Learning To Work A Free-Agent Economy To Your Advantage

A revolution has already taken place for America's workforce. And if you're not a part of it yet, you could be soon.

Clocking in from 9 to 5 in proper business attire is yesterday's news; hitting the laptop or mobile device in your bathrobe at all hours is the way of the future. That's because more and more of us are transitioning from traditional full-time employees to free agents--entrepreneurs, independent contractors, and freelancers who work for multiple clients, often at the same time.  

When the government last counted this section of the workforce in 2005, it made up almost a third of it, with over 42 million people classified as "contingent workers." The 2008 recession only accelerated this trend--because companies that were decimated by layoffs began opting to hire workers only on a per-job basis.  

It's a great wave to ride. With demand rising, freelancers are now able to name their price in such prestige industries as advertising, where today's Mad Men are more and more frustrated at not having the in-house help they used to count on. But beware--if you don't know how to surf this rising tide, you could easily wipe out.  

Most people don't recognize that a freelance career demands a different mindset to succeed; freelancers must market almost as hard as they work to keep a steady stream of clients knocking on the door. As business guru Tom Peters wrote in a 1997 Fast Company article, "We are the CEOs of our own companies. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called 'You.'" He totally predicted the wave.

Here are a few areas in which you should expand your expertise, so that you can manage Brand You to a profitable outcome:  

* Increase Your Initiative

Unless you're the world's greatest at what you do, you can't approach freelance life with a laid-back attitude. You have to actively search out opportunities and you have to do the follow up to take advantage of those opportunities. As you establish a reputation, people will come knocking at your door--but, at least in the beginning, you're going to have to over-deliver on a consistent basis to make that necessary name for yourself.

* Be Aware of Your Brand 

Potential clients need to view you as a professional service provider, not an unproven and uncommitted person who won't even invest in a logo for your business/brand. Create a name and look for your business/brand that communicates who you are and what you do simply and effectively, and follow through on that branding with your website, your email signature, and any other venues where clients might check you out,.

* Keep Your Public Image Professional

Here is the ultimate 'fine line' between your personal life and business. Facebook is no longer just about friends and family sharing their personal lives; many professionals now include Facebook when they are researching someone.  

So don't fill up your Facebook wall with pictures of cats wearing zany hats (unless cat hats are, of course, your business). Instead, do post content and links that directly relate to you and our personality/brand. Be yourself, but be mindful that what you post does represent 'you'. Anyone considering hiring you will most likely check you out wherever your name shows up--so make sure what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas (or wherever you happened to be when you had all those weird drinks and woke up the next morning in a chicken suit). Not to make you paranoid, but you should live your life within the new reality that everything is public.

* Link Up

Join professional groups related to your product or service or talent on LinkedIn and Facebook; most will welcome you and their names may look good on your profile.  Also interact with these groups and try to make contacts that can help you build your business. Remember, if you're working from your home, you're the only one you're going to meet at the water cooler--so stay in touch and socialize online whenever possible.  

To sum up, the employer is now the client. That means it's no longer about a company taking care of you, it's about you taking care of yourself--and that includes your learning, your growth and your brand. In the long run, however, that seems to bring more self-satisfaction--63% of independent workers are happy doing what they're doing and plan to continue as free agents.  

[Image: Flickr user funnypervertbunny]

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