Any small business knows that the first contact with a potential customer matters. Heck, every business knows that. Even in this digital world a critical point of contact (with a customer, a client, a potential partner) is still a phone call.
Any small business or startup knows that bottom lines matter too. A high-quality, full-time receptionist is an investment, one you might not be ready to make if your phone isn’t ringing off the hook. An office manager might work too, but if they’re managing the office, they might not be at the phone all the time. Ask your team to answer a phone means knowing there’s an interruption whenever someone calls. Is that ever a good idea?
And, if we’re really talking about the modern company, what if you work out of a coworking space or have a remote or distributed team? Who’s answering the phones then? And where, exactly, is the phone?
Two months ago, news leaked that IBM’s German wing—the most efficient of its wings, clearly—has decided to get with the year 2012. They will be eliminating 8,000 of its 20,000 jobs, handing off those responsibilities to freelancers, some of whom might be the original employees they started with. They call this movement “Liquid,” and it stands to make this behemoth of a company far more flexible in handling the seismic business climate. For why have people sitting around on a payroll when you can customize a solution using fewer, more efficient workers?
This is the essence of the way we are all starting to work. We have a specialty, and it’s far more manageable, both from a financial and time-management perspective, to utilize that specialty when called upon. Nobody is capable of being “on” from 9-to-5 every single day, nor should they be expected to. Instead, this new model empowers the employee to work in whatever manner he or she pleases, and empowers the employer to remain ahead of the curve.
It’s also terrifying. Essentially, IBM is cutting the safety net of 8,000 people to make way for what they believe is the future of working. I’m sure some of those people are more than ready, and very capable of being self-motivated enough to land on their feet—probably at a higher point than where they started. (Plus, IBM will be offering some additional training.) But for those unaware they’re part of a grand corporate experiment: Good luck!
The sad truth is that companies are realizing that the mobile workforce makes things more affordable. So they’re cutting people down to “consultant” capacity, eliminating benefits and asking them to ebb and flow along with them. For those of us who are already at this place, we know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. The work will keep coming in, and we’ll become the kinds of bosses to ourselves we always wish we had. But for those who haven’t yet taken the plunge, and have been metaphorically shoved off the cliff, know this might just be the best thing that’s ever happened to you.—Steve Heisler
This is a bit old, but Mavenlink posted a really interesting infographic a few months ago, detailing the reasons why people work from home—or as they have so dramatically christened it, become part of “The New Independent Workforce.” It’s worth checking out not only because it’s laid out well, but because it’s chock-full of interesting factoids. Not surprisingly, most of the people who join the freelance ranks are writers. Surprisingly, though, the vast majority of these folks, regardless of profession, are employed full-time.
I quit the editorial grind a few years ago. I worked as a magazine and blog editor in Chicago, and realized that I was getting my kicks from writing moreso than pure editorships, which is what most of the jobs were. So, I quit, worried that the ends would not be met, that I had grossly overestimated how much freelance writing work was up for grabs. Mostly, I assumed I’d work part-time if I was lucky, full-time only if I got some other part-time job.
This is the fear that keeps people from pursuing the joy of a flexible work schedule—nay, career—of an independent workforcer. I was pleased to learn, upon my leap of faith, that there were networks set up for freelancers such as myself. There were rubrics I could follow that would ensure me steady work as long as I remained self-motivated. But above all, it was a gamble on my future that seemed like a better bet, especially given the fact that I work in publishing. To me, a good roster of freelance clients is like building a robust mutual fund. You want a few stocks that pay off steadily and surely, some that dip and fall with a lot of regularity, and some that are erratic, but have the potential to pay off big. When one client is down, another is usually up, and the general trend is upward.
This was something no infographic or article could teach me. But if there’s one thing to take away from this article (and again, it’s a great one), it’s that there’s an infrastructure in place—a hobo code, so to speak, of others who have joined this workforce of independents. So take the leap. We’ve got your back.—Steve Heisler