Originally posted on Forbes by Jon Younger on February 2, 2023.
One of the most durable findings in the psychological literature is what psychologists call the “primacy effect”. We experience it all the time. For example, FIFO (“first in first out”) and FOMO, (“fear of missing out”) are two widely known examples. But the influence of the primacy effect goes far deeper. First impressions have a big impact on how we see and experience others. We are far more likely to remember what we learn first. And our initial experiences predispose our feelings about what we’ve done or accomplished.
Primacy also plays a larger role than you might expect in the careers of full-time employees and freelancers. For example, one’s manager’s behavior will very likely color attitudes toward the company and predispose new employees to either feel a burst of loyalty or start looking for a new job.
And for freelancers, primacy has a big impact. Many find the first year of freelancing to be challenging. Here’s how new freelancers describe their experience working with clients as compared with freelancers who have additional experience to draw on.
What a difference a year makes. As the data above points out, new freelancers feel more impeded than experienced hands in a wide variety of areas:
· How well typical clients know how to work effectively with freelancers
· Expectations of work quality
· Client project manager competence in working with freelancers
· Access to essential information
· Helpfulness of client team members
· Fair treatment and fair pay
Each of these is a worry for new freelancers. But, with just a year of experience under their belt, these concerns begin to diminish. Freelancers feel greater agency – more control and influence on their work relationships and outcomes – after their first year. With it, they build more competence and confidence with dealing with their work, colleagues, and clients.
How might we accelerate the positive experiences of year one, and provide more freelancers with an opportunity to “start out strong”?
In a recent series of recent discussions with platform leaders, these platforms and their leaders offered what they do to encourage a freelancer first approach, and contribute to early freelancers’ success:
- A strong business onboarding experience. Collective, for example, provides new subscribing freelancers with a comprehensive business set up package that includes incorporation, tax, legal and accounting support, and a variety of discounted other business services including access to co-work facilities. CEO Hooman Radfar described it this way: “Collective is the online back-office designed specifically for solopreneurs. We provide the tools that enable freelancers to manage their business finances, so they can keep the money they make and stay compliant.”
- Coaching for success. Toptal takes a different approach, focusing on the help freelancers need to experience early commercial success. As Carly Coleman, VP of Talent Success put it, “Our work with new freelancers prioritizes early professional success. Each new “talent” is assigned a coach to help them build their profile, set pricing, get organized, and begin to work and build their reputation. We have made big investments in professional or ‘soft’ skills but also in new tech training.”
- Early feedback and mentorship. At India’s Flexing It, CEO Chandrika Pasricha emphasizes the importance of early feedback in supporting their new freelancers. She explained, “The first projects are critical to establish a virtuous cycle and build trust in the platform, and our team supports this through feedback on freelancer’s early proposals and project budgets.” Weem, the French consulting platform, recently initiated what CEO Leslie Garçon calls “les indépendantes” providing peer mentoring for aspiring or new freelancers and offers tips for thriving in a freelance career path. As Dave Messinger, CTO of Torc explains, the startup offers education and coaching support to its tech freelancers and, uniquely, provides real-time feedback on technical skills as well.
- Teaming is a rising tide that lifts multiple boats. Wethos’s CEO Rachel Renock sees teaming as a powerful tool in supporting early freelancer success. Here’s how she put it: “We actively support and encourage our freelancers to team up, and 51% of projects created on Wethos involve independent freelancers teaming up. Doing so, freelancers expand their networks and increase their opportunities for projects. We see teaming up as a way to help freelancers form Virtual Studios. This makes it possible to compete with large agencies for better projects and bigger paychecks and is transforming a legacy industry into a market larger than e-commerce.”
- Eliminating payment worries. Most freelancers have heard the stories or personally experienced late or incomplete payment, and it’s a legitimate worry especially for new full-time freelancers. We are Rosie, Hoxby, and ITarmi are a few of the platforms that remove the headache of chasing fees, and offers timely and regular payment for work completed, whether or not the client pays on time.
- Opening up the larger network. More and more, platforms are finding value in collaborating on behalf of their freelancers. At a regional level, platforms like Uplink, Freelancermap, CodeControl, 9am, and others in Germany are planning to meet and cooperate for mutual benefit. Platforms in Spain similarly met last year, led by Outvise, to plan how to grow the market together, share best practices, and create greater opportunity for freelancers. Latam platforms like Ollo, Woki Consulting, Lithium, with the help of big marketplaces Andela and Freelancer.com are joining forces this spring to identify and take advantage of synergies that support their freelancers. And services like Freelancebusiness.eu provide peer-led training available to freelancers across platforms and marketplaces. Catalant organizes regular executive sessions that bring its consultants and clients together to hear from industry experts.
- Time together. Platforms like Fring and Contra provide their freelancers with opportunities to meet up virtually or in person and offer a virtual space to work together with colleagues or with clients. Indielist schedules regular casual meetups and informal events for their Irish freelancers. AdevaIT offers monthly fireside chats on technical topics. Howdy provides common spaces for their Latam freelancers to meet and share advice and best practices. Open-Assembly holds a virtual community meeting each fortnight and combines education and relationship building. Time together is a powerful way to help new freelancers learn from more experienced colleagues.
- Help with “adjacencies” that offer additional branding and income potential. Smart professionals see broader potential available to them. Beyond remote or onsite client work, freelancers have potential opportunities available to them as a coach, trainer, advisor, podcaster, interim or part-time professional, expert network participant, and newsletter author. Think of these as “adjacent” sources of income that are tied to and reinforce the freelancer’s area of expertise. The best freelance platforms help freelancers identify the wider variety of ways that new freelancers can commercially succeed and provide them with guidance and support.
We can be sure of one thing: more freelancers are joining, expanding the ranks of independent professionals in almost every area of specialization. The tech layoffs, now impacting 368K professionals, will surely grow the ranks of freelancers on both a temporary and permanent basis. And, beyond those impacted personally by layoffs, more and more professionals see the potential for career success and greater life balance as greater on the freelance side. The challenge now facing marketplaces and platforms: providing the support these individuals need to start out strong and build successful freelance careers.
Viva la revolution!