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The 7 Species of Independent Workers

  • November 25, 2020

“Freelance” is a term that has various definitions, some positive, and some not-so-positive, as we recently explored. Nowadays, the definition is expanded to the more broadly-used “independent worker,” a term ascribed to self-employed people of general traits and talents who share one thing in common: freedom.
Here are the common categories of independent workers.

The Freelancer

A freelancer is a person who sells work by the hour, day, month or project who typically seeks employment from multiple companies rather than holding a full-time job at any single company. Traditionally, “freelancer” has been most-applied to creative professionals (writers, designers, performers and the like), but today, “freelancers” span nearly every industry: from programming and event planning to analytics and accounting.

According to The Next Web, over a third of the U.S. workforce has done some type of freelance work over the last year, and some studies indicate that freelancers tend to earn more than full-time employees—though this will be directly tied to the individual and the nature of his or her work. The Freelancers Union estimates that 40 percent of the American workforce will be freelance by 2020, largely due to the rise of technology and lean organizations.
Freelance writer Annie Maguire, who just recently published a book sharing the wisdom she’s learned by going from fulltime to freelance, said she values the ability to choose clients as an independent worker.
“I look for clients who I know will respect me, my time, and value, and refuse to settle for anything less,” she said. “[Anything else] is not worth the stress!”

The Self-Employed Consultant

You’ll notice that the various categories of independent workers can have a lot of crossover. Consider the labels “freelancer” and “self-employed consultant,” for example. Whereas freelancers might envision themselves as serving multiple clients, someone who identifies as a self-employed consultant operates as the head of their own business entity.

The differences are nuanced, yet the uptick in people calling themselves “self-employed” is indicative of a broader workforce revolution in which power is shifting from employers to individuals. One important distinction between freelance and self-employed: control. Per the IRS, “an individual is an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done.”
In other words, you’re your own boss.

The Founder or Business Owner

A founder, or business owner, is able to take an immense amount of pride in their work, as well as shares a great amount of responsibility. While founders might start out small and independent, the end goal is likely to scale into a fully-fledged organization. To that end, a key difference between founders and self-employed workers is the desire to scale (or lack thereof).

Tori Dantono is founder of a strategy firm tasked with driving brand growth. She says the most rewarding part about being a business owner is the constant learning and growth. “A business owner every day is developmental and there’s nothing quite as gratifying as seeing both individuals and the firm continuously grow and evolve,” she said.

The Entrepreneur

An entrepreneur is someone who organizes and manages a business and assumes the risks associated with launching the enterprise. The term “solopreneur” has also entered the lexicon, specifying a situation in which an entrepreneur is running the business (and assuming the risk) by him or herself.
Doug Ricket, Founder & CEO of Payjoy, Inc., likens being an entrepreneur to a “rocket ship.” Payjoy is the fourth company he has founded, but the first that has received VC funding.
“The day-to-day experience [of an entrepreneur] varies from season to season,” explains Ricket. “Early last year, we were working on our Series A fundraising, meeting potential investors; later in the year, we [focused on] recruiting great people. Now, we’re … focused on execution of the core business, making the product even stronger for our customers and pursuing growth opportunities.”

The Part-Time Side-Hustler

A side-hustler is someone who has regular income and also works on another job or passion project. Some side-hustlers realize over time that their side gigs are perhaps more fulfilling or more financially beneficial—or, if you’re lucky, both—than their full-time job and so they decide to jump into those endeavors full-time.
We recently profiled seven ambitious independent workers who parlayed their side-hustles into full-time careers, and you can read about them here.

The Digital Nomad

There is no ignoring the remote work movement these days—and for some people, their remote work adventures take them around the world. Led by millennials, who are more likely to travel abroad than previous generations, digital nomads are on the rise.
“[Digital nomadism] comes down to building a life that you find fulfilling while hopefully learning a lot about an interesting place in the process,” said Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads, a blog she started when she quit her job as a lawyer nine years ago.
Ettenberg’s advice for aspiring nomads: Do your homework first. Shore up a savings account, and make a list of the skills that can be applied remotely. “[Without preparation], what can be freeing—trying your hand at a very unconventional life—quickly becomes a place you are trapped if you haven’t planned ahead of time.”

What’s next: The Slash Worker

As the gig economy continues to swell with a more diverse mix of independent workers, a new term has been introduced by Fiverr Workspace co-founder Leif Abraham: The Slash Worker. This term aptly describes the complex and fragmented nature of modern career paths, with an increasing number of professionals vying to dice up their talents into a range of services that can be sold to earn a living.
For example, perhaps you know a “Writer / Producer / Content Strategist” or an “Model / Actor / Software Developer.” In both scenarios, the independent workers represent multiple talents and collect from multiple revenue streams.
“Whereas our parents stuck to a job for the lifetime of their career, the modern worker doesn’t always commit to just one company,” writes Abraham. “Contrary to prior generations, Slash Workers have shrugged the “single profession, single employer” model in favor of building a portfolio of career opportunities for themselves.”

Regardless of how you choose to define yourself as an independent worker, Fiverr Workspace believes that there should be a single worker classification for this group—not many. Technology can help by introducing systems that eliminate the complexities inherent in the various classifications of workers and emulate how it would be if there was just one worker classification.

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