Freelancers Deserve a Voice: Here's How to Give It to Them
The gig economy is growing, but it needs further support in order for businesses and their fast-growing ranks of flex and independent workers to truly succeed.
The past 18 months have at once boosted and upended the gig economy, with some industries experiencing significant increases in their number of freelancers, while others contracted their ranks. Even among these seismic shifts, one thing remains the same: freelancers aren't going anywhere and they promise to make up a sizeable portion of the future workforce.
Giving freelancers a voice in benefits negotiations
Partly because they are, by their very nature, independent of any larger organization, freelancers don't have a level of institutional influence commensurate with their population. As a result, some states (most recently California) have created legislation designed to protect gig workers, but the effect of such laws remains to be seen. As it stands now, there are no overarching freelancer unions or similar bodies designed to protect benefits. Lyft and Uber drivers have been at the forefront of this fight for several years, as their respective companies often sought to treat them like employees, but without extending benefits to them.
With recent labor shortages and other difficulties involved in the return to a pre-pandemic state of operation, many companies find themselves increasingly outsourcing work like accounting and writing to freelancers. With these developments and with more and more American families depending on freelancing to survive, the question of what sorts of benefits to provide them is inevitable, and vital.
Freelancing is a business, and businesses need financing
Giving freelancers a voice to protect their job security and benefits will require action by the government, to be sure, but arguably the more significant issue at hand is how they can secure financing for their businesses. There's still a misconception out there that independent workers are simply pursuing "side hustles" to help pay off some bills or save for their kids' college fund, but that's no longer the case. Increasingly, freelancers are independent contractors who are running self-owned companies full time. Until public perception shifts, these will be handicapped by a lack of access to sustainable capital, but that doesn't have to be the case: there is a growing realization that banks and lenders could greatly benefit by offering specialized financing options for them. Banks would get access to a market they have historically underserved, one with potential for record-setting growth in the coming years (the first to offer such products would be tapping a virtually unexplored market), and freelancers would win by getting access to capital which they desperately need to grow. Finally, unlocking such capital would benefit the economy as a whole: Business growth means more and better-paying jobs, more competition and ultimately better value for consumers, while the government would see larger tax revenues, which further helps society.
This should be one of the rare topics that gets bipartisan support in our country.
Related: The Case for Freelancers
How a packaged story is a roadmap to success
Numerous obstacles remain to turning this vision into a reality, unfortunately, chief among them the lack of recognition on the part of banks and other financial institutions that freelancing is a viable business. Currently, there is little incentive for these institutions to reassess their models. As a result, freelancers face lending practices tailored to traditional businesses, making the process of providing information a bank needs to make a proper risk calculation difficult.
Freelancers have their own stories…experiences, reputation, network, skills and credentials. They also have their own way of working, but the storyline of a gig economy worker actually can be translated to fit a traditional loan risk calculation — one that can place them on the bank's radar to unleash the vast potential value in the digital economy, and it's high time that lenders and freelancers unite capabilities to do so.
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