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The Future of Work | Working the Future
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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking


2018-05-10 20:48

Cathryn Barnard



Working for yourself, we’re told, will soon become the new normal. The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2030, most of us will be self-employed. We...


Working for yourself, we’re told, will soon become the new normal. The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2030, most of us will be self-employed. We support this position, for reasons that I’ve written about before. Certainly, when out and about networking, it feels like there are more independent consultants than ever before.

And this shift is only set to continue; it seems that younger cohorts are increasingly less motivated by and expectant of permanent work, preferring instead to experience multiple opportunities and sectors. Work experience becomes work experimentation. It may not fit into traditional work paradigms, but nonetheless this is the future of work.

Self-employment, however, isn’t for everyone; I’ve had many conversations in which I’ve seen people visibly recoil from the notion. As overwhelming as it might seem, I do think it’s worth sharing a couple of observations that will hopefully make the transition less alarming.

I’ve mostly worked for myself in various guises since 1999, and I think/hope I’ve learned a couple of things along the way. These are my pearls of wisdom:

1] Self-marketing and personal brand-building can be deeply uncomfortable for those of us who don’t like self-aggrandisement

It feels like showing off, but nonetheless, it’s a crucial part of life for the freelancer. Furthermore, unless you’re a secret digital marketing genius with the inside track on the complexities of web-marketing, the internet is a noisy and crowded marketplace.  

My advice? It’s vital in this day and age to have a website, but NEVER assume this will automatically bring you business. The best way to find business, in my experience, is by getting out there and meeting people. Re-connect with people. Tell people what you’re doing and what help you need to get to where you want to go. Business networking has had its fair share of bad press over the years, and often rightly so, but my experience is that when you strike a connection with someone, you’ll find that they want to help and whilst they may not hire you directly themselves, they’ll spread the word about your services. And referral business is absolutely the best kind of business.

2] Great amounts of emotional agility and resilience are required in the world of self-employment

Trust me, you WILL have days where you completely doubt yourself and wonder if you will ever work again. Trust me again when I tell you those days will pass and if you can be accepting of these ebbs and flows, you’ll find opportunity, often where you least expect it. It’s a shame that business has spent much of the last 20+ years trying to codify the business development process, as for many it can now feel like some kind of dark art, but for me, I can honestly say that building authentic relationships does work. Also 99% of the time that I’ve been feeling nervous about my business pipeline, when I’ve leant into the anxiety, acknowledged and named it, within a short period of time something pops up to restore my mojo. 

3] Isolation is the bedfellow of remote work and freelancing

It’s a hard truth that once you leave the world of permanent employment, you also leave behind the security of belonging to a tribe. Not only will you have the challenge of always feeling like a bit of an outsider in your new impermanent work life, but there will be days when you work from home and in-between periods where you’re waiting for your next project. These can make for lonely times.  

​So why not find a new tribe? Build a network of people whose company you enjoy and who also work as independent consultants. You’ll meet plenty of them when you go out and network. These people will become invaluable, providing you with your virtual water-cooler banter. They’ll get the freelance lifestyle and lift you up when you’re feeling the pain. As long as you reciprocate of course.
4] Keep one eye on your skillset

Now you’re independent, you can no longer rely on an employer to identify your development needs. The commercial world is moving much faster now and it’s down to you to make sure that your skills are both sharp and in demand. This requires continuous (re)investment to ensure you stay relevant. Move with it. 

5] When your diary is no longer being managed by the corporate machine, it’s down to you to organise your focus

In an increasingly disruptive world, maintaining focus is HARD.  I’ve had to learn new ways of doing things, including new ways of scheduling work so that I can juggle the complexities of client work, business development, business admin and ’life stuff’. In the new world of work, traditional boundaries and structures completely dissolve and being able to manage your time (AND attention) becomes a skill-set in and of itself. It’s a habit that needs to be learned and if you’re anything like me, takes constant commitment and effort.

We’re thrilled to announce the imminent launch of our first Solopreneur Masterclass. This workshop is specifically designed to help those starting out as independent consultants adapt to an entirely new way of working - view more details here. 


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Looking to dive deeper into some of the areas covered in this blog post? Check out our Recruitment and Retention and Foresight Focus reports and products.

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