Growing The Freelance Economy With A Focus On Consultants

By Executive coaching News
Business consultants in suite and tie

The freelance economy is growing. And with this growth, freelance consultants are finding more opportunities to apply their skills toward the projects that most peak their interests.

In fact, this independent workforce is increasing in size at an impressive rate:

The Rise Of The Independent Workforce

In 2016 alone, the freelance workforce accounted for 55 million professionals who earned nearly one trillion in income, according to a workforce survey (largest to date) commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union. In total, this represents 35% of the entire workforce through 2016. Even more impressive, these numbers indicate that the freelance workforce is the fastest growing component of the U.S. Economy. These insights reaffirm our perspective on freelance work: consulting can be a reliable career choice, and there’s never been a better time for this mindset.

Gone, are the days of looking at freelance consultants through a narrow scope; they shouldn’t be portrayed as outsiders to organizations. Now more than ever, companies need flexible talent to “jump in” and take the reigns on projects when the need for their skills arises. An increase in these opportunities has led many professionals to explore this type of work, especially after some spent a portion of their career as full-time employees, in the very same companies.

But the uptick in freelance growth is being driven by more than just the talent themselves. It’s safe to argue that talent — at least great talent — is not as abundant as it once was, which is a current challenge for today’s CIOs. Many companies are reducing their past restrictions for freelance contracts, if not eliminating them altogether. Findings from a 2016 consultancy hiring survey by Prism reinforced this trend. All of the 23 participating firms planned for the increased hiring of consultants, with an expected increase of 30% over the previous year. Even more interesting, many of the firms admitted to missing their hiring goals for the year leaving potential growth on the table.

From the data being collected over the past three years, we can expect to see steady growth for the freelance workforce. And by 2020, at least 40% of the workforce in the U.S. will be composed of freelance professionals. So although there are unique challenges to face when navigating an independent career, the current horizon is bright with opportunity.

The Demand For Multi-Level Consultants

As the need for freelance consultants increases, so does the opportunity for professionals to broaden their skillsets; providing a more dynamic offering to organizations. The idea of having well-rounded (multi-level) talent is becoming more and more appealing, especially for organizations that traditionally focus on highly specialized consultants. Overall, it appears that the largest consulting firms are driving this mindset shift in order to not only keep up with project needs, but also remedy the talent shortage that many have faced over the past few years.

It’s no secret that technology innovation is occurring at a rapid rate. Possibly faster than ever before — in history. Whether you call it “disruption,” or leave it at competition, the fact is that every company needs the right people (often consultants) who can navigate change while creating favorable results faster than their competition. And Identifying consultants who have a strong foundation in multiple disciplines is a key to the success of this strategy. This is the reason multi-level talent is quickly becoming the new normal.

The idea is that consultants who bring holistic skills to the table will have a greater chance of success in today’s environment. The combination of technical knowledge and a business acumen is highly valuable to companies eager for growth. When analyzing nearly all relevant fields of consulting work, technology is the common denominator that drives innovation and upward mobility in the marketplace. Yet technology is meaningless if it’s not managed by people who know the who, what, where, when, and how of using it.

Digital transformation is a prime example. Sure, you need people with very specific skills when managing the transformation process, but it’s not just a technology challenge. Someone who also understands the impact on a business model, the workforce, and the product lifecycle, for example, will undoubtedly outperform someone who only understands a single component of this equation. Although there is still undeniable value in polished skillsets, having a comprehensive understanding of one’s professional environment is key.

On a similar note, we must not overlook the advantage this provides to the freelance economy. The need for well-rounded talent is an open-door invitation for consultants to build upon secondary skills or even learn something completely new. It’s also an opportunity to control your own success in an economy that’s quickly becoming more competitive. If consultants develop a cross-dominant menu of skills for companies to choose from, being overqualified or under qualified won’t be as much a concern. Much like an economist, it appears that a macro and micro understanding of a given challenge can make a consultant a highly valuable asset.

Technology Is Driving The Gig Economy

The freelance-based consulting model is growing largely due to the use of technology. Much like patient healthcare, the user experience associated with sourcing talent has gone digital; the client/talent communication process is almost entirely virtual, with little barriers to communication. The joint study from Upwork and Freelancers Union reported that 73% of respondents say finding work is easier due to technology. Additionally, 66% of the population recorded an increase in work obtained online.

The demand for freelance talent is driving the creation of marketplaces geared for the alternative workforce. What was once a website with a job posting, is now an interactive experience where agencies and talent can meet to discover new opportunities together. That’s right, even the talent management industry is seeing a “disruption” from innovation and the implementation of new ideas – with the emergence of companies such as UpWork, Fivrr, SkillQuo, and other freelance talent portals.   

This growing presence of digital communities focused on freelance talent doesn’t stop at the startup level; even large organizations see the value. Take PriceWaterHouseCoopers for example, with their launch of a talent exchange last year; industry experts can search for consulting gigs that match their skills. As you might assume, leaders had to initiate a mindset shift away from the traditional work structure in order for this project to be activated.

The convergence of job delivery platforms and new skill sets are changing the playing field for freelancers. Currently, there’s no telling how innovative these systems will become, but as more professionals enter this unique economy it’s not farfetched to predict a substantial shift from the traditional way of working, in the near future.

A Mindset Shift Towards Freelance Consulting

Freelance growth trends

As with many aspects of technological change, we often hear about grand ideas but don’t physically see their impact for years down the line. The freelance consulting model is much the same; it’s nothing new nor revolutionary. Only now, a significant enough portion of the population is gravitating towards this alternative format of professional work, for its presence to finally be considered mainstream.

With acceptance and recognition from both the talent and client side of the equation, the freelance consulting model is being explored by influential organizations at an increasing rate. Whether it’s due to more modern leadership beliefs, an attempt to attract and retain the most skilled talent, or the unprecedented rate of business model disruption among competition, the independent workforce is no longer perceived as an option, but rather a necessity for many industries.

Although this sea change in the perception may not be on your radar, it certainly has impacted the U.S. economy in irreversible fashion. So the question is, now that technology has enabled the freelance workforce, will it also enable you?