Why the economy is shifting towards the freelance and gig world

24 September 2018 Consultancy.uk

Changing business and societal norms, a change in perspectives and changes in career goals coupled with a shift in generational work ethics have combined to make work a part of a lifestyle as opposed to a distraction from it. The gig economy is on the brink of changing it all, writes Thomas Oppong, author of ‘Working in the Gig Economy’ and an expert in the professional services landscape. “The gig economy means having your work go where you go versus having your work chain you to a desk in an office five days of each week.”

One of the greatest contributors to the gig economy was the recession. When companies and corporations of all sizes began to downsize, and jobs became scarce, creating an own income was the only way many people could make ends meet. Consequently, stringing together a series of small jobs to equal the pay of a single full-time job started as a temporary fix, and grew into an entire cottage industry – known as the gig economy.

What it means is that work today is far different from ten or twenty years, or a generation ago. Full-time employment, fighting to climb the corporate ladder, and building a business for someone else is no longer the go-to career choice. The gig economy is taking over and shifting from side hustle to full time income stream. It’s evolving to include men and women of all ages and independent contractors from all fields, including management and digital consulting.

Why the economy is shifting towards the gig world

With a variety of studies predicting that up to a full third of the workforce in the next ten years will consist of freelancers, the question looms: how and why is the economy shifting towards the gig world? There are a number of factors driving the emergence, growth, and longevity of the gig economy.

Previous generations viewed employment as a 9-5 workday that put money in the bank, food on the table, and offered job security and retirement income. The shift in mindset means a career is less about a job and more about a feeling of accomplishment, working less hours and doing work you enjoying while earning a livable income. What other contributing factors and recent innovations have led to the emerging and thriving freelance economy?Why the economy is shifting towards the freelance and gig world

  • Ease of entry: The gig economy has virtually no barriers of entry. Almost anyone with a specialised skill set or well-defined niche can set up shop. The move from full-time employee to freelance consultant for instance has never been easier. It’s also more feasible to engage in a traditional job while preparing to enter the gig economy when ‘moonlighting’ was frowned upon.
  • Affordability: Starting a career in the gig economy can be as affordable as getting the right equipment and establishing an internet connection via WiFi. The vast majority of people already own most of the equipment it takes to create their gigs (usually a laptop and mobile device) and WiFi is accessible and affordable everywhere from an own home to fast food restaurants to coffee shops.
  • Digital technology: From email to productivity tools, smartphone capability and technology enables freelancers to carry an entire suite of office apps and software in their pockets. Laptops and tablets provide complete functionality that at one time could only be found in a brick and mortar office.

How the economy is shifting towards the gig world 

As the gig economy takes a foothold in the business world, the growth of small business is spurring it along. Small business owners are huge contributors to the gig economy because they provide the opportunities and require the services of freelancers in major ways. Savvy small business owners spend their time focusing on their core competencies and the research, development, and marketing necessary to grow their businesses. What happens to the other moving parts that go into running their businesses? That’s where freelancers come in.

Contracting the services of freelancers allows small business owners to collaborate with a variety of service-based providers. It allows them to outsource services like graphic design, IT support, content management, blogging, social media management, grant writing, editing, event management – the list is endless. For more strategic and organisational work, small business owners typically tap the services of independent consultants.

Freelance services further allow small business owns to purchase the services they need in affordable chunks. With the absence of long-term contracts that lock them into a service whether they use it or not, small business owners and entrepreneurs view the freelance economy very favourably.

“Today’s gig workers demand flexibility that complements their lifestyles, freedom to handpick the individuals and companies they work with, and the freedom to set their own rates for the services they offer.”
– Thomas Oppong

Freelance and gig economies let businesses of all sizes get the teamwork they need without a prolonged hiring process. They also avoid the many of the costs and liabilities associated with hiring full or part time staff. The gig economy takes on many forms – and is here to stay – with many traditional jobs giving way to it.

  • The taxi industry is being disrupted by ridesharing in the same way that huge agencies and consultants are giving way to freelancers;
  • Literary agents are seeing a huge number of authors opt for self-publishing as traditional publishing is giving way to Kindle and eBook publishing;
  • Caterers and home-cooked meals are losing ground to meal subscriptions and front door delivery services;
  • Hotels are watching their target market take advantage of home sharing sites and privately owned vacation rentals;
  • Computer specialists are losing ground to IT specialty and consulting services;
  • Advertising agencies are watching as many of their clients use the services of copywriters and graphic designers.

Technology allows the gig economy to flourish all over the world. The value of bite-sized jobs and short-term work is becoming recognised and prized for the boon it is. Today’s workers demand flexibility that complements their lifestyles, freedom to handpick the individuals and companies they work with, and the freedom to set their own prices and rates for the services they offer. 

No longer viewed as the last resort for unskilled or undereducated workers, the gig economy has drawn freelancers from all walks of life and from all over the globe. Technology has made the world smaller, people easier to reach, and face-to-face connections all but unnecessary to success. Freelancers are now composed of talented men and women who make up a well-educated, highly skilled talent pool. Consulting, self-employment, and the multitude of current freelance and gig platforms are the future of freelancing and the reason the global economy is shifting toward the gig world.

Related: UK has 2 million freelancers and the number will continue to rise.

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New ‘open consultancy’ Riverflex racks up eight clients and 300 consultants

16 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

Digital consultancy firm Riverflex is celebrating a successful first year of business, following its launch in 2018. As the freelance consulting market continues to boom, the independent model–based conultancy has expanded to more than 300 members, working with eight corporate clients on projects like the Samsung store innovation drive. Co-founders Victor Hoong and André Azadehdel spoke with Consultancy.uk to explore what the future holds for Riverflex.

The freelance consulting sector of Europe is experiencing a period of rapid expansion, as former employees turn their backs on life at firms, amid the allure of a better work-life balance and the suggestion of better pay. According to Consultancy.uk analysis based on the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), the UK’s industry alone contains a labour pool of around 5 million people (or around 15% of the workforce), having increased from 3.3 million (12% of the workforce) in 2001.

With this state of play pressuring businesses to find value-delivering consultants, the need to match demand between businesses and freelance consultants has boomed. As a result, a growing number of firms looking to support businesses in that process have arisen. This includes platforms such as Nordic company Worksome and Berlin-based Comatch, which both entered the UK market in 2018. Financial services–focused Outsized also recently enjoyed a bullish UK debut.

With digital transformation currently one of the fastest growing areas in consultancy – accounting for more than $44 billion in annual revenues – there is also a large area to be filled by specialism within the market. With 80% of respondents to a recent Management Consultancies Association poll indicating that that technological and digital disruption pose a significant threat to businesses in the coming years, there is a significant opportunity for a firm which links client demand for digital skills to freelance consultants with the relevant experience and know-how.

Fast-growing Riverflex builds community of 300 consultants in first year

Riverflex arrives

Another new entrant in the digital consulting space is Riverflex, which celebrated its first anniversary at the end of March. Riverflex sells and delivers consulting projects, but with an independent model, catering to the demand for digital skillsets, lean teams, flexibility, and experienced industry hands. The start-up was launched by Victor Hoong and Andre Azadehdel in 2018, with the former Deloitte Consulting duo looking to close the gap between client needs and traditional consulting solutions, providing an alternative option to the Big Four and MBB firms for clients and consultants alike.

Speaking with Consultancy.uk, the duo commented on the need for consulting to change. Amid huge changes across nearly all industries, they see consulting being done the same way, more than a century after its first firms were founded. For this reason they decided to establish Riverflex – an ‘open consulting firm’ consisting of high quality vetted independent professionals and small partners. In this model, professionals can join from tier one consultancies, top agencies or industry blue-chips to deliver top consulting projects.

“Digital is transforming companies at a faster pace than ever, and business needs are evolving too," Victor Hoong said. "We dreamt of a top consultancy that could match these needs, and deliver real impact; a consultancy with digital in its DNA. Connecting teams of top independent talent from the best consulting firms and industry leading companies, and enabling them to do what they love: creating real value based on true expertise.”

Andre Azadehdel further elaborated: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Victor and I have worked in consulting since the turn of the century, helping businesses become better. We love this work. Helping others deliver hard business results is rewarding, challenging and exciting. But we also saw that the gap between client needs and traditional consulting outcomes is too far apart.”

Since its launch, Riverflex has worked to set itself out as unique along four essential pillars of business. Central to the company is a willingness to foster innovation and work towards providing excellence. With businesses increasingly being convinced of the business case for diversity, Riverflex also hosts a network with a multitude of viewpoints and backgrounds, focusing on helping its members to grow in terms of professionalism, and as individuals.

“The independent model has become a rational choice for top talent. Abandoning old ways of working to take on rewarding projects and shape one’s own career path.”
– Andre Azadehdel, Riverflex co-founder

First year

In the last year a number of key steps have therefore been made. The organisation has grown into both the UK and the Netherlands, and is currently working with eight corporate clients. Meanwhile, over 300 consultants have joined Riverflex, which now boasts a huge amount of experience at top tier consultancies such as Bain & Company, McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, advertising agencies like Jellyfish, AKQA, Deloitte Digital, WPP and Publicis, and tech companies such as eBay, made.com, asos.com and bol.com.

Stating the firm’s emphasis on diversity, Hoong explained, “The variety of skill sets and backgrounds of our consultants means we can shape teams for our clients that have the muscle to robustly drive projects, combined with the deep know-how from professionals that wear the industry business scars needed to make a real impact.”

Azadehdel added, “The independent model has become a rational choice for top talent, abandoning old ways of working to take on rewarding projects and shape one’s own career path. We believe that being independent does not mean being alone. To us, being part of Riverflex means being part of a team of top digital professionals that share methods, knowledge and insights. Providing a real career alternative.”

Keen to show the strength and depth of its growing professional network, the company also hosts a monthly blog which highlights an exceptional Riverflex member. The most recent ‘Riverflexer in the Spotlight’ focused on former BearingPoint consultant Lies de Smit. In the past, De Smit had also worked at Deloitte Consulting's Technology practice. Despite her experience, however, she still entered the independent sphere with some trepidation – something which Riverflex helped her overcome.

Illustrating the importance of a network to freelancers, de Smit commented on Riverflex’s site, “I was afraid of what consulting would be like without having a team or people to discuss problems with… Riverflex is full of knowledgeable and experienced consultants. As an independent, I feel like being able to share my own knowledge can help all of us grow as consultants.”

“We work differently to work better. Better consulting from us, better lifestyles for our consultants, better results for our clients. This will be our focus and ambition.”
– Victor Hoong, Riverflex co-founder

The future

Having made such a promising start, Riverflex's leaders have already made extensive plans to capitalise on their momentum. The firm will continue to focus connecting independent specialists from the open-talent network to provide clients with the right skill sets, while also playing to the company’s strengths in rapidly providing specialist talent and interim management for the quickly shifting needs of clients.

Azadehdel said, “A year ago, Riverflex was just a dream. A year later, this is a real company, making real impact. Together with our consultants and clients, we are on a journey to build the consulting firm of the future from the ground up… Working with lean teams that only do what is needed to meet our clients goals, flexibly scaling up and down and applying digital tooling and agile ways of working to work faster and deliver effective results.”

Victor Hoong concluded, “We work differently to work better: better consulting from us, better lifestyles for our consultants and better results for our clients. This will be our focus and ambition – to continuously innovate and improve what we do and how we do it, delivering quality outcomes for clients.”