Will We All Be Freelancers Soon?

Elance taps into shifting workplace trends to make it easier to earn extra cash.

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Business woman with magnifying glass to the eye
Business woman with magnifying glass to the eye

As the world of work changes, employment histories are looking increasingly like patchwork quilts made up of various types of jobs. People and companies increasingly opt for (or are forced into) constantly shifting, project-based relationships instead of more permanent salaried ones. That news might be unsettling for those who prefer stability (and the related benefits), but Fabio Rosati, president and CEO of Elance, a freelancing website, sees opportunity in that constant churn, and he thinks you should, too.

“We’ve never had such flexibility and immediacy in the workforce,” Rosati says. “Technology helps create matches. The moment an employer posts a job, you get an alert.” Other factors, including Obamacare and shrinking corporate budgets, have also conspired to push more people into the freelancing marketplace.

A report released last week by Tower Lane Consulting and commissioned by Elance found that 6 in 10 companies have plans to hire more freelancers in 2014. Companies report that they do so because it gives them the flexibility to rely on different skill sets as their needs change, and using temporary workers also allows them to spend less money on employee expenses. So-called “knowledge workers,” including people who work in sales and marketing, design, writing, and information technology are among the most in-demand freelancers.

[Read: The Secret to Making Money on Fiverr.]

Those trends help explain why Elance reports that in the first half of 2013, 170,000 new businesses joined the website, 600,000 new jobs were posted and freelancers earned $130 million. Information technology and programming jobs have long made up the bulk of Elance’s earnings, followed by creative and marketing jobs. Meanwhile, writing and translation, sales and marketing, and finance and management jobs have been among those growing in earnings the fastest.

Many of those freelancers also hold down full-time jobs. According to Elance’s 2012 Freelancer survey, 1 in 4 freelancers on the site also has full-time employment. Their freelance work allows them to bring home additional money while keeping their skills sharp – and perhaps testing the waters for eventual self-employment.

Here are five tips on how to make the most of this new world of work:

1. Constantly renew your skills. “Freelancers have to stay current,” Rosati says, so they can continue landing new clients. In addition to getting real-world experience by taking on jobs, Elance University, which offers more than 20,000 online courses (free and paid), teaches freelancers about everything from how to write a killer proposal for a client to technical skills, such as how to use Javascript.

[Read: How to Create a Career in the New Economy.]

2. Take advantage of technology. The Internet makes it easier than ever to connect with potential clients throughout the globe. In addition to Elance, which posts jobs from 800,000 clients and has 3 million freelancers signed up, websites such as Fiverr, Odesk and Amazon Marketplace also make it possible to sell products and services from anywhere, as long as you have a computer (or mobile device) and an Internet connection.

3. Protect yourself. Without benefits, such as health insurance and retirement savings accounts, freelancers can stumble financially if they suddenly face a health crisis or are unable to work. “The Affordable Care Act is good for our community. We often hear freelancers say health insurance is the reason they’re holding onto their day jobs. This will help them take more risks with their career or start their own business,” Fabio says. Freelancers can also save for retirement with IRAs and Roth IRAs, for example, and they can take out life and disability insurance plans directly through insurance companies.

4. Learn how to get word out about your skills. While clients can find freelancers through the search function on Elance, freelancers can also rely on social media, worth of mouth and their own professional networks to land more work. The 2012 report from Elance also found that while 1 in 4 freelancers found work within one to two weeks of joining the site, it took eight weeks or longer for 17 percent of freelancers.

[See: 10 Questions That Will Help You Earn More Money.]

5. Join teams for steady work. Last week, Elance launched a new “Private Talent Cloud,” which lets companies manage their freelance workforce through the website. It allows clients to manage vetting, contracts and payment of freelancers. Companies bring their own freelancers with them to the site, as well as hire additional freelancers on there. Freelancers who get high satisfaction ratings increase their chances of being asked to do more work for clients, thus boosting their earning power.