Are You Fit for the New Freelance Economy?

4 ways to get ready for the employee to freelancer transition at work

photo courtesy of Ales Krivec via Unsplash

photo courtesy of Ales Krivec via Unsplash

There are now 53 million Americans, or 34 percent of the U.S. workforce, working as freelancers. By 2020 the number of freelancers might exceed 50%. Are you ready for this massive change?

If it hasn’t impacted you or your household yet, it will. And the bottom line is simple: One day, soon or late, you may have to go out there and fend for yourself!

And though this trend is not new, it seems to be approaching the tipping point—the point at which we all look up and take notice.

Maybe you’ve already noticed the new crop of digital platforms designed to give you a great variety of choices about how to earn a living. These include AirBnB, Uber, Care.com, Handy.com and HourlyNerd.com, just to name a scant few that come to mind.

Maybe you thought about them as curiosities or as potential services that you may one day choose to procure (if you haven’t already). But what if you were on the other side of the equation and chose to offer your services on these platforms yourself? Or you built your own platform to get clients?

What if you chose to become a freelancer, today?

Well, you don’t have to wait. You can be proactive about it right now.

Here are 4 very practical ways you can start getting ready for the Freelance Revolution, even if you currently have a job and you have no intentions of leaving it.

1. Embrace a Freelancer Mindset

Thinking and acting like an employee is becoming a thing of the past. In describing the problem with the employee mindset, financial success guru Dave Ramsey may have said it best (though bluntly): “Employees come in late, leave early, and steal stuff while they’re here.”

Although he says that partly in jest, the truth is none of us in the New Economy can afford employees per se. We need people that take responsibility and actively contribute to the success of the team. That’s the kind of people we want to attract and the kind of people we should strive to be.

But all you have to do is read any Dilbert cartoon, watch the movie Office Space or any episode of TV show The Office to understand the breakdowns of the employee mindset and its most undignified aspects. It’s all so funny because, God help us, it’s so true.

The core issue is that the life of an employee centers around the kabuki theatre of subordinating yourself to a boss or bosses who, by the way, are just as lost as we are, in these dizzying times of change. But the freelancer mindset flips that on it’s head because when you freelance, YOU, are the boss!

You own it! You’re at the controls. You decide.

Which means you take responsibility and suffer the consequences of bad choices. But on the up side, it is you who reaps the lion’s share of rewards when you choose correctly.

But even if you don’t freelance, your job at work is no longer to be a yes-man or yes-woman. We can get a robot or computer to do that, thank you very much. Your job now is to collaborate like a consultant would: challenging the status quo, making people think, leading, modeling the desired behavior, communicating like a pro and telling people exactly what they need to hear without offending anyone.

So, think like an owner. Act like an owner. Even if you’re not one, yet.

Question: Are you acting more like an owner or an employee at work?

2. Invest in upgrading your skills, knowledge and experience

Another problem with the employee mindset is that you have to wait to see if the boss will invest in your training. Often they don’t, and if that’s the case, who suffers? Who will ultimately pay the price of that oversight? Hint: it’s not your boss.

Unbelievably, I hear salespeople complain about this, a lot.

Their story of woe and lament goes something like this:

“They expect me to sell at this company but they don’t do jack to train me!”

After staring at them like they’re extraterrestrials, I bite my tongue and think to myself, “Oh, really? Good luck in sales with that attitude!”

Please invest, like an owner would, in your own education. It’s not your boss’ job. It’s your job.

Expose yourself to new knowledge, ideas and skills. The opportunities to do so are abundant and often they’re free of charge. There’s really no excuse not to upgrade your skills.

This ensures that if the day ever comes and you’re forced into the wilderness of this freelance economy you will be well prepared to hunt big game!

Question: What new skill would be useful in your career and what is your plan to acquire it this year?

3. Get out there and network

In the old economy you had a job for a long time so you didn’t have to network outside of your company and its small network of clients and vendors. No longer. You can’t afford to start networking the day after you lose your job.

You need to network right now. And network like crazy!

Network and connect with people inside and outside your company and industry, and even across geographic boundaries. Let everyone know who you are. And I do mean everyone. Let everyone know you have ideas. Let everyone know you always have 5 minutes to do anyone a favor.

Work to make your tribe much, much bigger and work to become a valuable and esteemed member of that tribe.

Lastly, build a platform so that you can make communicating with lots of people easier and then look for ways to automate that communication so that it is persistent and consistent over time.

Tim Sanders once said something that you can take to the bank in the freelance economy: Your net worth equals your network.

Question: What are you doing to connect and dramatically expand the number of people you serve?

4. Start managing your time like a CEO

Freelancers know that spending your time on anything that doesn’t help you (a) serve customers better (b) make more money (c) buy more time and (d) add to your sense of enjoyment or fulfillment, should be quickly and mercilessly ignored, discarded, automated or delegated. That’s why the best ones invest the time and money necessary to do just that and in the process create a virtuous cycle that allows them to exponentially multiply, not just their money, but their time!

As an employee you can act along the same lines but you’ll need to think like a CEO, not an employee.

The first step is to know what you’re really paid for. If I had to guess I’d say that 20% of your tasks produce 80% of your results. That 20% is what you get paid for. That should be your top priority.

Salespeople for example are not really paid to fill out paperwork, input data into a CRM, or attend departmental meetings. Those things may be necessary but that’s not what they get paid for. If they spend more and more of their time on those tasks they will make less money, not more. So, what are the sales tasks that if completed more frequently will deliver bigger results (sales). That’s where their main focus should be.

Approach your your job in the same fashion. Manage your work and personal life in a way that allows you to focus more of your time on that profitable fifth of tasks and watch your results multiply, along with your levels of happiness and satisfaction. Ruthlessly seek to ignore or eliminate the trivialautomate or delegate the urgent, and focus your best time and attention on the truly important.

This is how you get ready for the coming revolution in the world of work. Start acting like a freelancer even if you already have a job! The irony of this approach is that it not only prepares you for the freelance economy, it turns you into a much more effective, successful and valued employee—a real keeper—if you ask me.