The eye-opening Freelance Forward Survey by outsourcing specialists Upwork found over 59 million Americans carried out some form of freelance work in the last 12 months. This figure represents 36% of the U.S. workforce and is a significant increase over previous years.
While not all involved in the survey would consider themselves full-time freelancers, the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty in the jobs market means many more people are considering flexible approaches to work and devoting more of their time to freelance, “gig” style jobs.
Prior to the pandemic, a boom in the jobs market saw more people opting for freelance or flexible work options due to the variety they offer, and this is becoming more common, although not always out of choice. Employers across the country are cutting staff numbers and this has led to people maximizing their skills and carving out their niche in freelance work.
While it may not have been a natural choice for many, there are vast opportunities in the freelance market and many people find there’s no turning back to the regular 9-5 once they’ve adapted to a more flexible, and sometimes more profitable, way of living.
The freelance market is often in flux and workers have to be aware that peaks and valleys are common but there are many freelance jobs out there, once you know the right approach to finding them. The COVID-19 pandemic has created an environment where even the most traditional employers are looking for different ways of accessing the best talent for their business’ growth.
More Businesses are Embracing a Digital Workforce
The pandemic has shown very clearly the pitfalls that many traditional businesses and industries live with on a daily basis. Businesses who operate from a regular office day-to-day may have believed they were providing adequate support for their employees, but as employees are forced to work remotely and their mental health is tested, many have learned this simply is not the case.
Looking specifically at the legal sector, the pandemic has shown just how outdated some practices are and how many attorneys have been unable to work from home like other industry professionals because the right systems haven’t been set up to allow for effective remote work. This has led to many attorneys turning their back on the traditional ways of working and launching fruitful freelance careers.
The current climate and unknown prospect of the pandemic has also created a sense of urgency and concern for law firms who want to ensure they have the best talent and are perfectly positioned for the future. While hiring top attorneys in the traditional way may not be a good financial bet, looking at the freelance market almost certainly is, and this is where the newly developed crop of freelance lawyers come into play.
Other in-demand freelance skills include graphic design, sales skills, which are always in need to promote and sell products and services for every kind of business, as well as newer technologies such as blockchain, giving freelancers from many backgrounds the chance to flex their skills and carve out a career over which they are in complete control.
Maximizing Your Freelance Prospects
Embarking on a freelance career can be daunting, especially if you have little experience in brokering your own deals, pitching for contracts, and organizing your own work schedule without set hours. It can take some time to get used to but once your client base grows, you can benefit from setting your own schedules and working flexibly to suit your lifestyle.
Embrace Industry-Specialist Marketplaces
The most important and valuable advice for all freelancers is to harness the huge power of the internet. While not all freelance work is remote, the fact that a lot of it is means you could potentially be working on projects or cases across the country, or even further afield.
While some freelance lawyers may have success with finding freelance work using their own connections and network, the true potential of a full- time freelance career can best be realized through a national network designed to connect busy attorneys with those willing to provide freelance services, such as LAWCLERK.
The most successful freelance lawyers we’ve encountered have built their business by combining multiple channels of work.
Use Your Local & Personal Network
Marketing within the local community is also key for freelancers looking to maximize their income but many find success through connecting directly with law firms (or other business clients) who are directly in need of their particular skill set.
It is also worthwhile marketing to alumni from college and in relevant specific business niche groups. However, tapping into an effective and relevant online marketplace is usually the most effective option for freelancers looking to build their supply of work and reliable contracts.
Essential Tips for Freelancers At Any Stage of Their Career
Newcomers to the freelance market may have lots of questions, but even those who have been involved in freelance work for decades should keep these important tips in mind to keep their business relevant, their clients happy, and the work flowing.
Know Your Client
As your client base grows and you have the opportunity to work with a wider range of professionals from different niches, keep in mind their individual goals. Again, looking at the legal sector, you may find that one attorney is happy for you to write in a conversational, informal tone but this doesn’t mean the next client you work with will want the same.
Remember to always treat each client as an individual, and become attuned to their needs and their preferred style, before producing any work. Making assumptions is never good for business. You could even set up your own client tracking spreadsheet or database to keep track of each hiring attorney’s individuals preferences and writing style so that you can follow their wishes without having to ask them for specifics on each piece of work.
Beat Your Deadlines
Your deadline shouldn’t be the target you’re hoping to meet—it should be the worst-case scenario. If you view all deadlines like this then your clients will always be impressed when you finish any work before they expect it.
This doesn’t mean you should rush, but it does mean you should try to finish any projects well within the set time limit. Delivering early gives you more chance of impressing your clients and more time for reviews, edits, and feedback where necessary.
Know Your Current Limitations
As interest in your freelance work grows, you may find you get offers for work in new areas. While this may be exciting, take time for a reality check. Are you the best person for this new type of work? Do you have the experience and qualifications to carry it out? Is this project really within your area of expertise? Most importantly, are you legally able to work in this sector (like if you’re looking at licensed work from other states or similar).
While growing your client base is always exciting, operating legally and ethically should be of the most importance.
The Client is King
Even the smallest job you complete could turn into valuable repeat business. This in-turn could lead to further recommendations of your service to their colleagues, business partners and help build your reputation in the industry.
Submitting only your best possible work in every single instance is essential to help build your reputation, even if your clients are less enjoyable to work with. If you can give your best work to the most difficult of clients, and leave them satisfied, then this will stand you in good stead with more favorable clients.
No freelancer can have much success without good communication with their clients. How can you understand client expectations or meet their briefs if you don’t discuss them in-depth? Open lines of communication from day-one are particularly important to avoid unnecessary mistakes and to quickly find solutions. With the digital nature of modern communications, there are so many ways to keep in touch, you really have no excuse not to.
Challenges Faced by Freelancers
A recent Freelancermap freelancer survey found that respondents faced three main challenges:
- Landing clients
- Getting better payments
- Maintaining a healthy work-life balance
Let’s take a closer look at some of these challenges and how freelancers can overcome them.
Finding steady work is the core concern of all freelance workers. Worrying about your workflow can create a lot of anxeity when work dips or when you are just starting out. Earning a sufficient income is tied closely to this and is an understandable worry when demand for freelancers can ebb and flow over time.
The Coronavirus pandemic has generated some specific freelance work challenges too. Upwork’s survey found 1 out of 3 people freelancing before the pandemic have decreased their work hours due to its onset and 2 in 5 said the virus has negatively impacted their economic and financial wellbeing.
It’s a sad consequence of such unknown and unprecedented times that every aspect of the living and working world is affected. Thankfully the flexibility of freelancing makes adapting a little easier than in the traditional workplace.
The tips above are key to helping ensure a steady supply of work, as freelancers with good reputations will attract more business and more business leads to more recommendations and further growth.
Getting Better Payments
Freelancers also have a tangible fear of not being paid for the work they complete. Many freelancers have been stiffed in the past – having completed work for no payment and no reason given. This can be demoralizing and of course, extremely damaging to their livelihood.
Traditionally in the legal sector, the freelance lawyer hourly rate may be set in advance, but the hiring company may not be aware of how many man hours actually go into the project. This can mean that freelancers find themselves out of pocket when they issue their final bill, as the hiring company does not want to pay the full price because it is more than they had planned for.
A more modern approach to completing freelance work is to have the work completed on a project-by-project basis. Another smart move is to have each project be paid via a flat fee price agreed to by both the hiring attorney and the freelancer before the work begins. In fact, this is the model on which LAWCLERK has built its legal outsourcing platform. Agreeing on a flat fee at the onset of the project and having the money exchanged through an independent third-party increases the likelihood that the freelancer will be properly compensated for their time and work.
Maintaining a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Work-life balance is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family and doing things you enjoy.” The legal profession has found it extraordinarily challenging to strike this balance.
The effects of stress and burnout on our physical and mental health has been put into even sharper focus with the pandemic. For freelancers trying to build their book of business from home during these challenging times, it can be tempting to push too hard, work too many hours and pull plenty of all-nighters. It can also be hard to draw defined boundaries between work and home life when they become blended into the same physical space.
There are a couple of ways freelancers can improve their work-life balance during the pandemic. For starters, carving out a separate work space in the home can help when switching in and out of work mode, and leaving work behind when it’s time to enjoy some down-time. Some people even get in their car for a short drive as a sort of mock commute to simulate the old segway from home to work and back again.
Secondly, it’s important to set some personal boundaries and schedule in time for physical and mental wellbeing including exercise, fresh air, and eating healthy meals. By taking your personal wellbeing seriously, you can ensure you’re in prime condition for winning new business, dealing with clients, and delivering your best work.
The Future of Legal Freelancing
The legal industry is going to be forever changed by this pandemic. We’ve gone through a time-warp of sorts, with unprecedented advancements within our industry and for our clients. These advances are not going to be turned back the moment a cure is found for COVID-19 or when our population becomes widely vaccinated.
Lawyers and law firms have turned to virtual, outsourced resources in order to power and grow their law firms. They are seeing firsthand the benefits of creating workflows incorporating outsourced resources and there is no going back.
Freelancers come from all sorts of legal backgrounds: burned out big law associates, attorneys choosing to care for young children or elderly parents; retired or semi-retired lawyers who genuinely love the law. No matter what path leads an attorney to freelance work, the benefits of being able to control your own flexible legal career are abundant.
The rapid automation and digital transformation of the working world has meant some businesses are struggling to keep up with the demand of their clients and the needs of the modern world. Online talent platforms including LAWCLERK, but also more general platforms such as InnoCentive, and Kaggle provide a premium marketplace for talent in the digital world, with freelancers poised to help any business.
The prospects for building a freelance career in the current climate are definitely boosted by the growth in these innovative and freelancer- focused platforms, but in some instances, we are waiting on the businesses themselves to catch up. Companies need to be more agile, react more effectively to change and take advantage of the many talented freelancers available to help their businesses.
Marketplaces exist to help businesses grow and access the best talent. It’s just a matter of utilizing them successfully. The growth in flexible approaches to work driven by the COVID-19 pandemic means anyone looking to move into the freelance world has a prime opportunity to develop an exciting career. In other words, the timing has never been better to be a freelancer.
So, what are you waiting for?