Internet connects freelancers to faceless clients
Far from being the next Bill Gates, most of these self-employed people want to retain the small size of their business while continuing to use technology, like the internet, to enhance their work-life satisfaction.
Uniquely, these electronically connected freelancers - or ‘e-lancers’ as they have become known, confess to doing business with clients they never meet.
Research, marketing, and networking are all available through the World Wide Web, say the freelancers, who choose to communicate with their customers via e-mail.
Gill Taylor is a freelance marketing expert who identifies the Internet as a vital lifeline for her copy writing, project management and consultancy business, Contractmarketing.biz.
“Without the Internet my freelance business would be more or less impossible as a huge amount of my work is about gathering information, communicating with clients and suppliers, as well as arranging approvals.
“The net gives me much more flexibility in choice and location of suppliers. My main graphic design agency is some 70 miles away, which would simply not be an option without the Internet,” she said.
Ms Taylor told Freelance UK that the Internet and her website also open up the opportunity to develop a global client base, though currently, she has no overseas clients.
Instead, the entrepreneur’s focus is on a combination of providing services for existing customers, while using new technologies to deliver flexible working conditions that she can enjoy.
“My major motivation is to enjoy myself and to make enough money to do the things that I want to do,” said Ms Taylor.
“People have often asked where I see the business going in the future and whether I have plans to expand, but my answer has always been that I am not here to empire build, but instead to fund my lifestyle.
“My other main motivation for going freelance is the flexibility it gives me to travel: In 2003 I spent three weeks touring Australia in a camper van, yet managed to keep the business running perfectly smoothly while I was there. I recall sitting cross-legged in the back of the van one night in Alice Springs writing copy about CRM software for my Warrington (UK) client and then emailing it to them over my mobile phone via Bluetooth.”
But the benefits of technology aren’t just confined to remote working from Australia. Indeed Ms Taylor says locally-based customers equally reap the advantages.
“One of the main reasons that clients like to work with freelancers is flexibility and that would be severely reduced without the Internet. I have a client located under 15 miles away from my office who I have been working with for two years but, through a simple lack of need, have never actually met.
“Our business relationship is a very good one and is carried out via telephone and email, but if I passed her in the street I would not actually recognise her! Some may argue that this is a bad thing and that relationships must be developed ‘in person’ – and largely I would agree – but if people are comfortable working in this way and business can be generated as a result, then why not?”
Developing new client services is another aspect of running a small business that Taylor says has been fully enabled by Web services.
“The copywriting side of my business is much newer and is definitely something which would be far harder to do without email. Imagine having to receive copy on disk in the post, edit it - and then save it back to disk before posting it again to the client. It would be a nightmare.”
To ensure efficiency, the entrepreneur opts for a broadband connection at home and in the office, additional to a wireless network and Bluetooth mobile phone, to collectively support the latest “multiple projects” she has acquired.
High-speed ‘always-on’ internet service is also an essential for Sandra McGinty, a US-based freelancer who specialises in marketing, PR and publishing.
Identical to Taylor, she currently has no overseas clients, rather “an extensive network throughout the States,” - many of whom she would fail to recognise in person.
“Broadband absolutely,” said Ms McGinty, responding to Freelance UK about her choice of internet connection.
“I couldn't imagine trying to work over dial up. Are you kidding?! I did that maybe 10 years ago but broadband allows for faster acquisition and delivery of work, total convenience (because I don't have to leave my work space), and it opens up geographical areas that could not be accessed otherwise.
“I like that I can work from my home office in California and never meet face-to-face the folks who hire me in New York, Florida or even other parts of California. As long as there is broadband Internet, the phone and fax, I'm good.”
Developing new skills to either enhance your core business or start-up a secondary venture is a process made simple by the Internet, says McGinty, creative director of Monster Marketing & PR.
“Though I've been a professional writer for about 15 years, the Internet has benefited me by helping to enhance my skill set. I learned, for example, how to write for the Web, which is a bit different from other types of projects for which I'm hired.
“I have also produced plenty of Web sites with the help of top Web designers and a reasonably priced private hosting service provider. Plus, due to finding clients over the wires, I have learned about a wide variety of industries and businesses. Maybe I wouldn't have attained my vast knowledge-base without the Internet.”
Similar to the advantages of e-lancing identified by her marketing counterpart in the UK, McGinty says the ‘always on’ nature of broadband enables her more flexibility that either improves business, or enhances her quality of life.
“I can spend about six to eight hours a day if I want writing, planning marketing, doing the PR. However, because I'm freelance I can choose my hours. That means on days like today, I can work four hours and run errands, because I'm not feeling like working much.
“Other days, when I feel ‘hot’ to work, I can spend 12 hours, work at night, get up in the middle of the night to work, whichever I choose: it's a freedom that I've come to enjoy.”
Like most successful entrepreneurs, McGinty, who is also an established author about US education, says the benefits of freelancing outweigh the advantages of corporate employment.
“I consider going back into the ‘9 to 5’ once in a while, when I see a too-good-to-be-true job offer, but something stops me every time. Usually, just when I'm thinking that way, a truly great freelance gig comes along that turns into longer term work. I have been servicing the same clients for years, plus I take additional short-term projects to keep things exciting and challenging. That way, when one of the steady clients wants to take a break due to budget restrictions, I have other things to fall back on.”
However, the entrepreneur admitted that a “really high paying job… to do what I do and what I’m really good at,” would make her think about quitting as a freelance professional.
Yet like many freelancers and entrepreneurs, family concerns play a part in McGinty’s decision.
“Until then [a really high-paying job emerges] I'm staying here, working in a big room of my home, with my big modular desk, papers scattered about in piles. I earn good money, I have freedom and I can have more time with my three children.”
The advantages of freelancing in the broadband age spotlighted by McGinty and Taylor are however in the embryonic stages in other parts of the world.
“Broadband would be marvellous – if only it was affordable,” says Robert Kelly, a British freelance writer, currently living in Jakarta.
“Unfortunately, it’s still a pretty new technology here in Indonesia and is only now being considered a household rather than business service. Narrowband connections are cheap and reliable, and I suspect they’ll remain the norm for a long time to come.”
Mr Kelly, who writes on topics ranging from geography to economics, agreed that the Web helps research new subjects and allows for up-to-the-minute communication with foreign contacts.
“Thanks to the internet, I’m not confined to writing about Indonesia,” he said.
“Indeed, I write a lot of general science pieces, as this is an area that particularly interests me. I’m in regular touch with contacts throughout Asia and Europe by e-mail. Research is obviously facilitated by access to the Web, though the internet alone can’t, of course, compensate for access to local offline data sources and people actually on the ground.”
He told Freelance UK: “My subject-matter is guided as much by my personal interests as it is by financial considerations or what happens to be in the news at any particular moment. I specialise in longer, deeper ‘think pieces’ rather than off-the-cuff, up-to-the-minute reporting.”