tPresented by Shopify

With more than 57 million people working as freelancers in the US last year, it’s clear that more and more people are choosing to be self-employed over the traditional 9-to-5. In fact, the Freelancing in America 2017 study predicts that freelancers will become the U.S. workforce majority within a decade, with nearly 50 percent of millennials already working for themselves.

With the pace of change in commerce and technology accelerating at a speed we’ve never seen before, there is a huge opportunity for freelance developers, designers, and anyone looking to play a role in the technology that powers the future of online businesses. While opportunities are opening up, working from contract to contract isn’t easy, and freelancers can face many challenges in establishing consistent work in this competitive climate.

Here are three ways freelancers can go from sporadic projects to a truly sustainable business in the gig economy.

1. Look to support small- and medium-sized businesses

Despite the presence of a few monopolies like Amazon and Walmart dominating the news cycle, small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are flourishing. The barrier to entry for commerce has been lowered, enabling more SMBs to launch businesses much more quickly and affordably than ever before.

Yet, even with the barrier of entry lowered, SMBs are still faced with an array of challenges in running their business and they need help. Shopify has witnessed this through the growth in our app ecosystem, a platform where developers share apps that extend the functionality of our merchant’s online stores. On average, Shopify merchants use six apps to help manage and run their businesses. This fact doesn’t just tell us that people need more software. From making their first sale to managing their finances, merchants need more help with commerce and that’s where the opportunity for freelancers lies.

While SMBs focus on what they do best — creating great products — there is room for freelancers to step into consultancy roles to help solve the unique commerce challenges they face. By developing a deep understanding of the industry and the underlying problems their clients want to solve, freelancers can provide more value, ultimately leading to more consistent business.

For example, when it comes to finding new leads, 61 percent of SMBs report a challenge reaching their target audiences, which is exaggerated as their business grows. Rather than simply providing a one-off job, a consultant can work with a client as their business grows, identifying the most effective marketing tools and channels the client can optimize at each stage of their business.

2. Find the right sales channels

Building a consistent client roster as a freelancer can feel pretty impossible. Freelancers are responsible for acquiring their own business and setting a good reputation for themselves in order to drum up referrals. That’s why finding the right sales channels is key. Getting in front of the right audience, in the right space, at the right time, will help freelancers elevate their businesses and build out a solid network of clients.

In recent years freelancers have looked to job “marketplaces” as the go-to sales channel to find new clients and build credibility. Although they’re a great starting place, most of these freelancing platforms give potential clients a lot of choice, and some of them sell services at very competitive prices.

That’s why Shopify is launching the Shopify services marketplace. Announced at Shopify’s Partner and Developer Conference, Unite, Shopify services marketplace will be a job-centric hub where merchants can request help with anything from basic store setup to bespoke integration development, and everything in between. Unlike other job “marketplaces” that are flooded with service offerings at competitive prices, Shopify’s services marketplace will use advanced algorithms and machine learning capabilities to offer personalized recommendations to merchants needing support. This ensures partners get discovered so they can attract the right clients and grow their business.

3. Dive deep into a niche

With the commerce industry changing so rapidly, you would think that it’s no longer enough to know the ins and outs of one specific niche. But it’s actually the opposite. It’s impossible to be all things to all people. That’s why freelancers should look to identify a niche and assess how their unique background, perspective, and experience make them ideally suited.

A great way to identify a niche is by looking at untouched pockets of white space created in an otherwise crowded playing field. Within Shopify’s Partner ecosystem, we’ve seen partners build exciting products and provide specialized services by identifying and filling the white space in our platform. Even as Shopify scales and continues to launch new products, our partners continue to create successful businesses by identifying innovative opportunities to elevate merchants’ businesses and attract new clients to their own businesses.

Take Shopify Expert, Ben Zettler, who found a niche within Shopify’s ecosystem, providing website development and analytics-based digital media strategies for brands with a focus on sporting products. “A freelancer’s process of identifying a niche is like an ecommerce manager’s efforts to reduce a user’s number of clicks to the point of conversion. Developing a strong knowledge of a particular space gives confidence to a prospective client and supports the close of a new contract,” explained Zettler.

It’s important to go deep into a field instead of wide. As a result, specializing in a particular industry makes it easier to not only attract the right clients, but consistent clients.

As the commerce landscape continues to transform, the combination of technology and human creativity will be essential to decreasing its complexity. With this, there is an opening of opportunity for freelancers with the right skills to thrive. The competition is growing and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to rise above the noise, but by finding a niche, widening their skillset and building trustworthy reputations, freelancers can build profitable and sustainable businesses in the gig economy.

To learn more about Shopify’s Partner Program, visit:

Atlee Clark is Director, App and Partner Platform at Shopify.

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