No question about it: the world of work is very different today than it was just a generation ago. No longer does a wide-eyed, innocent join a company fresh out of college (or even high school) and remain there throughout their entire working life. The days of company loyalty and pension-funded retirements are largely gone.
Today’s workforce is far more mobile and significantly more autonomous. And the rise of the gig economy is what’s making that possible. Now, more than ever, workers are turning to freelancing to build the career that best suits their evolving needs and goals.
But it’s not all about choice or desire. Some freelancers are turning to gig work because of a general lack of sustainable, full-time employment. Likewise, “gigging,” for some workers, is the best option for earning a viable living while accommodating other needs, such as child or eldercare responsibilities.
Whatever the particular reason a freelancer might choose to enter the gig economy, there are both tremendous advantages and significant risks involved in this kind of work. This article discusses best practices for maximizing the former and minimizing the latter.
The rise of the Gig Economy
In 2018, it was estimated that 57 million people were participating in the gig economy either full or part-time. And it’s not just an American phenomenon. Freelancing is rising sharply in countries around the globe, from the UK and EU nations to South Africa and most everywhere in between.
Given the diversity and flexibility of the gig economy, its global popularity is perhaps not surprising. While service jobs comprise the bulk of freelance work, the gig economy can encompass virtually any skill set, from the most basic to the most advanced. It can accommodate those without a high school diploma as easily as it accommodates Ph. D.s.
With a bit of creativity and a lot of hustle, in other words, freelancers can pretty much follow their bliss, from chauffeuring to catering to photography. Thanks to the international reach of today’s technologies, opportunities for remote freelance work seem practically endless.
With platforms like Upwork, freelancers can connect with clients around the world, landing gigs in everything from bookkeeping and accounting to editing and tutoring to graphic design and voice-over acting.
As exciting as the idea of being able to fully customize your work life may be, there are some definite challenges to the freelancing life, challenges that can derail your career if you don’t plan ahead.
First, when you’re a freelancer, whether you rise or fall pretty much depends solely on you. And that means there’s going to be tremendous pressure to always be hustling. After all, especially if you’re doing remote work, you’re likely going to be competing with other giggers from around the world.
So the pressure is going to be on to distinguish yourself from a sea of other freelancers. That means you’ll need to prove to your prospective client base that you are the best of the best. To do that, you’re going to need to fall—or stay—in love with learning.
Keep abreast of the market trends in your particular field. Understand what skills are most in-demand today, as well as the skills that are most likely going to be needed for tomorrow, and pursue them to the utmost. Predictably, tech skills continue to be in high demand, and the need for those skills is expected only to increase as technology continues to evolve, the labor economy to become increasingly non-traditional, and the marketplace more globalized.
But it’s not only technology: communication skills are now more important than ever. Workers who are skilled in both in-person and virtual communications, in particular, have the entire world of work right at their fingertips!
Once you have the skills you need to stand out from your competitors, and you’ve started to build your customer base, you’re also going to need to have a strategy to make sure you’re getting paid. This may well be the most difficult part of your freelancing life, even more challenging than getting gigs. After all, no customer is exactly thrilled about paying.
So you need a plan. Make sure that your invoices are clear, detailed, accurate, and timely. Consider offering retainers or requiring down payments on services. Offer discounts for early payments and penalties for late ones.
Above all, ensure that your terms of service are spelled out both in the contract and in the invoice, including exactly what services were provided and at which fees. It’s also a good idea to draw up a contract before work begins. The contract should detail exactly what services will be provided, by what date, and at what cost.
The contract should also include the stipulation that no services other than those detailed in the contract will be provided, assumed, or expected. This will ensure that clients aren’t pestering you for add-on services or threatening you with breach of contract if you don’t comply with their demands.
For instance, if you’re accepting a freelance writing gig, then your contract should specify how much content will be provided, by what date, and for what fee, including any edits or revisions after the original draft has been provided. In other words, be precise, detailed, and specific to protect yourself and spare yourself some big headaches!
Know the law
When you’re freelancing, of course, you are the captain of your own ship. That provides a tremendous amount of freedom, but it also adds immense responsibility. You’re going to need to develop a measure of expertise in a lot of domains, one of the most important of which may be in the area of employment law.
Laws and regulations that apply to full-time workers, such as overtime wages, typically do not apply to freelancers–unless you have written those terms explicitly into your work contract. As more workers enter the gig economy, however, legislators are increasingly focused on how employment law impacts freelancers and contract workers. For now, though, the laws are limited and protections are relatively few. Your greatest asset will be your work contract because that legally establishes the conditions and requirements of each gig and can give you some legal recourse if clients fail to live up to their end of the agreement.
In many ways, freelancing can seem like the ideal job. After all, you get to build the career you want, without depending on anyone else to determine your professional destiny. At the same time, though, there are pitfalls you need to be aware of and take care to avoid if you’re going to make a real go of it. And that means honing your talents, hustling hard, and handling your clients with skill and strategy.
Noah Rue is a journalist and content writer from Boise, Idaho, US. He is fascinated with the intersection between global health, personal wellness, and modern technology. When he isn’t searching out his next great writing opportunity, Noah likes to shut off his devices and head to the mountains to disconnect.
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