COVID-19 has left the world reeling. Everyone is trying to cope with widespread contagion. However, in this backdrop, the global freelance ecosystem has some long-term positives to look forward to. In this blog, we take a look at why we can expect these positives, as well as some of the immediate freelancer challenges brought by the pandemic – and how freelancers can overcome them.
Before the outbreak, the freelancing ecosystem was already thriving. As a profession, individuals were increasingly taking it up full-time. This was driven by the numerous benefits that it provided: better work-life balance, location flexibility, and the opportunity to work on a wide range of exciting projects, among others.
Even for businesses, hiring and working with freelancers provided higher convenience. Small companies could now work with top-quality talent for the duration of important projects. They were also saving on rent space and employee benefits while getting access to a global talent pool.
Let’s look into some stats that describe the state of freelancing prior to the pandemic:
The State of Freelancing prior to the Pandemic
We had released a guide to hire freelance developers a couple of months ago. In one of the sections, we described the positive trends that were observed in the freelancing industry, a few of which are:
1. Freelancers to become the majority workforce in the U.S. by 2027
There are currently 58 million freelance professionals in the U.S. workforce. They contribute over $1.4 trillion to the country’s economy and are expected to grow to a mammoth 84 million by the year 2027. This is going to make freelancers the majority workforce.
2. Almost half of all businesses employ freelancers
In 2018, a staggering 48% of all businesses employed freelancers in their workforce. Further, there is a steady rise expected in this number over the next few years, buoyed by a growing number of businesses adopting remote working policies.
3. SMBs and large corporations alike hire freelancers extensively
Overall, 70% of SMBs in the U.S. had employed freelancers, at least once, to date. However, this isn’t just restricted to small companies. Even tech giants like Google had 54% of its workforce in 2019 comprising of freelancers and contractors!
Impact of Covid-19 on the Freelance Ecosystem
The outbreak has motivated companies across the world to adopt immediate safety measures. This has resulted in a vast majority of companies implementing well-defined ‘work from home’ policies.
Surge in the popularity of remote working
While remote working was already growing steadily before the pandemic, the outbreak has given rise to an unprecedented surge in its popularity. Experts are predicting that it is here to stay, and will likely become the ‘new normal’ after the world emerges from the pandemic.
This is also highlighted by the sudden spurt in the number of searches for the term ‘work from home’ on Google, as depicted by the below image.
Potential increase in businesses adopting a flexible workforce
The pandemic has had an immediate economic impact on businesses across the globe. Lockdowns in several countries and a resulting dearth of customers has crippled businesses regardless of industry, with SMEs being hit the hardest.
This has led businesses to rethink and innovate, by potentially making their workforce leaner to reduce operation costs. The 2020 report from Mercer on the ‘Future of Work’ states that post the pandemic, 39% of business executives are looking to shift to a more flexible workforce. In the UK, one in every three SMEs are planning to increase flexible working after the pandemic.
Businesses will future-proof
Immediate economic impact aside, companies will also look to future-proof in the aftermath of a global pandemic. They will attempt to be smarter and be better prepared for any such events that might occur in the future.
At Flexiple, several clients have expressed that aligning with a flexible workforce has been immensely helpful to them in tackling the pandemic problems. Further, they plan on increasing the percentage of freelancers and contractors in their team.
Here are some key takeaways from our own experience:
Even though it might soon be the norm, working remotely is hard to adapt to at first. Individuals who currently have remote working experience are sure to get ahead of the curve. For example:
“A UK-based banker-turned-entrepreneur suggested that he prefers working with professionals who already have prior experience working remotely. Since stay-at-home orders were implemented after the outbreak, the productivity of engineers in his team who had prior experience working remotely has been a cut above the rest.”
“Another US-based entrepreneur, who has a development team based entirely out of the US, wants to reduce his company’s geographical dependency. This is so that they’re able to tackle a similar situation more effectively in the future. Therefore, he is looking to set up a remote tech team in India to minimise liabilities and have more flexibility.”
Freelancer Challenges ushered in by the Pandemic
The post-pandemic future for freelancers certainly looks encouraging. However, for the time being, it has, like for most of the civilised world, impacted freelancers too. Freelancers stand at a unique juncture, as businesses increasingly try to adopt remote working, while still having to curb expenditure during this pandemic.
This is apparent from the disparity between consensus in Europe and the U.S: Leaders at freelance marketplaces in Europe are looking at lower than forecasted revenues (Comet and Worksome). On the other hand, talent networks focused on the U.S. market are more optimistic (Catalant), with clients focusing more on strategic projects.
Some of the freelancer challenges that have been borne from the consequences of the global pandemic are:
With businesses scrambling to cut costs where they can, freelance projects are likely to be stalled or cancelled. According to this recent survey report from Statista, freelance projects in Italy experienced widespread abandonment. The percentage of cancellations and/or suspensions of commissioned projects have increased from 62% to an astonishing 89% in the first two weeks of the outbreak.
Delays in payments
Cash-strapped businesses are finding it hard to uphold their financial commitments, with average payment delays escalating to 28 days. This is up from an average of 13 days prior to the pandemic, severely impacting freelance professionals. A recent survey in the UK reported that nearly half of the freelancers surveyed had lost at least 60% of their income. Further, a staggering 33% revealed that their income had been slashed by 80% or more.
Drop in new projects
It also follows naturally that businesses have suspended all new initiatives. This has led to a drop in new work opportunities for freelancers. Naman Sarawgi, the founder of Refrens – a business management tool serving several freelancers and self-employed individuals – highlighted a 60% drop in new freelancing assignments in the last week of March.
Strategies to Overcome Freelancer Challenges
As already mentioned earlier, two trends augur favourably for the freelancing ecosystem: the increasing popularity of remote working, and businesses looking to employ a more flexible workforce. This makes the rise in demand for freelancing imminent, once life starts to return to normalcy.
Even early signs support this observation. According to experts, startups and traditional companies have already begun working with more freelancers.
To gain momentum on this, and to overcome the current freelancer challenges, self-employed professionals can proactively employ certain steps, as detailed below.
Work on side-projects
Working on side-projects can be an excellent way to make maximum use of the downtime. To complement your marketing efforts, you should share your progress on the project publicly on social media. This enables you to showcase your abilities to potential clients.
As a bonus, you could possibly monetise your side-project. Even a mediocre success can boost your income. Now is the time to work on your favourite pet projects that you never had time to work on! You might gain from online communities such as Indie Hackers, which provide a great platform to interact, collaborate, and gain advice from hundreds of fellow-entrepreneurs working on their own side-projects.
Find time to up-skill yourself
Social media has numerous instances of professionals displaying the new skills that they have gained. This is with good reason. Learning new skills is an excellent way to stay productive, and will aid in preparing them for the job market once the situation around the pandemic settles down.
Further, many online learning platforms are offering courses at reduced costs, with Coursera offering 100 courses for free for a limited time. Further, for junior freelance developers, freecodecamp.org has created a comprehensive guide to learn coding skills during the pandemic while at home.
Post tutorials & videos of specific concepts and products
Creating helpful content for the community is also an innovative method to increase client exposure. One such method would be to showcase your expertise by creating video tutorials on various concepts in your domain. Additionally, you could also create ‘how-to’ instructional videos describing some interesting products that you’ve built/worked on.
You can share them on social media sites, publish them on YouTube, or other platforms like Instructables and Vimeo.
Contribute to tech blogs
Writing high-quality and insightful content on top tech publications can help you establish your image as an expert in your domain. This also expands your network and reach. To achieve this, it would also be prudent to engage in some initial research. This would involve identifying highly-popular topics that rank well in Google searches so that you can target those first.
For freelance developers and designers, there is a wide range of tech blogs to share content. This includes long-form and knowledge-intensive content (or) even trivial bits like ‘top tips’ and ‘best-practices’ with others in the community. These are some top tech publications that accept guest posts (you can contribute to Flexiple too, just write to email@example.com). Alternatively, you can also choose to create your own blog.
Build a comprehensive portfolio website
One of the most pertinent freelancer challenges is standing out from the vast competition. Having an updated and well-thought-out resume to describe your work experience is crucial. However, you can go a step further than the rest if you have your own portfolio website.
Building your portfolio website makes a strong professional statement while enabling you to tell your unique story. This helps you establish a personal brand while showcasing your expertise to clients and recruiters.
This gives you the additional advantage of being able to target clients who source freelancers through Google searches. Therefore, the SEO advantages of such a website are well worth the effort.
Enroll in a tech talent network
In such times, tech talent networks can provide a viable option to obtain projects. Such platforms work extensively in marketing the skills of freelancers, and hence, save the immense effort that freelancers are forced to make in order to market themselves.
Such organisations have dedicated teams to generate client leads. Freelancers can gain from this and land projects sooner, while focusing on their core work, instead of marketing themselves. It can be hard to make a choice when there is a multitude of names – this is a freelancer challenge in itself! Therefore, we have reviewed the top 7 platforms in one of our earlier articles. If you specifically, want to register on Flexiple, you can kick-off the process by filling up a short form right here.
In conclusion, though the pandemic has given rise to a multitude of freelancer challenges, we can expect these to galvanise and strengthen the freelance ecosystem. Companies across the globe will adapt by learning from these tough times and will come back aiming to be leaner and more efficient. And this is sure to bode well for freelancers.