Astounding new research shows that more U.S. workers than ever before are taking business into their own hands by choosing freelance flexibility over traditional employment.
While the findings provide encouraging news for North America’s freelance business owners, they also spell potential challenges. Among them, freelancers are facing far greater competition from like-minded solo professionals. Happily, help is at hand in the form of new (free) automation tools and services, which we discuss in this article.
Before we get to that, let’s dig a little deeper into the current trends that are driving millions of Americans into self-employment.
The new report, ‘Freelancing in America: 2017*’, shows that independent professionals are now contributing a whopping $1.4 trillion to the economy every year — an increase of almost 30% since last year.
Growth in the freelance workforce is not surprising. Thanks to online freelance job platforms, mobile technology and greater acceptance of outsourcing, it’s now easier than ever to build a freelance business, switch to contracting or take on side gigs.
Yet what’s particularly impressive is the speed at which freelancing is growing in the U.S.
Currently, the ‘Freelancing in America: 2017’ report estimates that 57.3 million Americans are now in freelance mode, equating to more than one-third (36%) of the entire U.S. workforce.
And the report predicts that solopreneurship will overtake traditional employment and form the majority of the U.S. workforce within just a decade.
Let’s drill into some of the key highlights:
57.3 million people freelanced in the U.S. this year.
Overall, the freelance workforce has grown 3x faster than the U.S. workforce since 2014. At its current growth rate, the report predicts that the majority of U.S. workers will be freelancing by 2027.
Freelancers contribute $1.4 trillion to the U.S. economy annually.
That’s an increase of almost 30% since last year. It’s a phenomenal figure that can’t be ignored, and it shows that freelance workers are driving real change within the workplace system.
It’s about lifestyle and choice.
The main motivations for freelancers are freedom and flexibility, while part-time freelancers are mostly driven by the opportunity for extra income. In other words, people want change and they’re making it happen.
Freelancing is more accessible.
Greater connectivity, wireless technology, mobile devices and online job platforms are proving a key enabler for freelance workers. According to the report, freelancers are finding more work online with 71% saying the amount of work they obtained online has increased over the past year (up 5 points since 2016).
Awareness and acceptance of solopreneurship is growing.
69% of freelancers agree that perceptions of freelancing as a career are becoming more positive (up 6 points since 2016). More companies are open to contracting freelance workers and appreciate the cost and flexibility benefits of outsourcing, compared to hiring permanent employees.
Above all, this report paints a positive picture for millions of solopreneurs and the thousands of companies that rely on their services, not to mention the countless would-be freelancers who are planning to fly solo for the first time.
There are challenges ahead.
Freelancers experience a unique set of challenges and share the same key concerns as many of their non-freelancing counterparts. Key considerations include affordable healthcare, financial stability, debt, access to credit, and the ability to save.
On top of that, self-employed professionals perform a constant juggling act. In addition to working for and communicating with multiple clients, they also manage their own business, with responsibilities ranging from marketing and pitching proposals to invoicing, cash flow, expenses and tax returns.
Wearing so many different hats is challenging and at times, it can be exhausting and detrimental to personal wellbeing. But there are solutions to help freelance workers and contractors recoup valuable time, streamline their processes, and focus more on the things that matter.
Automation Tips to Save Time and Improve Freelance Workflow
Time is precious. Time is also money (especially when you’re paid by the hour).
Here, we dive into a bunch of time-saving automation ideas to help you streamline your freelance business, free up resources, and get more done.
Automation, Automation, Automation.
How many of these mind-crushing tasks sound familiar?
- Sending or chasing up late invoices.
- Manually sending out confirmation or ‘thank you’ emails.
- Task management and progress updates.
- Searching for new freelance gigs.
- Scheduling calls with clients (and the email back-and-forth that goes with it).
- Managing your books.
Guess what? All of these tasks can be automated, and tons more too!
You can automate repetitive tasks with free apps and online tools, or by creating certain settings that integrate and act as filters or alerts.
Let’s take a look at that list again by asking the question: ‘How can I automate that?’
- Sending or chasing up late invoices: Online accounting software such as Quickbooks or Wave create and send repeat invoices for regular clients, which you can personalize. They also come with automatic payment reminders, so your customers get a friendly nudge by email when payment is due.
- Manually sending out confirmation emails: Whether it’s a thank you message or a shopping cart confirmation email, a triggered email response makes sure the right content is delivered at the right time to the right people. Sign up to a free business email provider like Mailchimp and setup automated email responses, or do it through your website provider. For instance, Wix has its own automated email program that delivers emails to customers during, and after, the online shopping process.
- Task management and progress updates: If you’re working on a large project with other team members, or a client is constantly asking for progress updates on this-or-that, an online project management tool will help keep things moving. Try free online collaboration tools like Zoho Projects, Freedcamp or Trello.
- Searching for new freelance gigs: Searching for freelance work is time-consuming and laborious. Set up a skills profile on a platform like Upwork or People Per Hour and let the gigs come to you; employers search for people based on your skillset and invite you to bid for their job (Tip: to save writing new bids from scratch every time, keep a few bid templates on one side that you can personalize and re-use). Another great way to automate the search process is to set up Google Alerts. Create search parameters for terms like “freelance designer [niche term] hiring now” and receive emails for matching search terms as-it-happens.
- Scheduling calls with clients (and the email back-and-forth that goes with it): Integrate your online diary, such as Google Calendar or Outlook, with a free scheduling app like Calendly. As soon as the meeting request ping-pong starts, simply share your calendar link (or keep it permanently on your email footer and website) and instruct others to pick an available slot from your calendar. You get an automated notification once a date and time has been confirmed. Job done! (Tip: you get a free appointment scheduling app and call service with Alliance Virtual’s Live Receptionist service — more on that below).
- Managing your books: As above, some online accounting solutions do the bookkeeping heavy lifting on your behalf. Or, hire a qualified accountant who specializes in self-employed business owners. You may be well-practiced in filling out your own tax returns, but in the end, it’s a heavily time-consuming process that’s best left to the professionals. Plus, the cost of your accountant (and any bookkeeping software) is a valid business expense.
Setting up an automated system takes a little time upfront. For instance, where triggered emails are concerned, you have to write the content and then create certain rules for the program to follow — such as when to send, and who to send to. But once those initial jobs have been done, the rest is taken off your hands. Hurray!
And there are plenty more where they came from, too. Always ask yourself, “Can I automate this?” and if you’re not sure, ask around or simply ask Google. You’ll be amazed how many repetitive tasks can be delegated to a piece of software either you already own, or an app you can download for free.
A Note About Personalization
Most automation processes can be personalized… to a degree. For instance, with online bookkeeping and invoicing programs, you can usually add your own logo and write your own greeting to accompany each invoice request.
However, anytime you automate a task that directly interacts with your clients, an element of personalization is lost. When your clients are the lifeblood of your business, it’s important to keep in contact at a personal level.
Sometimes, it pays to delegate to a real person instead of an automated system.
Case in point, we mentioned above that Alliance Virtual Offices provides a free appointment scheduling app with our Live Receptionist service. Not only that, our receptionist team interact with callers to arrange meetings and book appointments straight into your calendar, based on your live availability.
Compared to sending a calendar link and asking callers to pick an available date, this approach is service-led. It’s friendly, professional, and personable too.
With the freelance market booming and competition between skilled professionals intensifying, clients are looking for differentiation. That’s where traditional values like professionalism and customer service come into their own.
The key here is balance. You can automate nearly everything, if you choose… but you can’t automate good ol’ customer service. That’s best left to the professionals.
If you need a little help with your customer service, our professional receptionists can step in. Most of our clients are busy freelancers or independent contractors who need a little support answering calls and keeping distractions at bay. Our team of remote receptionists utilize market-leading call handling software, which means they know exactly who’s calling. They greet callers personally by name, on time, every time, and handle calls in a friendly and professional way.
So if you’re looking for a way to differentiate your freelancing business from the other 57.3 million Americans in your market, this could be it. Find out more and get started here.
* ‘Freelancing in America: 2017’ is the fourth annual study by Upwork and Freelancers Union.
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