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AI and Freelancers: Embracing the Future of Work

The headlines in the freelance community about AI's impact run the gamut from singing from the rooftops to full-on boycotts. I’ll admit that I haven’t yet written about AI because I’m still forming my own opinions.

On the one hand, I know that work constantly evolves whether we like it or not, and we can either adapt or get left behind. On the other hand, the impact of technology on our lives, livelihoods, and limited attention spans is far from positive.

Whether we like it or not, the freelance landscape is evolving rapidly, driven by technological advancements and changing work preferences. AI is at the forefront of this transformation, challenging us to consider how to intentionally leverage it to get more from our work for both ourselves and our clients.  

I recently spoke with Steve King of Emergent Research, one of the leading researchers studying the freelance revolution, on my podcast (episode out soon). That conversation helped clarify my thinking about AI's impact on how we do our work and what our work does for us.

Democratization of Work

One of Steve’s insights that really resonated with me was that technological advancements help democratize work. Steve’s small research shop can now compete with huge research and consulting shops because the data analytic software has come so far that he can now run analysis from his home, which would have necessitated a huge system years ago.

Similarly, much of my content work would not have been possible even a decade ago. I can create high-quality video and audio and build platforms for my work instead of paying for costly infrastructure.

When used strategically, AI can have the same effect on freelancers and solopreneurs. We can now compete with larger companies and have a true competitive advantage because while we can do many of the things they can, we’re also more nimble and able to respond to our chosen markets more quickly. 

Better Profit Margins

Almost every freelancer I talk to is trying to figure out how to spend more time on their business's highest-impact activities. While “High-impact” can look different for everyone, it almost always includes eliminating mundane tasks.

One of AI's most significant benefits for freelancers is the automation of repetitive and time-consuming tasks. AI-powered tools can handle tasks such as data entry, email management, and invoicing, allowing freelancers to focus on more value-added activities like client communication and project delivery.

AI can also help freelancers boost productivity by providing intelligent insights and recommendations. For example, AI-driven project management tools can analyze work patterns and suggest optimal work schedules, helping freelancers manage their time more efficiently.

These benefits add up to “more” work in less time. If we’re pricing for value and not time (which we should be), guess who’s reaping those rewards? Us! We’re not passing on a “cost savings” of time efficiency because we’re still delivering the same, if not greater, value for our clients. This means we’re charging the same (or more) while spending less time.

Finding Flow

Being a freelancer is a process of constant evolution. The freelancers who embrace this dynamic succeed and get long-term satisfaction from their work. Consistent evolution of our work leads to a flow state—that feeling when you’re totally engrossed in what you’re doing because it is the perfect mix of easy and challenging—the kind of work that doesn’t feel like work. 

“The best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.”

― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

But here’s the secret about flow states: once something becomes too easy, becomes routine, you can no longer find flow. You have to keep pushing yourself toward more and more challenging activities. You only catch flow for a moment but chase it for a lifetime.

Like any other disruption to the status quo, AI forces us to up our game as freelancers and humans. The easier, more mundane tasks will go to AI first, and those are precisely the ones we should be willing to let go of.

As AI continues to evolve and become more accessible, freelancers who embrace these technologies will be better positioned to thrive in a competitive marketplace. By leveraging AI-powered tools and platforms, freelancers can enhance their skills, expand their service offerings, and deliver greater value to themselves and their clients.

That hard truth doesn’t change the fact that this transition will be difficult, and we can’t lose sight of its impact on actual humans.

My advice? Stay curious and use these greater capabilities to get more from your work.

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