COVID had many ripple effects on our economy that we’ll be feeling for a while. One of the most visible is the employee shortage.
Business owners everywhere are asking, “where have all the employees gone?” They’ve gone freelance. Here’s how your chamber can tap into this fast-growing freelancer market as a source of new members and a way to benefit the entire business community.
At first, some pundits believed the unemployed were waiting for businesses to reopen, but now that they have, it’s clear there’s still a shortage of workers.
What were they doing instead of looking for jobs?
They were joining the gig economy.
According to a new study from Upwork, two million Americans started freelancing in the first year of the pandemic. The study also found that 59 million Americans — about 36% of the entire labor force — freelanced in some way over the past 12 months.
People are realizing they have skills and they no longer need an employer to direct them. Some people want the flexibility to work their own hours while others didn’t want to return to the office once it reopened.
Whatever reason they went out on their own, many freelancers–while they have the talent to perform their job duties–may not have any idea where to find clients.
But the chamber knows where to find them!
Your organization can become an essential part of their success strategy. Even if you aren’t aware of a large group of freelancers in your community, it’s likely they are there. They may just be serving clients in other parts of the country or world. They may also think they don’t need the chamber or that the chamber doesn’t want them.
Why not tap into this huge new market of potential members plus help local businesses connect with your local freelancers so that they can “buy local” for their outsourcing.
9 Ways the Chamber Can Help Freelancers
There are a lot of job boards and businesses that have sprung up to help make it easier for freelancers to find work but those job boards/job finders keep a cut of the payment, which is sometimes quite large.
Freelancers who are new to starting their own businesses will need help with the following and chambers are in a unique position to assist them:
- skills and training
- connections and networking for clients
- a community
- portfolio building
- a social network following and LinkedIn profile
- a business plan and understanding of requirements
- a website
- a champion
Freelancer Skills and Training
While they have the skill that the offer as a freelancer in the first place, it’s likely they’ll need other training and professional development along the way to stay competitive. No one knows everything.
The chamber may be in a good position to offer low-cost or free learning sessions that can be invaluable to freelancers. For instance, no matter what the field, a freelancer will likely need social media and a website. When they worked for someone else, they may not have had to know about those things. Yet, they are essential for a small business owner or entrepreneur.
Connections and Networking
Freelancing can be a lonely job and yet, freelancers need contacts. The most lucrative way to find work as a freelancer, regardless of industry or skill, is meeting clients directly or online.
Chamber networking events are perfect ways to introduce them to other members of the community for sales or social reasons. You can also do a little matchmaking for them. Make the introduction if you know a business is looking for a freelance bookkeeper (or maybe they’re looking for a full-time bookkeeper but haven’t been able to hire anyone).
Sales and clients aren’t the only reason chamber networking and introductions can be important to a freelancer or an entrepreneur.
Unless they’ve spent a lot of time researching or have friends or professional acquaintances who are freelancers, they will likely have a lot of questions.
A chamber membership provides them the essential resources and connections in that critical first year of business ownership. They can find mentors, talk to other freelancers, run ideas off of a willing and helpful audience, and a lot more with their new tribe of business-focused professionals.
Freelance work can be lonely work, especially if they are working from home. Your chamber gives them a ready-made “watercooler” experience as well as a sense of business community.
The flexibility of freelancing is wonderful. Freelancers can work from anywhere. Still, many freelancers find they lack either a quiet space or a place for the occasional meeting.
Some chambers offer work space or conference rooms for rent, while some are affiliated with incubators or co-working spaces.
Co-working spaces can provide an even greater level of service, from basic office amenities like copiers to complete office space rentals. This can also offer freelancers that much-needed sense of community that they miss when working from home.
Many chambers have launched their own co-working space including Palm Springs in California, Moore County Chamber in North Carolina and Eureka, California. These can be profit centers for the chamber and are open to the public but members, of course, get much better rates.
Freelancers can find real value in these types of services.
If they’re brand new to their industry and are working in a design or writing capacity, they need to create a portfolio of work. Individuals starting their own service business will need testimonials.
The chamber can help provide those who need to build a portfolio or body of work with avenues for exposure such as writing for the chamber newsletter or blog or designing a chamber poster.
The chamber could also work with these freelancers to create an offer for members in order to (hopefully) obtain some of those coveted testimonials.
Social Networking: Following and a Profile
As a member of the chamber, they may see an uptick in social media followers to their account. Each time they attend a chamber event, they may meet more people and gain more followers.
The chamber can also help promote their website or share some important news for them to bolster their exposure.
Another easy way to help freelancers is to host a LinkedIn 101 class or bring in a member who’s an expert to host it.
A Business Plan and Understanding of Local Requirements
Every small business, even if it’s a business of one, needs a business plan or strategy. The chamber can provide resources for freelancers who are new to drafting such things and help them along the way.
Entrepreneurs and freelancers also need to know the local business registration requirements and what is necessary to legally start a business. These decisions are critical and freelancers could use your help.
For instance, the chamber could host a member-led session on “LLC or Not? What You Need to Know About Starting Your Freelance Business.”
Most people trust large, established brands unless they are given reason not to. On the other hand, they may be leery of doing business with someone who just started without an office or anything to show for it. That’s where a professional website comes in.
When a freelancer meets a potential client, it’s likely that interested party will go to their website to learn more or contact them later. If they don’t have a website, they will be at a disadvantage.
You can put them in touch with someone who can help them build a website (probably another freelancer!), host your own training session, or provide resources on what they need in a great website.
There’s a hesitancy among some business owners to hire freelancers and there can be a difficulty fitting in with other business owners. But the chamber has an opportunity to be a champion for this new group of industrious professionals.
There are a handful of associations (such as the Freelancers Union and the Freelance Convention) that are helping to advocate for the needs of freelancers but they are still largely on their own. Since advocacy is something the chamber currently does for its members, this is any easy role to fill and one freelancers will be grateful to have.