The world of work is changing, a world in which economic forces and rapidly evolving business realities have pushed many in the workforce into the role of independent professionals – consultants, freelancers, free agents, temps and part-timers. Today it is estimated that some 42 million Americans make their living working independently, meaning they are not tied to any one employer, but rather very much tied to many employers -- their clients.
Consequently, this new employment paradigm puts enormous competitive pressure on independents to keep existing clients happy; especially when, according to a recent Freelancers Union survey, over 80 percent had little or no work. Thus the challenge for today’s independent professionals is not only to increase their client base, but just as importantly, to hold on to their present client base. And in today’s complex networked economy, this means having the ability to more effectively manage client relationships online.
Methods of conducting business on the Web typically include using e-mails, remote collaborations sites, networking and social media, and electronic billing and funds transfers. These methods are inefficient, cumbersome, often not secure and reside in so many different locations that it’s the main reason why most freelancers work at only 34 percent efficiency, according to Consultant Journal. However, thanks to recent technological breakthroughs in cloud computing, seasoned independent consultants and freelance beginners alike have discovered that cloud based software offers the potential to keep things simple for their clients, yet completely comprehensive in terms of conducting and attracting business.
Challenge for Today’s Independent Professional in a Networked Economy
Many independents are experienced and prefer “freedom” to “traditional employment” and embrace project management assignments while new entries represent displaced, laid-off workers that only freelance while waiting to find a new job. The availability of this growing contingent workforce allows clients to capitalize on the situation, providing options and negotiating points that put pressure on the independents to compete -- or even survive.
A recent Freelancers Union report showed that 81 percent of the 3,000 freelancers surveyed nationally had little or no work, 40 percent had trouble collecting wages from clients and 39 percent had to cut back on health coverage. And just as troubling, the same group reported spending 17,000 hours pursuing unpaid wages. According to Consultant Journal, most of the time is spent doing administration, proposing, selling, planning or travelling.
Technology does offer some time-saving options and in today’s networked economy, most business is conducted over the Internet. However, current solutions for conducting business online – e-mail, collaboration and social networking websites, new software, etc. -- are simply inadequate and cause inefficiency most consultants can ill afford. The challenge of managing clients more effectively in today’s networked freelance economy is not an option, it’s a necessity.
The Workplace Redefined / The Four C’s
The importance of having good relationships in business is paramount as the world continues to move faster and rely on high-speed online interaction. It is critical that the environment selected for that interaction actually improves the relationship rather than strains it. The place where one chooses to work online today must include simple transactional and collaboration tools as well as a heavy dose of imbedded business acumen and sensibility.
The four key elements for independents managing business relationships in today’s freelance economy are:
The Cloud Brings Opportunity
Independents need to find an interactive workplace created for today’s networked economy. Keeping the client relationship at the forefront of the decision making process, independents should carefully review cloud based technologies, focusing on solutions that provide a comprehensive set of online tools for success.
This article was originally published on September 30, 2010 in Corp! Magazine.