Are You Ready For A Freelance Economy?

Every month when the employment report comes out, there’s a lot of finger pointing about why no one is creating jobs to help more Americans get back to work.

And each time, I wonder when the public is going to realize that work has changed–and that many jobs that disappeared in the past few years won’t come back.

What we need to do is prepare more Americans for a new reality, where people will get their income from more than one source and not be as heavily dependent as they once were on a single, paternalistic employer.

Instead of relying on jobs training, I’d argue that we need to invest more in teaching people how to think like entrepreneurs of their own careers. It is not an easy shift in mindset, but it is important to make it, if you don’t want to feel like a victim in today’s economy.

I was excited to see that Tom Friedman has been noticing some of the same trends I see when reporting on careers and entrepreneurship when I read his New York Times column, “Why I (Still) Support Obamacare.” (Regardless of how you feel about the health reform, this piece is worth reading).

For the column, Friedman interviewed James Manyika, who leads research on economic and technology trends at the McKinsey Global Institute.

Manyika foresees a future where traditional middle-skilled jobs will fade and the positions that remain will either be highly skilled or too low paying to support the way of living that many people have come to expect. As Friedman summarizes it:

“…how we think about `employment’to sustain a middle-class lifestyle may need to expand `to include a broader set of possibilities for generating income’ compared with the traditional job, with benefits and a well-grooved career path. To be in the middle class, you may need to consider not only high-skilled jobs, `but also more nontraditional forms of work,’ explained Manyika. Work itself may have to be thought of as `a form of entrepreneurship’ where you draw on all kinds of assets and skills to generate income.

This could mean leveraging your skills through Task Rabbit, or your car through Uber, or your spare bedroom through AirBnB to add up to a middle-class income.”

Friedman says this transition could prove “more exciting than people think.” But he also acknowledges that, “right now asking large numbers of people to go from being an `employee’ to a `work entrepreneur’ feels scary and uncertain.”

Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the uncertainty.

If you are not freelancing now, it’s important to think about what you will do if your steady job dries up and it is not easy to replace it. What is your plan B? Can you put into place any secondary sources of income now that will sustain you? What marketplaces can you use to sell your expertise? In addition to big sites for freelancers, there are now a number of niche-oriented ones springing up. For instance, I just wrote about one for professors called Faculty Row for Crain’s New York Business.  

Another key question: Are there any steps you can take now to manage your income so that if you find yourself doing contract or freelance work at some unexpected point in the future, you won’t find yourself drowning in overhead? Given the way the economy is changing, we all need to question the consumerist lifestyle that surrounds us in the U.S. Spending a little less can pave the way to a lot more freedom and peace of mind if you become self employed.

Making the Break, Uncategorized , , , ,
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