Freelancers of all stripes are becoming a huge part of the workforce. And software companies are scrambling to help them do their job.
They’re taking tech products once designed for small companies and reworking them to serve the needs of solo operators. In many cases, this software targets corners of the freelance world—like health care and taxes—that work very differently than they do for other small businesses and that freelancers have long had to figure out on their own.
“The more prevalent this way of working becomes, the more we’ll see apps or companies emerging to make it easier,” says
author of “The Gig Economy” and a professor on the topic at Babson College. “If you’re in the gig economy, you’re not just doing your primary job, you’re also doing back-office work, invoicing, paying quarterly taxes, managing social media, doing marketing, business development, figuring out your own health-care and retirement benefits.”
The potential market is huge. Depending on which report you read, people working in the gig economy—alternatively called freelancers, flex workers, consultants or independent workers—will comprise 30% to 50% of the U.S. labor force by 2020. Although often described as a monolith, gig workers are as diverse as the traditional workforce.
Some take on lower-paid on-demand tasks for companies like Uber, TaskRabbit or Postmates. Others are highly paid, specialized consultants who use niche skills on complex projects for large clients with big budgets. Still others work in creative fields, doing everything from commodity jobs such as churning out content for a website to higher-paid contracts like designing a new brand.
Here’s a look at some of the new software on offer and what it can do for freelancers.
Untangling taxes: Tax rules for solo workers are quite different than those for a limited-liability company or other type of small business. Expenses are tracked differently, for instance, and different write-offs are permitted. Now established makers of tax software—as well as new entrants—are reworking existing products or devising new ones to handle those specialized regulations.
One of the biggest names getting involved is
The financial-software giant beta-tested QuickBooks Self-Employed in 2014 and formally launched it in 2015. The program provides information and forms that gig workers need to manage their finances and comply with various tax requirements. It is also specifically designed primarily for smartphones to accommodate gig workers, especially drivers and delivery people, who are frequently on the go.
In its August earnings, Intuit said there are now 390,000 subscribers, quadrupling over the past year. It expects that growth to continue.
Handling the books: As with taxes, freelancers face different challenges handling accounting and billing than startups do.
Wave, an app and traditional software offering, has run marketing campaigns targeted at industries where freelancers tend to work, such as photography and web design. When people sign on to the service, which also covers smaller startups, they see information specific to their industry when they’re getting set up, and get suggestions about what various forms should include. For example, a photographer might see usage-rights offerings as a feature to add to their invoice.
Treating health care: With health-care coverage, small businesses have an advantage over solo workers: They can get group insurance, which carries a discount over policies for individuals and covers all employees. Freelancers don’t have access to those policies, and must go to insurance providers and see what they offer—typically policies with higher premiums and no discounts.
Stride Health raised $13 million in 2015 to build a platform targeted specifically at gig workers who don’t get health insurance. The software sifts through available offerings to recommend the plan that gives freelancers the most bang for the buck, and then walks them through the process in much the same way that a human-resources staffer at an employer might do for an employee.
For some solo entrepreneurs, the software delivers some of the benefits of working at a traditional business. The company has joined with some of the largest names in the gig economy, including Uber, Postmates and TaskRabbit, to aggregate their gig workers to get group discounts from insurance providers.
Organizing projects: Scheduling can become a big headache for solo workers, who frequently take on multiple jobs at the same time and don’t have the option to spread them among employees.
Completo, a to-do app originally aimed at corporate executives, helps those juggling different projects maximize productivity and minimize stress.
For instance, the company lets gig workers break a large project into smaller steps to help them organize many assignments at once, and offers the ability to set progressive reminders (such as reminding them five days before something is due, and then the day before). The company has also updated its marketing to specifically target freelancers, with language about juggling multiple “side hustles” and working with a variety of teams on different projects. The company says downloads are 10 times higher—from 100 downloads a week to more than 1,000 a week—since making these changes.
Ms. Westervelt is a writer in Oakland, Calif. Email email@example.com.
Appeared in the November 27, 2017, print edition as ‘Apps for the Freelance Worker.’
via WSJ.com: Technology http://on.wsj.com/2jyWrmB
November 27, 2017 at 01:39AM