2020 is a year of disruption, and while businesses are starting to understand the benefits and just what a remote, on-demand workforce can achieve, we are also seeing opportunities for professionals who are finding themselves in difficult situations.
Freelancing, remote workers, solopreneurs, the gig economy, microentrepreneurial opportunities, however you say it, these people are a force. And they are “driving a silent employment revolution in the EU (and the world)…and with a 45% increase since 2000 [they] are the fastest-growing segment of the EU labour market.”
We sat down with Sebastian Krüger, a Talent Garden community member to explore the role of freelancers and the independent workforce in 2020 and why startups and enterprises need to pay attention to this valuable and diverse labour pool.
Sebastian, can you tell us about yourself? And what you are doing?
Well, I’m a freelancing business consultant. It’s a very vague term that I really don’t like to use, and I prefer to focus on the job that I help to get done, helping companies build strong relationships. This boils down to building sales and account management strategies but also engaging directly with my client’s accounts.
I got into this field because I’ve always had a big interest in entrepreneurship and love to surround myself with creative thinkers and go-getters, and I find sales and account management being this wonderful sweet spot between analytics and interpersonal communication. You are focused on the numbers and the results, but you will never get there unless you are capable of building authentic and lasting trust with those you work with.
My clients are mostly tech startups, which to me is a natural focus as I’m part of many different startup communities like Google for Startups, IE Venture Lab, and TalentGarden Rainmaking. I absolutely love to be in these environments where people are curious and eager to find new solutions to all kinds of problems, and it was these types of communities that made me realize in the first place that sales and account management are areas that I thrive in. My first ever “business development” job was to get participants to a startup competition we called Startup Battle of the Cities (IdeaLab), in which I realized just how easy it is to get even big profiles in the startup community together—as long as you create the right environment.
What is the current situation with the freelancing industry and the independent workforce in 2020?
The pandemic here accelerated a movement that’s been going on for quite some time, with companies offering workers more and more flexibility and some of them even decide to leave the office completely and opt for a fully remote organization.
For the last two years, I’ve worked for a company called marketgoo, who provides hosting companies (Bluehost, HostGator, etc) with do-it-yourself SEO tools that they resell to their customers. Marketgoo is a fully remote company with a workforce spread all across the globe. This has been very beneficial for the organization in its ability to acquire and maintain talent, but lately another very interesting benefit if this structure has become apparent: understanding the end-user of its product.
For a long time, the end-user of do-it-yourself marketing tools has always been small businesses, like cafes, barbershops, and other businesses looking to improve their presence online without having to spend a fortune. When the pandemic hit there was great uncertainty in how it would impact the business for marketgoo, on one hand, the lockdowns imposed around the world could lead to high churn as the businesses had to close down, but on the other, it could also mean that more business would make the move to go online—leading to increased sales. In the end, it turned out that the pandemic would have a very positive impact on business, but not completely for the reason expected.
As more people either lost their jobs or at least felt an increased uncertainty about their job security, many started looking for other options where they have more control over their situation. The CEO of GoDaddy, Aman Bhutani, has talked a lot about this movement as they have experienced great growth during the pandemic, and he refers to these individuals as microentrepreneurs.
I like this definition, as it does not only cover freelancers but any business that is operated by no more than 1-3 individuals. These microentrepreneurs, because of their small size, have a great advantage in uncertain times because they are able to adapt very quickly to changes. They can change their business model in a matter of days, and because they are depending on their business for their income they don’t have the option to just shut down.
I think freelancers are great examples of microentrepreneurs in the way that they find new creative ways in which they can apply their skills in other areas. Just the other week I learned that a friend of mine, who lost her job as an illustrator for a video game company because of the pandemic, had started to take private orders for illustrations on Reddit. So, while she is searching for new job opportunities she still gets to continue drawing every day AND she still has an income.
Why do you think freelancers and remote workers play an important role for Startups and Enterprises?
There is a lot of different factors that play into this, like cost-efficiency, flexibility, and of course resistance in tough times. However, I think there is one factor that is not discussed often enough and that is the expertise/creativity balance. Any new idea consists of combining two or more old ideas, and the success of that idea comes down to how well it solves a problem or adds value.
The more diverse you are, the more likely you are to find new valuable combinations of ideas, but there is often a tradeoff because in order to implement these ideas you need experts—people who are focused on one specific area where they have achieved mastery.
What I find interesting with freelancing is that you are better positioned to leverage on both diversity and expertise. A freelancer is often an expert within a certain field, but they work with a variety of companies and will therefore also have a more diverse view. When working with freelancers, you are indirectly learning from other companies and sometimes even from your competitors, and that can give you an edge in developing new and innovative solutions.
Can you share more about what are the benefits of freelancing?
The free in freelancing is what makes me love working in this way. My creativity is something I treasure but I’ve found that it’s not always the most appreciated trait when working in sales and account management for larger organizations—with the most focus being on numbers. I love the work I do, but it’s not the only thing that I love and I’m a bit greedy in the way that “I want to do it all”. When I decided to take on a degree, my choice was between business and glassblowing, and I picked the business degree because I thought that I could always start a glassblowing business if that is really what I want (It wasn’t).
With freelancing, I have so many more options in where to lead my career. I can work for a SaaS company at the same time as a video game startup and it is this diversity that lets me continue to explore my interests, and most of all, nurture my own creativity.
And what are the advantages for freelancers in a coworking space?
I moved to Copenhagen from Madrid on January 1st, 2020, which in retrospect I don’t think could have been any better timed. As a freelancer, I have the benefit of being able to work from wherever I want to but just like anything it has its own drawbacks. I’m a very social person, and while I do enjoy spending time alone as well I can’t handle being constrained to my own living room for more than a few days. Cafes and other public spaces can be great to alleviate this but it is still hard to get to know new people and I can’t help to feel guilty by using a table for 5h at the price of a cup of coffee.
Coworking spaces are a fantastic solution to this and as soon as the lockdown restrictions eased up I started looking for a place to go to keep my sanity. Talent Garden Rainmaking was the first space I visited and I ended up cancelling the rest of my visits after speaking with the team here, and that was for one major reason: Community.
Here I get to have my own space, access to meeting rooms, unlimited guilt-free coffee, and I am constantly meeting new people that inspire me. It’s like getting the best of two worlds; the freedom of being a freelancer and the sense of community in sharing a workplace.
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Freelancers in Europe are an incredibly diverse, educated and specialised group of professionals working in multiple fields. The movement was definitely supported by the advancements in technology, this not only made it easier for them to be found but it was also the skills they had to offer. For example, in this survey “as many as 30.9% of the participants say they are in the “marketing and communication” 26.5% in the IT/tech category.” Most Freelancers value lifelong education before all else, remote workers have the possibility to continue to upskill and gain expertise that is highly lacking within companies like the digital skills gap. Skills like UX Design, Growth Hacking, Data Analysis, Digital Marketing, Project Management and Coding are all high demand expertise that freelancers can offer. If you are looking to upskill in any of these areas make sure to visit our Innovation School to see our Online and on campus courses.