The terms are many: Freelancers. Independent workers. Part-timers. Temporaries. Solopreneurs. Contingent workers. Side-giggers.
There are an increasing number of them in the American economy. According to MBO Partners, a big consulting firm that studies them, the independent workforce is growing more than five times faster than the overall labor force. And the facilities to accommodate these independents have become very big business indeed.
In the larger metropolitan areas, co-working workspaces (shared workspaces) of all kinds have been multiplying. The largest shared-office-space firm in the country, New York City-based WeWork, is anticipating 1000 locations in the near future. WeWork, which advertises itelf as “a physical social network,” had just 52 locations last fall. Valued at $10 billion at the time (it’s about $15 billion now), WeWork rents space for as little as $45 a month (a dedicated desk starts at $450). It currently has about 50,000 members. A Wall Street Journal article this month characterized the future of urban commercial space as “glassy clusters of offices, hip common space, beer on tap and a communal atmosphere.”
MBO Partners found that 61 percent of people who worked independently did so to control their own schedules, 58 percent to have more flexibility, 54 percent to be their own boss, and 48 percent “to do what I love.”
A few years ago, the majority of independent workers felt traditional employment was more secure than independent employment. Now the proportions are reversed. About a third believe that independent work is neither more nor less secure than traditional employment.
The Seven21 Media Center on Broadway in Kingston describes itself as the Hudson Valley’s media production and business complex. “In here, independent media professionals from every facet of the industry unite to share projects, resources, knowledge, and inspiration,” its website declares. “We invite you to join us and schedule a visit today. Whether your specialty is film, video, photography, music, audio, graphics, animation, technology, arts, entertainment, marketing or communications, you’ll find a great space and friendly community waiting for you here.” Office suites range from 200 to 2000 square feet with prices starting as low as $350 per month. Congressman Chris Gibson rents a small office at Seven21, as do about 20 other organizations.
Though many solo businesses intend to hire employees and expand rapidly, the majority of small businesses don’t expect to do so. Though many seek to rent spaces, share common services and otherwise keep to themselves if they want to, the majority seek wider support and a greater sense of community.
One Epic Place rents 122 Main Street, a prominent historic brick building owned by the Pine family in the village of New Paltz. In business at the current location for about seven months, its acronymic slogan is “Empowering People, Inspiring Change.” (EPIC: Get it?) One Epic Place asks: Are you a solopreneur looking for extremely affordable rent and a community to help you grow?
Though the space is not split into separately rented offices, private offices are available to members for rent. The enterprise charges members for shared workspaces in varied membership packages based on a point system that starts as low as $40 a month (Until March 1, there’s a two-week package for $25).
“Solopreneurs can feel isolated,” explains co-founder Julia Robbins, a holistic business coach. “We help them not to be an island…People who work from home are more likely to float with no direction. They want to be part of a community. They see the energy in action [here].”
Co-founder Nicole Langlois is a health coach who supports and guides her clients in one-on-one and group programs to attain and maintain a healthier lifestyle. “She is really good at lighting a fire under your ass and giving loving support at the same time,” the One Epic Place website declares.
With New Paltz boasting the highest rents in Ulster County, local solopreneurs face formidable barriers to business entry. Though college communities are often terrific breeding grounds for solopreneuship, the local entrepreneurial community around SUNY New Paltz has been very modest in size. Langlois and Robbins hope to contribute to turning that situation around. They see what they are doing as providing a pathway to entrepreneurship.
Whatever the energetic pair are doing, it seems to be working. There are presently 20 members besides themselves, and additional members are in the pipeline. “We have a lot of vision,” says Robbins. “Membership is growing, and the members are thriving.”
The Epic owner-managers note that their common spaces and social networking have already led to several unexpected collaborations among members. Robbins and Langlois say that they can foresee One Epic-like Places “in every town everywhere.”
Forming the kind of enterprise that has resulted wasn’t exactly the original idea. “We decided to follow it where it goes,” says Langlois. The intrepid pair say they are now writing a book on “the dos and don’ts for solopreneurs” as well as preparing and on-line program with the acronym TMAP (Target Market Alignment Program) to help people with business ideas identify their target markets.
The “tribe of local business owners” they are guiding range from practitioners of alternative health disciplines to artists and craftspersons to techies, chefs and business consultants. It’s that combination of solo professionalism and business coaching that anchors One Epic Place. Concepts like “accountability” and “partnering” are more than buzzwords when combined with questions such as “How’s that newsletter going?” and “Can you help me with this packaging problem?”
Co-work spaces comes in all sizes and flavors. One Epic Place shares only one of the characteristics used to describe WeWork spaces: a communal atmosphere. But hey, there are other places on New Paltz’s flourishing Main Street to find beer on tap.
Independent workers generated more than $1.15 trillion in revenue in 2015, according to MBO Partners, seven percent of the gross domestic product. By 2020 their number is expected to increase to 37.9 million workers, 22.1 million full-timers and 15.8 million part-timers. The proportion of high-paying independent jobs appears to be increasing. A variety of reputable forecasters are expecting other sectors of the economy to increase the use of such workers in the coming decade.