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The next megatrend in freelancing

I predict the next major trend in freelancing is a return to full-time corporate employment.

In many circumstances, the needs of both individual professionals and their companies are better served by the full-time employee / employer relationship.

Here’s why:

Many individuals’ desire to freelance is built largely on fantasies perpetrated by coaches and information-product producers. “Quit working” and “set yourself free,” they proclaim.

Freelancing and consulting are work. Even if you enjoy what you are doing, it must still be carried out to meet exacting standards and against deadlines. Furthermore, there are many elements to self-employment, from compiling receipts for taxes to resolving tech issues, from bill collecting to selling.

You have to do them all, whether you enjoy them or not, or else you have to pay someone else to do them and still stay involved to make sure they are done well and on time.

Now about that freedom thing. Too much freedom and you won’t be able to support yourself.

Self-employment isn’t about freedom. To put it more accurately, it’s about flexibility. You can choose to go hiking in the morning or gather with friends at Starbucks in the afternoon, but you won’t succeed unless you substitute these workday hours with serious work in the evening.

Irrational exuberance followed by profound disillusionment and even a sense of failure can result from indulging in our fantasies. A full-time job may start to look better.

Companies can get better results at a moderate cost with full-time employees.

Companies save money by not committing to full-time staff with benefits in favor of freelancers as needed.

They try out the lowest-cost ones, hoping to save lots of cash. Occasionally this works out, at least for awhile, but sometimes this work needs a lot of re-do on the part of the managers making the assignments. The alternative is higher-paid pros, who are more likely to provide top-notch product but at a higher cost per hour than employees.

Still, these better pros only do part of the job. For instance, freelance copywriters submit copy. However, they don’t generally finalize it with in-house staff and work out all the information, writing, technical, and administrative details that go into publication.

For companies that have ongoing needs, they’ll find they get more for their money with employees. They can train new employees straight out of college or with limited experience (but proven writing or other strengths) and benefit from employees’ growing understanding of the company, its industry, and their own work; their ever-increasing experience; and the corporate investment in professional training. Plus employees are on-site and subject to more pre-deadline oversight and feedback.

What needs to happen to have more full-time employees

In the last few decades many workplaces have become far worse places to work. Firing at will . . . more capricious in HR practices . . . stingier with raises (but far more generous in paying top executives) . . . more mergers, off shoring, and cutbacks . . . higher expectations of round-the-clock employee connectivity, including email and texting responses during off hours . . . opaque hiring practices, where hundreds of resumes are solicited online and then ignored in favor of employees’ personal networks.

People are becoming freelancers as much to flee the misery of corporate jobs as to scratch some supposed entrepreneurial itch. Those with the ability to market their work as well as execute by deadline with quality are eager to strike out on their own.

However, if regular jobs become less soul sucking, I predict that many freelancers will return to corporate employment for the exceptional growth opportunities it can offer. And smart companies will treat their full-time staff with respect for the exceptional work value they offer.

Originally posted 4-7-15

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