According to an article in Forbes, freelancing is the new economy. A recent research study by Elance.com noted that 2012 was a record-breaking year for part-time or project-based work. A 2010 study conducted by software firm Intuit stated that by 2020, more than 40% of the US workforce will be so-called "contingent workers" which equals more than 60 million people. According to Anne Angelopoulos, Sr. Recruiting Manager at Just Staff.com, "The job market is much more competitive now with faster product lifecycles and increased competition. I am seeing growth in project based work and contract work from employers who are seeking specialized talent to fill in key roles. At the same time, I'm seeing more candidates interested in having a variety of jobs and career options. A portfolio career for many individuals is a preferred way to work."
What is a portfolio career?
If you have been out of work, or if you are looking for more freedom and variety in your career, then a portfolio career might be for you. Dictionary.com defines a portfolio career as "a tapestry of a variety of eclectic employment experiences; employment in a series of short-contract or part-time positions." Portfolio gigs became popular after the major recession crisis. With the competitive marketplace looking unpromising, many professionals sought portfolio careers for survival. These workers are freelancers who are self-employed and get paid per project. They can market a wide range of skills, usually through an online portfolio of work samples, and can juggle multiple gigs at once.
Why is it a growing trend?
Portfolio careers are now becoming a preferred way of work for many employees because of the following advantages:
- The ability to manage your own projects - You can decide your personal work flow.
- Not having to commit to a single company - you have the flexibility to expand your experiences to include different types of companies which may make your more desirable.
- The flexibility of working when you want, as long the project gets done on time, you can choose your work hours.
- The luxury of designing your own career - honing in on just gigs that allow you to use your best skills.
- The possibility of starting your own business once you've expanded your clientele.
Companies are also joining this trend, and often hire freelancers for many reasons as well. For example, if Company A needs a graphic designer to produce a few promotional materials but can't commit to hiring one on full-time, they can opt to connect with a freelancer who can get the job done quickly and efficiently. Also, it can be difficult to find an employee who can do it all from blogging to creative marketing, and more feasible to divide tasks among different specialized professionals. With the growth of technology related skills and demands, we may see this trend of portfolio careers continuing to grow.
What opportunities are available to freelancers?
Portfolio careers can showcase a wide range of services and skills. Some of the fastest growing freelance opportunities include: Content/blog writing - With blogging becoming an effective way for companies to market themselves, there is a growing demand for original content. Businesses that don't have the time or staff to generate their own articles would rather seek the help of ghostwriters or guest bloggers on a per-project basis.
- Web design - By now companies are realizing the importance of having their own websites. Small businesses especially would rather freelance a web designer who can get a website up for them in just a matter of weeks to months.
- Graphic design - Freelance graphic designers make occasional marketing projects simple. Businesses can set up a task, such as creating a flyer, and pitch it to a freelance graphic designer via email. The job gets done quickly with good quality, and the cost is minimal.
- Social media marketing - There is a growing availability of freelance social marketing experts who can help businesses expand their digital network. They can help boost Twitter and Facebook followers and manage regular social media updates.
- Photography - Here's a gig that can quickly turn into a small business. Weddings and special events always come with photography demands. Whether you have a small studio or specialize in outdoor photography, this is a business that is strong.
Is a portfolio career right for you?
Having a portfolio career often means self-employment and running your own business. It is important to thoroughly examine whether or not it's the right path for you. Freelance work can be unpredictable with heavy and slow times. You need to assess if you can handle a varied work flow. If you're not comfortable with multi-tasking or at seeing projects through, this might not be the path for you. Also, you will need to assess if you have funds saved to cover you through a slow period.
Starting a portfolio career
If you decide to explore this exciting field, here are some tips to consider:
- Assess your past work history and determine your work pitch. This is a consistent theme around what you do. If a prospective employer met you and asked what do you do how would you answer that? For example if all your projects have a marketing thread such as Marketing communications, event planning, advertising, PR you could package yourself as a marketing specialist.
- Establish your brand and expertise. Write articles and blogs that help position you in your area of expertise. Join key online groups and be an active contributor so that you can build your brand.
- Market yourself - Build a website or online portfolio that focuses on your theme to show clients that you truly are a professional and an expert in your area. Include key skills, projects and references if you can.
- Pursue targeted projects that stick to your core expertise. Build your credibility and brand by pursuing projects that reinforce your expertise. For example, if you are presenting yourself as a social media expert, pursue projects in social media so that you can build a portfolio of examples.
- Connect with key freelance and project networks.
Here are some of the current websites that you can check for free-lance projects:
- Elance.com - Elance is a company that provides an Internet virtual marketplace for freelancers and freelance agencies to negotiate work contracts with businesses that hire independent professionals and agencies.
- Guru.com - Guru.com is a freelance marketplace that makes it easy for companies to find freelance workers for commissioned work.
- ODesk.com - ODesk is a global job marketplace with a series of tools targeted at businesses that tend to hire and manage remote workers.
- Freelancer.com - According to Wikipedia, Freelancer.com is "a global outsourcing marketplace, founded in 2009 by Matt Barrie." It's an online network of freelance workers and gigs.
- Craigslist - Craigslist is a centralized network of online communities, featuring free online classified advertisements with sections devoted to jobs, housing, personals, for sale, services, community, gigs, résumés, and discussion forums.
Dr. Tracey Wilen-Daugenti is a leading thought speaker on career development. She is the author of ten books, a regular media contributor, and global speaker. She is a key advisor for recruiting and outplacement firms. Her most recent book is Women Lead: Career Perspectives from Workplace Leaders. Tracey has served as a visiting scholar at Stanford University's Media X program, researching the impact of technology on future careers. Find Tracey on Twitter and Facebook.