July 1, 2019

Getting to Know the Freelancer Membership Segment

Getting to Know the Freelancer Membership Segment

Who comes to mind when you think of freelancers? The Uber or Lyft driver from last week? Or is it someone like Alice?

Alice is a Gen Xer who has been a full-time employee at several companies. However, for the past three years, she’s been working for herself—freelancing for small organizations and usually juggling two or three clients at a time. She freelances by choice and plans to continue her freelance career until retirement.

According to a FlexJobs survey report, Alice is an example of the average full-time freelancer profile.

In recent years, many people have become freelancers like Alice. While the non-freelance workforce grew by only 2% in the last five years, the freelance workforce grew 7%. According to a Freelancers Union survey, 35% of Americans did some kind of freelance work this year—but that figure includes Uber drivers and other contingent or gig workers.

Who Are These Freelancers?

Freelancers, solopreneurs, and independent contractors share many of the same preferences, goals, and needs as self-employed professionals, such as consultants and small business owners.

61% of freelancers started freelancing by choice, a percentage that has increased every year, according to Freelancers Union. The top reasons for freelancing are control over one’s own destiny, flexibility, and independence. Many freelancers sum it up in one word: freedom. 51% of them say no amount of money would get them to take a traditional job.

You may have thought of freelancing as a millennial phenomenon, but Gen Xers, like Alice, are more typical. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 11% of the workforce in the 25 to 34 year old age range are self-employed independent contractors and freelancers. In older age groups, the percentage is more than doubled.

The report from FlexJobs came to the same conclusion: more Gen Xers and baby boomers are freelancing as their sole source of income than millennials.

Freelancers are experienced professionals: 51% of them describe their career stage as intermediate or management level, 27% as senior or executive level, and only 12% as entry level.

Get to Know Your Freelancer Membership Segment

Because the growth of freelancing is a recent career trend, many associations aren’t tracking it as a membership segment. It might be time to ask these questions about your membership and market:

  • Do you know if freelancing is a growing trend in your industry or profession?
  • Is it a trend with those who sell professional services to your industry?
  • What percentage of your industry’s workforce are freelancers or independent contractors?
  • What percentage of your membership are self-employed freelancers or independent contractors?

Identify the freelancers in your membership. Take time to find out about their membership goals and professional challenges. Ask about their education, networking, and marketing needs. Collect data, such as age, career stage, and specialty, that will help you understand this membership segment.

Tag this group in your association management system and other databases so you can track their engagement. This growing segment is worth special consideration—you don’t want to lose them to a competing association or for-profit membership organization.

Freedom Has a Price: Barriers to Association Involvement

The cost of training is a barrier for 63% of full-time freelancers, according to the Freelancers Union survey. When freelancers go out on their own, they lose many benefits your employed members enjoy, such as health insurance and employer support for membership dues and professional development.

Where do freelancers fit in your membership model? Can they afford membership dues? What about additional program registration fees?

If they’re providing professional services to your members, do they fit into your traditional industry partner or vendor member category? If the industry partner category was designed for corporations, can a solopreneur afford the dues?

Depending on the number of freelancers in your membership market, you may want to consider adding a less expensive tier to your membership model. This tier could provide digital benefits only, for example, access to digital publications and a limited number of online learning programs. Freelancers also benefit from association discount programs, such as insurance, business/legal services, and web hosting.

Freelancers Are Big on Professional Development

Freelancers are highly motivated learners. Their top three training goals are: keeping up with changing technologies, getting more work by learning marketable skills, and expanding their professional network.

70% of full-time freelancers participated in skills training in the past six months compared to only 49% of full-time non-freelancers. Freelancers primarily develop their skills through online courses.

Freelancers are a ready-made audience for your professional development programs. They want to improve the industry knowledge and skills that they rely upon to make a living. But, freelancers also need training and information that will help them run their business, for example:

  • Technology
  • Networking
  • Business management
  • Legal advice
  • Financial advice: taxes, insurance
  • Marketing

Solopreneurs Seek Networking and Community

83% of freelancers work alone at home. It’s no wonder that 56% of them say they feel isolated working on their own. Freelancers are eager to develop three kinds of relationships: peers, partners, and prospective clients.

They’re seeking peers who do the same work as them or who work in the same industry or profession. One of the benefits of association membership is finding a support group of fellow professionals who “get” what you do.

Many freelancers also want to build a network of partners—people who can collaborate with them on client projects, for example, a marketing consultant might want to find graphic designers.

The biggest challenge for freelancers is finding clients, so business development is a primary membership goal. Freelance workers find most of their clients through networking and job sites. Give freelance members plenty of opportunities for networking, for example:

  • In-person social and educational events organized by the national association or chapters
  • Online communities
  • Online learning programs in which they can interact with fellow learners

If you have a job board, let employers know they can use it to hire independent contractors. Make sure positions can be filtered by both contract and virtual work.

Freelance Success Requires Continual Marketing

Freelancers have to continually market themselves to stay “employed,” unlike traditional employees who may go years (or decades) before having to put themselves on the job market.

During new member onboarding, introduce freelance members to the many marketing opportunities offered by your association. Freelancers can make a reputation for themselves by writing articles and blog posts, speaking at conferences and other educational events, or making a guest appearance on your podcast.

Because they can’t always afford regular exhibit fees, consider designing a special section on your show floor for freelancers and other self-employed members.

Encourage freelancers to take advantage of one of the most transformative benefits of membership: volunteering. As a volunteer, they can develop new relationships, enhance their leadership skills, and make valuable contributions to their association and professional community.

Freelancers, independent contractors, and solopreneurs are an overlooked but growing segment in the workforce. Make your association the home for self-employed professionals in your industry.

Learn more about how MemberSuite’s Membership Management solution can help your association track, understand, and boost the engagement of your many membership segments, including freelancers.