Guest post: Part 2 – The Future of Freelance: Where are we now?

November 24, 2010


Guest post by Rick Duncan and Scott Morrison of the Bauhub.

Welcome to part two of the series “The Future of Freelance”. The first part, titled “What Do Client’s Want”, focused on the challenges faced by our clients and  how we can help to address them. This post addresses the challenges Freelancers face head-on every day.

Only one person gets paid?

It’s getting interesting out there. As discussed in our last post, we have arrived in a world where clients have increased pressures placed on them, which translates into new pressures on us.

These pressures have also started to cause a fundamental shift in the freelance market itself. Crowdsourcing, overseas outsourcing, and stock content are all applying pressure on an already squeezed industry. It’s clearly benefiting some but how do we compete against it?

Undervaluing our product. A major pressure on our industry is the growth of sites that offer competitive or spec creative services. One term referenced frequently is ‘crowdsourcing’.

Wikipedia defines this as:

Crowdsourcing is the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call.”

Sounds like an interesting idea right? The problem is in practice we all need to make money. Many sites have cropped up offering clients an opportunity to post projects and request that a multitude of people submit their ideas, some even with fully finished concepts. Once all the concepts are submitted the client reviews them and chose the one they wish to use. Only this one person is paid for their work.

< small pause to let the insanity sink in >

I challenge you to go to your lawyer tomorrow and provide them a problem that needs to be fixed. Then, tell your lawyer that you’re going to send the same brief to 99 other lawyers so you can compare them all, review, and choose one and pay them. What do you think your lawyer will say?

Freelance creatives (and many big agencies) are participating in these practices every day in varying degrees. As an industry we need to rally for a total boycott of this practice. Push back and simply refuse to compete for bid that require work for free. Proposals are required to outline accurate work scopes and give clients a clear sense of what they are paying for. However, when we cross the line into a world where the expectation is that the majority of the concept submitted will be in vain and uncompensated, we devalue ourselves and our work. We are smart, trained professionals. If we don’t value our work, how can we expect others to?

Overseas. We must acknowledge that there are some very talented freelancers in India and Asia. They’re great, smart people doing good work. They are earning an honest living just the same way we are. The challenge that freelancers is that, due to local economic circumstances in countries such as India or China, the rate at which these talented people are working is FAR below living wages in North America and Europe. You may charge $30-60 an hour but it’s being offered for $5-8 an hour.

Our peers overseas are well trained, well versed in technology, and know how to work at distance. They are ready to work long hours on North American time schedules, which for them is the middle of the night. They are showing their drive to succeed and we should have nothing but respect for them.

So what are we to do?

We cannot compete against price, so the question is, how do you compete for work on benefits other than price? What can you offer to clients that can’t be delivered remotely for cheaper? For example, it could be a better strategic insight into the market or the customer, being available in person and specializing in a niche.

We may also choose to partner with our peers abroad and subcontract portions of our work while we land more clients.

This point really has no right or wrong answer. We all must decide where our comfort zone is and how we can best leverage the changes to our advantage. Whatever we decide it appears overseas outsourcing is not going away.

The ‘stock’ market. On this topic we also have some mixed feelings.

On one hand, online stock outlets provide an option for freelancers to create something once, and then generate income from it over time. Client’s save some money, and even other freelancers can save time by starting with a stock item and customizing to suit their needs. Not a bad deal for all participants and if you produce a wide variety of content you may even be able to generate a fairly regular flow of supplemental income from this.

On the other hand, for every use of stock content, an individual who would have been paid in the past for their creative time is now not billing for it. We take an illustration that would generate for $250 (or more) for the illustrator and sell it for $10 (or less). That means the illustrator has to sell it over 25 times to generate the same income. While the potential is there to sell it thousands of times, may times the application is so unique that the numbers are below that. With a search for the keyword ‘house’ producing 217,326 results on iStockphoto® will any one photo ever sell enough to make the same revenue it used to?

While the need for custom solutions is likely to remain strong for the foreseeable future, stock is here to stay. Look at your business and your career goals and see if you can find a way to generate some extra money from stock. A little extra income never hurt anyone’s business.

Summation: There are many stakeholders and global pressures drawing the market in different directions. Technology has leveled the global playing field and we must be ready to hold our ground and protect what’s right while remaining open minded and seeing the opportunity where they exist.

Watch for THE FUTURE OF FREELANCE PART 3 – Where are we going?

Rick Ducan and Scott Morrison have worked in advertising and marketing for a combined 42 years. Together they are part of a global collective of senior creative minds called The Bauhub. Please contact rickduncan@thebauhub.com or 1-888-BAUHUB-4 to find out more.

Interested in writing a guest post for Fresh Thinking? Please contact John Coates.


about the author

This is a guest post for the FreshBooks blog. FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.