As the world begins to emerge blinkingly into the light of a post-pandemic era, it is vital that we continue to stabilize our economic future. Freelancers have traditionally been a huge boon to national economic growth after significant changes, and they are likely to play a pivotal role once again. So, how do you ensure you can grow your business post-pandemic? What should you be looking for as a freelancer in terms of work and generating income? We take a look at the key ways in which new and existing freelancers can ensure their ability to flourish in 2021 and beyond.
The way we work is definitely changing. Despite its prior steady growth rates, 2020 served to supercharge the freelance economy by adding 2 million workers during that year along; ultimately “raising the percentage of American workers engaged in freelancing full time by 8% to a total of 36%”. Now a trillion-dollar industry, the freelance sector is benefitting from its expanded potential thanks to the advancements in technology that make remote working more accessible. It appeals to individuals, particularly in the younger generations, because of its flexibility and variety and it appeals to companies as it allows them to outsource work to more cost-effective external resources. This freelance revolution is worldwide, and here to stay. But how do you make the most of your freelance career?
Finding the Right Fit
If you want to invent something successful, you need to look for gaps in the market or problems that need solutions. The same could be said for freelancers in this new gig economy. Whether you have been self-employed for a while or found yourself exploring this new challenge through circumstance or choice in 2020, finding the right gap in the market for your skills is crucial to success. To draw from another proverbial cliche “write what you know”, the first step is to consider what your background and experience bring to the table. Remaining in your current sector or industry is likely to be far more advantageous when it comes to building a network and finding work. This is also where your knowledge and skillset will probably be the most valuable, which allows you to charge more for your work. Getting started in your existing world will often mean you can reach out to colleagues for potential work and have them spread the word about your new services to prospective clients, you may even be able to offer a more budget-friendly part-time option to an old employer who is in desperate need of resources. If you are looking for something completely different or are confident in your transferrable skillset, Forbes recently put together a great list of the 7 fasted growing industries for freelancers to be in:
· Accounting, finance, and bookkeeping
· Customer service
· Digital marketing
· HR and recruitment
· Computers and IT
· Real estate
IRL to URL to both?
Adapting to the ‘new normal’ or really identifying what on earth the ‘new normal’ will be is a vital hurdle that needs to be cleared to keep things running smoothly. Luckily, this is a shared experience so there is no problem in discussing it openly with clients and suppliers as we wait for some sense of normality to reappear. But no matter where you are on your freelancer journey, chances are you have spent most of the last year predominately interacting with screens (and maybe some house plants that are still hanging on). Our URL existence of Zoom calls, Teams discussions, Netflix binging, and late-night Amazon splurges is gradually receding as lockdowns and restrictions are lifted around the world. Could IRL client meetings be back on the table? Will ‘hot desking’ be making a comeback? Should I start moving my ‘office’ to the local coffee shop today? Well, the truth is, you may not need to dust off those heels just yet, remote working and video conferencing is definitely here to stay. For the foreseeable future, a blended or ‘hybrid’ combination is the most likely status quo to emerge, where the necessary medium or platform for communication or an event is carefully considered. The imposed realities of remote working have exposed glaring inefficiencies in many organizations and they need time to work out how to be more productive overall. Freelancers have no such burden; they are able to work in a way that maximizes their efficiency and produces the best results for their clients. Your choice over whether to conduct business IRL or URL is entirely up to you, based solely on the needs of your clients and your personal preferences.
Protecting Your Income
One of the most important aspects of freelancing is securing your income. Identifying and maintaining the type of relationships with clients that will result in long-term, ongoing work is vital to establishing a sustainable business model. In order to accomplish this successfully in this new business sphere, there are a few things to consider:
Networking: Without traditional events and industry meet-ups, making connections or generating leads can be a challenge. But many existing events have initiated online alternatives which can be very useful and even include ‘cocktail hours’ or ‘meet and greet’ sessions, Eventbrite and Meetup are great for this. Another good way to grow your network is to use your current connections. Put together a brief overview of who you are and what you are offering and ask contacts to share it with anyone they think might be interested. People you know can be your biggest champions and, that way, your introduction comes with a personal recommendation as well.
Client Relationships: Since you can’t exactly replicate the atmosphere of an in-person meeting, make sure to put extra effort into the way you engage with your clients. Sending a handwritten thank-you note or sharing a fun video or article you know they would like could mean the world to them. Take note of what is going on with them and take it into account when scheduling calls or setting deadlines, ask them how you can do more to help make their lives easier – that way you become indispensable.
Managing your Rates: For those who have been freelancing for a while, you may well have found yourself offering discounted prices for clients during the pandemic. Is now the time to start increasing them again? It really depends on the client and your situation. Consider what you know about their business model and whether they are in a position to accommodate a larger budget. If so, don’t be afraid to raise the topic, you are worth it. Try tying it into a review of the current arrangement and what you can offer to make the increase a more worthwhile investment. You can even research the current market rates in order to show them relevant data.
Ensuring Stability: If 2020 taught us anything, it is that uncertainty can be just around the corner. Freelancers need to be vigilant about their financial future, especially when it comes to contracts, retainers, and income insurance protection. Secure, long-term contracts will help you manage your accounts and have a more structured annual budget. But without the traditional protections, one might have as an employee, you need to invest in securing your financial future with income insurance. A small investment every month could make all the difference if something happens that prevents you from working for a long period of time.