I often get asked how to become a freelance writer and editor, because a lot of people are intrigued at the thought of working from home in their pajamas and having time to just do what they want every day.
I always quickly set them straight: The freelance business is tough, and working in your pajamas every day starts to make you feel like a mental-ward patient. And any spare time you have will be spent throwing in a load of laundry and cleaning up dog puke.
But freelancing is a viable option for many people, and one that more employers are starting to embrace for a variety of professions. Here's a story I did on the issue of contract work for Gannett/USAToday...
Is the temporary worker about to become a more permanent fixture in the American work force?
As the economy begins to recover, more employers are sticking with hiring only contract or temporary workers. It's a move designed to give them flexibility in dealing with the improving market, but it's also a way to keep their costs under control.
Permanent employees often are provided employee benefits, and those can comprise 40% or more of a worker's total compensation package. Many companies don't offer temporary workers any benefits, so that helps greatly reduce their costs.
"The biggest fixed cost an employer has is payroll," says Tim Ozier, director of contract staffing at MRINetwork in Philadelphia. "It's to their advantage to hire contract workers in many cases."
Still, what does that mean for someone seeking permanent employment? Will a temporary job be the only route open to bringing home a paycheck?
No, says Ozier, because only 1.5% of the work force is considered contract or contingent workers. And even though he expects that number to rise to 5%, in line with the temporary employment figures in Europe, contract workers won't dominate the employment landscape.
"But people shouldn't be afraid of being a contingent or contract worker," he says. "Companies are opening up all kinds of work in these areas. We've place CIOs (chief information officers) and COOs (chief operating officers) for eight months or longer with one company."
The days of temp workers being qualified for only low-paying, entry-level jobs is past, and workers who embrace the work may find they appreciate the flexibility and experience they gain, Ozier says. While information technology and engineering have a great demand for contract workers, other workers being hired on an as-needed basis include human resources, advertising and marketing.
"It's a great way to enhance your skill set and broaden your sphere of influence," he says. "You can get experience with different kinds of companies."
Ozier says that staffing companies such as his also find that older job seekers — who often have a more difficult time in the job market — have skills that are in demand by employers seeking contract workers.
"Tenured, mature workers are an important part of the contingent worker landscape," he says. "They are experienced, have a shorter ramp-up time and have very sought-after skills."
For those considering contract or contingent work, Ozier recommends:
• Staying connected. Online networking sites such as LinkedIn are critical steps in letting others know of your availability for contract work and the skills you can bring to the table. Attend industry events to let employers know of your expertise.
• Seeing temporary work as a logical step. Not only can temporary work keep a paycheck coming, but it also can lead to permanent employment. Ozier says employers may use a contract gig as a way to try out an employee. When employers hire a temp for a full-time position, they often offer a higher salary than if making an outside hire.
• Being vocal. Just as if you were applying for a full-time, permanent position, be specific about what you can offer an employer as a contract worker. Cite specific cases of where you helped an employer's bottom line.
• Looking forward. Some employers may hire you with a six-month contract that can be extended — or ended as planned. If you've worked with a recruiter to land the temporary gig, plan about a month before the end date to check in with the recruiter to begin looking for another assignment, Ozier says.
• Knowing your worth. It's not unheard of for temporary workers — who prove their worth — to be able to ask for a pay raise from the employer, no matter how temporary the employment. In addition, many employers will pay some living expenses if you're asked to relocate or travel for a temporary assignment.