Uber is the inspiration for a new model of working – freelancing. Just as Uber connects you with an available driver for a taxi ride, Task Rabbit, fiverr, Amazon Mechanical Turk and Freelancer.com can connect you with freelancers ready, willing and available to undertake tasks from household chores to web design. And it seems the business model is starting to enter industries like management consulting, legal services and accounting. In the future will more and more professionals be working as freelancers. Predictions have by 2020 50% of the US workforce will be freelancers.
With Task Rabbit, available in 19 USA cities, gone are the days when you needed to get to know the neighbour’s kids and give them some pocket money to mow your lawn. Now with the swipe of an app and a credit card your help (called a “tasker”) is at your door. And the business model is being copied fast in Europe. Batmaid is a Swiss company that has started organising cleaners on-line at your choice of time – pitching themselves as the Uber of cleaning.
On Fiverr and Freelancer.com you can find people from all around the world who will do a “gig” such as design a logo, layout a brochure, make your website or write an article. And if you are on the privileged side of the digital divide you can contract people from lower cost countries to do work that would cost 2-3 times as much as in your own country. I’ve used fiverr three times and the advantage is not just the lower cost but the platform it is a painless way to search for a person, transact the payment and deal with a dispute (not that I have had one). It is fine if you know what you want and the gig is quite straightforward (eg brochure, business card) but it is not where you go if you want to brainstorm design ideas.
Business is booming in the B2C market by connecting local customers to local helpers, or startups to graphic and web designers. But the Uber business model is also breaking into the B2B market for professional services like management consulting, legal advice, medical and accounting.
At one end of the spectrum companies like Upwork and Amazon Mechanical Turk are extending the Uber model and offering services for project managers, accountants or financial analysts through their web platform. Looking at what gigs are offered it is more at transactional end and not the deep knowledge end of the professional services market. Typically these are less complex tasks, but still too complicated to be automated (yet). For example in the HR area the assignments are often around recruiting, in management consulting area about writing a business plans or presentation.
But at the knowledge end spectrum the business model is starting to change too. Eden McCallum and A-Connect are two companies that hire independent management consultants to work on client projects. And they are able to attract good quality experienced consultants who have had enough of consulting in a large consulting house. In legal sector Axiom has made massive changes to the US legal industry through freelancers – an industry that hadn’t changed for a 100 years.
For these industries, driven on billable hours, cutting the cost by not employing people when there is no work is a huge advantage. From the consultants or lawyers point of view it brings a flexibility and freedom that working for a big strategy consultancy or law firm can’t offer. A chance to choose their projects, take time off between projects, work from home. And as Financial Times reports this is what the new millennial generation are looking for, more freedom, more flexibility – more freelance.
While this is all sounding like a lovely win-win, happy flexible freelancers and cost savings to companies, this new model is not without its challenges. With on-demand comes a problem when there is no demand. The safety net of redundancy payments, or sick pay and vacation days are not there for freelancers. That is fine for some people but not others where regular income is needed.
Freelancing will also change the career structure in professional services. The training of juniors doesn’t happen in on-demand platforms. It is the freelancer’s responsibility to keep their skills up to date. In consultancy, law and accounting the training of juniors in large companies has meant there is a pool of experienced consultants, lawyers and accountants available at mid-career often moving into industry. Where will professionals be trained if firms only used freelancers?
New models of work are emerging for professionals that don’t involve permanent positions, offices and pension plans. They are being replaced but a series of assignments, projects or gigs: a portfolio career as Charles Handy described it. To be successful it will be more about you, the individual professional, how you develop your skills, experience and keep an open mind that will keep you fully loaded with gigs or assignments.
What is your experience with being a freelancer? How do you keep your career developing?
If you are considering freelancing, portfolio career or exploring new options in your career then contact Jane Piper of Pipsy GmbH specialising in midlife career coaching.