Approximately 1/3 of the US can be described as freelance workers or independent contractors. These individuals, who have derived their nickname from the IRS form used to track their compensation, are typically engaged on a temporary assignment or contracting simultaneously with multiple entities. I know, because I am (intentionally) one of them.
I research and closely monitor the subject of the 1099 Economy in terms of organizational, macro-economic and legal trends, both for my personal benefit as well as the organizations that I advise that are considering utilization of freelance workers and independent contractors as a core element of their business operations/strategic plan.
I will take advantage of a future opportunity to comment on the risks and benefits of the subject matter in terms of the macro-economic and legal perspective; for now, I want to focus my observations on some of the inherent characteristics of the 1099 Economy that should benefit any individual or business considering using it as a tool to promote sustainable growth. Perhaps even those of you that prefer full-time employment over freelance and independent contractor opportunities might find a silver lining in the following:
Flexibility & Control
An approach that incorporates freelance workers or independent contractors gives flexibility and control to both sides of the equation. From the employer perspective, it allows for immediate workload to be addressed without investing in the long-term commitment of a full-time employee. In the context of a rapidly-shifting business environment (resulting from technological advancements and condensing business life cycles), there is a comfort level for entrepreneurs, business owners and management teams that they can fulfill their current obligations without over-hiring prematurely. An individual willing to help address such short-term needs without long-term expectation might be just what the organization needs.
Similarly, from the perspective of the contractor (especially someone like me that engages in the 1099 approach deliberately/willingly), the structure, process and procedures associated with with typical full-time employment are not as appealing. Most of the content being developed on the subject today assumes that such factors as flexible work hours that fall into this category are only appealing to Millennials, but as a Gen-Xer who built my organization with the priorities of control and flexibility in mind, I can assure you they are not alone. Yes, there is risk associated with always having to consider “the next assignment”, but the control stems from the increasing volume of short-term opportunities on the table. The contractor has the ability to determine what the next one will be.
Organizations that grow too quickly all-too-often experience a negative (even fatal) impact on corporate culture. Desperate to meet obligations, an organization may feel pressured to bring on a technically qualified individual without also emphasizing cultural fit. An entity with a strong enough culture can usually weed-out toxic players quickly, but that assumes those that don’t embrace the company’s values and priorities are in the minority. Not only is the hiring/firing process expensive (training, COBRA, etc.), if the rate of hiring is bringing too many of disruptors into the fold, that’s where businesses really get into trouble. 90% of organizations that fail do so because of internal issues like culture, not external factors like competition. If there is an option for the temporary assignment to evolve into full-time employment, it is a benefit to both employer and contractor to utilize the process as a means to test the waters to avoid those that don’t embrace the culture.
Similarly, even if long-term engagement is not on the table, it can be an important exercise in lessons learned, and what characteristics define a fit that makes everyone thrive. An effective c-suite and human resources team will know how to monitor the use of 1099 contributors and apply those trends to future hires. Perhaps of equal importance, in an era of such an overt lack of both company and employee loyalty, it quite simply becomes a non-issue for both parties if short-term expectations are clear from the outset.
Exposure to Multiple Individual Leaders, Sectors, Industries & Structures
My niche is being a Generalist. Business leaders like me thrive on the prospect of impacting and learning from organizations that represent multiple sectors, industries, business structures and leadership styles. It is true that “sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know“, and gaining exposure to different entrepreneurial and operational environments, if appreciated from the perspective, can provide both employers and freelancers with an opportunity for professional growth and education that no textbook or MBA program could ever compete with. I know my experience with different companies and office environments has introduced me to new technologies, methodologies and strategies….as well as proof that regardless of size, sector, function or market, there are fundamental challenges that every business operation and leader must overcome.
These principles hold true even if you are in a highly specialized and technical sector. Uber is the go-to basis for most of the articles you will find out there on the subject, but the truth is, countless entities and industries are taking advantage of short-term support from independent contractors and freelancers – ranging from engineers and architects to computer coders and interim c-suite executives. And in my opinion, this can be a good thing for individuals and corporations alike, if all of the parties share the best practices derived from their collective experience and pay it forward. That is what I do everyday…it is only possible because I am an integral player in the 1099 Economy.
Strategic Planning & Sustainable Growth
As a three-time business owner and strategic advisor, subjects like labor efficiencies, operational structure and corporate culture are not intimidating or daunting to me. To the contrary, they are primary conversations that I have with my client base and audiences every day.
Many of those experiences have taught me that there are far too many organizations that still utilize phrases such as, “…because that’s the way we’ve always done it”. I would argue that the 1099 eEconomy is helping to alleviate that tendency from both an employer and contractor perspective, if for no other reason that the inherent increase in exposure it is giving to individuals and corporations. One of the important outcomes of the process is that leaders are recognizing the benefits of the 1099 Economy and weaving the benefits and best practices into their strategic growth plans. In fact, if you review the Critical Topics in Strategic Planning, you too will recognize that every one of these subjects can be supported in some capacity by aspects of a “1099” approach. This applies to freelancers and independent contractors too. Regardless if you want to continue as a 1099 employee or find full-time employment, you need your own strategic plan as to how you will achieve your aims.
Yes, there are challenges within the 1099 Economy (lack of benefits, abuse of non-worker status, etc.) that we will revisit in future blogs more focused on the legal and macro-economic considerations. For now, however, I thought it was important to share a higher level perspective of why the 1099 Economy is more beneficial than most believe at first glance.
If you join me finding the value in these lessons, please drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts and experiences.