Today we're taking a look at what the future of freelancing might look like as working culture evolves. My guest is Paul Evans, director of Fourth Estate Creative and creator of the Freelance Fellowship platform. As a small business owner and someone who hires freelancers, Paul sees the opportunities and challenges from both sides.
Our conversation unpicks what recent shifts in working culture might mean for freelancers, including:
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Say hi to Paul:
LinkedIn: Paul Thomas Evans
Fourth Estate Creative website: https://www.fourthestatecreative.com/
Freelance Fellowship website: https://www.freelancefellowship.com/
Say hi to Louise:
Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.
Support the podcast! If you find this episode helpful and you'd like to show your appreciation, consider leaving a tip over at ko-fi.com/15minutefreelancer. Donations help cover the cost of running the podcast and are very much appreciated.
Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-size guide to being your own boss and building a business that works for you. I'm your host, Louise Shanahan. I'm a freelance health copywriter and on this podcast I take you behind the scenes, so you can borrow from what's worked and what hasn't as you grow your own freelance business. We'll also have some practical tips and tactics from special guests along the way, so you can skip a few steps on your own freelancing journey. So without further ado, let's get started with today's episode. If you enjoy it, hit follow so you don't miss the next one.
Louise: Hello, and welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, my guest today is Paul Evans. Paul is the director of Fourth Estate Creative, which creates content across print, digital, web and video. And he also created the Freelance Fellowship platform, which connects freelancers with fulfilling projects. Hi, Paul, thank you for joining me.
Paul: Hi, Louise, thank you very much for having me.
L: I wanted to speak to you after reading the article that you wrote about the future of freelancing, and some of the points that you raise there about changes in work culture and the shift towards the gig economy. And obviously, there's been quite a surge in the number of people choosing to work for themselves, especially during the pandemic, but I think it predated that as well, and how that's changing the world of freelancing, which is obviously something that all of our listeners will be keenly aware of. I wonder if we could maybe start there, what are some of the emerging themes that you see driving the growth of the freelance economy.
P: It's been given, I think, a big push by the pandemic. But the gig economy is not a new thing, particularly in the creative industries. My background is in magazine publishing and that's somewhere where we've always worked with freelance writers, illustrators, and designers and so on. So it's sort of been quite common. But I think one of the big shifts has been the disintermediation that's happened in technology. If you look at platforms like eBay and Amazon they are sort of disintermediating the relationship between buyers and sellers, ultimately. And what you're doing is you're selling products in a much more frictionless way. Then you start to see organisations doing the same thing with services, obviously one of the most famous ones, Uber come along, and we started to think about workers in that much more informal way. And I think that's affected the way that freelancers sell their work, whether they're selling to publishers or direct to businesses, that idea of commoditisation. But of course on the plus side, and the reason a lot of people have decided to go freelance is, you know, all the benefits of not having to turn up at an office at a particular time and being given a little bit more choice over what kind of work you do, not having to commute and having flexible hours and all that kind of stuff. I think for me, it's really important that people have the opportunity to work on freelance basis, but you need to think about how do we do that in a responsible way.
L: I think as well, the shift towards remote working, obviously, that initially started during the pandemic out of necessity, but I think that's probably made it easier or more acceptable for companies to get their heads around hiring someone who might not be working immediately part of their team. I wonder if you can speak to some of the opportunities that are available to solo or small business owners as this working culture changes, as people are working remotely and using Zoom and tools like that. Where do you see that going?
P: I think first of all, you're absolutely right about the pandemic has made working with freelance workers, a more usual decision for people. Everyone sort of adopted new working practices that a lot of us were doing already, I mean, I was already working from home. But I think the pandemic has pushed that forward and technology, from broadband to storage technology, software as a service, and obviously video conferencing, Zoom and so on has made that that much easier. I think there's a lot of knowledge gaps in business, as you said, you can hire an expert into a business to perform a specific task that you may not have the requisite skills in-house. And I think there are so many new skills that businesses need, whether that's SEO copywriting, video editing, audio production, digital marketing, what have you, most businesses will not have those kinds of skills in-house. There's not only a knowledge gap, in terms of those specific skills, but there's a knowledge gap in terms of knowing how to use those skills. What I mean by that is that if I want to create a video, then I know I need to hire a video editor. But what if I want to know whether creating a video is a good idea in the first place, then I need someone who's going to be able to help me with strategy. But I also think there's a benefit in having a combination of skills. So not just strategy, but also people who can do two things. I see this a lot in in the kind of freelancers that we're hiring so we might want a journalist who also has good presenting skills. Or we might want a video editor, who's also got good design skills, because we're going to want them to design some flat elements. Those combinations of skills, I think, are really important. And I think that gives freelancers a really good opportunity to sort of niche down a bit further. You know, I'm not just a writer, but I also have this other skill set, then there's going to be companies that are looking for that particular combination,
L: Yes, you can become a double or triple threat.
P: Yeah, exactly.
L: I think one positive that I've seen recently is that as freelancing is being taken more seriously, there are better understanding of how to work with freelancers, better resources and tools for freelancers. At the same time, by making it easier that has also lowered the barrier to entry so lots of people are now wanting to do this that maybe don't have all the experience. So freelancers who do have the experience, who know that they can do a great job for clients need to work a little bit harder to stand out, I think. I wonder if you've got any thoughts around that, if you've got any advice for freelancers about how they can kind of navigate this new economy?
P: Yeah, I think there is so much more that freelancers need to do than just their job, whatever it is that they do. If someone goes from being a staff writer to becoming a freelance writer, they're going to need to spend quite a lot of their time doing admin, doing finance, doing marketing, pitching networking. They might need to spend a significant amount of their time sort of training, learning new programmes, all of that kind of stuff is unpaid. So I do think it's really important and valuable, that there are services cropping up that can make those things easier for the growing number of freelancers so that as you say, there are platforms that can help you with your finances, with your marketing, admin. I see far more people working on the basis that, you know, let's say they're a freelance admin person and they might work across several different freelancers helping them with bits of work that they need doing. So again, there's sort of a disaggregation in those ancillary services, I think that's really important. But I think that one thing that those platforms run the risk of doing is putting themselves in a position where they can exploit freelancers. Looking at freelance platforms, I think there is a real risk that once a whole load of freelancers become reliant on a platform, that platform then has a lot of leverage over them in terms of how much of a cut it's taking from them, or how much it's charging them to use the service. I absolutely think that it's important that freelancers get more support, so that they're not having to do so much unpaid work and they're not having to skill up in running a business when really they want to concentrate on their core skill. But we have to be very careful about who's providing that service and what they're getting in return.
L: Was this part of the motivation for you creating the Freelance Fellowship?
P: Absolutely, these are the kinds of issues that we thought about. How do we work with freelancers in a responsible way? And how do we think about not only what we're getting out of working with freelancers, but what should we be giving them in return so that it's a fair exchange. We wanted to try and create a bit of a collective for freelancers where we weren't going to exploit anyone. So we thought, how do we go about that? What would be the exchange of value? And the Freelance Fellowship initially was just sort of quite an informal thing. What I wanted to do is involve freelancers in the decisions we were making. We wanted to have more of a discussion around like, here's a client, here's what they want to achieve, what do you think, is this something you could work on? How would you go about it? And try and have some connection between freelancers as well. For the work that we do, which is very much multi-platform, if we do, let's say, an elearning video, then I need someone to do the research, I need someone to write the script, do the flat designs, I need someone to do the video editing, I need someone to do the animation, someone to do the voiceover. Before you know it, you've got a team of 7/8/9 people who are working on a particular project. You want to encourage collaboration between those people, you want those people to get to know each other, and you want them to be able to suggest to each other what would be helpful. And then also, we wanted to think about what we should be giving freelancers in return. So as a business, when we use freelancers we get obviously scalability, I don't have a video editor on staff so you know, I'm not paying the overheads for that. It also means we have no geographical limitation, so we have people working in Spain, Australia, we can hire people from anywhere in the world, they just need to be the best person for the job. I think one of the craziest things about office based work is that you're not hiring the best person for the job, you're hiring the best person who lives within five miles of the building, which is such a limitation, you know, so there's huge benefits to us. And it's well, what do we give them in return? One thing is that we try and find clients for people. I think that's a really key factor, because the two things that most of the freelancers I speak to hate the most are finding clients, and trying to get paid. So what we're trying to do for our freelancers is, we can find clients for them, we can also deal with those clients. So instead of them getting a brief from a client, we will put the brief together with an understanding of how that person does the work. We’ll also sort of push back on client changes, so you know, clients will often come back and say, can you make the logo bigger, can you try the same design but in red, and we push back on that kind of stuff, or try and point out to clients that they need to trust the expert freelancers that we're hiring to do the work for them, to have a better judgement over some of these issues than they have themselves. I think a key thing for us is to try and tell freelancers what we need to produce, but not tell them how to do it, because I think that's just, you know, so much creative work is intrinsically motivated and if you tell people exactly how to do something, they just lose that motivation completely. So we want to give them the destination rather than the map, if you will. Then in terms of pay, we pay the freelancer directly, so they work for us, not for the client. We almost always pay the freelancer much earlier than when the client pays us, so when the freelancer will do the work, we'll pay them. And then, you know, three months later, we're still chasing the client for money. We wanted to be able to give that back because we're getting all sorts of benefits as a business. But of course, in terms of the future of freelancing, I think there's going to be this sort of societal renegotiation of how we work. And I think that these kinds of collectives will need to set up, two to three hundred freelancers, let's say, who are big enough to have some collective bargaining power, and big enough to be able to get some resources that can help them. So you know, have a shared admin function or finance, marketing or whatever they need help with, but not big enough that that platform can then start to take bigger cuts. I hope that will and we are seeing everywhere I look, since we set up the Freelance Fellowship, I look around and I just seem to see the same idea being put into place elsewhere and I think it's fantastic. It's not a question of who's going to capture the market here, I think the more of these freelance collectives that we have, the better it will be for freelancers.
L: I think it's great. I think it's really nice seeing all these communities popping up and I think if we're able to stay flexible and adaptable, working together is one way that we can thrive in whatever way this is going to change going forward. I think I'm quite optimistic about it. If listeners would like to chat to some more about this, find out more about what you're up to in your work or in the Freelance Fellowship, where can they come and say hello.
P: They’re welcome to look me up on LinkedIn, I go by the name Paul Thomas Evans. The Freelance Fellowship is at freelancefellowship.com, you can go on there, you can sign up, you can indicate what kind of freelance work you're interested in, you can indicate what kind of skills you have and then you go into our database. Then we'll get in touch and see whether there's projects we can work with you on, there's no fees or anything, and you're not sort of signing up to anything it just lets us know that you're interested in freelance work, and we'll go from there. And if people want to see the kind of work that we do, they can visit our website, which is fourthestatecreative.com.
L: That's great, I'll put those in the show notes. Well, thank you very much, Paul, I really appreciate your time. And thank you everybody for listening. Until next time, happy freelancing.
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