagging and your morale is dragging, get a part-time job in America’s number one job generator: retail sales. While the pay and the hours are lousy, you can get on-the-job sales training. Which can be a real jump-start for your freelancing.
It isn’t just for artists and code warriors
Blogs like FreelanceSwitch focus on creative types. But freelancing isn’t just for artists and code warriors. It’s spreading into areas that were once the province of job-holders. Like law, engineering, accounting, and even running companies. Case in point: One of my clients was a serial entrepreneur who was between business startups. So, he decided to hang out his shingle as an interim CEO.
What trends do you see in the freelance economy? Share your thoughts below!