The Freelance Paradigm Is The New Normal
This week’s focus has been on building our consulting division, In The Black Partners. I announced the addition of a new consultant, a CFO level professional with experience as a freelancer. I scheduled two meetings to talk with potential freelancers interested in joining our group. I had lunch with a client to tell her about our program and capabilities. I scheduled a smoker for next week to get our group together for some fellowship. And, I added a virtual assistant to help our team, and promote her business.
In 2001 I read Daniel Pink's book, Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself. That publication was timely as I had recently begun my career as a free agent, focused on Executive Search. Mr. Pink was spot on predicting the growth of freelancing, as this trend has continued unabated. By 2020, Freelancers are expected to account for 40% of the workforce. His thesis validated the decision to start my business.
Much has been written about Millennials who have chosen freelancing as a career or to augment their incomes. Many of these people perform SEO writing and graphics design to aid businesses in their digital marketing efforts. Others are engaged in developing Apps, and of course, a large component, are Uber drivers. To support this trend, on-line services, like Upwork.com and Fiverr.com offer platforms to connect freelancers with customers.
By 2006 some of my clients began asking for help with significant issues which could be resolved in a short time frame. As their needs did not require full-time equivalents, I placed consultants or freelance project managers. I recognized the value of free agents at that point but didn't see it as a trend that would reshape my practice. In fact, my business was in high gear. However, I knew the demand for free agents was accelerating.
Finally, in 2014 I joined a group of freelancers to capitalize on this opportunity. We branded ourselves as In The Black Partners, drafted a business charter, created a logo, and built a website with email capabilities. Our strategy is to help small, emerging companies and established mid-cap brands, resolve their strategic issues.
It wasn't long before we found ourselves in the classic time management trap. We were so busy that we couldn't focus on building our team. This year I set a goal to recruit more consultants. We are looking for Baby Boomers who find it difficult reconnecting with the market; executives with corporate experience who want to make a contribution. These folks enable us to fulfill our mission.
The fundamental problem for most freelancers is devoting time for business development while managing their current projects. It is often called “the feast or famine cycle” as new projects aren't generated seamlessly to replace completed projects. Most people are good at performing the work they are hired to do, however, business development isn’t a strong suit. We provide an umbrella for freelancers, working under a brand to defeat the "feast or famine cycle."
Another issue faced by freelancers is the ability to leverage time to expand their revenue potential. One of my colleagues, I call him "Old School," often complains that he cannot take on new work because he has exhausted his available time. I remind him to develop someone to take over his lower value-added tasks or subcontract some of his work. He would retain responsibility for quality control while making better use of his time. Working with a group of consultants helps build our revenue beyond that which they could achieve on our own.
I remain convinced that this strategy is aligned with the New Normal. As more and more companies become comfortable with a blended workforce where freelancers work alongside full-time employees, the opportunities will continue to grow. Likewise, free agents need support to build and manage their businesses. It is a win-win-win proposition.
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Jim Weber, President
New Century Dynamics Executive Search
Author of: Fighting Alligators: Job Search Strategy For The New Normal
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