Welcome to the New Economy: By 2020, more than 40 per cent of the American workforce—60 million people—will be independent workers, such as freelancers, contractors and temporary employees. Congratulations, you’re ahead of the curve! And you’re participating in this new economy on your own terms.
Here, we break down six ways the culture of self-employment is changing the way we think about work and how you can make the most of these new phenomena.
While our credentials and resumes still matter, the word of our customers is starting to mean even more. The purchasing process for today’s consumers—particularly millennials—is consultative. Before handing over their business, they want evidence that you can deliver on your promises. A carefully-crafted resume is a good starting point, but the experience and satisfaction of previous customers offers a more official seal of approval.
Consider this: a tantalizing menu might tempt you to visit an uber-expensive restaurant—but a five-star rating and a pile of rave reviews are probably what would put you over the edge to make reservations.
Establish a robust online presence where it matters most for your business. In other words, figure out where your potential clients get their information online and go there.
A home service professional will want a profile on a platform like Houzz or HomeAdvisor where satisfied clients can rate and rave about the service.
If you’re a B2B business, curate a gold-star LinkedIn profile complete with glowing recommendations from as many contacts as possible. Even lower-prestige platforms like Facebook or Yelp can help your potential customers get a good feeling about the quality of the work you do.
That bachelor of commerce, arts or science may have provided you with four of the best years of your life—but how much did your learning influence how you’re running your business today?
Your ability to pen an essay or ace a multiple choice test is not the differentiating factor when it comes to delivering tangible results. Chances are, your clients seek you out for the specialist skills you offer that your competitors cannot. Your hands-on ability to perform specific tasks are what make most small businesses thrive.
Move beyond the hallowed halls of a formal education and invest your time into learning specific skills that will help you move your business forward. For example, instead of gunning for an MBA to help you conquer the business world, take individual courses that directly relate to the business you’re in. That might mean upgrading your skills or branching out into complementary specialties that will help you broaden your service offering.
Online learning courses such as Udemy, Kahn Academy or continued education classes offered by your local college or university are not for remedial learners. They’re becoming an increasingly viable way to upgrade your skills while running your business.
In a self-employed-driven new economy, time is money. It’s more critical than ever that you’re making wise use of yours.
Whether you’re working on billable hours, business planning, prospecting for new clients or attending to administrative tasks, efficiency is key. A day or two of low productivity each week can have disastrous results. To take advantage of the new economy, you’ll want your workdays full of billable hours.
Many successful entrepreneurs delegate or outsource the tasks that cost less than 20 per cent of their hourly rate. That is, if you can pay someone else to do tasks like compiling stats or invoicing clients, your time is freed up for the kind of work only the CEO of a small business can do.
Set a goal to replace your lowest-volume customers every year and replace them with more profitable and higher-quality clients. With this mindset, you can make the most of the time you spend prospecting.
Working from home or your local coffee shop can be isolating and can create the conditions for uninspired work. With more freelancers and small businesses entering the market, there are new and innovative opportunities to share work spaces, particularly in larger urban centres.
A quick Google search will net you hundreds of co-working spaces across North America. Most of them feature well-equipped common areas (including kitchens, printers and meeting rooms), a cleaning service and networking opportunities.
If you’re feeling socially and professionally isolated, look for a co-working space in your city. Most charge a monthly fee and you’ll need to view it like you would a gym membership, i.e. it’s only worthwhile if you use it regularly.
If you think it might be a hassle to pack up your work and head to an office every day or you don’t like the distractions of other people, it might not be for you. But if you’re looking for a productive way to interact with other humans during the day who might be doing similar work, it’s a great idea.
While it can be tremendously satisfying to hunt and gather your own clients, it’s also hard work. And prospecting is not everyone’s forte. That’s why new platforms that help pair talented freelancers with businesses are enjoying success right now.
And we’re not talking about bottom-feeding content mills that require freelancers to bid on projects. (Spoiler alert: the lowest paying always gets the “job”.) A number of more legitimate agencies are bridging the gap between introspective freelancer and businesses needing top talent. Contently for writers, Jiffy On Demand for home service/tradespeople and Hourly Nerd for business consultants are just some of the viable ways to make money as a freelancer.
Just because you’re an entrepreneur you don’t have to do everything alone. If you’re a graphic designer, writer or PR consultant, consider building relationships with bigger agencies and plying (some of your) trade with them. Sure, you won’t get all the credit for the success of your great work and you may not be able to command your hourly rate, but devoting part of your time to working for an agency will allow you to gain experience with bigger brands, widen your network and provide some “bread and butter” cash flow for your business.
Another way to take on bigger projects as a small business is to partner with an entrepreneur who produces similar or complementary work, e.g. a plumber and an electrician or a graphic designer and a writer. Suddenly, your network doubles and your capacity for larger projects has grown exponentially.
Not everyone in the new economy is interested in establishing a business that will endure through the ages. For many entrepreneurs, freelancing or running a small business is all about making a great living on your own terms, not building a legacy.
When you think of your work that way, you’re free to diversify your business into multiple offerings that speak to your particular talents and pleasures. Who says you can’t run a dog walking/BBQ catering/cleaning business? If those are the things you love to do and you’re great at them, why not?
Redefine the standard measure of success. Small businesses typically aspire to become medium and then large businesses with more than a couple of employees, multiple locations and big dreams for the future.
If an empire is not what you’re aiming for, turn your business plan on its head by incorporating other ways to make money—including the things that bring you joy. When you diversify your services you’re expanding the potential for satisfaction and revenue streams. Win-win.