Digital adoption has accelerated like never before during the pandemic. Whereas in some fields, this technology takeover is replacing real people, within professional services it is in fact playing into the very hands of individuals, levelling the playing field and allowing a meritocracy to reign.
This democratisation of professional services is not just a win for individual practitioners themselves who now have more parity with bigger firms but it’s also beneficial to clients requiring support from external parties, as technology means they can find and access support from a broader base and from those whose skills are best suited to the task.
Larger organisations are by no means disadvantaged though as new platforms and new ways of working means firms can find and collaborate with specific experts when required, and recruits can be hired based on skills alone, without being inhibited by the candidate’s proximity to an office.
People using online freelance marketplaces such as Fiverr, Upwork, and PeoplePerHour is nothing new. For some, these platforms supplement their salary, for many others, it is their sole form of income. However, with thousands of freelancers on these platforms, many of whom are offering their services for very little money, it has become a much-commoditised marketplace and race to the bottom on price, factors both synonymous with the gig economy.
These sites, although purporting to offer value for the client, can be incredibly difficult to navigate. Too often the raison d'etre for selecting one individual over another is because the job is priced at such a low rate that the client believes they’ve got ‘nothing to lose’. Hardly a good way to start a new business relationship.
Because price is often the deciding factor, rather quality, these platforms rarely translate into long-term relationships between the freelancer and the company either.
Unlike the gig economy, where freelancers potentially undercut each other to secure work, the passion economy puts the power back into the hands of expert individuals. It comprises two main features - freedom from the normal 9-5 office-based constraints and the ability to pursue a passion within the workplace.
For someone with experience and knowledge, and potentially a niche within a specific field of professional services, these factors present a great opportunity, especially when the pandemic has accelerated a revolution in the workplace both in terms of people rejecting the constraints of normal office life and others being forced to consider alternatives due to furlough and redundancy.
The rise in the passion economy has also created a wave of technology platforms that help individuals monetise their expertise. Rather than relying on one-time payments with fewer opportunities for repeat business, the passion economy has the ability to generate ongoing revenue by building audiences and developing relationships.
New platforms are emerging that work on subscription models, of which creators are paid a percentage based on how engaged their audience is with their content, unlike the gig economy, which takes a cut of each job completed.
Those doing well on these platforms include copywriters, consultants, teachers and tutors, who are able to offer their content at a premium via downloadable guides, videos and podcasts.
Another way of building and monetising audiences is through community. When many people think of community, they often turn to social media, but these platforms generally do not service communities well and there are few opportunities for monetisation without a massive number of followers. And when numbers get too big, the relationship simply can not be maintained.
Therefore SaaS solutions are also growing in numbers allowing meaningful conversations with experts, peers, and prospects without the noise, distraction and ads that come with social media. Unlike the freelancer platforms, by sharing insights within a community for free or on a subscription model, an individual is much better able to demonstrate their competence and thus able to charge a premium for future consultancy work.
The reputation of many large firms generally exists for a reason but it’s also true to say that clients can find that this reputation often outlasts the day-to-day performance they experience as junior recruits hop from firm to firm, climbing the ladder each time but not necessarily living up to expectations.
It is a constant source of frustration for many in all industries, no less professional services, that it’s who you know not what you know but the tables are turning.
The dawn of the passion economy, with bespoke technology now available and a wider acceptance, that a big board room, expensive branding and the right postcode are not always a silver bullet to success, is putting people at the centre of professional services procurement.
It’s not about how many years of experience you have on paper, or who you rub shoulders with on the golf course. It’s about being able to demonstrate your skills and ideas - nothing more, nothing less.
The passion economy isn’t just a win for the individual though as if larger firms are willing to accept a degree of flexibility and fluidity, they will be better able to find and benefit from this new wave of talented independent experts too.
This is particularly the case as more of Gen-Z enter the workforce who have never experienced the rigidity in working practises of previous generations. These younger, tech-savvy employees bring fresh ideas and new ways of thinking, invigorating tired and outdated processes and as digital natives, they will adapt more quickly than most to this new way of working.
The professional services industry is changing for good, driven by the passion economy and a growing availability of technology that allows individuals to monetise their expertise. There are great opportunities for those who embrace this democratisation.
While the Coronavirus pandemic acted as the powder keg, there was no doubt that it only accelerated what was already going to happen. But the professional services industry should not fear digitisation - tech is simply an enabler that allows the best people to shine.
With the right tech stack, productivity, engagement, and collaboration can all be improved allowing client-side in-house departments and firms of all sizes to find the best people for the work and helping talented individuals to be found.
Ashley Friedlein is the CEO & Founder of Guild, an app designed for businesses, professional groups, networks and communities who want the advantages of messaging – ease of use, immediacy, intimacy, engagement – but who also care about proper privacy, quality, legal compliance, and professional standards of support and service. As easy to use as WhatsApp, advertising-free and GDPR compliant.
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