PhotoThere is evidence to suggest that the working world is changing dramatically, and modern workers need to adjust or face being left behind. Due to globalization, the technological revolution, economic instability, and the recent Great Recession, the markets have become increasingly volatile — even hostile — to those who can’t adapt.

As a result, companies are looking to be more adaptable. One way they are doing this is by decreasing their usage of fixed workers (permanent, full-time staff), and increasing their usage of contingent workers whom they can hire and fire in a flash. This study from Intuit suggests that contingent workers could form around 40 percent of the workforce by 2020, but more conservative reports from MBO partners suggest it may be around 20 percent.

With the workforce going through such a dramatic change over the next five years, we are likely to see a reduction in the number of fixed, permanent jobs and a relative increase in freelance/contingent jobs. If workers want to remain relevant, employable, and calling the shots in 2020, they need to embrace freelance or contingent work.

Here are my top four tips for surviving in a brave, new freelance world.

1. Gain Early-Mover Advantage

Don’t wait for the contingent working phenomenon to take hold, or else you’ll have to play catch-up. Now is the time to start dipping your toes in the water. If you can’t get a full-time job, this is the perfect time to take a part-time job and supplement your income with a freelance assignment gained through connections or an online freelance marketplace. Build up a track record as a freelancer so that by the time the big freelance wave comes, you’ll be a skilled surfer, rather than flailing to get to the surface.

2. Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

The advantage of freelancing is that you can spread your risk and have multiple clients – unlike when you worked for one fixed employer permanently – which means that if a client drops you, you still have several other clients to pick up the financial slack. The problem is that many freelancers break this rule and are tempted to build a cosy relationship with just one employer, and if that client goes, there is catastrophe. As a freelancer, always have multiple clients to spread around your risk.

3. Rate Your Success on Referrals and Unsolicited Inquiries

There are many great freelance marketplaces out their, such as Elance, oDesk, and Guru, where you can find freelance work today. In the early days, you might be using these sites to find all of your work, but after a few years — if you are doing it right — you should be getting referrals and having people come to you first. If after a couple of years you are not getting these referrals and unsolicited inquiries and are still 100 percent dependent on freelance marketplaces, you may be doing something wrong. A freelancer should be using referrals, unsolicited inquiries, and repeat business as a sign of their success and growing reputation.

4. Specialize and Create a Sense of Scarcity Around Your Skill Set 

Getting freelance work will be easy, but getting freelance work at a competitive pay rate is the real challenge. The most effective way to secure good freelance rates is to specialize in a niche where demand outstrips supply; you’ll be perceived as more valuable and will be able to bargain for a higher rate. It may take time and planning to establish yourself in a niche, which is why early-mover advantage is essential.

Freelance work is coming and will change the face of the working world, but with the right planning, you can use this shift as an opportunity for success and happiness.

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