My Predictions for the Economy and Freelancing in 2009

Every day we read more and more headlines. Layoffs. Record numbers of foreclosures. Bailout. Inflation. While many of these headlines come as no surprise to us, when the word “recession” turns into something that affects our shopping habits, we tend to feel the pinch on a more personal level. Economic recovery is not a “switch” that can be flipped, however. It could take months, maybe even a few years before we see true, steady growth. The idea that the economy takes a long time to develop is something we all know, but sometimes forget — especially since the way we communicate is so rapid and instantaneous.

Regardless of your opinions about how long the economic recovery might take are, we can all agree that it will affect us in different ways. (Like my April post where I described ways freelancers can navigate a recession.) Already we’re seeing activities that directly affect freelancers, so without further ado here are my predictions how the economy will affect freelancers in 2009.

Top 15 Ways the Economy will Affect Freelancers in 2009

1. When Jobs Get Cut, Outsourcing Goes Up – The biggest expense any employer has is payroll, which is one of the reasons why there have been so many layoffs as of late. Unfortunately, when workers are cut the business may experience a different kind of cost — the cost of smart, intelligent, capable people that know their business and can get the job done. Watch for more businesses hiring and outsourcing contractors in 2009 as a way to cut costs and prolong hiring full-time employees.

2. More People will try to Break Into Freelancing – The flip side to layoffs, is that there are a lot of unemployed people out there. Qualified, skilled workers who may (or may not) have freelanced before will ply their hand at it. Already you can see this might be the case based on natural search trends for the term “freelancing jobs.” (I used Google Trends and tailored my results to the US.) Additionally, more people will be attracted to freelancing as a way to cut down on their cost-of-living (i.e. car, clothing, etc.).

3. Freelancing Rates Will Drop – Content networks are offering pennies on the dollar now for posts that either require research, as a result of a bidding service or a large social network to be able to monetize your writing. Associated Content, eLance, Demand Studios and oDesk are just a few of those places. With more competition, expect a lack of clarity as to what clients will expect to pay. This is especially true for writing; I can’t speak for the other fields.

4. Clients Will Want More “Value-Add” Service Than What They’re Paying You For – A flood of available contract positions in the market, coupled with more competition and a larger disparity in pricing will push clients in the direction of asking more for their money. Whether this be an additional layer of edits or consulting time, freelancers will not only have to prove why they charger higher rates, but negotiate more.

5. Clients Will Look for “Proof” of Delivery and Work – Based on how freelance writers charge, clients will be watching more closely what is delivered (and when). I predict that this will be especially true of any project where the budget is based on how many hours that are billed. Clients will want to know a) how long does a project take and b) what did you do during that hour.

6. Clients Will Learn about Quality – The flip side to hiring a writer on the “cheap” side is that the quality can suffer. I feel that eventually clients will come to understand this after going through the painful cycle of hire-and-fire a few times before understanding that hiring the right writer for the right job may mean looking for an experienced freelancer.

7. More Freelance Writers Will Become Web 2.0 Savvy – In order to become more competitive, existing freelancers will research ways to enhance their writing skills and learn more about search engine optimization, social media and other “value-adds” to integrate into their work and find better positions.

8. New Freelance Writers Will Work More for Less – The natural tendency when freelance writers just start out, is to undercut their profit by charging less to get more work. If new freelance writers are in dire financial straits, they will take whatever they can get.

9. Good Freelance Jobs Will be Harder to Find – Because there will be a flood of new freelance jobs on the market, coupled with the assumption that companies will ask their existing employees to do more than they have in the past, good freelance jobs will be harder to find. The time that it will take to find a freelance job does have an impact on the overall profit margin of a project, and seasoned freelancers may find they have to look longer than they have in the past for work.

10. Clients Will Initially Hire Based on Specialization – If a financial business lays off two dozen people in their business publications divison, they will probably look for someone with a background in writing for financial publications. To that business, they want someone who understands the industry and its language — even if it’s not expressly written in the communication a freelancer is delivering — because they want to save time “educating” someone new. To them, a financial background might also ensure “quality.” This may change, however, when companies realize that their demands are too specific. A writer who only writes about junk bonds, for example, may not exist.

11. Expect a High Turnover Rate for Freelancers – Burn out, job placement, life… Even though there will be a flood of freelancers in 2009, don’t expect every one of them to stick around. Much of this activity is directly related to economic conditions, and will continue to be in flux until the full-time job market improves.

12. Seasoned Freelance Writers Will Work Smarter, Not Harder – From asking for referrals to making smarter decisions about what they’ll work on, seasoned freelance writers will use their experience to their advantage. In other words, the economy will have less of an impact on seasoned freelance writers than on those who are new to the fold.

13. Freelancing Projects Will Be Shorter – Depending upon how challenging things get for some clients, you may see shorter freelance assignments. Word conservation will be increasingly important this year, depending upon whether or not the project is for online work (i.e. related to natural search) or offline. To a client, a shorter project equates to less money they have to pay a freelancer.

14. Freelancers Will Be More Competitive Amongst Ourselves – Unfortunately, I think that if things get really desperate, there will be more competition between freelancers than teamwork. Healthy competition is a part of freelancing, but it can also turn ugly when inexperienced writers come into the fray, undercutting prices and services. I would like to think that there won’t be more competition among freelancers, but when quality jobs are harder to find I do think you’ll see more, not less.

15. More Freelancers Will Pursue Start-up Websites and eBooks to Make $$$ – On the flip side, I think that experienced freelance writers will move beyond “just” freelance writing this year, offering more additional services including niche websites, non-fiction eBooks and How-Tos. You’ll probably see even more eBooks from savvy professionals geared toward “how-to-break-into-freelancing” as a result.

Agree? Disagree? How do you think the economy will affect the freelancing business in 2009?

5 Responses to My Predictions for the Economy and Freelancing in 2009
  1. Jeff Preston

    I think this is an accurate summary and true for more than just writers. As a Freelance Illustrator I think this is going to be equally true on my side of the fence as well.

  2. Jeremy

    Monica,

    Very smart observations. I actually head up the editorial side of Demand Studios. And prior to that, I spent 10 or so years on-and-off doing freelance writing and editing work for newspapers, magazines and online sites.

    Here’s some insight into how we are thinking about freelance opportunities in 2009.

    In general, they line up with your thinking. We will be ramping the content that we do in 2009 and, as you said, we will be relying even more on ‘outsourced’ freelancers to do that work. Which is great news for our community – we will have more work, not less. That ‘more work’ will span across all of our freelance opportunities, for roles such as writers, copyeditors, transcriptionists, filmmakers, etc.

    I would also say we’ve spent 2008 working really hard on a platform and model that would scale. So, we’ve already got quality checks-and-balances in place and we plan to add more mentoring/teaching tools to that in 2009. We agree that quality is paramount – but we’ve also realized that we are responsible for growing our freelancers in the same way we grow the employees that sit in our office.

    Again, I just want to second that you’ve made great points. And, for smart, hardworking, reliable freelancers – 2009 should be a great year to make money, get better at their craft, and get their bylines out to places they had previously been locked out of.

    Best of luck,
    Jeremy Reed
    VP, Content & Editorial
    Demand Studios

  3. Catherine Ford

    Hi Monica!

    I have often thought of trying my hand at freelancing, but I think – after reading this – I will hold off for now. I am gainfully employed AND a fulltime grad student. I’ve got enough on my plate to last me through the recession. I will wait until things smooth out a bit and then give it a try.

    Thanks for the great article. I look forward to exploring your past blog posts further. Good Luck in your work!

    Catherine Ford
    @15MinutesADay on Twitter

  4. Scott Rooks

    Monica,

    I’m not so sure you are right. I think that the new freelancer will have trouble with the “Whats your experience” question as well as “Send us a sample of your work” question. That can and will be intimidating to new freelancers. I think we will see less work as a result of a bad economy not more. A lot of business’s will be gone or hunkered down in the bunkers trying their hand at writing and saving the money.

    I do think you are right about freelancers doing more ebooks and self publishing as a means to stave off the wolf at the door. I also think there are some areas that freelancer can see an increase in business and that is grant writing especially in the area of the federal government. President Elect Obama has said he will add jobs and stimulate the economy and you will see a lot of that money coming down via grants.

    This is all just conjecture on both our parts but everyone needs to make decisions concerning marketing and creating income in this business right now. So everyone reading this out there lock yourself in for a few days and write a marketing plan then with all the research involved you will have your opinions to base your business.

    Thanks for a great post and getting us all to pay attention as 2009 is going to be tough!

  5. Mike Lawson

    In general, I agree with much of what has been said here. One thing is for sure: 2009 will be different than 2008 and previous years.

    I see an influx of new wannabe freelancers onto the scene. I also see many of them calling it quits shortly into the experience as they discover the difficulties of the profession. Writing, whether freelance or not, is not for the thin-skinned. It can be, at times, a brutal profession. I don’t expect to see much of a splash from the inexperienced timid for that reason.

    There are two basic types of businesses in a recession: those that die off and those that walk out the other end of it when it’s done. The survivors will be the ones that generated sales through the turmoil, albeit at a reduced level, that allowed them to get through it. It’s simple arithmetic in that sense.

    With that in mind, advertising has never been more important. Sales are proportional to the advertising efforts put into them. Products and services that generate sales are not always the best ones or most expensive ones, but are always the ones people know about and can readily find. This is a universal truth in business; recession or not.

    Freelancing is a business and the rules of advertising apply there as well. Freelancers that get the word out about their services will win out over those that don’t. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” It’s not a matter of can you afford to advertise as much as it is one of can you afford not to.

    Reputation, quality, consistency and customer service have never been more important than now for freelancers hoping to weather the storm. It is not unreasonable to expect fair wages for fair work. There will no doubt be many who think that under-cutting their competition is their road to salvation. I encourage them to do so: it will starve them out of the market quicker and get them out of the way of true professionals. Just because you are working, does not mean you are making money.

    “Activity is intoxicating and easily mistaken for achievement.” – Unknown

    I expect 2009 and subsequent years to rife with challenges. I intend to walk out the other end of it with my team of writers and editors intact (maybe frayed a little around the edges and thin, but alive nonetheless). I wish all my freelancing contemporaries the best and I’ll see you at the end of the trail.

    Regards,

    Mike Lawson
    Owner, General Manager
    Professional Writing Services
    http://www.bluegrasssolutions.org





About Monica

Monica Valentinelli is a writer, game designer, and consultant who lurks in the dark.

Monica has published both original stories as well as tie-in fiction for games like Vampire: the Masquerade. Her short stories have appeared in many anthologies and collections including Extreme Zombies, Don’t Read This Book, and New Hero Volume 1.

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