Becoming a freelancer can be a scary venture. There’s no one to pick up the slack when you’re feeling sluggish, no one to lean on financially when balance books are stretched thin, and no one to blame when things go badly.
Despite the drawbacks of the freelance lifestyle, the solo operators are ramping up in droves, especially as more companies lay off employees, preferring to outsource projects instead. But to overcome some of the difficulties of going it alone, savvy freelancers are turning to a new kind of co-working setup called "hives."
While researching for his upcoming book The Death of 9-5: Permanent Freelancers, Empty Offices and the New Way America Works, Richard Greenwald interviewed more than 200 freelancers and discussed his findings on freelance hives in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.
Hives are built when solo operators band together with other solo operators who have complementary skills. Teaming up allows freelancers to provide clients with a broader range of services than they would be able to offer individually. It also gives them opportunities to bid on larger projects than they would be capable of taking on solo. Greenwald gives the example of a financial consultant who partnered with a health insurance broker to provide coverage and advice to clients as a one-stop-shop.
Hive members share a website, a company name, billing, and even pitch projects together, operating as though they were a small business, but without the costs of a full-time staff.
This setup gives freelancers greater stability while still allowing for the flexibility of a freelance lifestyle. Members are free to enter and leave the hive as they wish and often have their own clients on the side. Some are even members of multiple hives.
Just like any other business, hives have their struggles. Challenges tend to involve the division of work and the ability of the network to work together. Despite their flexibility, members still need to present a united front to clients, and each has to have a vested interest in the project.
That means choosing the right people to fill the roles required is essential to making the hive a success. During a meeting Greenwald sat in on, two prospective collaborators clearly weren’t going to work well together—in the end, the invitee walked away.
To be successful, hives also have to be clear arrangements that make it easy for freelancers to work together. Discussing how they will split expenses and revenue can be a challenge as most don’t divide revenue equally, but rather split it based on the percentage of work required by each member for a particular project.
Members also have to decide how much time they’re willing to commit to the hive’s projects and how much they plan to work independently on their own clients. For example, one of the hives Greenwald looked at had to remove a member who took on too much side work and couldn’t commit to the work of the group.