It’s a common feeling among freelancers.
Voice-overs (like me) especially, may feel separated from the rest of the world because they often work in small, dark spaces, talking to… themselves.
It’s easy to feel lost and lonely without a professional support system, and without colleagues to have water cooler conversations with.
But if you ever feel small and insignificant as a voice-over, you’re making a mistake.
You haven’t looked at the big picture yet.
The fact is: you are one of many independent professionals.
THE NEW NORMAL
These days, freelancers account for one-third of the U.S. workforce. That’s nearly 54 million Americans, and this number is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2020.
Evolving technology and changing business needs have made it easier to take part in what some call the “Gig-Based Economy.” This economy is driven by people who don’t rely on a single employer to make a living. Many of them do not freelance out of economic necessity, but out of choice.
We all know the advantages of freelancing: freedom, flexibility, variety, and the joy of being our own boss. But there are serious downsides to running your own business. Let’s name a few.
Freelancers are running all the risks that used to be carried by employers, but without a safety net. They have no benefits. There’s no paid sick leave, no company health care or retirement plan. Forget about job security.
Try getting a personal loan or a mortgage without a steady job. Try putting money away for a rainy day if you don’t know how much will be coming in each month. Can you afford to go on vacation? What if one of your biggest clients needs you, and you’re not available?
Then there’s this…
Many freelancers say they spend as much as fifty percent of their time looking for work, and thirty to forty percent doing the work. This means they’re systematically underemployed.
MANY DOGS AND FEW BONES
An increase in freelancers also means that more people with the same skill set are fighting for a limited number of jobs. Companies love it because they’ll be able to get a great deal. And if they can’t hire the right person at the right price locally, they might just find what they’re looking for in a country where wages are cheaper and people are more desperate.
Your nearest competitor is only one mouse click away, and she might be living on the other side of the globe where a five dollars per hour pay will go a long way.
Because freelancers aren’t organized, they are economically vulnerable and unprotected. Richard Greenwald of Brooklyn College is the author of the forthcoming book The Death of 9–5. He told PBS’ Paul Solman:
“If you’re working a nine-to-five job, and you don’t get paid, you can go to the Department of Labor, file a complaint and there’s a process for that. If you’re an independent contractor, and you don’t get paid, you have to go to small claims court, because it’s usually a small amount of money, which means you have to take time off of work, you have to sue, you have to represent yourself. One of the big complaints from freelancers is that there are huge delays in getting paid, and there are many clients who just don’t pay them. Our system is not set up to provide any security for them.”
One organization that wants to change that, is the Brooklyn-based Freelancers Union. In fact, November 19th was their Day Of Action to end nonpayment. Before I get to that, let me tell you a bit about this organization.
A NEW UNION?
The name Freelance Union is kind of a misnomer, because it’s more of an association promoting the interests of independent workers than a trade union. Membership is free, and will make you eligible to receive discounts on services like Freshbooks, Squarespace, Geico and other companies.
The Freelancers Union offers tools like a Contract Creator; the Union gives advice on money and taxes, and you can even get Health, Dental, Term Life, Disability and Liability Insurance through the Union.
If you’d like to start networking with other freelancers but don’t know how, try “Hives.” It’s an online community where people connect and support each other, and find fellow-freelancers to work with on their next project.
Some of the best articles on what it’s like to survive and thrive in the Gig Economy, come from Freelancers Union contributors. Reading those blogs may open your eyes to the fact that we have so much in common with other independent contractors. One of those things is getting paid, and it’s a huge problem.
A COMMON CAUSE
Almost 8 out of 10 freelancers struggle with nonpayment. The average freelancer loses over $6,000 in wages every year due to late and nonpayment. If you haven’t been stiffed yet, count yourself lucky!
Starting November 19th, the Freelancers Union began making some noise with a nationwide campaign aimed at putting an end to nonpayment through legislation that will strengthen protections for freelancers. The goal is to get freelancers paid on time and in full. So, if you happen to stumble across the hash tag #FreelanceIsntFree, you now know what that’s about.
Of course nothing significant will happen if people with the best of intentions sit still. If you’re interested in adding your voice, consider joining the Freelancers Union, and download their free Freelancing Isn’t Free Toolkit.
If you happen to believe that Washington won’t listen to people like you and me, think again.
A report entitled Freelancing In America 2015, found that 86% of freelancers surveyed, are likely to vote in 2016. Sixty-two percent say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate that supported their interests as a freelancer. Overall, 63 percent of freelancers think the nation needs to start talking about empowering the freelance segment of the workforce. Freelancers are a significant political constituency, and politicians will have to start listening!
And let me end with some other good news from the report.
WE ARE THE FUTURE
More than half of freelance jobs are now found online, making it easier for most people to become a freelancer. The study also showed that the majority of freelancers who quit full-time jobs, now earn more money. Of those who earn more, 78 percent said that they made more money freelancing within a year or less of starting their business (source).
So, if you ever feel isolated, small and insignificant, it is time to change your perspective. Freelancers are driving the new economy, and they are a force to be reckoned with. Sara Horowitz, Freelancers Union Founder and Executive Director, had this to say:
“Freelancers are pioneering a new approach to work and life – one that prioritizes family, friends and life experiences over the 9-5 rat race. This study shows that the flexibility and opportunity associated with freelancing is increasingly appealing and that is why we’ve seen such dramatic growth in the number of people choosing to freelance.”
Now let’s make sure we get paid in full and on time, every time!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Be sweet. Please retweet!
Leah Frederick says
Paul – Once again, you have amazed me with the depth of your knowledge and savviness. I had never even heard of the Freelancers Union and will be immediately checking them out. Thank you so much! So many of my friends and colleagues are also freelancers so this tip is invaluable! -L.
Paul Strikwerda says
I’ve noticed that so many voice-overs don’t yet see themselves as a member of a much larger group. Hopefully, that will change. Also, the Freelancers Union used to be very New York City-centered. Some of their services still are. That’s because many members live in and around NYC. But in the past couple of years the Union has been reaching out, promoting a more national agenda.
Ted Mcaleer says
Yep, I remember you mentioning it in a post, so I went over and signed up. Great stuff over there!
Paul Garner says
Paul, great information as usual! I didn’t know about the Freelancers Union either. Thanks for writing about it. I’ll be checking it out right away!
Rick Lance says
Excellent freelance work, Paul!
Well worth tweeting about!
Mike Reagan says
Thank you Paul, great stuff. I have shared and am now heading over to join.
Ruth Kaufman says
I often call myself a feelancer rather than freelancer.
Lee Ann Howlett says
Great article for freelancers in many areas, Paul! I sent this column to my proof-listener. 🙂
Howard Ellison says
If, as you report, freelancers in general spend half the time looking for work, I wonder if that column should include our auditioning?
Data is elusive, but (aside from people attached to an agent) I reckon ten auditions per gig is probably a benchmark, or at least an aspiration. Unpaid time, prospecting.
Paul Strikwerda says
I would include auditioning as time spent looking for work. It’s a way to stay busy without being productive.