Working Connection: Toptal Offers Freelancers Global Networking
Toiling alone in your apartment in sweatpants all day at your laptop. That is the image of the freelancer. Whether that is true or not, freelancing can be isolating.
For every skilled freelancer looking to make global connections for their work, this network could be an answer.
“Working remotely can be a lonely job, that’s where we step in, connecting people,” says Sanja Reiter, community operations lead for Toptal, the nearly nine-year-old global talent network with up to 10,000 freelancers in 80 countries connected to thousands of business clients around the world.
“In 2020, freelancers will comprise 43 percent of the U.S. labor force, and by some estimates, that number will exceed 50 percent as soon as 2027,” Thrive Global reports.
And while there is a differentiation between gig, freelance and project work, Reiter says Toptal connects with the top three percent of skilled talent who apply and who are then connected for free to clients in many different fields, who pay Toptal for the connection.
Reiter, who is based in Croatia, has been with Toptal for more than three years, creating connections globally for professional mentorship and opportunities that have a “domino effect” on a career. Her background as a student of geography and history before working five years in the tourism industry helps to inform her work with a global client base for Toptal, she says.
According to Toptal data, about 13 percent of the talent pool have been freelancing for more than 10 years, with 27 percent having five to 10 years of experience, and 60 percent with one to five years of experience.
The freelancers in the talent pool, who are vetted, are then connected with businesses in need of their project help, from small businesses to organizations “with $500 million in revenue,” Reiter says.
In 2015-2016, Toptal awarded 12 scholarships to entrepreneurial winners who received mentorship for one year. In 2018-2019 five winners from the different global regions are receiving mentorship.
With virtual and in-person community gatherings and events around the world, Reiter says workers from Oceania to Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe receive training, connection and mentorship.
Research would back up the need for freelancers to connect this way.
Thrive Global reports, “Research published last year in The Harvard Business Review shows that independent workers learn to ‘cultivate four types of connections—place, routines, purpose, and people—that help them endure the emotional ups and downs of their work and gain energy and inspiration from their freedom.’ In an ideal model—where freelancers are hired based on need—burnout, poor management, and difficult cultures are non-issues.”
Though Toptal does not gather data on the gender of freelance clients, but Reiter says the project economy is particularly useful for women. “I think the flexibility of work is a big part of it. You can connect with people all over the world and learn from mentors all over the world.”
According to the London School of Economics, “A new report from the CRSE (Centre for Research on Self-Employment) is changing all that. The Freelance Project and Gig Economies of the 21st Century establishes the dominance not of the ‘gig economy,’ but the much larger and more productive ‘project economy’. Among highly skilled freelancers, in fact, project work is five times more common than ‘gig’ work.”
The report continues, “Overall, the report found that project freelancers contribute an enormous amount to the economy – more than the entire creative sector – and do much to drive economic performance.”
In the United Kingdom, the report finds, “Another key finding is that these 2.1 million highly skilled freelancers earn more than twice as much as equivalent employees. Highly skilled freelancers – including managers, directors, professionals and associate professionals – are by far the most productive part of the self-employed sector.”
Referencing this report, Brent Messenger writes in Fast Company, “The Freelance Economic Impact report uncovered that in the top 25 markets for this type of work, the population grew by 14 percent (from 2011-2016), their revenue grew by 19 percent, and they have contributed over $135 billion to their local economies (between 1 and 2 percent of GDP depending on the market.)”
Messenger writes, “What the report proves is that this type of work is growing, these workers are making significant contributions to their local economies, and that if they are going to continue to thrive, they need to be supported.”
While some companies that connect freelancers to work have received criticism, Toptal maintains services such as Toptal are differentiated with a pool of global “highly skilled workers” rather than one-time gig workers who turn to apps such as TaskRabbit or Upwork for small jobs for instance.
In an interview with 48 Hills, Steven Hill, author of 2015’s Raw Deal: How the “Uber Economy” and Runaway Capitalism are Screwing American Workers, recently said, some companies are “an auction in which labor is bidding on jobs, and you can watch the race to the bottom. They’re skilled, they have access to technology and the Internet, they can upload the job when they’re done. You can see a whole range of occupations on this platform, from lawyers, architects and engineers to translators, graphic designers and journalists—you can hire just about anybody who doesn’t need to be working with anyone else as part of a team. They can finish the job and upload it to you through the internet or the cloud.”
According to Toptal, the company makes efforts to make the relationships endure. “Every time you work with a new Toptal freelancer, you will have a trial period to decide whether they meet your needs. If you don’t find them to be extraordinary, you will not be charged (and you can even keep any work completed during the trial).”
As more workers turn to the freelance economy for a variety of reasons, from flexibility to workplace culture burnout, need for creative control and a desire to expand client base, it is important to note the impact the change in types of workers does for the economy.
“More than 76 percent of freelancers said they are happier working independently than they were when they worked for an employer, according to Freelancing in America report, conducted by Edelman Intelligence and co-commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union, that surveyed 536 knowledge workers to determine how employees feel about the freelance lifestyle. Some 72 percent of freelancers said they are satisfied with the amount of work they receive,” reports Tech Republic.