Upwork, the globe’s largest remote talent platform, posts three million jobs and transacts $1 billion of work each year. It recently released Freelance Forward 2020: The U.S. Independent Workforce Report, based on insights from 6,000 U.S. workers about the impact of COVID-19. It shows that 12% of the workforce started freelancing during the pandemic for the first time.
All up, 59 million people are freelancing – that’s more than a third of our total workforce. Some 36% of them freelance full time, which is eight percent up on last year. For those who left a job to freelance, only a quarter are making less income than previously. Half of freelancers are highly skilled, offering services such as in computer programming, marketing, IT and business consulting, etc. And it’s not just Millennials who freelance. Half of Gen Z, 44% of Millennials, 30% of Gen X, and 26% of Boomers choose freelancing.
Freelance gigs obtained through global online job platforms often get a bad rap. Some say such platforms recall disadvantaged workers in developing countries eking out a paltry living as a virtual assistant, software developer, or social media content writer, for example. Others say a job through this type of platform is simply a race to the bottom when it comes to potential earnings. But this isn’t always the case – global online job platforms have proven to be useful, as many people use such platforms to post tasks, projects, and even ongoing part-time or permanent roles. The key for freelancers is learning how to navigate these sites and present themselves attractively to those hiring, while the key for employers and recruiter is to comb through a multitude of candidates and effectively identify qualified freelancers with the exact skills they are looking for.
One entrepreneur looking to hire skills told me how she found it particularly helpful when pivoting and scaling up her business. There is no question, the ability to tap into a global talent pool at will, plus name your price and deadline, is desirable to many.
Some platforms, such as Upwork, claim it takes an average of three days to hire because the employer has a job, knows what they need, and are ready to hire now. (There are alternatives such as this site lists, too).
If you’re a professional looking for a side hustle through to ongoing work and everything in between, your profile on an online jobs platform may well be a standout. That’s if they accept your application – it can be competitive, particularly in some categories, so the more niched you are, the better. These are the skills that earn an average of $200 or more per hour on Upwork: legal entity structure, blackline, bitcoin, international accounting standards, and software licensing.
As a little-known Indian entrepreneur, Venkatesh Rao writes on his blog, The Art of Gig; there’s an assumption out there that people shouldn’t have to work more than one full-time job to earn a living. That’s a perspective of a “one-person-one-job world.” But how many Americans have had to take second jobs to make ends meet or maybe take on a mix of casual and part-time roles?
Rao continues: “The idea of someone who works more than one job out of choice, who is a small-scale, capitalist who owns at least a small piece of the means of production (a laptop, a car, a guitar), who wants to play with risk-and-return decisions, whether they involve record deals, viral blog posts, or pricing surges on rideshare, is deeply threatening to how traditional labor politicians build and exploit a base of political power.”
What policies are needed for the gig economy?
You guessed right if you thought he was writing about the anti-freelancing law that came into effect on 1 January in California. It reclassified freelance workers as employment, so they get the same benefits as ‘regular’ workers. It’s still contentious and doesn’t embrace the future of work. Gigs are part of that.
What are the benefits of sites like Upwork for freelancers?
Upwork is a window into the future of work. It contrasts with job boards that just advertise vacancies – or supposed vacancies where companies are only building a register of possible candidates when one does come up. To advertise on Upwork, the employer deposits funds into Escrow to show they’ve got the funds – if they don’t, the freelancer is notified, so might think twice about applying for the job.
Even the way you apply for jobs is next generation. Successful proposals don’t start with how many years’ experience and name dropping your previous employers; instead, you jump straight in with how you’d tackle the task and what you’d need to do so. Perhaps you upload some evidence of similar work you’ve done. It’s like you’re interviewing them about the opportunity. It’s a mind shift.
One freelancer selling skills told me about a year ago Upwork started charging a nominal and sliding fee to bid for jobs depending on their duration and hours. It’s a quirk that seems strange on the surface – why should a job hunter pay to apply for a job? However, Upwork explained its reasoning – it introduced the charge to help employers who had been inundated with irrelevant bids. By the way, employers don’t pay freelancers’ holiday pay or health insurance. But, it’s assumed the freelancers absorb these costs in the fee, which they raise over time as they complete jobs successfully and see their ratings rise, too. If there are any communication, work quality, or other issues, the job platform usually steps in to arbitrate, but their business proposition appears to favor supporting employers over freelancers.
Online job platforms are a different way of working and built for our times. Even when our workplaces, schools, and international borders might be closed here and there around the globe, this is one example of the future of work happening right now.