When I first started freelancing years ago, a friend said to me, “Hey, you get to work at home in your bunny slippers!” She was jealous that I didn’t have to go into an office each day, didn’t have to fight traffic, and didn’t even have to get dressed up for work. (But I still do!)
That was over 20 years ago. Since then more and more Americans are working this freelance lifestyle. According to USA Today, the number of contingent workers has gone up from 12% in 2010 to 20% and is still rising. A Forbes article from last year says it’s been 40% since 2010.
This is changing the way people work, how they work, and how they market their skills.
Independent in the Big Apple
To learn more about this trend I interviewed two New York City freelancers—Meaghan Ritchey of Curator Magazine and April Greene, a writer. Whether you’re a freelancer, are considering becoming one, or hire freelancers, here are some important issues to consider.
- Mission: Why become a freelancer?
- Space: How does work environment affect productivity?
- Independence: How do you manage working alone vs. collaboratively?
- Identity: How does being a freelancer affect who you are?
Mission: The Choice Is Yours
People have different reasons for wanting to be freelancers. Maybe some are just trying to avoid difficult bosses or coworkers. But others are very purposeful in leveraging their position as a freelancer. Here are some inspirational reasons Meaghan mentioned for becoming a freelancer.
- To leverage her expertise to help organizations improve
- To have a positive impact on people in her network
- To enjoy working on various projects in her field
- To learn from others
If you’re considering becoming a freelancer, what are your motivations?
Taking into account your level of experience and breadth of network, what are the benefits of being a freelancer instead of an employee?
Space: Design a Balance
When you have freedom to choose your work environment, what will minimize distractions and maximize productivity? Based on your personality and the nature of your work, decide how to balance your work at home or in a public setting.
Meaghan works at home in the morning but goes to a library or coffee shop in the afternoon. April works at a stand-up desk in her living room or on the couch, but makes a point to get dressed and go out at least once during the day.
Will working at home provide necessary solitude and silence, or will it tempt you to take care of house chores?
Will being in a coffee shop energize you or overwhelm you?
How can you arrange an ideal combination of places to meet your needs?
Independence: Isolation vs. Integration
As a freelancer, consider how you interact with your clients, both in terms of workspace and work relationship.
An independent style of working could be appealing to people who feel distracted by office chatter and constant meetings. However, the potential downside is that freelance work can feel isolating. Free agents usually work virtually, through the computer or phone calls, without much human interaction. Meaghan laments, “I miss all the ideas that I don’t have. I miss the team environment where you collaborate and everyone works on a piece of the project.”
April’s approach has been to work as a “social writer.” She always writes about people, so her creative process involves interviewing and engaging with people through their stories. She doesn’t feel lonely because she connects with the person she’s writing about. “We’re alone together,” she says.
One way to integrate freelancers and clients more is through co-working. We’ve discovered how beneficial it can be to share workspace with one of our clients, even if we’re not always working together on his project. Sometimes this client will come into the studio for a meeting and then stay the rest of the day working independently. Just being in the same space at the same time has advantages:
- You and your client can spontaneously share ideas and collaborate, even after the designated meeting has ended.
- This can lead to increased productivity when the spontaneous interactions further the project.
- You and your client can build rapport by spending time in a shared space, whether that’s at someone’s office or a neutral place.
- Mutual accountability is built in when someone else is around, so you can stay focused on your work.
How much proximity do you and your clients have, whether you’re working together on the same project or independently?
If you hire freelancers, how could you temporarily incorporate them into your office space, not just call them in for occasional meetings?
Working For vs. With
When it comes to client relationships, freelancers are also responsible for shaping that dynamic. When you’re hired as a freelancer, it’s usually because you as an individual can accomplish the task at hand. One side of the spectrum is to be hired as a consulting expert who comes up with and executes a perfect solution. The other side is to be hired as a pair of helping hands, and you’re told what to do and how to do it.
An ideal middle is what I call co-active creativity. In this kind of partnership, both sides are in it together, stimulating creativity between them. This way of working together empowers both the client and the freelancer to share ideas and collaborate for the best possible outcome.
If you work independently, how could you incorporate relational dynamics into your workflow?
If you’re not engaged in regular conversations with colleagues, what else would stimulate creativity and insightful ideas?
What kind of working relationship do you want to co-create, and how will you move toward that?
Identity: Building Up a Bare Landscape
If you’re a full-time employee for an organization, then you’re already part of a whole. You typically have a job title and a hierarchy of people working above and below you. However, freelancers lack a pre-determined career path. They have to build up everything for themselves.
April has learned the art of managing herself. She wants to do her work in a timely fashion, and she feels just as obliged to her clients as she was to her employers. April sets guidelines for herself about break times and limits personal distractions so she can focus on projects.
Meaghan appreciates consistency and feels more in control when an environment is stable. Being a freelancer, however, doesn’t give her that kind of security. As a result, she’s realized that she’s not really in control; she’s embraced the adventure of being a freelancer.
What aspirations and goals can you set for yourself as a freelancer?
What do you need to know about yourself in order to succeed as a freelancer?
How would working as a freelancer stretch you in personal development?
Land of the Free, Home of the Brave
The experience of being a freelancer challenges people. It takes courage. You learn more about self-awareness, self-management, and the importance of relationships. But no matter who you are, you can make choices as an independent person that can build on your natural strengths. This will shape your career and your ability to help others.
For more on these interviews about freelancing, and my perspective on them, listen to our podcast, WorkWise.