Category Archives: “New Mutualism”

Seldon on Love and Freelancing

Sensei Tyra Seldon asks, “Can love be the guiding force of your business?” [1]

She had me at “love”.

When we think of passion, compassion, and even love, we may associate these words with romantic or familial relationships. Rarely do we link these terms to business.

The problem is, of course, that we “want to be profitable, but we also want compassion to be a cornerstone of what we do”. This almost always leads to choices, often tough choices.

Practically anybody can make money, but how you make your money and what you compromise to do it are equally as important.

Writing for the Freelancers Union Blog, she points out that this is particularly tough for independent workers, who may not have a business degree or classwork in business ethics for guidance. A gig worker who is learning as she goes has to “be careful because unethical business practices can be subtle.” As she says, a business opportunity, any business opportunity, may be “incongruent” with your own values.

The good news is that an independent worker can walk away. It’s not so easy to quit a job and walk away from a career when a large organization chooses a problematic business. But a freelancer can say “no, thanks” to any job.

The bad news is that not only could you starve to death trying to be ethical, but you are on your own. Working for a large organization is easy, because you can delegate ethics to others. A freelancer has no choice but to choose for himself.

I will say that I consider not having an MBA and training in “business ethics” to actually be beneficial. The very fact that business schools feel a need for a specific course in “ethics” tells you that the rest of the curriculum is not about ethics. As far as I can tell, business school is all about teaching people to ignore normal human ethics in favor of some kind of economic rationalism.

My own view is that there is no such thing as “business ethics”. There are only personal ethics. You have to know your own values, and make your business conform to you. This is not what they teach at business school.

As Sensei Seldon points out,  one of the real advantages of freelancing is that you can say things like:

  • I am in love with my company.
  • I am passionate about sharing my goods and services with the world.
  • I demonstrate compassion when interfacing with my clients.

(See other posts by Seldon on Freelancing here.)


  1. Tyra Seldon, Can love be the guiding force of your business?, in Frrelancers Union – Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/07/31/can-love-be-the-guiding-force-of-your-business-2/

A Map of the Gig Economy

Speaking of the Gig Economy….

The iLabour Project (“Investigating the Construction of Labour Markets, Institutions and Movements on the Internet”) [3] has begun to try to track workers and work using online job and task services. This isn’t the whole of the Gig Economy, but it certainly is an important sector. Indeed, their data showed a 26% increase between 2015 and 2016—this is why we’re all interested in it!

What does that headline number mean? The data is amassed by retrieving “vacancies” from the most used online job markets. (This is done via a web crawl, so it is snapshots.) When possible, they record the type of work (‘occupation”) and the country where the worker resides. The gigs are “different market mechanisms and contracting styles, from online piecework to hourly freelancing.” [2].

One wonders if Uber and is included in this index? It’s not an open market, but it sure as heck is at the dark heart of the gig economy.

This index is an “indicator”, not an absolute measure. The year to year growth is a growth in…this index. Mainly, this means more “vacancies”, and presumably, more vacancies filled. Given the nature of these platfoms, that could mean more workers, or more work per worker, or both.

The iLabor project produced a supplement that describes the geographic location of the gig workers sampled, and the type of work.

Online Labour Index top occupation by country, 1-6 July 2017

The data confirms our expectations that India and Bangladesh are large sources of labor in these services, though US and UK also supply labor in certain specializations.

This index seems very limited to me. It has nothing to say about many vital aspects of this job market.

There is very little about the employers. There is nothing about outcome: productivity, satisfaction, value added.

As noted, there is little information about the number of workers, the hours per workers, and the income of workers. We are all concerned about the widespread trend toward very low wage piece work, that cannot support the workers.


The Oxford group makes their data available for others to use, which enabled Andrew Karpie to add his own analysis [1].  His analysis shows that “the U.S. and Canada account for over 50% of the global total projects requested”, with the overall finding that “it is clear that online work exchange activity today is largely between the U.S. and certain less-developed Asian countries.

Well duh!

He concludes that “this is likely true for three main reasons: (1) wage arbitrage (frequently), (2) lower transaction costs and (3) supply of skilled labor/talent (with shortages in the U.S.).”

No kidding?

This is not a pretty picture, and I’m always surprised by people who think this “innovation” is even remotely a good idea.

But it’s very good to see some actual data about the gig economy, even if it is limited in so many ways.


  1. Andrew Karpie, Where Are Online Workers Located? — Oxford Internet Institute Tool Breaks it Down, in Spend Matters Network. 2017. https://spendmatters.com/2017/07/13/online-workers-located-oxford-internet-institute-tool-breaks/
  2. Otto Kassi, How the Online Labour Index is constructed, Oxford International Institute, 2016. http://ilabour.oii.ox.ac.uk/how-the-online-labour-index-is-constructed/
  3. Oxford International Institute, Introducing the iLabour Project. 2016. http://ilabour.oii.ox.ac.uk/
  4. Kevin Stark, Oxford Internet Institute Launches Interactive Map of the Global Gig Economy. Sharable.July 27 2017, http://www.shareable.net/blog/oxford-internet-institute-launches-interactive-map-of-the-global-gig-economy

 

 

Freelancer’s Toolkits?

The members who are “managed” by cool coworking software are mainly freelancers and independent contractors. These workers rent their workplace, and bring their own tools. So what is in their tool box?


Michael Katz has some suggestions for what you should have [1] .

Actually, his list are pretty simple, and mostly about being organized, getting “more efficient we can get managing repeatable, often mundane aspects of our work”.

  • Directions to my office
  • Standardized cards (e.g., “Thank you for the referral”)
  • Service descriptions (i.e., what you do)
  • New client questionnaire
  • Newsletter sign-up form

I note that all of these things are non-digital though all of them can be implemented in digital forms. In fact, every one of these ideas predate the ubiquitous internet.  They are about good business practices and relationships, not about technology.


Jeriann Ireland offers another take on this question, suggesting “The essential toolkit for minimalist (or broke) freelancers[2].

  • A Ready-to-Go Resume Template (and use LinkedIn to get it out there
  • A Decent Phone Plan (with call waiting)
  • A Dedicated Work Space (and separate computers and accounts)

This is a good list, and definitely a sound foundation.

His discussion of the “dedicated” workspace captures the essential psychology “Whether it’s a home office, a shared office space, or even a corner in your home, have a place where you only store work-related paperwork and itemsNaturally, “a dedicated workspace” might be membership in a local coworking space.

(I did raise an eyebrow at the comment that this is “the same concept as not spending non-sleeping time in your bed.”  Hmm.  I should never do anything in bed except sleep?)


Anyway, together these articles make clear that much of the challenge of freelancing is to be well organized, and to have a clear understanding of your own work processes.

“Templates” seem to be an important thing.  Basically, a template represents your understanding of how you work, and, as Katz puts it, the mundane and repeatable aspects.

I think this is a good point. Furthermore, the templates these guys mention most prominently are the “scripts” used for finding gigs and making contracts. There are other repeatable processes, such as billing, but connecting with new clients needs to be personal—so you need customized conversations.  

All this sounds like work!

Worse, it sounds exactly like “looking for a job”—which it is.  Gig workers have to really, really good at job hunting because they have to do it all the time. 

(Yet another reason I’ll never be a good Freelancer:  I absolutely hate, hate, hate job hunting.)


1. Jeriann Ireland, The essential toolkit for minimalist (or broke) freelancers, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/07/07/are-you-a-freelancer-or-entrepreneur-2/

2. Michael Katz,, What’s in your tool chest?, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/07/13/whats-in-your-tool-chest-2/

Just How Complicated is Freelancing, anyway?

The new way of work is a gig economy of growing legions of freelancers and independent contractors. Far from having no job, these self-employed workers actually have to perform many jobs, implementing everything necessary to operate a small business.

As I have said, this stuff is not really my thing, and I will probably never be a successful gig worker.

If there was even the smallest shred of doubt about that conclusion, it was dispelled by Josh Hoffman’s two-part article, “82 rules for all freelancers to live by”.

Eighty two!

Anything with that many rules is w-a-a-y too complicated for my puny mind to handle!

Actually, his collection is more of a play list than an original essay. Most of these points appear elsewhere, which is clear because he links to the sources.


It’s a lifestyle

His list includes a variety of topics. Item 1 is probably the most important:

Freelancing isn’t a job or career. It’s a lifestyle choice.”

Heck, it’s a lifestyle just to learn his 82 rules. : – )

It’s not only a lifestyle, it’s a personal lifestyle. He offers a lot of new age-y advice.

Do it your way.

Keep trying,

If it makes you happy, do it. If it doesn’t, then don’t.”

Channel your inner epic.”

Embrace your weirdness ”


It’s a business

As he says, “Speaking of business, you are one”.

Most of his rules apply to any small business, not just freelancing.

Many of the  rules are about how to run a small business (which I’m pretty sure is a lifestyle choice no matter what business you choose). This includes a bunch of stuff about:

customer/client relations,

marketing,

branding.

Network, network, network.


The problem with having so many rules

…is that they start contradicting each other.

For instance, he is very confusing about selfishness.

He’s advises other-oriented attitudes, if not actual altruism.

You can’t do anything great alone.”

Always lead with an unconditional willingness and readiness to help.

Gratitude is instant medicine.

But then, it’s about you.

Be selfish. That’s what freelancing is all about. It’s about you,

If it makes you happy, do it. If it doesn’t, then don’t.

Channel your inner epic.

Embrace your weirdness ”

These attitudes seem contradictory to me.


And there are some real stinkers in here

Some of his items are weirdly obnoxious and assert values I simply can’t agree with.

He endorses a really racist analogy about, “are you a Cowboy or an Indian”. I wont’ dignify this with an explanation of his point. It’s just icky.

He has a very specific idea about what kind of business you are in.

Clients care about two things: how to make more money, and how to save more money. Everything else is noise. Eliminate the noise from your sales pitch.

Huh. That’s not the only things my clients worry about.

He endorses the notion that freelancers are rootless.

The world is your office. If you’re unhappy with where you are, move. You’re not a tree.”

Um. Don’t workers have a home, a family, to a community?


Overall, this list seems way, way to long for me, and not especially well organized.

However, it does really make the point that a freelancer has to run a business, and also has to self-motivate.

I think this is why there is the striking incongruity of his bloodthirsty “it’s about the money” and the touchy-feely “channel your own epic.”  A freelancer has to figure out how to do both–and get both work and life done, too.

I note in passing that one of the reasons why many freelancers like coworking is that the coworking community is people who face the same challenges, and they can face it together.

As I have said, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do it myself.


  1. Josh Hoffman , 82 rules for all freelancers to live by, Part 1, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/06/26/82-rules-for-all-freelancers-to-live-by-part-1/
  2. Josh Hoffman, 82 rules for all freelancers to live by, Part 2, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/06/27/82-rules-for-all-freelancers-to-live-by-part-2/

 

Jinks On the “Freelancing Mindset”

Bryan Jinks blogs this month that it is important for Freelancers to think like a freelancer, i.e., not like an ‘employee’.

Freelancing is not just like being an employee with more freedom. They are two completely different things, and need to be looked at from different perspectives.

For Freelancers who are used to being employees, or people who take up Freelancing, it is crucial to understand the difference, or else face a terrible economic disaster (by dramatically undercharging).

He highlights two basic things to keep in mind. First, your charges (e.g., your hourly rate) must include all the overheads that are not mentioned in the salary or scale of an employee: taxes, benefits, business expenses, etc. A Freelance worker must pay these him or herself out of their billed rate, so the rate must be a lot higher than an employee’s rate for the same job.

The second issue is the importance of accounting for what may be sporadic gigs, and the overhead of finding gigs. A Freelancer must factor the work needed to set up the gig into the hourly charges for the work time.

The bottom line is that Freelance work is a business, and needs to be run like a business.

If you can forget the employee mindset and view your income like a business owner, you’ll have a more realistic view of your finances.

I note that part of the value of the Freelancers Union  is that it provides not only advice on this topic, but also resources to help Freelancers tackle all this business goop. This now includes resources such as a tool for creating contracts and an app to find legal help.

Enspiral is also creating open tools for project management and other business support, as is Loomio, These tools and services make it possible for a worker to get all the stuff you get from  being part of a large company, except everything is peer-to-peer.

(There are zillions of commercial services that do the same things as well.)

I have to say that this biz stuff is a big reason why I probably never will be a successful freelancer. I just don’t think like a business owner, and frankly, I don’t want to think that way.

I suspect that the only way I would make it at all would be with the kind of help that the FU and the others are creating.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks like this, and in any case, no one is expert at everything. So these efforts are surely the right idea. As I said in an earlier post, this is putting “tools in the hands of the workers” in the 21st century.


  1. Bryan Jinks, Why freelancers can’t approach money with an “employee” mindset, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/05/31/why-freelancers-cant-approach-money-with-an-employee-mindset/

Seldon on Racial Divide in Freelancing

Tyra Seldon blogs about the racial divide in freelancing.

Studies suggest that there is a racial divide in freelancing, but the larger question is why?

It seems likely that there is a “gap”, even if there isn’t exceptionally solid data. Seldon points to a report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which documents “self employment” statistics for the USA [2]. She notes that this isn’t necessarily the same as “freelancing”, but it does show that blacks are substantially less likely to be “self employed” than whites.

(I note in passing that the BLS counts 15 million self-employed, about 10.1% of the workforce. The Freelancers Union counts 55 million Freelancers, about 35% of workers [1]. The FU gets its larger number because it counts temporary workers, moonlighters, and others that may or may not be counted as self-employed by the BLS.)

The basic “gap” in the BLS data is the finding that roughly twice the percentage of white workers are self-employed compared to black / African American. ([2], p. 6) This difference is a bit larger than the same gap between men and women. We have to be careful here, because this number actually means that of black workers, a smaller proportion are self-employed versus employed by others, compared to white workers.  (What is the “right proportion”?)

I don’t want to belabor the statistics. There is plenty of other evidence of racial disparities in “the new economy”, including the old a “digital divide”, concerns about development of entrepreneurs [3], and observations about coworking communities.

Seldon’s main point is, why would this be?  And what can be done about it?

Seldon  solicited discussion from the support group she moderates. She highlights a comment that lists reasons why a black worker might not freelance.

  1. Lack of Security
  2. Lack of Representation
  3. Lack of Mentors
  4. Stretched too Thin

The first and fourth items are pretty generic challenges that are surely faced by every worker, especially from a poor family.  Freelancing is risky, at least if you have other opportunities.

Items 2 and 3 suggest the important cultural context. If you never meet a Freelancer, never have a strong role model, are not encouraged, then obviously you are less likely to try it. Again, this is a factor for many people, including women, older workers, working mothers, and so on.

Seldon is a passionate advocate for freelancing, and sees it as a vital and booming opportunity. She does not want people to be overlooked and left out “while the economy booms with opportunities”. I’m not so sure about the opportunities, but there is no reason for needless racial, gender or cultural sorting among Freelancers or anyone else.

I will add another point:  one of the strengths of freelancing is networking and collaboration among a community of peers. This works best of all when the pool is both diverse [5] and inclusive of the broader society. Freelancers will produce better work if they are working with a variety of peers.  It’s that simple.

What can be done?

Seldon advocates “radical hospitality” (which is a theme from coworking communities, coliving, and community spaces), mentoring, and general “reaching out”. I agree. Freelancing isn’t all about handling money, contracts, etc. It’s about working together.

 

I note that coworking is successful partly because there is an emerging cadre of effective community leaders who practice and teach “radical hospitality” and community feeling.

Coworking also offers a caution. There are a great variety of coworking spaces, with different communities and cultural vibes. Coworkers self-select a workplace and community that suits them. This has resulted in happy workers, but also workplaces that are not a cross-section of their local community (however you define that).

As Samara Lynn advises, “Black startup owners may also want to search for co-working spaces with multiethnic staff and fellow entrepreneurs.” ([4], p. 38).

This self-segregation is not necessarily a great “solution” to the problem.

Finally, –I say, “get ‘em young”! The best way for people to grow up to be independent workers is for kids to want to be like those people. Freelancers should try to get into school, after school clubs, etc., to teach and practice radical hospitality for all kids.


  1. Freelancers Union, Freelancing in America: 2016. Freelancers Union and Upwork, New York, 2016. https://fu-prod-storage.s3.amazonaws.com/content/None/FreelancinginAmerica2016report.pdf
  2. Steven F. Hipple. and Laurel A. Hammond, Self-employment In The United States. Bureau of Labor Statistics., Washington, DC, 2016. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1571/cf7d653ea85b9d77a305cad3b193ea17b1e6.pdf
  3. Julie S. Hui  and Shelly D. Farnham, Designing for Inclusion: Supporting Gender Diversity in Independent Innovation Teams, in Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on Supporting Group Work. 2016, ACM: Sanibel Island, Florida, USA. p. 71-85. https://northwestern.box.com/s/f1fxpxgmy2hxci1j8duablc7524p0skz
  4. Lynn, Samara, Finding the Perfect Co-working Space. Black Enterprise, 46 (9):58-59, 2016. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=115709004&site=ehost-live
  5. Scott E. Page, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2007.
  6. Tyra Seldon, Freelancing and the racial divide, in FreelancersUnion Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/05/25/freelancing-and-the-racial-divide/

 

GCUC 2017: The “Coworky Awards”

I did not attend GCUC  USA conference this year. After last year, it is clear that GCUC is transitioning to be an “industry” conference, focused on the business of running coworking operations. Much of the program was in that vein and not especially interesting to me. Pretty much the only talk of real interest is the 2017 Coworking Survey from Deskmag.

One new feature was the first “Coworky Awards”, “Honoring the spaces, places, and people that make this industry juicy

This award (consciously or unconsciously) reveals quite a lot about the nature of the GCUC today.  First, the conference self-identifies with “this industry”. Second, the topics of interest are the physical spaces and individual people. Notably, there is nothing about community, work, or workers.

This broad characterization isn’t completely accurate, of course.

The categories are rather opaque to me, but do include topics other than industry insider stuff (though it generally strikes me as corporate style back-slapping).  Some of the categories are trivial (Best Website Design, Best Tagline), but some are pretty significant (Best Collective or Alliance, Best Social Impact Program). And some are inscrutable to outsiders (what the heck is a “Rainbow Unicorn”? What does “Volunteer to the Greater Movement” even mean?)

Let’s look at a few.

The social impact award mentions include Cogite (Tunisia), advocacy program trying to “to establish opportunities for dialogue between entrepreneurs and the Tunisian government”. A second recognizes COHIP (Toronto), health insurance for coworkers. The third is organized charity races from ios offices (Mexico).

These are worthy endeavors, though it is hard to determine the actual impact.

The category for “Best Technology To Run Your Space” recognizes three companies providing nice all-in-one packages that let pretty much anyone set up a coworking space anywhere (you have to bring your own community, of course). These are pretty nice products and pricing looks reasonable. But there are dozens of similar products, including an open source product (Nadine [3]), so I’m not certain how the selection was made.

Finally, there were three “Best Space Design” recogniitions. The winner Is Bespoke (SF), which is lauded thusly:

Bespoke Coworking, Events, and Demo was designed specifically as a retail-tech hub in the heart of Westfield Shopping Centre. Each square foot was meticulously designed to be flexible enough to exude the warmth of a second home, while doubling up on functionality.” 

I haven’t visited any of the mentioned spaces, but the pictures on the web show a space that is anything but “warm” and certainly not homey. I’ll take their word for the “doubling up on functionality”.

The main thing I note is that this award is based entirely on the perspective of the real estate developer. No mention why workers want to work in a shopping centre, or have “flexible” space, nor even why workers would want “the warmth of a second home”. (Do they have a first home, and is it “warm”?) There is certainly no mention that workers or their work benefit from this design.

In short, it is optimal space from the point of view of the rental company, but who knows if it is good for workers?


The bottom line is that the “hijacking” (a la Cat Johnson) continues, GCUC isn’t about coworking it is about the coworking sector of the “social office industry”,

Sigh.


  1. Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC). Coworky Awards Winners 2017. 2017, http://coworkyawards.com/coworky-awards-2017-winners/.
  2. Deskmag and Global Coworking Unconference Conferences (GCUC), The Global Coworking Survey, in Global Coworking Unconference Conferences (GCUC). 2017: New York. http://usa.gcuc.co/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/GCUC-2017-Global-Coworking-Survey.pdf
  3. Office Nomads. The Nadine Project. 2017, http://nadineproject.org/.

 

What is Coworking?

Please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming in 2017.