Articles & Notes

I Hate To Burst Your Bubble, But Being a Contract Worker Sucks

TL;DRChantielle reminisces about her freelancer experience, discusses her dislike for math, and calls in the big guns to back up her argument for better worker payout options.

Pop Quiz: How does your business make money?

The answer might seem obvious: “By selling product X or service Y. Duh.” But if your business involves contractors, freelancers, or any other type of self-employed worker, you’re only half right. Why? Because even though your revenue may come from the sale of a physical good or the completion of a service, your business doesn’t truly prosper unless your independent workers are engaged, inspired, and living up to performance expectations. From Avon to Uber, Amway to Etsy, modern business models are becoming more and more dependent on a distributed network of producers and workers in order to scale and grow quickly.

So, if you want to make money at your business (and clearly you do), your first focus needs to be on your workers. But how do you build loyalty with a workforce that’s dispersed (regionally and globally) and operating almost entirely independent of your organization?

The New Needs of Today’s Workforce

My dad, a true-blue Baby Boomer, worked four jobs in his life (and that includes his grade school paper route). Now that’s loyalty. Millennial me? I’d already had four jobs by the time I’d turned 22. Suffice to say, I don’t have the same ingrained affinity to a company that my dad once had. The question is, why?

For starters, my generation no longer needs to climb the corporate ladder in order to become a high income earner. Unlike our parents, it’s easier for us to pick and choose opportunities that help contribute to our professional development. Thanks to the wonderful world of technology, the barriers that used to make self-employment so difficult back in my dad’s day are virtually non-existent. In most cases, all you need is a smartphone and an Internet connection to kick-start your entrepreneurial experience. So, whether it’s freelancing on platforms like Upwork or selling products on behalf of an organization like Scentsy, today’s contract worker can choose from an almost endless list of independently-driven career options.

Granted, simply owning an iPhone won’t get you on the cover of Fortune Magazine, so don’t go buying that yacht just yet. According to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’ 2015 Internet Trends Report, independent workers encounter a number of unique challenges when they choose to blaze their own path.

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’ 2015 Internet Trends Report

As a veteran freelancer, I can honestly say I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I went out on my own as a content consultant. Like most contractors, I started freelancing because I saw an opportunity to capitalize on my writing skill in a manner that I could control. As a writer-for-hire, I had the freedom to work flexible hours doing projects that personally appealed to me and, thanks to a plethora of platforms designed specifically to assist with lead generation, I had no trouble finding work. What wasn’t to love?

Contractors spend more time understanding basic business operations than doing actual business. Click To Tweet

I’ll tell you: accounting. I’m a words person. Numbers… not so much. As such, you can imagine how messy my books were (and by books, I mean shoeboxes). Receipts, insurance premiums, tax forms, business licenses; I started a consultancy to write thought-provoking copy, but instead found myself writing a ton of checks for expenses I hadn’t anticipated. Sales tax remittances? Liability coverage? Legal counsel? I wasn’t ready for any of it. The result? I spent more time trying to understand basic business operations than I did doing actual business. Worse yet, the freedom I’d left my corporate desk job to pursue was quickly eclipsed by a mountain of paperwork and an overwhelming amount of stress.

The Struggle is Real

I’d like to say my experience is the exception, but unfortunately, it’s the norm. Even today, with all of the on-demand platforms, freelancer communities, and independent sales-rep networks out there, self-sufficient contract workers still struggle to understand the ins and outs of running their own gig.

On that note, let’s take a minute to think about the people you’re trying to attract to your company or platform—self-motivated people like me. What do we want? Fair pay rates and fast access to earnings, clearly; but what else? We want jobs that give us independence, earning power, work/life balance… and all the tools necessary to make this possible.

It’s no secret that the contract workers using your platform want to be successful. They want to make a ton of money doing something they love—who doesn’t? But don’t be fooled—just because you’ve built a platform that helps connect service providers with service consumers, doesn’t automatically mean your workers/providers will prosper. You need to give your workers the tools to scale and manage their business within your ecosystem. This way, your workers can easily manage the operational processes necessary to growing their personal business. Good-bye messy shoebox, hello work/life serenity.

Workers want independence, earning power, work/life balance… and the tools to accomplish it. Click To Tweet

So, what can your organization do to make life easier for your contractors? What’s the secret to providing a perfectly organized and efficient support system? To answer that, I’ll need to bring in someone with far more operational experience than myself. Someone who’s spent years understanding and implementing the strong support structures.

That’s right Internet, pull up your pants and watch your language. Next post you meet my mom.

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