The current pandemic has changed the way many of us work, with freelance working enjoying significant time in the spotlight. Feeling nervous about taking the plunge? Let’s get a closer look at freelancing in the age of COVID.
Historically, freelance working has been viewed as something of a risky endeavor, one traditionally reserved to senior roles in a handful of mainly creative industries. Today, though, freelancers are everywhere – and their numbers are growing. By 2030, France, for example, expects over 14% of its workforce to be independent workers, with the figure set to reach an astonishing 50% in the United States.
Not only is the number of freelancers on the rise, but their experiences are becoming more diverse. Freelance work today encompasses many things that can also apply to full-time or salaried roles: fixed-length contracts, flexible hours, working in-house, being paid by the hour or the day…. So, what does the typical freelance experience look like – and how can we make it as rewarding as possible?
A more impactful approach to work
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a surge in the number of people seeking alternative ways of working. Driven by a desire to learn new skills, jump the career ladder, or simply enjoy more freedom when it comes to work, more and more of us are dipping our toes into the world of freelancing. Victoire Rivaton, Head of Communications and Public Affairs at freelancing platform Malt, notes: “People are realising that they can succeed in the world of freelancing – particularly after lockdown, which has left many people disillusioned with the world of work. It’s not necessarily a question of generational change – people are seeking more freedom and autonomy, and the recent lockdowns have empowered them to do so. They’re no longer feeling as confident or fulfilled by the standard 9-to-5.”
For many, this is a sign of a general shift in the way we’re approaching our careers. Aiming for a better work-life balance, changing industries, or finding more time to pursue hobbies and other interests are just some of the potential drivers of this change. Fabienne Olivier, founder of Slashers, a digital platform that helps freelancers identify meaningful ways to pursue their passions and causes, says:
We need to change our attitude when it comes to the way we work, becoming more accepting of different ways and approaches to working. It’s time to start valuing work differently and look at it through a more holistic lens: how are we helping society? What impact are we having?
Freelancing: easier than you might think
In many ways, getting started in the world of freelancing has never been so easy. French recruitment experts, Welcome to the Jungle, note that employees in France are becoming more open to starting up on their own alongside their full-time jobs, a phenomenon made significantly easier by perks for newly independent workers (reduced social security contributions, straightforward paperwork, and more). Rivaton adds: “Businesses are becoming more and more open to external talents and remote working in light of the pandemic – they’re beginning to understand that in order to move as fast as possible, they need to start looking for resources outside the organisation.”
Unsurprisingly then, freelancing platforms, such as Fiverr in the U.S., Crème de la crème in France and marketplaces such as Malt in Europe, have seen a huge rise in the number of independent workers seeking to create online profiles. Rivaton says: “Currently, we’re welcoming over 8,000 new members per month compared to just over 6,000 at the same time last year.” Other innovations, such as freelance-oriented networking and dedicated coworking spaces, are helping to take the edge off what many perceive as a leap of faith towards a less certain future. Antoine van den Broek, founder of freelance blog Amédée, says: “It’s incredibly important to make sure you have a supportive network of friends and colleagues. Consider joining a coworking space or freelance collective, or make time to regularly link up with people from your industry.”
Today’s freelancer may have a large or regular client base, either built from their own contacts or via platforms like Malt – or they may spend their time working with a single client. It might sound surprising to imagine a freelance CEO, but recent trends point to highly skilled talent gravitating towards ‘fractional working’ in the COVID economy. Rivaton confirms: “The average Malter is aged between 37 and 45, with between five to nine years’ experience in their field. 77% have a university degree, with over half having a Master’s.” However, not all freelancers are former high-level or senior employees. Today’s economy has given rise to a new type of independent worker: the slasher.
Traditional freelancing vs. slasher culture
Closely correlated with WFH (working from home) and the rise of the digital nomad, slashers are a rapidly growing offshoot of the traditional freelance industry. Unlike traditional freelancers, slashers are Swiss army-knife-style workers, bringing together multiple skills – translation meets copywriting, say, or graphic design with video editing. Sounds great, right? But does that really lead to more opportunities?
Van den Broek explains: “Slasher culture might seem like an obvious solution to a major source of stress for freelancers: money! On the face of it, more skills means more clients, which leads (or should) to more streams of income. However, there are other ways to diversify without needing to be a professional yoga teacher-cum-graphic designer-cum-nautical engineer. Concentrate on your main skill set and adapt it according to your client’s needs. Try offering training sessions in your field or offering regular customers a subscription-based deal. The goal isn’t just to grab as many clients as possible, but to guarantee career longevity and regular, stable income streams.” Fabienne Olivier concurs: “The multi-potential and agile nature of slasher working is undoubtedly a plus in today’s uncertain world. To be able to work within multiple sectors and quickly adapt to change gives slashers greater confidence and resilience.”
Businesses are becoming more and more open to external talents and remote working in light of the pandemic – they’re beginning to understand that in order to move as fast as possible, they need to start looking for resources outside the organisation.Victoire Rivaton, Head of Communications and Public Affairs at Malt
A rewarding freelance experience: ask the experts
All of this may sound daunting, so what should you keep in mind when it comes to starting out on your own? For Olivier, it’s crucial to maintain a sense of perspective. “New freelancers need to find a sense of authenticity, a motivator to keep them steady and give them perspective. I’d encourage anyone starting out to sit down and find their ikagai – (a Japanese concept that translates roughly as ‘purpose’ or ‘reason for being’).”
On the more practical side, it’s important to stay on top of your paperwork. Rivaton says: “We receive a lot of questions covering everything from billing and taxes to retirement and buying a home. As a result, we’ve created a partnership with AXA [a multinational insurance firm] that’s valid for each and every job our freelancers take via Malt.” And, of course, try to prioritise the famous work-life balance. “What’s one thing the average freelancer could do without? Opening on the laptop on the weekend!” laughs Van den Broek.
The future of freelance work
So, what does the future hold? For many, remote working is here to stay, with studies showing that most EU workers express a clear preference for teleworking in the long term. While some freelancers are enjoying this new flexibility, others may feel constrained to return to the office. When it comes to life after COVID, it’s possible that a significant number of freelancers will opt for a return to more traditional roles. Fortune points out: “The greatest number of conversions from independent work to full-time hires came after the Great Recession ended in 2009,” adding that researchers expect a similar trend in a post-COVID economy.
What do the experts consider to be the key for the future? Van den Broek says: “Unity . . . Life can be challenging for non-salaried workers – reduced access to loans and training, dealing with difficult clients – so regardless of our industries or backgrounds, us freelancers should stick together.” Fabienne Olivier concurs: “In the future, I’d like to see society at large become more accepting of freelancing and other kinds of hybrid working, such as slashing and volunteering. We tend to associate the idea of work with our jobs, but work is not “just a job”. Each and every one of us does countless other things – in addition to what we do for a living – that help to enrich society at large.”