Freelancers will soon represent the majority of the US workforce.
We’ve moved beyond a legacy economy that encourages young professionals to focus on a concentrated set of skills and a single occupation.
The modern marketplace seeks diverse skills and experiences and rewards those who take risks learning new technologies.
The freelancer economy is here and it’s sticking around. Three trends deserve your attention to succeed in the freelancer marketplace.
- Demand for new, and changing skills
- The inclusion of freelancers in the workforce ecosystem
- Shifts in the legal treatment of freelancers
New and Changing Skills
A company’s easiest path to talent acquisition for a new technology or in-demand skill is the freelancer marketplace.
Existing employees typically lack expertise in cutting-edge technology, and upstart tools and apps. Freelancers provide a quick and affordable option for companies to explore new technology.
Because companies naturally look to freelancers to fill new technology skill gaps, it’s no surprise that the freelancer skills in demand constantly change.
Each quarter, Upwork publishes “Upwork’s top 20 fastest-growing skills”.
Observe the changes in Upwork’s report from Q2 2017 to Q2 2018.
|Q2 2017||Q2 2018|
|Natural Language Processing||Google Cloud Platform|
|Learning Management System (LMS)||Risk management|
|Neural networks||Product photography|
|Penetration testing||Rapid prototyping|
|SEO auditing||Google App engine API|
|Asana work tracking||GitLab|
|Facebook API development||Go development|
|Swift development||Apple UIKit|
|Marketing analytics||Enterprise architecture|
|Geographic Information System (GIS)||Tensorflow|
|Docker development||Atlassian Confluence|
|Adobe Photoshop Lightroom||Apple Xcode|
|AngularJS development||Customer retention|
|Video advertising||Articulate storyline|
|Pardot marketing||Scala development|
In one year, the entire list changed from top to bottom.
The complete displacement of the Q2 2017 list indicates the rapid growth of new technologies in the modern business community.
How can you stay in demand as a freelancer?
Continuous learning is key to staying on top of your freelance game. Online learning platforms like Coursera offer simple and affordable access to the highest demand freelance skills.
The Upwork social media team and Coursera’s head of data science, Emily Glassberg Sands, recently reached out to the Upwork Twitter community to discuss the importance of upskilling and reskilling.
A Coursera response captured the sentiment: “Continuous learning is key to remaining relevant and productive.”
Review Upwork’s fastest-growing skills report on a regular basis to keep up with the latest technology and needed skills. Consistently refresh your own skill set to stay in demand.
Freelancers as part of the Workforce Ecosystem
In a recent study, The rise of the social enterprise, Deloitte found that over half the companies it surveyed heavily rely on contract, freelance, and gig workers; however, few companies have adequate systems in place to monitor, evaluate, and improve their non-employee workforce.
Deloitte predicts companies will adopt new systems to better engage freelance workers.
Such systems will ensure that freelancers are monitored and held accountable. But, the systems will also help freelancers understand companies’ goals, and how freelancers fit into company strategies.
Communication platforms will help bridge the divide between employee workforce and freelancer workforce. Deloitte describes this blended workforce as the “workforce ecosystem”
In an article for Fortune, Jeff Wald suggests that such platforms will ensure that company-freelancer engagement will be automated, centralized, and intelligent.
This trend works to the benefit of both the company and freelancer. On the company side, clients can better track ROI, protect confidential information, and scale freelance work.
On the freelancer side, freelancers will start enjoying benefits historically limited to employees.
For example, Postmates teamed up with Stride to help Postmates’ fleet of freelance drivers gain access to affordable health coverage.
Expect and take advantage of the continued merger of the employee and freelancer workforces into an effective workforce ecosystem.
Legal Shifts in the Treatment of Freelancers
As businesses figure out how to integrate freelancers into their workforce ecosystems, lawyers have not surprisingly inserted themselves.
In a recent California Supreme Court decision that gained national attention, the court frustrated companies’ ability to classify workers, including freelancers, as independent contractors.
If businesses treat freelancers as employees instead of independent contractors, businesses must abide by the minimum wage, max hours, and working conditions laws.
Legal compliance could undermine the purpose of hiring freelancers.
While most coverage of the issue has dealt with the extra burden on employers, the changes might negatively impact freelancers too.
Freelancers may lose freedoms that make freelancing attractive. In an employer-employee relation, the employer controls:
- Working conditions (hours, location, vacation/time-off)
- Work conduct (equipment used, approval systems, employee relationships)
- Payment (base wages, bonus programs, tax withholding)
If you enjoy the freedoms of the freelancer lifestyle, take affirmative steps to preserve freelancer status. Examples include:
- Maintain more than one client
- Formally organize under a business entity (corporation, LLC, etc.)
- Perform work with your own hardware, software, and other tools (e.g. email, computer, vehicle, etc.).
- Control your own schedule
- Bill clients by deliverable (not by the hour)
This case is a California-specific decision, but other states suggest they will follow suit. Keep an eye out for upcoming decisions, especially in your state, and start implementing the practices listed above.
The freelancer marketplace is growing in size, and in competition. Keep your skills fresh, embrace business engagement platforms, and protect your independent contractor status to set yourself up for freelancing success.