The best word for the freelance revolution in 2022 is more. In no particular order, here are the trends to watch in global freelancing.
1. More … of everything freelance. It’s tough to be pessimistic about the freelance revolution. The data show market strength, freelancer satisfaction, a growing support ecosystem, and increased business conviction. McKinsey estimates 500 million freelancers working through platforms before 2030. Covid-19 didn’t create the freelance revolution, but it’s been quite an accelerant.
2. More … platforms. Platform creation grows unabated. I get several requests each week from new-to-me platforms seeking funding, publicity, or advice. My estimate – 800-1000 platforms – feels low. An updated global census is sorely needed and one is in the works by the Center for the Transformation of Work (CTW).
3. More … funding available for startups. VCs invested $621 billion in 2021, double 2020. Freelance platforms took a good chunk of that investment, with larger A and B rounds than ever. Africa, SE Asia and Latam are fast growing and supported markets, and have strong access to global investment.
4. More … freelance ease getting paid. While freelancers’ generally make good money according to Payoneer, payment difficulties and delays still frustrate. A new UK survey by WondaPay gives hope: Freelancers reported spending less time chasing invoices and receiving pay, and only 10% reported payment delays. But, progress is uneven. Worksome’s recent survey says receivables hassles remain troublesome.
5. More … reasons to leave the nest and turn to freelancing. Employee engagement is down, leadership trust in decline, employees resist returning to the office, others are actively looking elsewhere or biding their time. The four day work week, a welcome initiative, hasn’t caught on. Nearly half of US corporate staff say they will leave if their company lacks a hybrid option. No surprise freelancing is growing.
6. More … employees choosing “freelance lite”. Almost 40% of employees have a side gig. This is huge because more employees know they have options, know freelancing offers a realistic and attractive alternative, and are demanding a “freelance lite” work experience from employers: More flexibility and work-life balance, assignment choice, faster career opportunity, hybrid work, and better pay.
7. More … ways to build a freelance career. Smart freelancers build portfolio freelance careers, and there are so many options for part- and full-time freelancers. Online courses, coaching gigs, podcasts, expert networks that pay for knowledge sharing, newsletter subscriptions, and micro-community building are new ways freelancers build income, network and brand. Platforms like Talmix.com and Expertpowerhouse.com help by offering consulting freelancers opportunity in expert networks and interim management.
8. More … platform investment in attracting freelancers. Freelancing has a supply problem, not a demand problem. Platforms teams recognize talent is their most important asset and scarcest resource. More full-time freelancers are needed. To attract them, some eliminate fees or reduce rates. Others offer education and business tools. Or organize regular events and meetups. Or pay in crypto. Or provide business coaching or PR support through award postings, blog writing, webinars and podcasts. Or help freelancers team up and “hunt in packs.” The shift from talent warehouse to talent engagement isn’t yet a tsunami, but it’s more than a wave.
9. More … interest in crypto and blockchain. More platforms are using crypto as a payment alternative, and blockchain to capture the full contribution of freelancers: Performance, credentials, experience, and platform contributions. Will payment- in-crypto interest outlast stock market volatility? We’ll see. The bigger game is blockchain. Expect increased adoption and an acceleration of experimentation: we’re still in early innings.
10. More … companies using proprietary platforms for direct sourcing. It’s the classic Gillette strategy: Give away the handle, sell the blades. Platforms offer enterprise clients help in creating a proprietary platform and populate it with a curated selection of platform freelancers. Now, corporate clients are adding independent freelancers and alumni, as well as boutique consultancies to their proprietary platforms. Expect this trend to continue and grow.
11. More … freelance support from colleges. More educational institutions like Conestoga College’s Gig Lab in Canada are baking solopreneurial skills into entrepreneurial programs. We also see more micro-internships offered that give students real organizational experience. Kansas is a surprise and welcome innovator in this area, working closely with Edtech pioneer parkerdewey.com. It’s still a trickle, but other states and municipalities are watching. And, it’s more than schools. Even public libraries are doing their part!
12. More … blurred lanes between old and new economy providers. Old economy firms are joining the freelance revolution. Traditional executive recruiting firms like odgersberndtson.com are transforming, offering interim management gigs, and a unique expert network. Heidrick bought BTG. Consultancies are jumping in too. A quarter of Big 4 consulting staff are project based freelancers or retired alumni arranged through proprietary marketplaces. Expect old and new economy blurring to grow.
13. More … ecosystem support for freelancers and platforms. In every area, new companies are meeting the needs of freelancers and platforms that support them. Fintechs like Sonovate.com and Payoneer, FMS providers like mybasepay.com and traditional banks are adapting to the freelance economy. More is coming: Tax support, insurance and benefits, access to attractive auto financing, continuing education, healthcare, and other services enable freelancers access to benefits while enabling platforms to outsource and prioritize what they do best. Mega-support players – one stop shops – can’t be far behind.
14. More … purpose driven platforms. G2i.co stresses healthy work, Ravenry.com operates as a freelance accelerator, Braintrust.com offers freelancers shared platform ownership, Hoxby.com is committed to worklife balance, Malt.com and Comatch.com pioneer a glocal approach, Freelancebusiness.be offers strong freelance education, Contra.com focuses on strong network relationships Itarmi.com provides long term freelancing client relationships Omdena.com delivers social activism through AI volunteerism, Toptal.com promises top experts a strong community and services. Expect freelance platforms to increasingly focus on purpose to differentiate and attract top talent.
15. More … initiatives to grow the full-time freelance community. Expect more ways to attract top full-time freelancers in growing fields. With top creators being offered big incentives at Apple and Tiktok, might freelance platforms begin to compete for top earning or “influencer” freelancers in new ways: Income guarantees, benefits, and other perks like scholarships, sabbaticals, and even equity? 10xAscend thinks so. Thanks Prince Harry!
16. More … emphasis on improving clientship. Fewer than half of freelancers say clients work well with freelancers. Platforms need to fix this. Expect more vetting of clients, more assessment and feedback, faster response when problems arise, and “firing” truly difficult clients. Also expect more platforms to train and advise clients on building a more flexible, blended workforce.
17. More .. consolidation. Growing clients and platform members is expensive and time consuming. We haven’t seen much consolidation, but it’s coming. A particular target group could be business-in-a-box platforms like US based Wethos.co, Collective.com, and unicorn Honeybook.com, and freelance communities like freelancerclub.net and underpinned.com. These successful platforms have large populations of independent freelancers who are also generally more experienced, full-time, and successful.
18. More … need for coopetition. Freelancing is growing in less developed economies, but platforms must work together to speed things up. In Latam and Africa, where freelancing is catching on, platform leaders should combine efforts to be the tide that lifts all boats. Workana.com and Seeds.com in Latam, and Africaforesight.com in Africa, are you listening?
19. More … focus on standards, certifications and language. Expect more pressure on standards and measures, and more commonality of language. Clients want greater clarity and lower risk. Platforms get it and increasingly see the value of a united effort. But, where’s the spark? A global community like Open-assembly.com (I’m a part-time Expert in Residence) offers the kind of forum needed for a global collaboration. Let’s get started. This is important.
20. More … enterprise and U.S. Enterprise is the golden ticket in freelancing: Platforms want to be the go-to for large corporates with big needs and deep pockets. The US is the largest enterprise market, and international platforms are eager for US presence. But be smart: while demand exceeds supply, it’s still a crowded field, a complex regulatory space, and talent demand is lumpy and dynamic. Ambitious platforms should learn before they leap. There is best practice and expertise here.
21. More … places for freelancers to work from. Lots of places are inviting remote freelancers, offering digital-nomad visas and incentives. Steve King of Emergentresearch.com wrote about countries and cities doing this. And that doesn’t include other alternative work venues. WeWork may no longer be a hot unicorn, but it’s still important in the “3rd workplaces” ecosystem that is booming.
22. Finally, more… countries know freelancing is here to stay. Regulatory reform is mounting, even in the UK after IR35. Most countries see freelancing as a positive or harmless (political) development, and are opening up their economy more fully to freelancing. A key challenge: Recognizing the difference between “on-demand gigsters” and “freelancers” who are independent professionals. These populations have different needs. Let’s protect the former without penalizing the latter.
Viva la revolution!