When we left our story, the freelancers project (FLP) at Forge Portland was considering a new way to monetize. Rather than bartering their time and services, participants would instead agree to pay for skills, goods or services in dollars. The idea, explained entrepreneur Rob Bart, was to get dollars circulating – which he predicted would lead to more efficient business choices and thus more successful freelancers.

Photo: Forge Portland

Photo: Forge Portland

Meeting for the first time in June, eight participants (including the author) began the experiment. Members contributed $25 to a seed fund, to be spent within a few days on the services of vendor participants. The first round of  purchases is now underway, with Portland Radio Project engaging the services of Daniel Cole for a paid website task.

Meanwhile, at its second meeting, July 16, FLP participants mulled the freelancer’s plight. Along with the struggle to earn a living wage, the FLP found freelancers face myriad other challenges. According to this group, here are the top quandaries faced by those who freelance:

1. Making money

2. Setting value (on products/services)

3. Building trust

4. Managing others’ expectations (that because you freelance, you will work for low or no cost)

5. Working in solitude (no cross-pollination of ideas)

The FLP list is widely shared among freelancers worldwide. Britain’s Creative Boom, for example, writes:

“By far the most common problem of freelancing is being a freelancer. Many people don’t seem to understand or respect those who are sole traders and run their own businesses alone. As you’re the only person on your team it somehow makes people assume that you’re not worthy of your day rate or even capable of the services you provide. They’ll try to knock you down on price or take advantage of you, suggesting you do things for free.”

Martin Dasko, of Start Freelancing Now, agrees: “Many freelancers lose out on projects because they haven’t fully demonstrated why they would be the best candidate.” 

The Creative Boom solution:

“Pretend to be bigger than you are. That’s right. Pretend there’s more than one of you. Change the language on your website and marketing literature to say ‘We’ instead of ‘I’. Say you’re an ‘agency’ if you think it will help. Alternatively, you could pull together a network of other freelancers to offer collaborative services. You could also consider paying for virtual services, having your own virtual PA answering your calls. There’s no harm in pretending to be bigger if you think it will gain you the respect you deserve.”

Dasko’s advice: “Have a solid portfolio that you can share with potential clients. You can bolster your portfolio by including testimonials from happy customers as personal recommendations can be a persuasive tool.”

Whether from necessity or thirst for a meaningful life, Portland has become a hub for freelance pursuits, with its own chapter of the national Freelancers Union, a New York labor organization that acts as a network for independent workers, and offers them collective benefits such as health insurance.

FU founder Sara Horowitz writes: “There are definitely things to worry about for freelancers — quality health care, stress, getting paid what you’re worth.”

But if her 240-thousand dues-paying members are any indication, freelance workers have started a movement. In a recent article Horowitz, who estimates the number of U.S. independents at 40-million, said of freelancers:

“They’re teaching us all every day — how to lead lives of Meaningful Independence.

Meaningful independence is when you have the ability to pursue your passions and your dreams, secure in the knowledge that you’re connected to people, groups, and institutions that have your back.

Freelancing’s the new normal — that’s why we need a new economic infrastructure that supports this way of living. If you’re worried about simple stability and security, you won’t take risks and follow that innovative dream you’ve been thinking about for years.”

Photo: Freelancers Union

Photo: Freelancers Union

Horowitz’s FU expanded its national benefits offering beyond health care this summer, to include liability and life insurance. And, the FU website offers a tool to find benefits available to freelancers by zip code.

As we continue to document the FLP at PRP.FM, we will learn about the results of the investment in Daniel’s services. (Will it lead to paid work for other freelancers?)

Forge Portland’s Rob Bart invites freelancers to join the FLP by responding to this article. Social media whizzes, writers and accountants are in particular demand.



Rebecca Webb
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