Elance Blog

Five Secrets For Making Your Freelance Voice Heard

Not long ago we featured a post on public policy initiatives, penned by job advocate Mike Hruby of New Jobs for Massachusetts. Following up, Mike has additional thoughts for the Elance community. Read his secrets on making sure you’re represented by policy makers.

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Successful freelancers focus on their projects and on marketing and improving their services. Given that focus, few give much thought to government affairs.

But just as you use Google Maps or a similar app on your mobile device to guide you past highway congestion, so too should freelancers pay close attention to government obstacles that impede the rapid growth of online freelance contracting.

Last year on the Elance-oDesk blog I mentioned that 16 states and the federal government had formed a task force to make it harder for individuals to freelance doing the kind of work you find and sell on Elance-oDesk. 

Those 16 states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New York, Utah, and Washington – are home to 39 percent of the US population, so any progress these states make will slow the expansion of freelancing.  Since other states and countries are watching carefully, this may affect you wherever you live.

As an independent contractor, you have a unique opportunity to educate your representatives in state government about the booming field in which you make a living.

Most legislators know little about online-freelancing and will listen with interest to how this new work style is more advantageous for you than regular employment.

Looking through the fascinating 2014 Elance-oDesk Annual Impact Report, available here, one chart shows clearly why a single visit to meet a state legislator, either in their district office near you or in their office in the state capital, can make a big difference.

The Impact Report shows that 74 percent of freelancers are under 35 years of age – individuals who rarely talk with legislators. Since lawmakers seldom see young people, talking about freelancing opens your legislators’ eyes to voters unfamiliar to them.

Here are five secrets for representing freelancers.

Secret #1:  Make it clear that you represent more than yourself.  Scale is vital for effective government relations.

Describe what you do for clients, adding a fact about how many people in your district, state or occupation also freelance online.  The Elance-oDesk impact report has many helpful statistics you can use.

Secret #2: Legislators fear falling out of touch. In my state this year, 5,333 new proposed laws were filed in the first three weeks of January.  Legislators cannot possibly keep up with this volume and with changes in the economy like on-line freelancing that many of the bills represent.  So position yourself as the messenger of a huge new shift in the workplace.

Secret #3: Tell a simple, memorable story. One narrative we use is to explain that work is becoming more project-oriented, but laws and reglations aren’t keeping up and are restricting project work. Stories are compelling and allow you to ask them to help online job growth to continue.

You might explain that:

  • Employment no longer means a lifetime of paychecks from one employer.
  • People are spending less time with any one employer or client.  Instead, they gather skills from each interaction, then look for new opportunities – often in freelance work.
  • Start-ups and other companies increasingly need work that is short in duration and tightly defined.
  • Each new skill or experience makes an individual more valuable and increases their appeal and billing rate.  Freelancing leads to higher personal incomes and increased tax revenues for states.
  • To close, ask: doesn’t it sound great to be able to focus on the things you do best?

And remember, all elected officials want their constituents to prosper—and to vote for them in the future.

Secret #4: Make it personal. Whether you create websites, corporate logos for start-ups, or code computer software, tell your legislator how you add value to your clients’ business.

Secret #5: Stay in touch and keep at it. Legislators depend on outsiders like lobbyists, advocates, and interested voters like you to stay informed, so include them in your network.  Send them updates on your online profession, its growth, and the legal obstacles you encounter, or would encounter if there is an adverse change in employment law.

You can do it. You are already effective at selling innovations and ideas to clients; you can be just as effective with legislators. 

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Mike Hruby is President of New Jobs for Massachusetts, Inc., a public policy advocate for rapid job growth. New Jobs supports job growth through entrepreneurship, start-ups, independent contracting, IPOs and spin-outs, corporate hiring, teen employment, mothers returning to the labor force, and part-time work in retirement. Check out their website at newmassjobs.com.

Before founding New Jobs in 2011, Mike founded and ran a national consulting firm that helped large and mid-sized technology companies find new markets for their technical products and capabilities.  He has sold, led and completed over 500 team-consulting projects sized from $300 to $250,000.

He lives in suburban Boston with his wife, Leslie.  The couple has two grown daughters.

Comments

What is the motivation to make it harder for us to sell our skills as freelancers? I doubt it could be a taxation issue; Elance provides 1099s, does it not?

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Thanks for asking, TimothySingleton. You are right, the motivation is not taxation. A thorough and widely circulated study by the California Governor's Office documented that freelancers on average pay higher proportions of their income in taxes than regular employees pay. Accusing freelancers of wishing to avoid paying taxes is a convenient rationale for forbidding or restricting freelancing.

New Jobs has observed two sources of resistance to allowing freelancing as a normal business arrangement: plaintiffs attorneys within the employment law bar; and organized labor representing constructions unions.

Plaintiffs attorneys benefit from any law that by restricting freelancing makes it easier to gain a verdict against an employer who uses the technique, either legitimately or not.

Building trade unions benefit when state law reduces the number of independent contractors who could--singly, together or as a suppliers to nonunion firms--become possible bidders for construction projects, thereby competing on price with unionized firms.

Construction is a large industry by dollar volume in which virtually all the work is done through projects. So the building trades have a great deal to gain from using the law to shrink their competition, thereby improving their pricing potential.