If you are ever in need of empathy for your plight as a freelancer or contractor, you should talk to Stephen Robert Morse.
As Head of Marketing, Communications, and Advertising at SkillBridge, a company that links independent contractors to companies searching for help on a specific project, he’s been studying the flaws of freelancing as we know it.
“Right now the system is broken,” he says. “If you are a consultant you spend 50 to 70 percent of your time hustling for work, and 25 percent of your time actually doing the work.”
If you’ve worked for yourself, you know exactly what he is talking about. The days spent emailing everyone you know (and don’t know) asking whether they have any work for you. The parties spent focusing on collecting business cards, rather than enjoying the music and cocktails. The hours spent dreaming up the most revolutionary, dynamic business ideas that a client may or may not want. And because it is a numbers game – for every one assignment you get, you have to pitch many, many more – there is no rest for the weary.
Then there is the fact that so much of succeeding as a freelancer is who you know, not how skilled you are. “People say, ‘I need to hire a consultant,’” explains Morse. “So they turn to their business partner and say, ‘Hey, do you know anyone who is a writer?’ And the other guy says, ‘Yeah, my buddy is. Let’s bring him in.’ That’s not going to get you the best work.”
Luckily for freelancers and independent contractors, there is a batch of startups trying to rectify these problems. They are creating virtual, merit-based systems that connect talent to companies that are looking for it. All you have to do is sign up, put your best face forward, and let them find work for you from their database of clients.
With Morse’s help I created a guide to these startups and how you can succeed in the new system they’ve created.
Choosing your company. While all of these companies have the same mission of creating a marketplace of talent for clients, they have important differences. Some are only looking for specific types of freelancers. MBA & Company and HourlyNerd, for example, only want candidates with MBAs, while Contently wants journalists. They also vary in what type of work they want to provide clients. SkillBridge brands itself as an alternative to Bain or McKinsey, a place where clients can find management consultants for specific projects. Contently works for brands looking for storytellers. So it’s important to do research to find out which company you should sign up for. (At the same time, you shouldn’t be afraid to sign up for more than one since it increases the chances of finding good work. “You have to be in it to win it,” says Morse.)
How to sign up. These websites need a lot of freelancers; the bigger the talent pool, the better people they can find for their clients. So they make it super easy to sign up. SkillBridge and MBA & Company. allow you to register through LinkedIn. oDesk asks how to upload a resume as well as write a quick summary about yourself. I’ve signed up for many of these sites and none take more than half an hour. And the best part: no fees! (The client pays a cut to the matchmaker.)
How to get the best assignments. Signing up doesn’t guarantee work by any means. In fact, it’s pretty competitive to get a gig (SkillBridge, for example, has 3000 consultants in its database but only 300 jobs… not a great ratio.) So you have to make your profile stand out. Most of these sites use an algorithm to suggest potential candidates to a client. The trick is to use as many key words as possible in your profile (Or LinkedIn profile if that’s the source of the information) that can be picked up by the computer. “If you’ve worked in different areas and different places, list them,” says Morse. “If you know different languages, list them. Every project is different and the more keywords you have, the more matches you will get.”
How to keep getting good assignments. After you complete work for a client they are asked to review you and recommend you to others. It’s key, therefore, to do a really good job on your first few assignments. “Everyone gets rated from 1 to 10,” explains Morse. “If they are rated 8 or higher we will happily put them forward for other projects. If they aren’t rated 8 or higher we will find other people to do the work in the future.” In addition to impressing clients, you can also impress assigning editors (it’s not just an algorithm that assigns projects; there are also people who look through the talent to find the best matches) with your diligence and top-notch work. Most people, after all, rather hire tried and tested talent than a risky newbie.
Let the benefits roll in! Morse says that if freelancers present themselves properly, they can make a living off the work they receive from SkillBridge. MBA & Company advertises that contractors, on average, receive 8,000 GBP per project, a hefty sum considering many are short term or can be done in conjunction with other assignments. I was definitely paying rent on money I made from oDesk assignments in my early freelance years. On top of high earning potential, many of these companies are offering additional benefits to freelancers. Within the year SkillBridge will be offering health insurance to its contractors. Contently runs a networking program for freelance journalists where you can meet editors and other writers. HourlyNerd offers best practice guides and business assistants for consultants who need professional guidance.
And as Morse says, all of these startups are still relatively new (most have popped up in the past few years) and will keep finding new ways to better serve freelancers. “The system is pretty f-ing good now,” he says about SkillBridge “But it’s going to get much better.”
words: alyson kreuger