Two Surveys Give Differing Perspectives of Freelancing

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Image courtesy of Hubspot

What is it really like to work as a freelance professional? It seems many Americans are gravitating toward that kind of work lifestyle these days. According to the 2018 Freelancing in America survey by Upwork, nearly 57 million Americans worked as a contractor or freelancer in 2018, making up roughly 35 percent of the workforce. That percentage is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2027.

In Upwork’s survey, a majority of freelance workers work independently by choice, not out of necessity. While many freelancers surveyed admit they earn less money, they also enjoy better work-life balance (77 percent).

With so many freelance professionals flooding the workforce, it might be helpful to learn more about this independent work arrangement. What is so appealing about working  freelance? What are the pros and cons? What type of work do they do? How do they find clients? What are the benefits and challenges?

A survey by Flexjobs.com of 1,000 flex workers and freelancers provides some valuable insights, including some that are surprising and unexpected.

According to Flexjobs, the typical worker whose freelance work is their sole source of income is a female, generation Xer working in the marketing, editing, writing and creative career fields, primarily for small companies and individuals and juggling two to three clients at one time. She has been freelancing for at least three years and plans to continue freelancing for the long-term.

Interestingly, that conflicts with the Upwork survey, which indicates that Millennials and Generation Z workers are the driving force behind freelance work. I suspect that many of Upwork’s estimated 12 million site users fall into those demographics, while Flexjobs’ users are older, more experienced professionals.

Flexjobs reports that while 45 percent of respondents have been freelancing at least three years, 38 percent have been doing so for less than one year. That’s an awful lot of newbies in the market. Interestingly, that percentage dips to 18 percent for one to two years. My guess is the drop off occurs because the newcomers have decided to return to full-time work or that the first year of freelance was to test the waters.

While most freelancers work in multiple fields, the highest percentage are writers (29 percent) followed by customer service professionals (23 percent) and administrative professionals (21 percent). While writing is still considered a valued skill by employers, it seems they’d rather hire them out on a project basis than full-time.

Roughly 24 percent report that their work is a combination of freelance and employee jobs while 45 percent choose to freelance full-time. While 39 percent of freelancers work between 21 and 40 hours per week, 35 percent work less than 20 hours a week. I suspect those working fewer hours are new to freelancing and have yet to build up a steady client base. Or perhaps they choose to work freelance on a part-time basis.

More than half of respondents said they found gigs through networking (56 percent) and from job sites (47 percent). While you would think large companies would be the source of most assignments, that isn’t the case. Instead, most freelancers work for other individuals (56 percent) followed by small companies (46 percent), and mid-sized companies (30 percent). Freelancers worked for large companies only 17 percent of the time. The takeaway from this is if you want to find work, the best sources will be other professionals or small businesses.

Another surprising tidbit: Three-fourths of freelancers do not have a website to support their freelance business. If your work is good and you perform client assignments well, word gets around. Clients will find you. Don’t underestimate the power of a strong referral. A website may not be as necessary for your long-term freelance success as you might believe.

The biggest benefits of being a freelancer are flexible schedule (84 percent), work-life balance (66 percent), freedom to work where they choose (61 percent) and no commuting (60 percent). The desire to be your own boss was cited the least (49 percent)

The biggest challenges for many freelancers are finding clients, cited by 65 percent, and having a steady income, cited by 64 percent. That’s nothing new. Despite the romanticized view of freelancing, often by traditional employees working 60-hour work weeks, freelancing is hard work. One critic of the Upwork survey and the rosy picture it painted of the freelance industry said this: “People who don’t have to freelance love to romanticize freelancing – the actual truth is that making a living as a freelancer is harder than hard and sucks a ton of the time.”

Bottom line: Not everyone is cut out to be a freelancer or entrepreneur.

Despite the challenges, two-thirds of freelancers in the Flexjobs survey reported a better overall quality of life. Sixty percent said freelancing helped them become healthier, 66 percent are less stressed than when they worked in a traditional job and 59 percent are less financially stressed.

Anyone considering freelancing needs to consider the good, bad and the ugly side of the business. For all its outward glamour, the freelancing lifestyle still requires a lot of hard work just to make half of what you earned in a steady gig. Upwork may boast 12 million freelancers using the site, but only 400,000 of them actually earned money in 2018, says Stephane Kasriel, Upwork’s founder.

“Like any business to be successful, specific competencies are required, and our most successful freelancers are painstakingly aware of what they need to do to remain successful. That means having and investing in the right technical skills. But it also means having the right entrepreneurial skills, the ability to sell, deliver, evolve your skills and keep improving over time,” says Kasriel in a Forbes interview.

Which might explain why so many freelancers and small businesses struggle within the first year. Freelancers don’t think about the extra time and work involved to evolve their skills or to sell their services when they set up shop. It’s important to think about these factors when considering joining the freelance movement.

Get Motivated to Write with a DIY Writing Retreat

 

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I’ve been reading about do-it-yourself writing retreats a lot lately. I became intrigued about these retreats after reading an article on Writer Unboxed, which provided some practical insights about planning one. After further investigation, I was surprised by the number of articles about writers’ retreats. There’s even an e-book that can be purchased on Amazon.

Writing retreats, especially in exotic locations, sound like a dream. Imagine sequestering yourself for days in a quiet place to focus on your writing, with occasional breaks for meals and hiking and sleeping. Think of it as a solo getaway to inspire and motivate you. But writing is a solo activity, and sometimes you need a change of scenery to unblock yourself and perform more creatively.

If you have ever considered attending a writing retreat, you know how pricey they can be. Most writers I know don’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars to spend on a retreat. But many writers who have planned DIY retreats say you don’t have to spend a ton of money for a fancy hotel and air fare or go to exotic destinations.

Sure, it’s nice to meet other writers and attend workshops to immerse yourself in your craft. But it’s not always possible if you are short of time and money.

To plan your own writing retreat, here’s what you need:

1. Create a vision for your writing retreat. Think about your definition of a writers’ retreat. What does it mean to you? What does it look like? Where would you go? Would you confine yourself to a library for a few hours or would you spend an entire weekend at a hotel? What would you do during the retreat? Would you do only writing, or would you take short breaks to explore the neighborhood, practice yoga or read up on your craft? You are in charge of planning your retreat, so it can be anything you want it to be. If you’re unsure what a do-it-yourself writing retreat looks like, here’s one example.

2. Start small, then work up to larger retreats. If you are a busy mom with young kids, you may not have the luxury of spending a few days away to write. Consider a short-term solution, such as a morning at the public library. Offer to house sit or pet sit for friends when they go out of town, and use their home as a writing sanctuary. Other low-cost options are a hotel lobby where there may be quiet reading areas, an unused room at the local park district fieldhouse or a neighborhood community center, a hospital lounge, or a university library. Some would argue a coffee shop, but they can be fairly noisy if there is music playing.

As you do more of these on your own and as you earn more from your writing, you may decide to venture on to larger retreat experiences involving groups of people. Writing is a solo journey, and meeting with other writers can be stimulating and socially rewarding.

3. Decide if you want this to be a solo adventure or a group outing. There are advantages to both. Going solo means you are in charge of your own schedule, you don’t have to meet up with other people and you can do what you want on your own terms. Some writers have organized retreats with other writers to share the experience, swap ideas, and motivate each other. However, if you’re doing this for the first time, going solo might be the better route.

4. Pack everything you need. Obviously, bring along your pens, notebooks and your imagination. Let go of any guilt or preconceived ideas of what you think you will accomplish. Remember to bring along books to read, especially books about the writing craft that may be collecting dust on your bookshelf. Be sure to bring a battery recharger too.

5. Re-treat yourself. Once you’ve done one or two retreats, you’ll want to do them more often. It’s like eating potato chips – you can’t eat just one. Commit to a mini-retreat once a month or every other month or even once a week. A mini-retreat can be a few concentrated hours on a Saturday morning or an entire weekend at a hotel or B&B. Planning repeated retreats shows your commitment to yourself and to your craft.

Other tips:
Do-it-yourself retreats don’t have to be just for writers. They’re perfect for aspiring entrepreneurs planning their business, artists looking for inspiration from nature, or students studying for exams.

If a retreat is beyond your schedule or budget, look into write-in programs at your local library or university. These write-ins are usually free and open to the public and give you a chance to work quietly along with other writers. Snacks are usually provided so you don’t have to take a break for meals. It’s a great opportunity to engage with other writers and immerse yourself in your writing. You can stay as long as you want, whether that’s for an hour or the entire day. The one downside is that they are planned events that may not fit your schedule.

That is why planning your own do-it-yourself writing retreat is such a cool idea. Need ideas for planning one? Check out the following articles:

Create your own mini-writing retreat
Introducing the DIY writing retreat
If you build it: Do-It-Yourself Writers Retreats

Fresh Start to 2019: From Hobbyist to Entrepreneur

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For many folks, the start of 2019 means the start of a new career path. And sometimes that path may have started from the humblest of beginnings: a hobby.

Consider the story of an old acquaintance of mine. Janelle decided to turn her experience of completing her family’s genealogy into a new career for herself. She enjoyed the project so much she decided that she wanted to help others research their family history. Her plan, as Janelle explained to me at that time, was to move to Europe where she had traveled numerous times and set up shop in Germany to promote her services to American tourists and Europeans. She already knew French and German to communicate with the locals, and because she had researched her own family genealogy, she was familiar with the organizations she would need to contact for research.

Janelle also had saved up enough money to make the move to Germany. Once she had her plan in place, she bought an airline ticket with an open-ended return date good for up to a year. That gave her enough time to test out her business idea.

Janelle is one of thousands of people who have converted a hobby into a new career. But making the jump from hobbyist to a new career takes a major leap of faith and is not to be taken lightly. It takes guts, and it also takes a lot a creativity and planning. Janelle’s move occurred after long, thoughtful consideration of her priorities, abilities and goals. Experts say this thoughtful approach is necessary to make sure you don’t overlook any minor detail.

People choose to turn a hobby into a career for a variety of reasons: to seek more independence, express creativity, have a more flexible schedule, have more free time for family and travel, achieve greater work-life balance, or simply get more enjoyment out of the work they do. Many others do so because they are bored or dissatisfied with their current job, which can often backfire because you are running away from something rather than toward a new venture. Jumping ship to get away from an unpleasant environment without a plan or a safety net can quickly turn into a dead end.

Whatever your hobby may be, there is sure to be a way to earn money from it. Love playing piano? You can give piano lessons or provide musical accompaniment for live stage shows. Bakers can sell cookies at farmers’ markets, bikers can lead tours through the countryside, and writers can conduct writing workshops or help someone publish their life story.

The key to a successful transition from hobbyist to careerist is good planning, just as Janelle did. Experts at Legal Zoom suggest the following tips to successfully turn your hobby into a money-making venture.

* Go slow. Before taking the leap, try a short-term solution. Experiment as a side gig or get one or two steady clients before saying good-bye to your day job. By going slow, the transition is likely to “stick.”

* Establish a financial safety net. Make sure you have enough savings to support you or fall back on until you begin to earn income from your hobby.

* Brainstorm multiple ways to earn money from your interest. If you enjoy acting, consider doing more than just acting in plays. Consider doing voice over work, puppetry shows which require some acting skills, or teach acting classes.

* Have an emotional support system in place. Surround yourself with people who support the work you plan to do. During times of stress or self-doubt, these individuals can be a source of strength.

* Develop a business plan. No money-making venture should start without a business plan, which outlines your business goals and strategies for achieving them. Be sure to review the plan quarterly to make sure you are on track.

* Create a brand for your hobby-turned-business, and stick to it. Think about what you want your business identity to be. What do you want to be known for? Then use that brand to create your business name, logo and website.

* Learn to market yourself. This is especially important if you don’t have a marketing background. If you don’t market yourself, no one will find you or seek out your products or services. If you are uncomfortable with marketing yourself, have someone help you, such as a marketing college graduate looking for experience.

Want more help? Check out the Small Business Administration or local community college for workshops and classes about marketing and business development. SBA also offers a mentoring program to guide you through the startup process.

As the saying goes, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” By following these helpful tips, you can turn your passion into a more satisfying career that gives you greater independence, flexibility and creativity.

How to Be Productive During Downtime at the Office

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

As summer crawls to an end, you may find yourself in the middle of some serious downtime at work. Every business has its busy seasons and not-so-busy times. For some businesses, the months of July and August are the slowest, while for others, the slow time may fall in January and February.

No matter where your slow season falls, don’t hang your head. Those slow times happen for a reason. Think of them as breathing room, a chance to catch your breath, recharge your batteries and prepare for the busier season that lies ahead.

Instead of feeling bored or hanging out on Facebook trying to look busy when you’re not, here are a few ways to be more productive during those inevitable downtime periods.

1. Follow up with your clients. If your company relies on regular or frequent client interaction to be successful, downtime might be an opportune moment to check in on them. What’s happening with their business? How are they using your products or services? With a more relaxed pace at work, you can take your time with your client and enjoy an easy conversation with them. No pressure. Not only are you helping to maintain your business relationships, you might unearth a need that your business might be able to solve for them.

2. Do some housekeeping/clean out old files. Got any old files still lying around the office taking up valuable space? Downtime is a good opportunity to roll up the sleeves and dig through them. Depending on how old the files are, you can either put them in storage or if they are really, really outdated, say more than seven years old, bring them to a recycling center. Just be sure to clear things with the bosses before you destroy any important documents. If in doubt, ask.

3. Catch up on billing and record keeping. During busy times, it can be easy to let receipts and bills stack up. Downtime is the perfect time to sit down and go through all your receipts, process paper work to your accountant and just get organized. Imagine how good you will feel when you are all caught up.

4. Catch up on reading and studying industry news. Like most professionals, you probably have a stack of magazines or clipped articles from your favorite business websites that you never had the chance to read. Now is the time to do that. You might pick up a tip or two that you can implement right away.

5. Brainstorm and innovate. Throughout the year, you’ve probably had a few insights about how your business operates. Perhaps you realized that there might be a better way to get customer feedback or an easier way to update your database. Jot them down. Grab a note pad and brainstorm all the different ways you can improve your business. Better yet, keep a small notebook with you throughout the year and jot down ideas as you think of them. Then during these downtimes, review these collected ideas to see if there are any worth implementing.

6. Attend a conference or workshop. Perhaps you’ve read a few magazine articles that have whetted your appetite for more knowledge about a particular topic. Take the next step. Check listings to see if there are any workshops or conferences that would fit your interests. If you can’t step away from the office, consider one of the free online courses that you can do at your desk, such as Udemy.

7. Review your business and marketing plan. Plan for the year ahead by reviewing your business and marketing plan. Are you on track with meeting your goals? Is there something you can do differently now to meet those goals by the end of the year? Downtime is ideal for reviewing your business goals, revising them if you need to, and figure out way to market your business so you achieve them. Don’t have a business and marketing plan? Downtime is ideal for getting started on one.

Don’t let downtime go to waste. Downtime is a gift to catch your breath after a long hectic stretch of meetings, sales calls and presentations. Downtime is the best time to review the past and prepare for the future.

Gummy Vitamins May Be the Key to Your Business Success

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I was out shopping for vitamins recently. I was overwhelmed by the numerous options available on the store shelves. How many versions of multi-vitamins could one person possibly buy?

I was especially intrigued by the availability of gummy vitamins. Gummies – those sweet, squishy, fruit-flavored candies that are a favorite of kids and adults alike – were being sold as vitamins. For people like me who have a sweet tooth but hate taking pills, gummy vitamins seemed like a godsend. For years, I had a problem remembering to take my vitamins. Vitamins are a necessary evil. You have to take them to achieve good health, but taking them can be, well, a real pill.

I decided to take a chance on those gummy vitamins. I love gummy candies anyway, can eat a whole small bag of Haribo’s in one afternoon.  Whoever came up with the idea to combine vitamins with gummy candies is a genius. Since I started taking them, I never forget to take them.

That shopping experience got me thinking about other innovative products on the market today. What makes them unique? What do they offer consumers that other competing products don’t? Why are they successful?

The answer is simple. They solve a problem.

The gummy vitamins provide a solution to individuals like me who have a hard time remembering to take vitamins. Turn them into a sweet treat, and people will gladly seek them out and take them regularly. Who can say no to candy?

Self-adhesive stamps is another genius idea. What problem do they solve? While most people don’t use stamps these days, choosing to use email and online billing to conduct business, stamps still come in handy for sending greeting cards and donations. (Yes, I still mail my donations and greeting cards by snail mail.) Self-adhesive stamps save time and I avoid the yucky experience of licking stamps before affixing them to envelopes, and I don’t get a horrible aftertaste from the glue the way I did with traditional stamps. Instead, self-adhesive stamps affix to envelopes with minimal effort, and makes mass mailings much easier to complete in shorter periods of time.

There are numerous examples of products like gummy vitamins and self-adhesive stamps that solve a problem. What makes them special? What makes them successful? Like gummy vitamins and self-adhesive stamps, these products solve a problem.

Think about your own business, product or service. What problems does it solve for your clients and customers? How will it make their lives easier and better? Once you understand the problem that your product or service can solve, it’s much easier to market that product to the people who need it.

The same concept holds true if you are the product you are marketing to potential clients. Think about your own talents. How are they unique to the marketplace? What solutions can your talents and experience provide? The more you understand your own talents and qualities, the better able you will be able to solve a client’s or employer’s problem. And the more successful you are likely to become.

What do you think is the most innovative product or service on the market today? What problems do they solve? Share your thoughts below.