Photo courtesy of flikr.com, by mike gnuckx.Photo courtesy of flikr.com, by mike gnuckx.

There are 53 million freelancers and independent contractors in today’s U.S. workforce. Certain sources say that by 2020, half of American workers will do some kind of indie job. Some always dreamed of working from home; others had it thrust on them by a job loss. And some of us discovered it’s what we never knew we always wanted to do, courtesy of 2008. However we got here, what we’ve all learned is that it ain’t all lounging in front of a laptop in your pajamas. It’s a never-ending hustle.

I love most things about what I do and the way I work, but there are some things I miss about the organizational life, especially networking. That’s a lot easier to do when you’re surrounded by warm bodies every day, all of them pulsating with professional and personal connections. I miss the ease and variety of introductions. I help people write books for a living, so I depend on word-of-mouth referrals, and those take a lot more effort when you are the only person you see most workdays (not counting the dog). Social media outlets like LinkedIn can be a real lifeline for people like me. Happy clients brag on my behalf, their words glowing out from the screen beneath my picture. Professionals from all over the world make contact; I know they’ll have the information stored and waiting when they need help.

Technology hasn’t quite caught up with human activity, though. I know dozens of independent contractors, and few fit into the neat categories that exist on most “pro finder” type sites. Some labor has fixed, consistent pricing–repairing a garbage disposal, filing annual taxes, or having a wedding portrait done. Those generally require the same labor from gig to gig, so it is easy to find your category and give cold estimates. For me (or any number of the writers, designers, and other creatives I know), every gig will have its own requirements. Quoting a price comes later in the process, after you’ve talked to the potential client at length, assessed their needs, and gotten a feel for whether the relationship is a fit. If all of those stars align, then you talk money.

To an outside observer, it isn’t always clear why creative industry contractors can’t easily offer commoditized prices. After a few minutes’ conversation, however, most do see that their needs may require a custom-built product. They may also be served by a more standard agreement involving an hourly or fixed fee. But we won’t know until we get the chance to dig in, ask some questions, and run a diagnosis.

Indie contractors do sense that there’s more possibility than risk in joining the online marketplace. We’re eager to see how services like LinkedIn’s new ProFinder evolve. This is the age of choice, of personalization, and the individual experience. We’re just waiting for the tools that will give us that, and help us continue to deliver it for our clients.