Moving to new country is one way to force yourself to become a freelancer and small business owner. I catapulted myself to a new country once, long ago and far away, and having an in-demand skillset that was only really in demand on limited projects for limited times made me a shoo-in for the feast or famine world of freelancing. The timing made a lot of sense – technology had made possible a lot of the things in this realm – meaning I could keep clients I had cultivated even after I had started to bounce between Iceland and the US and later to other countries.
With services and websites, such as dedicated freelance platforms, oDesk, Elance, Microlancer, Guru, Peopleperhour and even general sites like Craigslist, and a variety of resources, including the Freelancers Union (one of the US’s fastest-growing labor organizations), and online networks, project management tools (like Basecamp, Trello) and blueprints and advice for helping put together a freelance plan, and even shared work spaces and incubator space, becoming a freelancer is easy. At least in theory – the tools are there, but no matter how good the tools, if you don’t have some crucial pieces of the puzzle, success is going to be a tougher thing to find.
A freelancer has to define what success means, which usually entails realizing that you’re doing two jobs – not just the freelance work you’re selling yourself to do – but also marketing and selling yourself, which takes a lot of time. You will network and introduce and offer up samples and shove your foot in all kinds of doors and keep it there even when there’s nothing for you there because there might be someday. Put your finger in a whole lot of pies – most of which you baked yourself to pile the sweet sugar right on in all the schmoozing and convincing you will devote yourself to doing!
In my own experience, freelancing might have been the only, or at least the early, route to success as a foreigner with a specific toolkit and work experience – but freelancing is also a competitive boon for women. Elance statistics show women outpacing men in freelance earnings. Apart from earnings, the online freelance marketplace seems to level the playing field, making merit and skill the most important factors in granting projects – giving women and men equal footing. The online freelance marketplace may not be “the great equalizer of the gender gap in tech” but it is one step in the right direction. All the talk about women struggling to be a part of the workforce, especially after having a family makes freelance options seem and feel like real options. (“As a working single person, I can only put myself in the position of a high-achieving mother frustrated by the options provided by the current work force. I can imagine, though, how frustrating it might be to have time to work but not the time when a traditional job wants me on the clock. I can imagine how frustrating it might be to have the skills and the drive and find the workplace unable to make use of them in the current structure.” Isn’t this the kind of argument I keep making about remote and virtual work?)
Self-employment is challenging, make no mistake. But it’s freeing and provides flexibility where the corporate world doesn’t. Set your own hours, set your own workload, set your own terms, pay and deadlines. And the corporate world actually has a growing need for this “contingent workforce”. It’s sort of win-win if you don’t want the full-time job with its demands and also do not need the benefits of having a full-time job – you and the company get what you want.
It’s all part of the whole changing, shifting palette of the economy. Markets seek to innovate and find ways to utilize talent and resources more effectively. Or maybe that is just the optimistic way to describe it. But, as an article in The Atlantic contends, the “gig economy” is the mainstream economy. The way we work, the jobs we take, our perception of how we will work and live our lives as employees – it is all in flux, in large part because people are starting to work independently and fitting work into their lives rather than fitting their lives into work. The article tells a story that makes the move to freelance sound like a revolution. To some extent, it is. “This transition is nothing less than a revolution. We haven’t seen a shift in the workforce this significant in almost 100 years when we transitioned from an agricultural to an industrial economy. Now, employees are leaving the traditional workplace and opting to piece together a professional life on their own. As of 2005, one-third of our workforce participated in this “freelance economy.”” Of course this fails to acknowledge that the people who choose to go into freelance are in a position to choose it. Even if it seems like there are few alternatives (for example, when I chose to move to another country), there are options. Plenty of people in the messed-up economy of the day don’t have the experience, skills, etc. to capitalize on this “revolution”.
I don’t have to be a freelancer anymore, but it is hard to let go of the networks and client relationships. It’s clear that in this kind of economy, you need to be ready for everything.