2020 is here!
Is it going to be a year of magic for FDNs, or is there troubled waters ahead?
We find out in our second investigative article into the gig-economy, especially as to what’s in store during 2020 for freelancers, digital nomads, remotes and location independents.
To understand if 2020 is going to be any better than 2019, we’ll have to revisit our numbers for the past year. For many FDNs, 2019 was a year of slow growth or total stagnation, with several FDNs saying it was their most difficult year in a long time. This is understandable as one investigates the world’s global markets, and notes the downward spiral in some industries, especially the real estate market.
Though the gig-economy was estimated at roughly $1.3 trillion in 2019, positive financial return for FDNs were secluded to a select few at the top. Many an FDN (especially from 3rd world countries) reported alarmingly slow incomes of no more than $200 – $600 a month, with even more trying to supplement income with additional gigs here and there.
How did 2019 go for you?
Did your business flourish or was it particularly hard to land clients?
Though freelance platforms such as Upwork are indicating higher volumes of freelancers joining every day, (as well as their company income showing positive growth), more and more freelancers have noted that it has become harder to land well-paying jobs or clients on Upwork. One also has to question if ‘positive growth’ has come from freelancers adding several millions to the company’s revenue now that bids are charged for, or if financial gains were purely from client expenditure? Whatever the situation, we’ll have to keep a close watch during 2020.
With 2019 finally behind us, 2020 seems to hold more positives than negatives for FDNs. But as always, we need to be prepared to overcome the difficult times as much as we celebrate the good times. At the end of the day, mindset in business can determine outcome.
At FDN Life, we have noted that the economy on a global scale is trembling downward. The two biggest real estate markets in the world, the US and UK market, has showed a decline over several years now, with things headings towards a crash sooner or later. Flutters of a market crash and recession is circulating, which can spell troubled waters for FDNs who rely on a world economy so closely linked to gig-work; especially from US sources. If a global recession and market crash hits the world, brick-and-mortar businesses as well as digital business, hire fewer freelancers and often downscale or close their doors. It would therefore, be wise to ensure your emergency funds or backup plan is in order, and your FDN business is recession proof, just in case.
Ross Clark, writing for Spectator Life in his 7 Nov 2019 article titled, Are We Really In The Middle of A Property Market Crash, rightly asks the questions if we are living through the longest property market crash in history. Though it might not feel that way, with information is not commonly available to indicate a market slump, real estate prices have been falling to record lows for almost 10-years in a row in the UK. Richard Woolnough of M&G says the UK might be heading for a record setting house price correction if this continues.
According to the J.P Morgan Economic Research team, the US real estate market are at risk in some areas, while overall, things look better than in the last recession. Though, there are still risk areas where the housing market can fall and price corrections can occur. Read more here.
It is important for FDNs to keep a lookout at real estate markets in the world, especially location independents who pay daily or monthly rent.
While more and more choose to be a part of the gig-economy, there are ‘haters’ of the trade and those who believe that freelancing, remote work and other forms of gig work, while striving now, is to someday alter again. They might be right, or not. But for now, the gig workforce is expected to grow even more in 2020. In the USA alone, it is said to reach 43% this year.
One look at the most recent numbers for the gig-economy has every FDN excited about the prospects for the future. Why choose a nine-to-five cubicle over the growing majority of gig-workers setting their own schedule, said to be earning more while working less hours?
2019 saw the gig-economy grow to 36% of the US workforce alone (Gallup), (that we know of since some work freelance after hours alongside a traditional job), and these numbers are estimated to grow over 50% by 2027. 40% of those who choose to work a main job alongside a side gig, earns roughly 40% of their income from it (PYMNTS). Interestingly enough, the number of gig-workers are still growing faster each year. (Forbes found that it is increasing three times faster than the entire working populace in the U.S.)
On the global front, there is an estimate of over 160 million people busy with one or other gig-type work in the US and 15 countries of the EU combined (McKinsey); and in the UK, the gig-economy has doubled to around 4.7 million people (The Guardian).
These numbers create a hopeful future, with 90% of freelancers seeing a bright future ahead for the gig-economy in 2020 (Upwork). More and more statistics make us believe this as well, with 42% of 18-to-32-year-olds being a part of the gig-workforce. Intuit estimates that by 2020, over 80% of large companies in the US will opt for gig-workers instead of traditional workers.
This is a very bright future to look forward to indeed, however, there are some who do not foresee the same future. Unfortunately, there are some people who do not believe in the freelance and gig trend. The growing opinion that freelancers and digital nomads only share the ‘best’ parts of their lives on social media; or that all freelancers who entered the market where privileged before turning to the gig-economy for a fresh start, is being exposed more and more.
I know what you’re thinking and yes, this is true for a portion of those working in the FDN world. But this generalization can never apply to all. However, a far greater and growing concerns of gig-work is the impact it has on the local community.
Unfortunately, the impact is not always good. Freelancers and stay-at-home gig-workers have less of an impact, but the impact of location independents such as digital nomads are not always positive. At the moment, most digital nomads are Western, and some only strive to visit or occupy developing countries where housing is inexpensive compared to living and housing costs in their own countries. This in itself is not a bad thing since the local economy can benefit, but in these developing countries it sometimes occurs that the growing number of western traveler’s cause prices to ‘sky-rocket’ for the locals, whose incomes do not increase along with them.
In some cases, local residents are moved to create space for location independents, as they can pay more than locals. These scenarios are blamed on some life counselors who encourage those starting in the gig-workforce to head to 3rd world countries where their money will last longer.
Critique for the ‘Do What You Love’ movement comes in cases where gig-workers do not feel the need to give back to communities where they are situated for a time. Since most only 1st world country individuals benefit, these negative connotations to FDN workers, leave some thinking that this working trend is only possible for a fortunate few, especially of Western descent, and that it will eventually falter.
FDNs have many expenses, some that do not even come to mind when you are a traditional worker. There are the common expenses such as food, lodging, equipment and such. Office space is a large expense that some office workers do not think of paying, because their employers pay the rent for the building, not them. But when you are an FDN, you pay for everything yourself. Expenses that are all too common is travel and excursions. What some gig-workers do not always know is that these expenses can be deducted from taxes paid. But, of course, the IRS plays a large part here, and of course some expenses, such as the new laptop that you bought last month, cannot be claimed even if you use it for work.
Plan for the future, find something that works best for you when thinking of retirement, even if it seems far away. Consider opening an Individual Retirement Account, whether it is a traditional option or a Roth option. The difference being that in the traditional option the payments made can be deducted from taxes and the withdrawals are taxed, while in the Roth option it is the opposite, withdrawals are tax deductible and payments are taxed. A third option would be to open a Simplified Employee Pension Fund, investing however much you want.
Other than retirement, healthcare is a scary topic for FDNs as we do not have employers who pay our healthcare. This is increasingly concerning when you are stationed permanently or temporarily, in a country that penalizes those who do not have health insurance, (the U.S. being the example that pops into mind first). A ‘quick fix’, if you have the option, is to have your spouse or partner put you on their plan. FDNs that don’t have this option can try Healthcare.gov.
The sixth yearly study done by Upwork and Freelancers Union was published in October 2019 and held some promising results. Results included the estimated number of 57 million American Freelance workers, of which most are Gen Z.
American Freelancers’ incomes were found to be around 5% of the overall GDP in the US, which comes to around $1 trillion. In some of the larger businesses, freelancers’ incomes were more than the GDP. Some freelancers earned an average of $28 an hour, which is higher than 70% of US workers hourly wage across the country. With this in mind, the study also found that freelancing is becoming a long-term career for 28% of the workforce, which is 11% higher than the 2014 survey results (17%).
‘Skilled services’ such as IT and marketing, to name a few, have become a large part of the freelancing community, as 45% of freelancers provide these skilled services to companies who outsource. Freelancing was also found to be an alternative option for people who are not able to do traditional work, for whatever reason they may have.
Though we have seen favorable statistics for US freelance workers, not the same can be said for those in 3rd world countries such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Thailand, the Philippines, South Africa and various others. Freelancers in these countries complain of exploitation by 1st world country companies and individuals. Freelancers in 3rd world countries most often have excellent skills in IT, programming and software -skills that are charged well over $50 – $150 an hour in the US – while the 3rd world country freelancer often works for mediocre rates of anything between $1, to $5 or $10 an hour.
Though it is understandable that earning $1 is perhaps better than nothing, (or better than the hourly rate in the country of residence), it is still interesting to note that sought after skills such as these are not earning more.
But perhaps, the fault is not so much with the 1st world country hiring, but those freelancers in 3rd world countries bidding at increasingly lower rates just to land a client. This poses another serious problem on freelance platforms such as Upwork and Freelancer.com, whereby 3rd world country freelancers often bid so low that 1st world country freelancers can’t compete. (It is just not worth it to work for mediocre hourly rates if your rent is $1,000 a month.)
With clients increasingly getting more and more used to paying less for quality work, there is a serious value-for-money de-valuation setting into the market of the gig-economy. A very worrying prospect. From a company perspective, why would they pay $15,000 plus for branding and website design in their native US / EU, when they can get the same from a freelancer in Asia for as low as $300 – $1,500?
To a quality freelancer who has (or want) to earn anything above $1,500 – $5,000 to make a descent living, it spells troubled waters ahead if the value of quality work keeps decreasing due to many freelance marketplaces not having any value system in place.
Luckily, platforms such as Design Hill is trying to change this, especially to counteract underbidding. Design Hill established a minimum threshold as per the work required, which is excellent for designers who value their time and worth. Perhaps, more freelance platforms should incorporate a minimum payment scale to counteract exploitation of quality freelancer workers.
It is with great interest (and concern) that we have been keeping an eye on the developments in the state of California. Though the new law pertaining to contract workers might seem to want to ‘protect freelance workers,’ our concern is that this is just a smokescreen for a behind-the-scenes agenda. Furthermore, other states and countries are soon to catch on, and implement the same silly laws locally.
What does the new Assembly Bill 5 of California say?
Basically, the law wants to enforce legal protection for workers that are said to be misclassified by some companies as contractors. Some companies do this to save money on such things such as salaries, medical and insurance, and retirement funds. Essentially, workers will now have to be re-classified as employees if the work they completed forms part of the regular activities of the business. A freelance writer for example, who writer 3 – 6 articles a month for a magazine, have to be reclassified as an employee, and as such, receive a salary and full employee benefits.
Thought the law seems as if it wants to protect contract workers, it’s a disaster for contract workers who really are contractors and prefer not to be clustered in a cubicle working the 9-5. We chose this lifestyle after all, since we want to have full control over our own destiny and work schedule.
Whenever a new law such as this one comes to pass, one has to look a little closer and deeper as to what is really going on. Since a lot of contract workers such as plumbers, electricians, and drivers receive cash payments, (or freelancers working online from countries around the world don’t really bother with disclosing their income since they are not earning it in their country of origin), one has to wonder if countries are getting worried about their bottom line.
With 50 million plus freelance workers in the USA alone, is Mr. Tax man getting worried? Is it about money and the power over human beings that this law is actually being forced into being? Instead of contractors having had the opportunity to run and manage their own business and time, they will now be forced to become employees in the state of California. Looks a bit like a dictatorship as well in that contractors don’t have the choice to choose whether or not they want to be classified as employees or contractors. Where is the freedom of choice that the US was so well known for? What has happened to the country of the brave and the free?
If we as freelancers, contractors or gig-workers don’t stand together, laws such as these might start popping up in more and more countries around the world. Thought there is aspects of the world of the contractor that is not always great, the option to choose whether or not to do a contract is always there. The freedom of choice. Now it seems, the option to choose and be free to live the life you want, hangs in the balance.
Let’s be honest, its no easy being ‘the boss’ and running your location independent business. As many of us has learnt by now, there is no such thing as work-life-balance, especially if you have big dreams and want to earn well. But, gig-work does afford the opportunity to grow your skillset and expertise at a much faster rate than being stuck in a traditional career. Furthermore, you have the chance of working with clients from around the world, as well as large corporations who are now more and more open to working with gig-workers. You are not stuck in a cubicle. You don’t have to ‘listen to the boss’ or submit yourself to office politics, nor sit for hours in the same training.
If you are a hard worker and know how to get deals, you can earn more money if you can manage your time well. You can further decide how your money is spent, and how much of it you will invest for your retirement, savings accounts and other expenses for excursions and travel. It’s also super exciting to create a business and find solutions for problems as they arise.
There will most certainly be more controversy for the gig-economy, and more critique is sure to arise around the work and travel lifestyle of FDNs, but current statistics are still on the rise. (Especially for freelancers in 3rd world countries where local freelance platforms are popping up and taking the world by storm). More and more companies are outsourcing to gig-workers, and the number of gig-workers are increasing worldwide. As such, the gig-economy of 2020 is very much in the green. And, though there are those who believe that FDNs do not have a place in the far future, 2020 does indeed look very bright for FDNs.
KEEP YOUR CHIN UP – YOU HEAD HELD HIGH
During this year, it would be important to keep your chin up and ensure you stay on top of your business. Don’t lose faith. Don’t lose hope. Keep on working hard, taking action and looking towards the future with bright eyes. For indeed, the future of FDNs is bright if we all stand together and create the future we desire.
To 2020, may it be the best year ever!
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