It’s estimated that more than 57 million Americans, or nearly 40% of the US workforce, are freelancing, pumping more than a trillion — that’s trillion with a t — dollars into the economy every single year. And it’s really not all that surprising.
And that’s before the outbreak of the coronavirus. In light of the pandemic, working from home is no longer just an option — it’s a necessity. But unfortunately, only about 29% of American jobs are actually able to be transitioned to telework. That means that, as more and more companies shutter their doors, millions of Americans are being left jobless, forcing them to turn to gig work to make ends meet.
When you think about it, freelancing can be a pretty sweet deal, pandemic or no pandemic. You get to choose the gigs you want and pass on the ones you don’t. You get to set your own hours, and you’ll always get along with the boss.
And now, as the entire world learns to adjust to the new normal in the face of a global pandemic, freelancing has become, for many, not just an option, but a necessity. As huge multinationals and small mom and pops alike are shuttering their doors to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, contract work is turning out to be the saving grace for individuals and families alike.
But, like any job, making a go of your career as a contractor doesn’t just happen. You have to learn the ropes. This article provides the best tips and tricks for thriving in the gig economy, both in the face of the current pandemic and in your work life after the crisis has subsided.
Contractor vs. Employee
The first step in building a fabulous freelancing career, whether it’s going to be your main source of income or a side-hustle, is to understand the major legal differences between a contractor and a regular employee.
In general, regular employees are entitled to benefits packages, including health insurance and retirement benefits. They also typically receive a certain amount of paid personal time off (PTO) each year, and hourly wage earners also are usually entitled to overtime pay. Most important, companies generally are responsible for managing employees’ tax obligations.
Independent contractors, though, are not usually eligible for these perks. They don’t receive overtime and typically have to purchase their own insurance coverage and establish their own retirement accounts. PTO and overtime aren’t an option, and all applicable taxes have to be taken care of by the contractor herself.
The tradeoff, though, is that a contract worker is free to establish her own hours, to work as little or as much as she wants. She gets to pick and choose the clients she wants to work with. And, for the most part, she sets the terms of conditions of her work life.
Networking, Networking, Networking
While it’s true that working as an independent contractor gives you tremendous freedom in your working life, there are limits. Your flexibility as a freelancer is going to depend on your market, your client base. And that means that job one is to always be hustling to grow your professional network.
Basically, the key to your success is to win as many clients as you can without compromising the quality of your service. So you have to find that sweet spot between having too few clients and having too many. The trick is to learn to be both proactive in building your customer base while also being selective about the jobs you take and when you take them.
You want enough customers to keep you on a sound financial footing, even if one or two of your customers drops out. However, you don’t want to have so many customers that you become overextended and your work suffers. When you are a contract worker, referrals, reviews, and word of mouth are everything.
Positive reviews can launch your business into the entrepreneurial stratosphere. Conversely, one negative review can blow up the whole works. In fact, it usually takes a library of glowing comments to make up for even one snarky post.
That’s also why succeeding as a freelancer means keeping abreast of your brand reputation. Focus on building a strong presence, both online and offline, and focus on cultivating an impeccable reputation.
This includes knowing how to respond immediately and effectively to a crisis when it comes — and, if you do business long enough, it will. But if you know your work, if you do it well, and if you are ready and able to stand by it, then you will overcome it and your business, in all likelihood, will survive, endure, and begin to thrive again.
Documents and Details
While building a sterling brand by doing work that you love and take pride in is the foundation of a successful freelancing career, there’s another aspect that’s less glamorous, perhaps, but no less essential. Protecting your business for the long haul means paying attention to the details. It means keeping meticulous records and documenting everything.
Fortunately, today’s technology makes that easier than ever. If you need to show proof of income, for example, to qualify for a business loan, there are many ways you can do this. You can provide tax returns or bank statements, for instance, or you can even print your own pay stubs!
Likewise, you can decide to go entirely electronic when it comes to your documents and record keeping. You can even complete all of your paperwork with your clients digitally. It’s now legal in the US and most other countries to use electronic signatures in lieu of handwritten ones, provided you adhere to the particular requirements of each area. This allows you to replace paper documents, which can be easily lost, stolen, or damaged.
Whether you’re looking for a side gig or a new career, working as an independent contractor isn’t easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding. The key is understanding what you need to do to make your business a success. But, as always, it begins and ends with the work and your clients, with providing an unparalleled product and exceptional service. It’s about taking pride in the work and building on a foundation of excellence to grow both your brand and your bank account!
Beau Peters is a creative professional with a lifetime of experience in service and care. As a manager, he’s learned a slew of tricks of the trade that he enjoys sharing with others who have the same passion and dedication that he brings to his work.