There is an important new development emerging in the freelance revolution. Naming the trend is still a challenge, but let’s describe it as a greater emphasis on the primacy of freelancer success. A working title might be “freelancer first.”
Whatever the name, what we are seeing is a shift of importance to the longer-term success of the freelance movement. It is more focus on the experience and success of individual freelancers. It seeks to empower full-time freelancers, and increase the confidence and competence of part-timers, the 35-40% of employees who have “side-hustles” in addition to full-time employment and are eager but hesitant to go full time.
The heart of this movement, whatever name we give it, is enabling greater financial, professional, and personal success for the millions of independent professionals who make the freelance revolution possible.
Just over a decade ago, job boards provided early support to freelancers, sharing work opportunities beyond those generated by individuals through personal recommendations or networks. That humble beginning led to what we now know as the global freelance economy, a trillion-dollar contribution to global GDP, and the creation of large and successful public companies like Freelancer.com, Upwork.com and Fiverr.com, and equally successful private enterprises like Honeybook.com, Patreon.com and Toptal.com. These companies, and the 800-1000 platforms that have followed, provide a critical service: They offer visibility and commercial opportunity to millions of freelancers operating in developing countries who have lacked the economic opportunity offered professionals in more developed markets.
But, while some freelancers have the technical and professional skills to thrive, others do not. And, too often, the actual number of freelancers benefiting significantly from platform membership falls below 10%. This reflects a commercial reality. Many platforms believe it necessity to offer large and diverse a population of professional skills to serve the needs of their clients. But it too often led platforms to operate as digital talent warehouses, rather than engaged and supportive communities of practice.
Philosophies are changing, and we’re seeing a wider variety of efforts focused on helping individual freelancers be successful both commercially and in how they manage worklife. It’s exhilarating to watch a growing number of freelance leaders and entrepreneurs emphasizing freelancer success rather than the size of platform.
Don’t be confused. These are still commercial organizations deeply interested in the ROI of their investment and meeting the expectation of their investors. But the goals of freelance platforms around the world are increasingly demonstrating a three-sided purpose rather than two: Client success plus platform success plus freelancer success. And it’s produced a range of initiatives and innovations that is well worth sharing.
The war in Ukraine led Iman Fadaei to create a platform he called EmployUkraine.org. Over the past three months he and his team have found work for over 10,000 Ukrainian freelancers who were otherwise struggling to work in a wartime shelter or as refugees in a new country wondering when they might be able to come home.
For freelance economy founders like Berlin based Marc Clemens who built the successful tech platform Codecontrol.io, it was an itch to create a new platform he called 9am.works that focused explicitly on making the life easier for freelancers by showcasing their services with a smart profile, and manage all their contacts and requests in one place.
Indonesian Ricky Willianto, who created Ravenry.com, has kicked off a new platform called Solos, that enables freelancers’ to turn Instagram and LinkedIn accounts into an online shop for services, and is offering an accelerator experience to help freelancers grow their own entrepreneurial ventures.
Open-Assembly.com CEO Barry Matthews and Chairman John Winsor, recognized the need for a global meeting place for freelancers and their ecosystem colleagues, and have created CTW, the transformationwork.org. John Healy, who leads CTW recently announced a comprehensive directory of freelance platforms and ecosystem partners to support freelancers. O-A has also created the “Collective”, bringing together freelance platform leaders, investors, educators, and corporate leaders to share best practice.
For Hoxby.com co-CEO’s Alex Hirst and Lizzie Penny, a freelancer first orientation led them to formalize their philosophy of worklife balance and choice that they’ve called “workstyle.” Their philosophy, about to be published in book form, has generated a highly successful and collaborative freelance community.
G2i.co, led by Gabe Greenberg, has taken a different but equally impressive approach, using his own life experience as the foundation for building a mobile-focused tech freelance platform based on a philosophy of healthy work for freelancers and the platform team.
Glasgow based Gigged.ai is another freelancer first innovator: It uses AI to reinvent client project scoping and contracting. Gigged.ai tech has automated the process, and delivering project scopes that are more complete, realistic, and can be fairly priced. As CEO Rich Wilson explains, fixing this step means “We can close more deals faster, staff the project and start work sooner, and get freelancers paid more quickly.”
Indielist.ie founders Peter McPartin and Una Herlihy are investing in their local Irish community of marketing and creative freelancers by organizing regular meetups for education and camaraderie, offering financial advice services on tax matters and recently sponsoring a concert to raise money for the Ukrainian freelance community.
Silicon Valley based Contra.com CEO Ben Huffman, Hamburg based Vicoland.com CEO Hans Freyberg, and Copenhagen based Proteams.com’s leader Cem Ciftgul are all running platforms focused on helping freelancers form teams to more effectively collaborate in attracting larger projects and enterprise relationships.
Honeybook.com, led by founder Oz Alon, has established regular meet-ups in hundreds of cities where independent business entrepreneurs gather to learn, network, and support one another. Local chapters are led by an army of volunteer leaders and attendance is free for all independents. Omdena.com, an AI community committed to social action and founded by Rudradeb Mitra has similarly organized over 60 chapters.
Toptal.com, one of the earliest and best-known platforms, has never wavered from its philosophy that Toptal’s most important customers are its tech and finance freelancers. The company’s active community management team proactively brings together freelancers in meetups around the world, invests significantly in learning and development, and provides a range of help to freelancers in building their businesses and keeping them up to date.
Freelancebusiness.eu, a Belgian freelance community led by founder Elina Jutelyte is connecting freelancers globally, and leads an extraordinarily successful freelance education month, providing members with over 100 specific events by and for freelancers on a wide range of professional topics.
And that’s not all. We’re now seeing a larger ambition among many freelance platforms to grow national and regional support for the freelance revolution. A group of Spanish platforms organized by Outvise.com, a business tech marketplace are coming together as an “R-evolution Summit” this June to educate Spanish companies and policy makers about the freelance revolution, and collaboratively grow the Spanish market and reputation of Spanish freelancers.
In Latam, top freelance platforms came together with Mybasepay.com, a larger and fast-growing freelance management system led by CEO Cesar Jimenez, to create greater U.S. market opportunity for freelancers in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and other countries.
We are seeing through these and other initiatives that the freelancer first movement is growing. In a particularly impressive initiative, Albert Azis-Clausen, the co-founder, and CEO of Underpinned.com, a fast-growing U.K. based platform, has created the Association for the Future of Work. Last week in London, a group of senior freelance entrepreneurs, investors, policy makers, politicians, future of work researchers and educators came together to identify critical challenges to the freelance revolution and take collective action. This association has plans to fund essential research in a variety of key areas, and lead an effort to educate government leaders on the policies needed for freelancing to flourish in the U.K.
It’s an extraordinary time in the freelance revolution. As economic and social challenges pile up, the result of a horrid pandemic that is still taking lives in many countries, a brutal war, and economic distress around the world, the leaders of the freelance community are stepping up to make life better for their freelance members and colleagues. That’s something to get excited about!
Viva la revolution!
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