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Competition for Freelance Contracts Heats Up as Job Markets Tighten
By Rob Gross

As the jobless rate in the United States drifts higher freelancers suddenly find themselves competing with small to medium size firms for contract projects. This makes for a very difficult and unfortunate situation for the individual freelancer. How can the soloist working out of his/her kitchen or basement compete with established firms bidding on the same contract work?

On the brighter side, our current economic slump will be short-lived by most accounts. In the statement accompanying their most recent 50 basis points rate cut the Federal Reserve Board proclaimed on March 20, "Although current developments do not appear to have materially diminished the prospects for long-term growth in productivity, excess productive capacity has emerged recently." In other words, we're by no means in a freefall here and things will turn around sooner rather than later.

The European Central Bank echoed similar comments on April 11 stating there are "no indications of the risk of a global recession" when they elected not to lower interest rates despite the threat of the spread of American and Asian economic slowdowns perhaps right around the corner. And according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development(OECD) the unemployment rate within the euro-zone made up of 12 European nations is expected to fall from 9.0% in 2000 to 8.4% in 2001 and continue to 7.9% in 2002. In fact, France currently enjoys a 10 year low in its jobless rate and you have to go way back to 1984 to find a better jobless rate in the United Kingdom.

So the future appears to be rosy but what's the independent freelancer to do in the meantime? Well, while the more established freelance jobs sites generally attract employers internationally they are primarily based in the States and therefore more often than not attract American employers. As these sites are being invaded by small and medium sized firms seeking work rather than workers the European based freelance sites(a short list is provided at the end of this article) are still a reasonable source for work. And due to the nature of freelance jobs, primarily off-site, employers are generally agreeable to hiring from abroad. Of course, while the relative strength of the dollar might mean working for less than you're used to, it might still be a better option than just waiting around for a quarter or two for the economic situation to turn around. For Asians, however, the exchange rates with Europe are more favorable.

Another option may be to use this slow period to make the transition from freelancer to entrepreneur/small business. Consumer confidence may be lagging but there's still plenty of capital out there for up and coming entrepreneurs. By most accounts the economy will be back on track by the end of the year and if you're ever going to take your operation to the next level you can get that start-up loan now at a bargain interest rate and it may be easier than you think.

The best place to start is the Small Business Administration(SBA). They've got a wealth of information and resources for the new small businessperson. After browsing through the site you'll discover a one-page loan application called the SBALowDoc. This application was created to speed up the small business loan process. It's set up so that the borrower completes the front and the lender completes the back and the SBA promises an answer within 36 hours. To further help you find a lender the SBA has published a list of what they call "Micro-Business-Friendly Banks in the United States." These are banks whose business loans of less than $100,000 represent a greater percentage of all business loans than the average bank. The 46-page report lists banks by state and includes many useful facts and figures. (link below)

So why is money available now? One reason is that investors large and small are becoming weary of investing in the financial markets. While it is no doubt a temporary state of affairs, the growing consensus is that the markets at present are not the place to grow your wealth as even the most fundamentally sound securities continue to falter. The small business entrepreneur with low overhead and positive cash flow is the best bet in town.

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