First, let’s do a little introduction into the freelance market: based on a study from the Freelancers Union and Upwork, the US has about 53 million freelancers. If we don’t count moonlighters (people that have a full-time job during the day, but work freelance gigs at night) there are about 36 million freelancers in the US.
But “freelance” is just a person’s employment status, it actually says very little about how the person works. We like to break down the freelance market into three tiers based on their workflow:
1. Project based workflow
This person works on a project basis, with start and end dates and mostly within b2b relationships: designers, developers, management consultants, etc.
2. Scheduling based workflow
This person’s workflow is all about calendar management and their relationships are often b2c: personal trainer, some real estate brokers etc.
3. Shift / Gig based workflow (aka forced freelancers)
Often, this person did not chose to be freelance, but their employer forced them to be. Their workflow is mostly shift based. Even though they cater to consumers, they have only two or three clients they get paid from: a driver that works for Uber and Lyft for example.
There are many reasons why people believe the freelance workforce is growing. This is happening from the bottom up (gig economy) and top down (knowledge workers). With more services appearing that connect people with gig-type jobs, it creates an assurance that gigs are always just an app away. Therefore the previously felt risk-barrier of turning freelance goes down.
It’s a similar situation for the knowledge worker. Currently, the US is experiencing a lack of available, quality talent across many professions. With more jobs than talent, the risk of turning freelance goes down, as available freelance gigs and their rates go up.
Obviously, these are just two reasons why the freelance workforce is evolving.
With a growing independent workforce, many people are gaining freedom and flexibility. On the other hand, they are giving up their corporate support structure that let them focus on their core skills and vital leverage with their employer.
While most of the discussions have been centered around the growing gig economy, AND CO is focusing on the knowledge worker first. For the rest of this article, the focus will be on that tier.
Timmy AND CO
When you have that full-time job, most things are taken care of by your employer. You only have to worry about the tasks you were hired for. When you turn freelance, there are suddenly two big problems occurring.
- You have to manage your business operations yourself
Ask a designer what their list of accounts looks like and he will ask “what’s that?” Many freelancers are amazing at their core skills, but don’t know as much about their business operations (and hate taking care of it).
- You’re alone
You only have access to your own knowledge. If another freelancer has a bad experience with a company that you’re about to work with, you have no way of knowing. If everyone else is charging twice as much as you, once again you’re in the dark.
With AND CO, obviously named after “& Company”, we are recreating the corporate support structure for freelancers. And by doing so, we’re creating a system that manages your business operations and automates the sharing of knowledge between freelancers.
A data-driven union for freelancers.
To explain the network effect, let’s use the analogy of a workers union.
As a freelancer, it’s pretty hard to unionize the traditional way to build leverage with the corporations they work with and gain a support network of other freelancers that they can profit from.
As an independent worker, you are pretty much alone and the only way to gain access to information, like knowing how much to charge or who not to work for, is by asking your other freelance friends. This is not just a pretty small data set you’re tapping into to steer your business decisions but also needs you to actively seek it in the first place. (In most cases, you have better things to do.) Apart from close friends, other freelancers might even be hesitant to share their experiences and rates in order to protect their client relationship and business.
Sticking with the union analogy: A baseline of a functioning workers union is the participation from its members. The union’s leverage comes from the active commitment of every member. If no one actually commits to the strike, there is not much leverage. In a traditional union there is always the need to get everyone pumped up and organized.
In a data-driven union, technology automates the participation. The system itself creates the organization and therefore everyone participates automatically.
The system won’t tell you to go on strike, it will serve you with smart tools and intelligence to level the playing field and help you make smarter business decisions. And as a side-effect, it also creates leverage from the ability to detect which companies are freelancer friendly and which are not.
Companies will have an interest in treating members of the system well. Corporations will profit from being known as a “freelancer friendly company” as their ability to hire top talent will depend on it.
How AND CO starts
Centralizing the business intelligence of every freelancer
To automatically connect every freelancer with each other we need:
• A standard for the structure of the business data.
• A single, centralized database of clients.
• A standard for business ethics (like payment terms, fairness of a contract etc.)
Once every freelancer is running on the same standard, they can automatically share information with each other, with no need of any active participation. (Remember, you have better things to do ;)
Financial transactions as a method of verification
Only if the information is true (or verified) will it be valuable to the members. One should not be able to judge a company without ever having worked for it. Financial transactions are a trusted method of verification, as they are proof that the relationship between the freelancer and corporation actually existed.
Financial transactions help us:
• Know how fast a company is really paying (They say they’re NET30, we know they’re actually NET87)
• Forecast cash flow (Knowing how fast a company pays means knowing when a freelancer can expect payment)
• Create a verified overview on rates, categorized by employer.
• Collect quality feedback on employers (freelancers can only review who they really worked with)
A universal Freelance OS
We’re building a standard for how freelancers run their business operations wrapped into an API. This way we can connect freelancers with each other to share valuable information automatically, like rates, who to work with and who maybe not.
To run a freelance business, there are a couple of things you HAVE to do and a truckload of things you could do. We break this down into …
- Mandatory, repeated actions:
These are the things you HAVE to do on a regular basis during your freelance life.
• Invoicing (You have to invoice a client to make money)
• Expense tracking (You have to keep track of your spending)
• Paying taxes (You have to pay your taxes)
- Temporary & optional actions:
These are the things freelancers can do, but could survive without doing.
• Getting a health insurance
• Retirement planning
• Factoring or business loans
• Setting up a business bank account
• Getting an LLC
• Drafting a new legal doc from scratch
The mandatory, repeated actions are the baseline of your freelance business and these actions are all connected to each other. To pay your taxes, you have to track money in, money out. They are also the baseline of all other services you might use to complete the temporary & optional actions.
We design it as a universal OS that can host any type of external service:
• If you like to use that other time tracking app — great! Do it.
• You need factoring because a client is paying late? — np, use service X or Y
• It’s the end of the year and you need to renew your health insurance? — Cool! We generate your application through a third-party marketplace.
A system that comes to you if it needs anything, not the other way around.
Most freelancers hate doing back office work, so we have to design the most convenient solution possible. Two features that get us there:
- A human support layer
Every freelancer gets a personal Chief Operator, a human support person to help you manage your back office tasks. This support adds assurance that you’re doing it right.
- My Desk
It’s a single to-do list that can house any service, no matter if internal or external. My Desk is bite-sizing anything you gotta do and turns it into a fun, conversational interaction that never takes longer than 30 seconds.
With both of these features, we can create an experience that tells you if you ever need to do anything, not the other way around. Therefore erasing the back office of the freelancer’s mind.
By running the freelancer’s back office, we connect their businesses with each other to share knowledge and build collective power automatically.
That is why AND CO is starting with the back office.
If you believe in our mission, please feel free to reach out. There are many ways to get involved:
1. Become a beta member
Sign up on www.and.co, let us simplify your freelance life and give us your feedback on the product in return.
2. Work with us
We are always looking for talented people that want to help us move this mission forward. And yes, we love working with freelancers :) email@example.com
Thanks for reading!
Leif & Martin
Founders, AND CO