There aren’t any signs that the growing freelance economy will be slowing down any time soon. Freelancing allows people to take control of their work and gain more flexibility in their professional lives like never before.
At the forefront of the freelance economy revolution are Mindy V., Gerard V., and Julie W. Between the three of them, they have won 57 different projects and client engagements through Paro’s network. Recently, we took some time to discuss the gig economy and its impact on the finance and accounting world as well as what they’ve done to be successful. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What does the gig economy mean to you and how do you see it affecting work, in general?
Mindy: From a business standpoint, the gig economy gives you access to a wider talent pool and variety of jobs. For example, if the region of the world you live in isn’t known for software engineers and you were looking for top quality engineers, you’re out of luck. The gig economy’s growth means businesses aren’t limited by location or relocation costs. On the other end, I love it [as a freelancer] because I need that flexibility to be able to work from home.
I see so many small to medium-sized businesses embracing the virtual, remote model. The SMB’s see it like I do: I’m going to give you a task, a goal, or a project, and I trust you to finish it regardless of how or where you get it done. And for me, that is what works with the gig economy.
Mindy joined the Paro network in November of 2018. Hailing from Texas, Mindy brings over 20 years of finance and accounting know-how as well as business ownership experience.
Gerard: For me, the gig economy means being a value-add member to not just one company, but multiple companies. In the gig economy, I’ve been able to evolve from being a distant freelancer to being a close member of my clients’ companies. They look to me for my expertise. So over time, as I build trust, I’m viewed no differently than another employee.
Gerard joined the Paro network in August of 2017. Based in New Jersey, Gerard brings over a decade of finance and accounting experience. He has considerable freelancing experience and has worked with clients across numerous industries.
Julie: I live in a very small community where people run their businesses out of their homes. Most of our working residents do their own books, so finance and accounting opportunities are few and far between. The gig economy gives me the ability to live in this “remote area,” while freelancing gives me the ability to add to my billable hours.
People don’t join companies with the intention of staying there for 20-plus years like they used to. Combine that with stagnant wages, and it’s become necessary for people to strike out on their own. So I see the gig economy, whatever industry it may be, giving people more options when it comes to work.
Julie joined the Paro network in November of 2018. Residing in Colorado, Julie has over 30 years of experience in numerous finance and accounting roles. She began freelancing in February 2018.
How do you see the growing gig economy impacting the accounting and finance world?
Gerard: I think in our industry, you see the gig economy’s impact with the big name brands. For example, we’ve seen Quickbooks roll out Quickbooks Live. Quickbooks Live integrates a subscription service with a live bookkeeper. TurboTax has CPAs that work directly with you. Companies are trying to find their piece of the pie in the gig economy. They want to provide a service to companies someone who doesn’t require a full accounting function but is maybe looking for extra support.
Julie: The gig economy is new, entrepreneurial. It’s always looking for the best product with faster results and automation. Whether that product is a physical thing or people, the gig economy has already changed the finance and accounting world.
And in your line of work specifically?
Mindy: With technology and a greater acceptance of the gig economy, I can work with multiple clients and feel like I’m making an impact. I’m part of a team. Even years after the Great Recession, people feel like they’re on such shaky ground but with the gig economy, not all your eggs are in one basket. That feels safer.
Being a part of the gig economy and working in a freelance capacity comes with a unique set of challenges, one of which is the need to market yourself and your abilities to prospective clients. What are some challenges you’ve experienced when trying to market yourself? What have you done to combat these challenges?
Mindy: That’s what actually drove me out of business years ago! Marketing the company when I wanted to work was so frustrating! But because of Paro, now I can focus on doing the actual work.
Julie: Making time for marketing and business development is the biggest challenge for me. It’s not my favorite thing to do! I’m a subject matter expert in finance and accounting but not marketing!
What’s the hardest part of marketing yourself?
Mindy: Just getting the opportunity to pitch myself. If I can get in front of someone, I feel confident I can win that deal. It’s just a matter of convincing a prospective client to take the time to meet with me.
Julie: Figuring out how much time is right. If I’m busy working during the week, do I really need to do marketing? I don’t want to spread myself too thin. And, thinking like someone in finance, I can spend oodles of money on marketing but what’s the ROI? Is it guaranteed?
What’s the most important challenge to overcome in a client pitch?
Julie: Ensuring we’re all on the same page. I’m not always talking to another finance person, so it’s important that the client understands the scope of work.
Mindy: Achieving trust so I can scope a project correctly. By the time I join the conversation with a client, Paro has given me some information, but I don’t have the whole story. The biggest challenge I have to deal with is managing the difference between what’s really going on—what they need—and what their pride is keeping them from telling me. For most people, their business is their baby and they don’t want to hear that their baby is ugly—I get it, I used to own a business myself! So I pitch according to what they’re telling me but am cognizant that there’s probably much more going on than what I’m being told.
Gerard: Trust. There’s this idea that if I can’t see you, I can’t gauge you. I like to start with a video call. Beyond that, it’s important to break through their hesitation by displaying your capabilities.
How do you establish trust with clients?
Gerard: Communication and empathy. Empathy helps bridge the gap created by the remote nature of things in the gig economy. I ask myself: what if I were the client and working with a remote individual who I haven’t met? What would be important to me?
I try to figure out how the client likes to communicate and what’s the best way for me to communicate with them. Understanding my clients’ communication style and executing on it has been hugely successful for me. If your communication is right, everything else falls into place. People like to know what’s going on. When you don’t communicate enough and people get left in the dark, that’s when a bad reputation can develop.
What are some valuable and important things to talk about when speaking with prospective clients?
Mindy: At a high level, know that your competition isn’t other freelancers as much as a potential full-time employee. Most of the time, clients are thinking, “Do I want to utilize a freelancer or do I want to hire a full-time employee?” I don’t want to address that directly but I want the client to see my skills.
And listen to hear where they’re hurting and what their biggest concerns are. Make sure you ask a lot of questions because the more questions you ask, the more you’re going to pick up on these key pieces. And if they repeat something more than once, that’s a pain point!
Gerard: Try to figure out what the client needs off their plate. Learn their pain points. When you understand their pain points, not only can you communicate more effectively, but you can start to identify other opportunities for yourself. What other services can you provide beyond the transactional nature of, say, bookkeeping or handling their bank reconciliations?
Mindy: I create value through past experiences, too. I let clients know I owned a business previously and that I know what it feels like to juggle 10 different hats at once. When clients know I have business acumen beyond the specific need at hand, they realize, “hey, not only can she manage my finances, but she may have some helpful advice throughout the life of my business.”
Lastly, make sure the client knows you have a personality. That you’re an individual. If I can get a laugh out of them or get the conversation to encompass things other than business or their needs, I’m able to connect with them and give them more reasons to work with me.
What have you done to successfully market yourself to prospective clients within the Paro network?
Mindy: For me, marketing myself starts even before I get matched to a potential project. Making sure that the clients I’m already working with are happy causes a ripple effect. If word gets around that I’m doing a great job with my clients, I can create buzz around my work. That gets my Paro rep excited to work with me and makes the client acquisition process that much more seamless and enjoyable. Going a little above and beyond goes a long way for the clients I work with and the potential clients and projects I get matched to.
Gerard: For me, I like to niche out. Meaning, for example, if I’m focused on the medical industry, I tend to gravitate towards those opportunities. It’s also helpful to speak the industry’s language and use their terminology. I make sure to discuss things related to their business that I know they will understand. And when you learn to speak like that, it gets easier to develop that all important trust.
Julie: I’ve been able to provide good services to my clients. Their happiness causes a domino effect by allowing my work to speak for itself.
What could other Paro experts learn from you?
Mindy: Come to your proposal calls prepared! After Paro’s introduction, it’s up to you to win this engagement. Run the call and keep the energy and excitement up.
Julie: I feel like I’m entering the gig economy much later in my career as compared to the typical individual. For those looking to enter the gig economy later in their careers, do as much research and training as possible.