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Temporary and contingent workers are on the rise. The independent workforce has grown to 16.9 million from 16 million in the past year, according to research by MBO Partners, which provides business services to consultants. As companies realize that they can hire contractors for certain services instead of paying for full-time workers, more people will find themselves becoming freelancers, either by choice or by necessity.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many workers, especially millennials, are embracing this trend and relishing the flexibility that they gain while working a string of temporary assignments. And given employers’ propensity to lay off when hit with hard times, no job is really secure anymore.

In an era in which every job is temporary, what skills does the worker need to thrive? What does it take to succeed in this “gig economy”?

What does it take to succeed as a freelancer?

1. Know your audience.

It’s crucial that you know what skills you’ll need to compete in your field. This means keeping a keen eye on market trends and keeping ahead of the curve when it comes to knowing how to provide exactly what your industry needs from someone with your expertise.

How can you keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on, while you are busy doing the work? Subscribe to industry publications, read blogs and follow social media streams created by thought leaders in your field. Identify the “gurus” in your industry and keep an eye on what they are saying online. Track conference conversations from other experts in your field, even when you don’t attend, by following hashtags for the events on Twitter. Many professional conference planners will list the hashtag — a keyword with a # sign, such as #SHRM12 representing the Society for Human Resource Management — right in the advertised materials. Hop on Twitter during the conference and track the hashtag to find out what information is hot in your field. If you are really savvy, you’ll respond using the hashtag and communicate with people at the conference, even if you’re at home.

2. Assess and update your skills.

Are some of your skills a little dated? Is there a new software program everyone is flocking to use, and you’ve never even tried it? It is up to you, as a freelancer, to maintain your own professional development standards. You can be sure you aren’t likely to get hired for a gig if you don’t have the organization’s desired skills. (It’s not much different from finding a job.) Make a list of skills you need to improve and decide which ones are worth investing your time and money.

3. Learn to market yourself.

To succeed as a freelancer, you’ll need to be an expert in your field, but you’ll also need to become an expert self-marketer (or hire someone to help you). Start now to take steps to be able to effectively get the word out about your skills and expertise. Social media is a terrific, and free, way to demonstrate what you know to a broad audience and to expand your network. Like traditional jobs, many freelance opportunities will be won via networking.

How can you get started? First: be sure you know what you offer. What is unique and special about you, your skills and your accomplishments? Once you know what you offer, it’s much easier to market yourself to potential clients.

Once you know what you offer, jump online and market those skills. Create a website for your business, and include a blog so you’ll be able to showcase your expertise. Begin a Twitter feed to connect with others in your industry and become a resource of information and news relevant for others in your field. Set up a business Google+ page and incorporate targeted public updates so Google will associate your name with your expertise. Optimize your profile on LinkedIn and take advantage of its social features, such as Answers and Groups, so it’s easy for people looking for consultants to find you. Take advantage of these and other social media tools and you’ll put yourself in the strongest position to succeed as a freelancer.

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