How to make the most of a freelance career

It’s National Freelancers Day and has some advice on the skills that will serve you best in the gig economy.

Self Employed


Everyone will need to have the kind of skills freelancers possess in the future, according to a new book which charts the changing face of the workplace.

How to find work in the gig economy by Ron McGowan outlines how the workplace is going through the biggest transition in the past 200 years and how this will mean there is no longer any guarantee that children will be offered employment as their parents were in the past. Instead they will have to be more entrepreneurial and pitch for their own work, says McGowan.

He states: “Those who are unable or unwilling to adapt to this reality will find themselves competing for a dwindling number of conventional full-time jobs. Those who aren’t afraid of a freelance career, who can adapt their job-search strategies and market themselves effectively, will have more options, offer more value to employers, and best position themselves for twenty-first century success.”

As the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed prepares to celebrate National Freelancers Day today, it is a good time to look at what skills they might need.

Freelance skills

McGowan highlights the need for:

  • self-marketing skills
  • an ability to suss out hidden employment opportunities
  • an ability to manage your own career and to network
  • and the creativity to make your own job.

He talks about how small businesses are good targets for gig workers. He suggests offering to contract for them on a short-term basis and that this can be a way into a permanent job.

McGowan adds that many employers already rely on employee referrals – recommendations made by their employees about people who might be a good fit with the organisation. That makes networking more important and he advises to keep working on your network at all times.

He says gig workers need to ensure their cvs are focused and contain relevant keywords, that they research the companies they want to work with thoroughly, checking out possible openings before they are advertised, and communicate effectively what skills they can offer that the company needs. That is where self marketing comes in. McGowan says that doesn’t mean being aggressive or loud. It is about sincerity and attention to what the customer needs and wants. “Successful salespeople…sell solutions to problems and products and services that satisfy a genuine need,” he says.

Who are you?

Freelancers therefore need to have a very good understanding of who they are, what they are good at and what type of employer they want to work for, to keep abreast of developments in the sectors they are interested in [through getting specialist news and joining relevant professional organisations] and to keep their skills up to date through continuous learning.

McGowan also writes about the skills needed if gig workers want to be found by potential employers on social media sites like LinkedIn. That means researching the kind of relevant keywords that will make it easier to find you and avoiding generic buzzwords like ‘dynamic’ and ‘results-oriented’.

Creating your own blog is also a creative way to get the message out that you are an expert in your field.

Much of McGowan’s book is aimed at graduates and educators and he has some important points to make about how the education system needs to adapt to the new work reality, for instance, focusing on entrepreneurial skills and working more closely with employers in order to keep up to date with workplace developments. He also covers the issue of precarity in the gig economy and moves to focus on greater rights for gig workers, including the Taylor review and the creation of union-style collectives to campaign for workers’ rights.

McGowan pulls apart the employment figures that governments publish regularly and says they are a myth because behind many of the figures are gig workers rather than people in stable full-time jobs.

He concludes: “For a growing number of workers, the era of the traditional job, and all the stability that came with it, is over.”

He adds that governments and education institutions are playing catch-up and need to do much more to help today’s and tomorrow’s workers.  He says: “The traditional job has been such an integral part of our society for so long that its’ demise is almost always seen in negative terms. It’s not that simple. It remains to be seen what the end result of the biggest transition to occur in the workplace in the past two hundred years that we’re going through, will be.”

*How to find work in the gig economy by Ron McGowan is published by Page Publishing Inc, price £13.95. Thinking of going freelance? has some advice here on the relevant legal and tax issues.

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