Freelancers Are Banding Together To Grow The Global Industry
Two important new organizations came into being this month in support of the global freelance revolution. One is focused on advocacy, education and applied research in support of open talent in the UK. The other is tilted more to supporting freelance business and professional development in Spain. Both offer important examples of the grassroots support for freelance economic growth in their countries.
The first of these is the Association for the Future of Work created in London three weeks ago. The association was conceived and is initially funded by Underpinned.com, and led by tech entrepreneur and Underpinned CEO Albert Azis-Clauson. Underpinned.com is an online platform that has trained and supported a community of over 50,000 freelancers. Azis-Clauson, a professional ballet dancer before succumbing to the lure of entrepreneurship, conceived the Association as a kind of town square that would connect freelance entrepreneurs, educators, researchers, and business and political leaders. It is hoped that the Association will provide a way to bring key stakeholders together to solve large issues – like late payments, the narrow full-time employment focus of the UK educational system, and taxation – vexing the progress of freelancing as a legitimate and favored career path.
The individuals who came together in London for a first meeting of the Association included many senior industry participants, ecosystem leaders and politicians. The group importantly included Hon. Seema Malhotra, MP for Feltham and Heston and Shadow Minister for Employment, Hon. Elizabeth Barclay, the UK Small Business Commissioner, House of Lords member Viscount Charles Colville, and several of the largest participants in the freelance and solopreneurial movements: CEOs and senior leaders from many global freelance platforms and marketplaces HQed in the UK such as Honeybook.com, YunoJuno.com, Talmix.com, Dweet.com, FreelancerClub.net, as well as representation from important freelance related thought leader organizations like IPSE.co.uk, research group Free Trade Europa, and Open-Assembly.com.
The second new group coming together in the past couple of weeks was R-evolution Spain, bringing together several of the most important Spanish freelance platforms. The original spark for bringing the Spanish freelance community came from Outvise.com, but was quickly joined by Malt.com, Shakers, Woki Consulting, Talentomnia.com, and Connecting Visions. Combining both in person and virtual participation, over 150 freelance entrepreneurs and individual freelancers joined for the first meeting of R-evolution Spain. Their goals? First, as with the Association for the Future Work, they believe Spanish governments at the federal and provincial levels can help make it easier for freelancers to work and contribute. But, the goals also include a significant community aspect. For example, one key initiative focuses on improving corporate understanding and acceptance of freelancers in Spanish industry. Another focuses on sharing best practices, and working together to identify and source unique or “hard to find” client expertise requirements.
These two new organizations are emblematic of the maturing of the freelance economy. The global freelance revolution is something of a small town, albeit a global one. Leaders tend to know one another directly or by reputation through common networks or relationships. And, while people meet at events, connect through VC networks, and often participate in shared activities, they share a common challenge: How to accelerate support for freelancing at an enterprise level within their own country or region. Although an overwhelming majority of global corporates rely on freelance talent to supplement their internal talent, there remains in many parts of the world an element of suspicion, a fear of talent risk, that has limited the growth of freelancing. This is especially in less mature economies. So, for example, an important shared goal of R-evolution Spain is working together to educate the market and establish the value, professionalism and expertise of Spanish freelancers.
But these two organizations are not alone. Around the world, and especially as financial conditions worsen, platforms and their freelancers are understanding the value of banding together in common cause. We are noticing, for example, more so-called “pop ups” community building events. For example, two months ago a group of Latin American platforms came together to explore compliance requirements in the US. Over less than half a day seven freelance marketplaces gained the information needed to sharpen their plans for the US, and found a potential partner in Mybasepay.com to help them implement their plans.
A fourth type of organization, freelancebusiness.eu, has created freelance education month in October of this year. It’s a marvelous innovation, creating a good deal of value, and there should be a way that other platforms can subscribe as a service to their members, or joint venture with the team at freelancebusiness.eu.
A fifth and final important example of community building is Open-Assembly.com and its sister organization, CTW, the Center for Transformation of Work. Created by John Winsor and Barry Matthews, pioneers of the open talent space, O-A works closely with enterprise organizations to help them build flexible, blended workforces. The CTW arm led by John Healy, a long-time leader of the open talent movement, brings together the larger freelance community on a regular basis to explore topics of mutual interest and important. It is a place to be seen, heard, learn from as well as contribute.
What does this all mean? According to the Corporate Finance Institute, the evolution of industries is usually described as a cycle of five phases: Introduction, growth, shakeout, maturity, and decline. Freelancing now engages millions of individuals and generates over 1.2 trillion dollars (USD) in GDP. Emerging out of job boards less than twenty years ago, it has already experienced extraordinary growth. We can expect more of a shakeout in the next few years as the global economy works its way out of excessive inflation and recession. But, realistically, the freelance economy is young. It is expanding quickly in size, reputation and impact. And we are continuing to see innovation after innovation increase its import.
If the freelance revolution is in transition (slow, not fast) from growth to shakeout, the community mindset will help more platforms to both learn from best practice, and adapt in ways that enable further innovation. For example, more platforms are adopting a “freelancer first” philosophy, and investing in ways to increase freelancer success. As a baseball fan might put it, reflecting on the freelance revolution, “We’re still in the second or third inning of this game, and its a helluva game!”
Viva la revolution!
Jon Younger Contributor
HR thought leader, author, teacher and early stage investor. Writing about the freelance revolution and the future of work. Books include HR From the Outside In, HR Transformation, and Agile Talent. Follow me on twitter @jon_younger, and check my Linkedin page for new articles.