Experts predicted freelancing trends for 2017 would include collaboration, improved content quality, widespread use of virtual reality, and more.
Storytelling Communications

Mid-Year Freelancing Trends Checkup: Were Experts’ Predictions Accurate?

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Why do you think every January brings an influx of predictions for the coming year? I, for one, gobble up any business forecast I can, since monitoring both industry and freelancing trends can help me stay in demand. If I know what my clients are trying to anticipate, then I can jump in and offer to help them navigate it.

On the other hand, too much consumption (of anything, really) can lead to the wrong perspective. I know freelancers who can spout off statistic after boring statistic to support a prophecy that’ll never come true. Their knowledge isn’t what bothers me; it’s the mindset: the more information, the better, world without end.

Strike the perfect balance. Join me in checking in on the experts’ predictions from six months ago as they feverishly worked to see future freelancing trends. By the end of our mission, I can confidently predict you’ll have a slightly different perspective.

Who knows, you may even have some predictions of your own for the rest of 2017.

1. The death of low-quality content marketing.

I’d rather call this prediction the uptick of authoritative online publications. This liberatingly simple prediction is certainly coming to fruition, and thank goodness it is. Carol Tice, arguably the most well-known, hard-fought, firmly established freelance content marketing writer in the world, said in her annual “Freelance Writing Forecast” that 2017 would see the end of short, keyword-stuffed SEO search candy that didn’t really deliver what it promised. In other words, the search engines had finally acted decisively on the quest to eliminate junk from query results, and what’s left is a high demand for talented, experienced, and forward-thinking brand storytellers.

It’s a pleasure to report she’s been right. Long-form is back, and with it, deep thought on both the creator’s part and the reader’s. Thankfully, this is weeding out both disingenuous clients and middleweight writers. By 2018, I expect only meaningful messages will be published.

2. Virtual reality is moving in.

Both Fast Company and the Feelancer published 2017 freelancer trend reports early on and both forecasted the widespread adoption of VR as a tool for freelancers. It’s a tickling thought. Like most technologies, I wouldn’t know where to start, and that’s a huge opportunity for brands to lead the way in showing me.

Experts predicted freelancing trends for 2017 would include widespread use of virtual reality.

Image attribution: Leonard Lin

Some companies like Teem—a meeting room booking system and workplace analytics platform—connect remote workers with on-site employees to get stuff done using VR, and there are tons of ways they’re implementing the tool. As for a concrete prediction, however, I’m still jamming away on my trusty old laptop, and so are most of the freelancers I know. This prediction was a lofty one, so it can’t be too disappointing to recognize that it won’t be rolling out to the masses this month . . . or next. I will certainly be keeping my eye on headlines, though, so when VR becomes a tool that does all it’s promising to do, well, I’ll be the first freelancer in line to jump on the bandwagon.

3. Uber won’t change.

If I hear one more expert using Uber as a good example for general freelancing trends, I’ll scream. When in late 2016 a Forbes contributor produced a list of freelancing predictions, I devoured the thing like the hungry child I was. And so did everyone else. Since then, of course, I’ve realized I’m not an Uber driver, and neither are ninety-nine percent of the freelancers in my circles. So when I revisited the crystal ball the experts had published, I saw once again we’d been duped into watching the notoriously disruptive brand to see where others would follow suit.

Experts predicted freelancing trends for 2017 would follow suit of tech company Uber.

Image attribution: Sumith R.

High on that list of the Forbes predictions, by the way, was that Uber wouldn’t change. Why that has anything to do with my outlook as a freelancer, I don’t know. But as a consumer, I can see that Uber is indeed changing. Time will tell whether it’s because independent earners (drivers) or the brand’s clients have risen up. I like to think it’s a combination of both.

My prediction for the rest of 2017? Experts will stop comparing us freelance creatives to Uber drivers. Finally, they’ll start looking to other movers and shakers to anticipate independent work trends. Not only is a shuttling service (okay, okay, “tech company”) a small portion of the entire gig economy work force, they’re a poor indication of the positive, exciting things happening where the rest of us platformers hang out.

4. Experts predicted we’d start working together.

A Tech.co piece published late last year suggested a cheery foresight: that freelancers would band together to collaborate for a better collective future. And we have.

Experts predicted freelancing trends for 2017 would include collaboration, improved content quality, widespread use of virtual reality, and more.

Image attribution: Manuel Schmalstieg

From supportive private Facebook groups to public Twitter greetings and local freelancer meet ups, the competitive spirit has relaxed and made way for friendship. Plus, freelancers are learning how to hire other other freelancers, and usually, all parties love the outcome. I credit technology for this shift, since it’s now easier than ever to test and share new automation tools and information without showing other freelancers all your cards (like your internal contact’s name, budget, and favorite ice cream).

5. More freelancer-friendly legislation.

Late last year, New York City passed a bill that ensures contract workers get a client-provided contract, well-defined project scope, on-time payments, and protection from client retaliation or retribution. In other words, freelancers in New York will now get what they deserve.

In an article celebrating the change, analysts at Time predicted the legislation would “reverberate” across the country, sparking similar bills and igniting a long-overdue movement.

In fact, a petition was started to do just that. To date, it has over 10,000 signatures.

But honestly? That’s it. Sure, there’s the occasional do-gooder on the local level, organizing, advocating, and even introducing bills, but as a freelancer myself, I was expecting more drama. So much buzz surrounded the New York City event that it seemed there was ample momentum to keep going. And while I may be known for my impatience, I can’t help but wonder where everyone went. Let’s assume the best, though, and hope that these things just take time, and that change is still on its way. After all, we are only midway through the year.

6. The bots are coming.

Five-time best-selling author and marketing strategist Mark Schaefer had an eye-opening experience last year when he inadvertently ranked automated writing over a human’s creative work. Then, he did it again. And again. The angle, depth, research and prose all impressed him over and over, even though it was a computer’s work, not a person’s.

Shaken, he knew he could confidently predict this as a future product enterprise brands would buy, nixing the service many freelancers provide. However, he’s not at all discouraged. To Schaefer, the solution is clear: true insight and deep expertise. To ensure you’re always in business as a freelance creative, you can’t just write well, you must think well. Readers must want access to you, not the topics you’re assigned. Can you deliver? Do readers scan industry publications to see if you (as a contributor) have shipped anything new there?

I’m with Schaefer in this prediction. Bots are here, and the reason you don’t see them is because brands want to project personality. Why would they trumpet the adoption of natural language generation if they’re trying to connect person-to-person? We’re halfway through 2017 and already algorithms are producing thousands of sports pieces, trashy novels, and even classical piano repertoires, all for the enjoyment of unsuspecting consumers. The trend will continue into content marketing, albeit silently.

Psychologist David Straker says that people devour yearly predictions like the freelance trends published each January because humans crave control. It’s that control that helps them connect cause and effect, make smart decisions, and even earn trust from others with their foresight. So does it matter that these predictions only hit the target about half the time? Six months from now, I’ll be devouring them with everyone else—but maybe with a grain of salt.

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Bethany Johnson is a multiple award-winning content marketing writer and speaker. Her work empowers marketers to ditch interrupt advertising in favor of original content that converts passive readers into active followers. Thriving brands like Tom's of Maine, MasterCard, ADP, Fidelity and the Content Marketing Institute currently rely on Bethany's fresh style to connect with audiences daily. As a consultant, she combines simple change management principles with her insider knowledge of freelancing to show traditional marketing teams how to flourish in today's gig economy. For more, visit bethanyjohnson.com.

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