Tag Archives: Freelancers Union

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/

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/

 

Freelancers Union: The App

n the early twenty first, there’s an app for everything. Indeed, some people seem to think that if you don’t have an app, you aren’t for real.

This week the Freelancer’s Union (I’m a proud member since 2015) released a new ‘app’. As their web page puts it, “Solidarity? There’s An App For That.” This isn’t my grandfather’s union, that’s for sure!

OK, I’m game. Let’s do some more close reading here.


First, let me be very clear. The Freelancers Union is doing important stuff, and I strongly support them. You can’t talk about the future of work without talking about the future of workers.

But that does not mean that I will not do a close reading of their narrative or their recent forays into digital products.


Looking At The App

Just what exactly does this ‘Solidarity Forever: The App’ actually do? Does it connect us to our brothers and sisters in the Union? Does it help recruit more members? Does it host digital rallies? Does it ping our elected representatives about legislation? Could there possibly be a playlist of inspiring songs? Dare I hope for live sing alongs with our comrades around the world?

Maybe in version 2.0.

The current version does only one thing: connects you to legal advice.  Sigh. Useful, I suppose, but not nearly as exciting as on could hope.

You App Reveals Your Psyche

While I think this app misses an opportunity to show off FU as truly the new way of work (see below), it does reveal some facts about the FU and our members.

First of all, the fact that there is an app at all, indicates the desire for conventional branding, especially, to be current. The Union is real unless it’s got an app. Box checked.

Second, we find confirmation that the backbone of the union is in the ‘digital creatives’, especially in NYC. The release is accompanied by a social promotion campaign (standard fare for digital advertising), and the instructions simply say,

Post a photo of yourself holding up the app, with the caption “I stand with freelancers because [write your reason!]. #FreelancersUnionApp

It is obviously assumed that we know what “post” means, and think that posting selfies is a meaningful political act.

We also see clearly what is at the top of the worries for the union and the membership. The app does only one thing: it refers you to a lawyer. Glancing at the app, we see a list of the common categories of problem, and the number one suggested topic is  “nonpayment”.

The FU has been pointing on its #FreelancingIsntFree campaign for more than a year, so we get the picture. The same bastards who hire temps instead of permanent employees, also find it cost effective to not pay the temps.

Another glaring point is that, like much of the union’s activities, this offer is only available in NYC initially. The Union is open to everyone, even schlunks like me out in some cornfield, but they are effective on the ground only in a few cities, and mostly in NYC where they HQ. I’m pretty sure that the union would like to spread the goodness everywhere, but it tends to be a perennial disappointment out here in the cornfields, where we can read about, but not really get much real union action.

Anyway–see how much we can learn from close reading an app!


Let me try to be clear. There isn’t anything really wrong with this app, and I certainly support the FU and the purpose of this app.  The point is to see what the app really is, and think about what it could be.

Please let me go one more step and make some suggestions for version 2.

First of all, there could be a specialized social network, with union themed features. The network should be totally flat, because everyone is in one union. PMs should be limited to pings that say, “I got your back” (forget about “like”—we don’t have to “like” each other, just fight for each other :-)). The union might circulate petitions and calls to contact politicians.

Second, there could be solidarity themed ‘togetherness’ activities. Simple ways for the Union to organize flash crowds, marches, or picnics, where feasible.  Other activities might include walkabouts that alert you when union members are near (a la Look Up or even AR Pokemon).

In cases where, we can’t meet in person, lets have digital solidarity. Digital sing songs. Digital dance alongs. Casual games

One game I can think of is a simple trivia game to learn about the union an dits members. Flash cards with simple (non-invasive) information, like where, what you do, and a tag. Remember the most Union members and be famous! High multipliers for locations outside NYC, and for statistically unusual tags (rare occupation, older worker, etc.)

If we want to go Augmented Reality, then we could make union badges that are AR markers. When you encounter someone with their badge on, point the app at her or him. Poof, they are surrounded by halos and unicorns! Or some other magic, magic that only happens when two union members are together in physical space.

The point is, if you make the app cool enough, people will want to join the union, just to get the app!  Let’s put the union in the lead of social technology.

Join the union.

Freelancing in America: 2016

The Freelancers Union has published their annual review of the state of Freelancing in the US.

The Freelancers Union is an interesting group, espousing “the new mutualisim”, and reinventing the labor union for the gig economy.

As I have put it, if you want to talk about “the future of work” you have to talk about the future of workers.

The days of the traditional nine-to-five job are long gone. Freelancing is here to stay.” (p. 2)

As advocates for Freelancer workers, the Union hopes oto improve the lives of millions fo workers, and, this year, they suggest the potential political power of freelancers.

As in past years, they report growth in the number of “freelancers”, though their figure of 55 million shows growth of only about 1 million per year, which is roughly the same rate growth of the work force itself.

I put quotes around the word “freelancers” because, as in last year’s report, they count moonlighters and “diversified” workers as freelancers, even though they have conventional employment.  In fact, over half of their 55 million freelance workers are in these categories.

There is nothing wrong with these folks, but there is a gigantic difference between having a part time freelance gig, supplemented by conventional work, and being a full time, 100% gig worker. And much of what the Freelance Union does and advocates for is really about the 20 million fully freelance workers, not so much for the 30 million part timers counted in their numbers. (And that’s a sixth of the workforce, not one third, but who’s counting.)

Nevertheless, 20 million or 50 million, there are a lot of workers who are “operating outside the traditional 40-hour workweek”

Until recently it may have seemed that freelancers worked in the margins of the economy, but as Freelancing in America 2016 shows, that is hardly the case. Freelancers make up a huge part of the U.S. economy. “ (p. 7)

The main points of the survey is to report that these workers mostly choose to work independently, are happy in their freelancing, and make as much or more money than previous employment. (The latter statistic could be reflecting the low pay for many types of work, especially in the last decade.) In other words, freelancing is not only more common, it is good for workers.

But these independent workers need clout, and that is where the Freelancers Union comes in. However happy freelancers may be, they still worry about money and life.

Income instability and related issues are of primary concern to freelancers. Freelancers ranked their top concerns as debt, dif culty nding work, and access to affordable healthcare. Full-time freelancers indicated they are most concerned about being paid a fair rate and unpredictable income. “ (p. 7)

The FU is concerned with fair pay, and fair practices (i.e., actually paying promptly for freelance work). The FU also offers insurance, other benefits, and networking for Freelancers, at least in large cities. These are things that conventional workplaces and conventional labor unions offer, and the FU is pioneering how to do them in the new “jobless” economy.

The Freelancers Union is doing important and vital work, which I support 100%. So don’t be fooled by this puffy little report –the Freelancers union is the real deal.


Disclosure: I have been a member of the FU for several years.


  1. Freelancers Union, Freelancing in America: 2016. Freelancers Unoin and Upwork, New York, 2016. https://fu-prod-storage.s3.amazonaws.com/content/None/FreelancinginAmerica2016report.pdf

 

The “New Way of Work” on Valentine’s Day

For Valentine’s Day, the media fills with adverts and junk stories, free associating on the theme of ‘love’. The Freelancing movement is not immune to this illness. Sigh.

Actually, I am somewhat interested in the question of “work/life” balance in the “gig economy”, having experienced first hand the early days of being continuously connected can mean for home life. At first it seemed cool that I could work at home, and didn’t need to spend long hours in the office and lab. But then I realized that it also meant that there was no difference between “at work” an “at home”, mostly to the detriment of being at home with my significant others.

This is now a nearly universal challenge for workers, and I am eager to see how “kids today” work this out.

So I was interested in the headline in New Worker Magazine, “10 ways to utilize your coworking space for work/life balance” by Diana McLaren. I haven’t heard much about this topic, and honestly, I don’t know that coworking spaces are particularly good for work/life balance, at least if you have a family,

As it happens, McLaren isn’t talking about balancing family life with work, she’s worried about stress and burnout. These are real concerns, but not what I was thinking of.

Worse, her “10 ways” have precious little to do with coworking spaces, per se. For example, “2. Take a nap.” Good advice, but you don’t need a coworking space to take this advice. In fact, many coworking spaces are terrible places to nap.

Toword the end several items are a bit more relevant, especially item 10, “Indulge in your new community. This is truly all about your coworking space. It is good advice, and you’ll want to choose to cowork with people who enjoy helping each other relax during work.

Of course, all her advice works just the same if you work in a conventional organization—but not if you work alone at home. So that’s the main take away.


 

More directly related to the “romance” theme, the Freelancer’s Union offered a fluffy listicle by Kate Shea, “4 unexpected realities of dating a freelancer”. This is a bit more on the topic I’ve been thinking about, talking from the perspective of a two-freelancer household. (And it was a relief from the unrelenting barrage form the FU, telling the world “freelancing isn’t free”. Pay up you bums!)

Shea’s list is:

  1. Free time
  2. No free time
  3. Feast-or-famine mentality
  4. Realities of the self-confidence spectrum

As she implies in items 1-3, the “freedom” and “autonomy” of the freelancer lifestyle can make relationships and family life quite unpredictable, financially and time wise.

Actually, a two-freelancer household is a good case—both of you are in the same boat. This unpredictability can place serious stress on a larger household, or only one freelancer living with others. Balancing the needs of others with a feast or famine career is not easy.

All this may be within the general bounds of anyone with a demanding job and a family, but her fourth point, “the self-confidence spectrum” is very salient in the “gig economy”. One of the good things about long term employment is the very real psychological benefit from the security that things will keep going, even with ups and downs. Job security isn’t absolute, but it’s something. Sometimes, its a very big something.

 Anyway, as Shea suggests, if the uncertainty is cruel and terrifying, the joy of success will be all the sweeter. Troubles shared are diminished, joy shared is multiplied.

Shea isn’t talking about coworking spaces, per se. But it is easy to extend her analysis to you coworking community—we’re all in this together.

I’m still worried about how the gig economy and coworking support family life, as in raising kids and caring for elders. But these two pieces give some insight into how workers are making the New Way of Work work.

Freelancer’s Union: “How to be a Quiet Revolutionary”

Possibly of interest; “resources‘, loosely defined, for freelancers, community organizations, and similar.

This is promulgated as something working towards a New Mutualist society.

I guess “quiet” means “not shouting in the street”. 🙂

I’m watching to see if this is much different than any number of other directories.

Note: the map opens to NYC by default, but there are entries elsewhere when you go looking.

I can imagine quite a few entries from my town, e.g., Urbana IMC and [co][lab], and several others just in that two block area.