The post that I wrote a few days ago? I have more thoughts on it.

I realised that even if I do choose to become a full-time, freelance writer, I would continue to be associated with the marketing / communications industry in some manner. And with the startup universe. Maybe as a mere people-connector. Or maybe as a consultant, maybe as a service provider and of course as a seeker of services (often I get projects that are bigger than what I can handle by myself and I need collaborators).

I don’t know yet.

But I think this would be the new normal for other creative + knowledge workers like me. People would don multiple hats, do multiple things (things that they like) and collaborate with others that have the same sensibilities and yet different, complementary skills.

Afterall, this lockdown and pandemic has taught more people about the importance of life than anything else. And I think a lot of people would choose to work on things that matter to them!

In fact, the good one would go the freelance route for sure! They know that they can choose a location independent life and yet do meaningful work. And because they are good, they can continue to get work without hustling hard for it.

Of course this is counter-intuitive to common wisdom – everyone “knows” that tough days are coming and you need the stability of a full-time job with a large company. But I maintain that we’d see more freelancers! Let’s revisit this in a few months to see if I were right.

The trouble with going freelance is, well, too many troubles! Lemme list a few.

As a freelancer…

There is no regular, predictable supply of work. I mean, as an average gig worker (I am talking for myself), I have access to limited contacts. And once I exhaust those, I don’t know how else to seek work. Of course, if I were good, a referral engine would get built and I don’t need to seek work.

But like I said, I am average and all the people that I work for, may not refer me to more clients!

To solve this first one, I may goto platforms like Upwork, Gigster, Fiverr but from what I understand, getting the first few projects is like a nightmare. You need to be super active on the platform, pitch till you die and you would then, if all goes well, land a project! Plus, each pitch is like a project in itself – after all requirements from each gig is different. So, it is time consuming and yet there is no guarantee of returns.

This is my biggest issue – the best work happens when you do something consistently for a longtime. With the gig economy, as a creator, I don’t get to create long-term relationships and thus, long-term projects. I am always left pining for more work! Plus, most projects become a transaction and once the project is over you are out. There is no continuity, no documentation, no love that I can carry with me. I don’t know how to solve for this; apart from getting hired as an ongoing consultant!

As someone who’s hire freelancers…

I get way too many applications if I post my requirements on an open platform. I don’t have the time to sift through each application, respond to all queries. I need a gig done, often fast and I want someone reliable.

The biggest grouse that businesses have is that freelancers are unreliable. They sign-up for the project and then the project becomes a never-ending cycle of a Tom and Jerry chase!

The people I work with, in case I want to offer them another project, they may or may not be able to pick it up. After all they are masters of their destinies! So, even if I want continuity, I don’t know how to keep working with the same set of people.

Finally, most platforms that I use to find freelancers, they create such walled-gardens that I can’t even communicate with the freelancers. I mean I understand that they want transactions to happen on their website but why stifle the communication? The ratings and reviews is a big enough reward for me to search for more talent on your platform!!

So, what is common to two?

  • No trust. The default setting is that you don’t trust the other party.
  • Closed vs Open networks. AKA, WhatsApp groups – most people (both buyers and sellers) start within their respective networks and then move to open networks if the requirement remains unfulfilled. While this helps tackle the trust part, it adds friction and extends the timeline for projects.
  • Ad-hoc demand for both seeker and provider. Once a project has been completed, the seeker may not need services again for a bit. And vice versa. This breaks the continuity and long-term delivery.

These are all I can think of. I am sure there are more!

Wait. What could be a few solutions to this freelance conundrum?

The freelancer-first business life would mean that there has to be businesses that connect freelancers with gigs. There are quite a few of those right now – from an Upwork to Flexingit to a hundred more.

However, I have an issue with how they are managed. Most of these are self-serve platforms where they match gigs with workers and they take a fee off the top. The quality, reliability, contracting, and other things remain questionable. They do have escrows and dispute resolution mechanisms but there is just way too much friction on both sides. As a freelancer, I don’t know if I’ll get paid for what I worked on. As a seeker of services, I don’t know if I’d get output worth my investment.

Plus the biggest challenge?

As a company that needs to hire gig workers, I need to be on different platforms for different kinds of work. Upwork for design, marketing gigs, Gigster for tech projects, Fiverr for low value, repetitive tasks and so on and so forth. And then there are services that are not fulfilled by any platform right now (at least I am not aware of those). For example, what if I need a lawyer? Or a Company Secretary for that matter? Or a CA. What about a photographer in a small town deep in South India? Or the services of a chef for an upcoming birthday of a friend?

I can use age-old yellow books and classifieds websites (Justdial et al) but how do I ensure that these contractors actually deliver? How do I give them the confidence that I am not window shopping?

So, here’s the idea!

How about someone build the yellow pages for the times we live in, an Indiamart of sorts where, as a business, I can find service providers of ALL kinds? And the platform actually manages the entire project for me (and not just stop at matchmaking). You know, I’d love to have a shared COO of sorts for my business!

In fact, I tried implementing one iteration with a friend (Bhuvi Gupta) in a cottage-industry manner but we could not reach anywhere with it. See this post I made on Linkedin and the subsequent form we floated. Our thesis was that COVID-19 has left a lot of great agency folks jobless and they could use our networks! However, we could not make it work.

I wish there was someone who helped me solve this pain. I’d love to be on such a platform – both as a service provider and a seeker.

As of today, the only place that comes close is refrens.com. Run by a friend, Naman, they are solving this very problem. As a company that seeks a variety of things done, I can go to them and they will not only match me with people that can deliver but also manage the entire project end to end.

Super early days for them. They seem to be onto something big here! Lets see what they come up with. I hope they are reading this post and once they do so, they hire me to run their marketing (NS, are you reading?). And if not that, at least get me some gigs and find me some doers 🙂

Over and out.

PS: Keep watching this space for more posts on the future of work, personal branding, and more!

Update on 31 Oct 2020 – Fixed a typo, thanks to Ratti.

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