The gig economy is growing. How can a freelancer secure more work, and at higher pay?
8 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The world of work is changing as, increasingly, more and more of the workforce turns to the freelance life. A study by Edelman Intelligence found the U.S. freelance workforce growing faster than the overall U.S. workforce, with 57.3 million people, in 2017, categorizing themselves as freelance workers.
The study predicted that by 2027, the majority of U.S. workers would be freelancing. And this scenario doesn’t apply just to the United States; the World Economic Forum estimates that 16.1 percent of the population in the European Union works freelance, and that number continues to climb.
Between this workforce shift and the healthy economy, finding freelance work is easier than ever. The Edelman Intelligence survey also found that 77 percent of freelancers polled noted that technology had made freelancing easier and more profitable, and 66 percent said the amount of business they found online had increased in 2016.
In my experience, I believe the freelance industry has hit its stride in the last few years due to the opportunities afforded by the advancements in technology. For example, I see that people are more likely to put themselves out there and make relationships using the different mediums available for doing this.
However, building a base of clientele who keep coming back for more takes time and effort. Clients are naturally wary of new businesses and people, so developing credibility and trust as quickly as possible is essential to help a freelancer ensure a growing client roster and profitable work.
Nation1099, a web publication that focuses on freelance careers, has developed statistics around freelance roles. It found that freelance jobs span the gamut of occupations from architects, web designers and bloggers, to consultants, journalists, life coaches, nannies, builders and more. The mass of freelancers out there, no matter what type of work they do, all have one singular attribute in common: the upkeep of their clients.
Regardless of how creative or mundane their work category may be, all share the same requirement to keep clients happy, and consistently so. So, if you yourself are a freelancer, here are some ways to maintain ongoing successful relationships:
Prepare for corporate adoption.
As more companies embrace freelancer workers, the nature of such work continues to change. Upwork, the world’s largest freelancing website, released a report that found that nearly half of companies surveyed were thinking beyond traditional employment to embrace more flexible teams.
For example, Fortune 500 companies and global giants like Samsung are turning to online freelancing platforms to find designers, marketing staff, IT specialists and other knowledge workers, the study reported. Other enterprise businesses such as Airbnb and Dropbox and GE are also shifting their workforce toward freelancers, to save time and money.
Freelancers are especially attractive to hiring managers looking for quick access to in-demand skills. Some 40 percent of hiring managers in the study cited the ability to scale to meet business needs, as a top perceived benefit of hiring freelancers. And 20 percent of organizations (globally) with more than 1,000 employees described a workforce made up, on average, of 30 percent or more contingent workers. No wonder corporate adoption of freelancers is poised to increase in 2019.
With these numbers comes a dark side: the myth that freelancers can be flaky and not reliable. Perhaps this was true ten years ago, but professional freelancers today make it a central feature of their role to be dependable and trustworthy.
Businesses need to know they have someone they can rely on. As more companies large and small choose freelancers over full-time employees, those contingent workers need to prepare for more responsibility. From their perspective, being perceived as dependable and responsible is the foundation from which they can build an ongoing and successful business relationship. From a business perspective, it’s a gold mark.
Use your flexible work schedule the right way.
Considering that Upwork estimated that 55 million Americans are currently freelancing, businesses are clearly thinking beyond traditional approaches. In this context, Nation1099 reported that 44 percent of business leaders it surveyed called flexible work the top socio-economic driver of changes in industry. Yet while there are plenty of benefits of flexible working — such as cutting down commute times and giving freelancers more downtime — they shouldn’t let that get in the way of managing their time and being flexible to their client’s needs.
Those clients are eager for them: Amazon, in fact, has an entire page dedicated to remote career opportunities, including sales, project management, and more. But Amazon and other employers will likely find nothing more frustrating than a freelancer who is inflexible and unwilling to cater to their schedules and requests.
For that reason, employers might consider using a freelance service for any project that needs to get done within a set time frame.This doesn’t mean that freelancers should have to answer calls at 3 in the morning — boundaries have to be set. Yet, if a client asks if you, as the freelancer, can do something that's just come up, you should do all you can to shuffle your workload to comply. This will increase your worth to clients and help strengthen the relationship for the future.
Don’t put yourself in a box.
As a freelancer, you may find it easy to become pigeonholed. Clients will associate you with a certain type of work, and you can end up in a metaphorical box. To prevent that, once you finish a project, ask if there’s anything else you can help with. I’ve found that many of our users speak to their clients often, getting to know them on a more personal level.
That way, when clients are looking for someone to complete a task, that user is the first person who comes to mind, no matter the exact job. You might be surprised how this simple question can open the door to new projects, especially if an employer already trusts your work ethic.
In a survey by Pioneer that looked at freelancer salaries, a third of the respondents offered a range of services that ranged from administrative and content creation to design work, rather than a specialization in just one field. The study found that that the growing population of gig workers in the United States is well paid, with even higher pay rates for those who offer more than one service.
In the freelance game, you’re competing with lots of other people with the same level of credibility and skills. Due.com, a global payments and digital wallet solution for freelancers, estimated that in 2016 nearly 53 million Americans were freelancers — or 34 percent of the workforce. It said that by 2020 43 percent of the U.S. workforce would be freelancers. That’s quite a bit of competition.
As more top companies like JPMorgan Chase, Apple and Dell offer greater opportunities for remote work, it’s important that you as a freelancer go above and beyond to separate yourself from the rest.
Working toward a successful freelance career.
In summary, freelancing can be incredibly liberating, as you control your own schedule and work environment. Of course, with this freedom comes the responsibility of being your own boss, staying organized and pushing yourself to do better. I’ve seen people who are used to the structure of a 9-to-5 job have difficulty adjusting to this much freedom. However, if you stay on top of everything and hold yourself accountable, freelancing can be an incredibly rewarding experience.
Keeping clients happy is like any workplace relationship. You need to be open, flexible and willing to accommodate different needs. You need to gain a reputation as someone trustworthy and dependable, but someone who can also diplomatically establish boundaries so you don’t bite off more than you can chew.
As a freelancer, you have to stand out to succeed. Using these skills to build solid relationships with your clients will help you get ahead and stay there.