The Rewards—and Risks—of Freelancing

Why more Americans are turning to freelancing for cashflow.

Students in online courses need to establish a workspace free of distractions.
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The conventional wisdom is that during recessions, companies start hiring temporary workers, and then when the recession lifts, you start seeing that the employment numbers are coming back. We're not really actually seeing the employment numbers coming back in any real significant way, and we're not really counting employment properly because we're not including this new part of the workforce. It's only counting the full-time W2 jobs.

I think what we're really seeing is a trend towards gigs. People are working full-time jobs and often working gigs to make up for the declining standard of living or they're putting together a series of gigs when they're between jobs. This is just part of the way the whole work landscape is shaping up.

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You mentioned issues around measuring the freelance and self-employed workforce, as opposed to the current method of counting the W2 workforce. What are some of the Freelancers Union's initiatives around that issue?

The president has put in his budget to count the independent workforce, and that's something that we are strongly encouraging him and the Department of Labor to do. We're going to be working on that a lot more in 2013 and also starting to look at the unemployment numbers and saying, 'How are we relying on these numbers when they're only counting full-time employees?'

We hear the Freelancers Union is also working on legislation in New York state about protecting freelancers from non-paying clients.

Yes, it's also been introduced in New Jersey as well. One of the difficulties that freelancers have is that they do work, and then they don't get paid. In fact, our survey found that 77 percent of our members had that happen. If freelancers were regular employees, they could go to the Department of Labor. One of the things we're trying to do is when a freelancer hasn't gotten paid, they should be able to go to the Department of Labor, and the Department of Labor should be able to go to the companies to try and help people get paid.

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How do you think the workplace will look five or 10 years from now, and how can readers prepare for those changes?

I think that we are going to see even full-time jobs becoming short-term. It's just a greater transience, and I think it's very important for people to build up their own professional network. By that, I mean not just your network in a kind of boring, old-fashioned way; more like a series of relationships where people are outsourcing some of their work, or helping and collaborating with other people and building new ways that they can minimize the risk.

We've been doing this very actively with health insurance and retirement, disability, and life insurance, but I think we're going to start seeing a lot of new businesses that will help people find work and help them manage their taxes and other things. It's a whole new field out there.