The gig economy is here to stay. A study by Mastercard and Kaiser Associates released in May anticipates “double-digit annual growth for the industry over the next five years.” But, technically, the gig economy has been around for decades.
What separates this latest decade of freelance work from its historical roots? The drastic shift to a digital world and the scale that technology brings with it. Together, they have unleashed the power to find freelance work across the globe. While the gig economy boom has been driven by ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, it comes at a cost for the traditional, full-time employee where peace of mind historically meant consistent paychecks and health insurance.
I’m the cofounder of a freelance sales and networking platform, and I’ve spent two decades in the technology sales and consulting space. Through this experience, I’ve watched an interesting shift in the gig marketplace as it expands to the sales and consulting industries. These experienced, professional workers represent a valuable supply and are where I believe entrepreneurial companies entering the gig economy should consider putting their focus. This untapped marketplace of professionals with extensive connections and experience, advanced degrees and corporate training is full of potential.
I predict the freelance marketplace is unlikely to experience the same issues that the ride-sharing industries have, namely freelancer retention rates and a public relations problem. But to be successful, these new companies will need to pay market wages, offer flexible work-life balance and embrace wage transparency to ensure equal pay for men and women.
I also suggest waiting with open arms for the boomer generation. For a growing size of the population, retirement is not the motivator it once was, nor is it as feasible. Many boomers enjoy the structure and productivity of a workweek but are interested in scaling back hours to allow time for passion projects and leisure. This emerging skilled marketplace presents an opportunity to use a lifetime of connections and experience as a retirement supplemental plan. A study released by Marsh & McLennan showcases the plight of the boomer generation who are currently employed in industries and roles that are in danger of being automated by 52% in the coming years.
Which industries are safe from machine learning and AI automation? I believe the answer is sales and the art of personal connection. Fortunately, we are all innate social beings with a network of our own. From inception, we are tasked with building connections, be it family and friends to professional networking, which AI cannot replicate.
While establishing sales offices and teams across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, I witnessed this evolution of the freelance sales gig economy and personally experienced the benefits and pitfalls.
For new businesses tapping into this network, there are plenty of benefits to using freelance enterprise sales reps, such as the time to market. After all, it’s quicker to hire independent sales representatives who already sell in your industry.
Of course, startups also need to be aware of the potential drawbacks, like competition with other brands. Sales freelancers typically represent other companies besides yours, so your products might not get their full attention.
When I started my career, I searched for independent sales reps mainly via my personal network, looking for references and introductions and trusting a network of colleagues and friends for their opinions and experiences. This strategy had its limitations because individual networks were limited.
Luckily, the emergence of professional networks like LinkedIn and gig economy platforms have completely changed the way we hire today. We can use global networks, public data, AI and scoring algorithms to find the right person for the task. All good sales managers know that AI and technology can only go so far when it comes to closing a sale. In fact, the ubiquity of technology leaves us craving personal connection and human authenticity. According to LinkedIn, B2B buyers are five times more likely to engage in a sales process when the outreach is through a mutual connection. While technology puts the entire world at our fingertips, personal connection and credibility are what close the deal.
Freelancing can be an incredibly valuable option for workers, just as freelancers can catapult startups to the next level. Technology itself is not the enemy. The entrepreneurial companies creating new gig economy platforms will see huge success if they remember that your marketplace is only as good as the people who power it.