The Future of Freelancing and How to Prepare for It

One of the most common reasons someone decides to become a freelancer is because traditional employment is no longer a viable option. The future of freelancing is bright not just because COVID-19 furloughed or laid off millions of skilled workers, but also because work-life constraints such as cost of living and burnout motivate employees to make bold career choices.

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One can easily see the appeal. Freelancers typically enjoy greater freedom, such as a flexible schedule and the ability to work from anywhere in the world.

It’s fair to say that COVID-19 plays a role in much of the freelance activity now present in North America, Asia, and Europe. But the reality is that freelancing was on the rise long before a worldwide pandemic. 

In fact, many authoritative voices insisted that 2020 would be the year that first-world workforces would be split 50-50 between freelancers and payroll employees. This prediction was somewhat ambitious since 36% of today’s workforce was freelance by the end of 2019. Still, few economists from ten years ago would have expected that more than ⅓ of workers would become self-employed before 2021.

How has COVID-19 Affected Freelancing?

While freelancing was already on the rise, COVID-19 further disrupted the employment landscape. Skilled workers suddenly needed to make a living apart from traditional employment, while companies everywhere rapidly transformed digitally and persisted on a shoestring budget.

Surge of New Skilled Workers in the Gig Economy

Layoffs and furloughs poured millions of workers into the gig economy. Particularly those individuals skilled in tech, data, and health-related fields, independent contracting became the new environment for earning wages.

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At first, there wasn’t much freelance work to be had, since clients were forced to institute spending freezes during economic lockdown. But as consumer spending shifted and business operations adjusted to the new demand, many freelancers have been able to earn enough to sustain their pre-COVID quality of life.

Employers are Working with Small, Agile Budgets

After reducing the number of payroll employees and investing in cost-saving productivity software, many businesses converted to freelance clients instead of lifting hiring freezes.

As a result, employers not previously used to working with teams of freelancers are now appreciating the financial flexibility of doing so. Freelancers can work on short-term or long-term projects, and they don’t require the same level of overhead costs like payroll, liability, and benefits.

The future of freelancing gets a boost from the number of organizations working with smaller and more agile budgets. Project managers are growing more comfortable with the independent contractor model, and the volume of freelance work continues to grow.

Rise of Remote Work

Organizations that retained a large portion of their payroll workforce were forced to adapt to remote-based operations. Ironically, freelancers have enjoyed the work-from-anywhere lifestyle for some time, and the rise of remote work feels more like validation than disruption.

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For example, many employers are hiring freelancers to help them set up and manage their remote workforce. At the same time, employers are suddenly more friendly to the idea of using freelancers for an increasing number of projects and tasks after they feel comfortable with the remote work environment.

What is the Future of Freelancing Post-COVID-19?

Speculation is never airtight, but data continues to show that the future of freelancing is strong. Those that enjoy the freelance life now will likely be able to not just pay their bills but also scale their freelance business long into the future.

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Experts point to two possible outcomes:

  1. The combination of freelancing as a popular means of completing projects and robust remote work environments will cause employers to use freelancing as a means of recruiting top talent. Or,

  2. Employers continue to lower their overhead by preferring freelance work over increasing their payroll costs.

What Can Freelancers Do to Prepare for the Future?

If you’re already a freelancer or you aspire to freelancing, there are a few things you should do to set yourself up for success.

Use Freelance Sites to Get Started, then Move On

There are several popular freelance websites that can help you establish a personal brand, build your portfolio, and get the hang of freelancing. Thanks to COVID-19, these platforms are booming, as one would expect.

That said, freelance websites are notorious for leaving freelancers with pennies on the dollar. It can be very difficult to make a living on sites like Fiverr and Upwork. The fees are steep, and many of the clients that use them are looking for a bargain.

Still, these platforms are great for getting started. But once you’ve built a portfolio, have a few long-term clients, and feel confident in your skills, you should venture off on your own. You’ll be in a better position to nail the high-paying gigs by establishing your own website and networking in your industry.

Retain Clients

If you’re constantly chasing new clients, you will burn out. Also, client acquisition is more expensive than client retention. 

Your freelance work is a business. And as such, you’ll want to keep best business practices in mind. Repeat clients are more likely to see your worth, and if they like you, they will want consistency in their current operations (which means keeping you on board).

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Invest in Your Own Digital Infrastructure

The more you invest in your ability to promote your brand and improve your productivity, the more you will increase your bottom line. Just like any business, freelance success is about lowering costs and increasing revenues.

Creating a portfolio website of your own will help you transition away from expensive freelance sites that like to take large chunks of your earnings. Additionally, increased productivity with the help of automation tools can free up your schedule and allow you to do more with less.

Final Considerations

The future of freelancing means that an increasing number of skilled workers will be self-employed. Accepting this reality and making the necessary changes will help both freelancers and clients increase their margins and improve their ability to serve customers. 

If you’re considering freelancing and already possess skills in some of the leading freelance industries, such as programming, digital marketing, and analytics, the best thing you can do is to get your first client and build a personal brand. For further assistance on establishing a reliable digital presence, reach out to an expert at Exobyte today.