Category Archives: discourse

Why Repealing Affordable Health Care Will Hurt The Freelance Economy

Photo: Aaron Thomas via Unsplash

Photo: Aaron Thomas via Unsplash

The Affordable Care Act has made health insurance accessible for millions of freelance workers, a number that is expected to account for 40% of the workforce by 2020. For various reasons self-employment is also increasingly popular amongst millennials, with nearly 40% of the millennial workforce already describing themselves as self-employed. To put things into perspective, that is 60 million Americans, and the numbers are on the rise.

A freelance economy revolves around companies who hire independent workers on a short-term basis to complete a specific set of tasks. The term “freelancer” can also include consultants, solopreneurs, lifestyle entrepreneurs, and other types of independent workers able to contribute to a company’s operations while remaining lean to both parties’ benefit. This cohort, known for being nimble and resource-savvy, is key to job growth, economic innovation, and technological progress.

If the American Health Care Act act passes (currently passed by The House but not the Senate) and the Affordable Care Act is repealed, it is certain that the monthly cost of health care for self-employed individuals will skyrocket. This will make acquiring health care near impossible for many independent workers.

Under the law, individuals who make roughly less than $46,000, or families of four making less than $95,400, qualify for lower premiums. This means that they can pay as little as a third of the retail price for health insurance via federal taxcredits — that is, if they don’t already have access to health insurance through an employer.

Growth of the freelance cohort will stall as many new freelancers will be intimidated by the astronomical monthly expense without these credits — or simply put, they will be unable to meet the expense all together. Many existing freelancers will undoubtedly be forced to return to corporate life, surrendering the freedom and flexibility that made freelancing so attractive to begin with — or alternatively, forgo health care altogether if securing full-time employment at a company with health benefits is not an option.

The suggestion that the United States will not provide reasonable health coverage to its independent working population is troubling. Not only is it bypassing what should be a fundamental right for any member of a functioning society, but it stalls innovation in a competitive and ever-changing global economy. Let us not forget, many of our recent industry disruptors began their ventures solo and/or relied on contractors in the early stages of business.

Freelancers Union, a non-profit organization that aims to ensure that independent contractors receive adequate rights, protections and professional benefits, has handpicked health insurance plans on their website to fit freelancers’ needs. The online private exchange requires a qualifying event in order to apply (examples include: job loss, relocation, discontinued carrier plan). If qualified, HMO plans with a deductible of $5,500 for an individual ($11,000 for family) start at $285 per month for freelancers in the state of California through plans offered by Kaiser, Blue Shield, Anthem, and Sutter Health. For a lower deductible, plans start closer to $760.00 per month.

The Affordable Care Act has made healthcare available to millions of Americans striking out on their own. By repealing it, we are placing freelancers in a precarious position. Health care will become too expensive for the fastest growing segment of today’s soon-to-be largest workforce. As a result, we are not only inhibiting the health and wellness of this large cohort of Americans, but we are limiting the options for the workers of tomorrow’s economy.

Virtual Reality And The Future Of Storytelling

virtual reality

Photo: Pixabay

“Just so I understand this correctly, it’s possible to experience death in virtual reality. To experience what it’s actually like to die, in the brutalist of ways even. And as our senses develop — touch, smell, things like that — this experience is only going to get more realistic.”

The woman nodded in response. We were sitting across from each other in a large yurt that overlooked the Pacific Ocean, the door flap of the enormous tent making a gentle slapping sound in the wind as six of us sat cross-legged in a circle well past midnight.

The topic: virtual reality and consciousness.

“But you have to consider another scenario,” she said, leaning in further.

“What if experiencing death enabled us to face our greatest fear, and what if that wasn’t a bad thing? What if experiencing death gave us a greater appreciation for life, maybe even enabling us to live with more appreciation, empathy, and gratitude?”

Last fall, we gathered at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur for Digital Raign, a week-long summit created for bringing together industry folk (and curious minds – me) in the virtual, augmented and mixed reality worlds to discuss the state of the industry.

*

According to a report by Canalys, over 2 Million VR headsets were shipped in 2016. While this is a notable number, it remains small in comparison to the hundreds of millions of smartphones sold each quarter.

Still, we are on the brink of an industry that is set to change the world as we know it.

With last year’s launch of Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR at under $80each, wider accessibility to VR is finally possible. And for $15, you can buy Google Cardboard or even build a headset on your own for free. (Hint: it involves cardboard, bi-convex lenses, magnets, velcro, and a rubber band.)

The biggest setback that prevents VR from truly taking off is content. VR content is expensive to produce and funding usually comes from supporters who see enough traffic to turn around and monetize big on advertising.

Users show up for content. And more users = more traffic = sponsors, who in-turn fund content. It’s a chicken-egg scenario.

Music video director Chris Milk (Kanye West, Arcade Fire) is out to change that. Milk has dabbled in virtual reality concepts early on and in 2014 co-founded a production studio with artist and entrepreneur Aaron Koblin.

His first TED talk on the topic was in 2015, entitled “How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine.”

“VR is the last medium for storytelling, because it closes the gap between audience and storyteller. -Chris Milk

Linden Labs, the founders of Second Life, are also betting big on VR with the upcoming launch of a new platform.

Variable Labs is one of many other companies dedicated to creating immersive VR experiences in order to help individuals foster empathy, develop soft skills, and help change behavior through therapeutic techniques. Last year, it was also announced that Reel FX was teaming up with Facebook’s Oculus for a $1 million ‘VR for Good’ initiative dedicated to inspire social change.

From spirituality and healing to education, work, tourism, and of course entertainment, the possibilities in virtual reality are endless.

VR is too new for us to fully understand the full scope of its implications, but it’s good to know that as it emerges as a platform for mass-consumption the social good element is breaking through sooner than it did in its predecessors, despite the outliers.

And, as early consumers and content creators, we have the unique opportunity to help decide which direction it goes in.

Whether it be transformative and uplifting, or dark and potentially traumatic.

The time to call it is now. And the great news is, good things are on the horizon.

More:

Chris Milk, Virtual Reality as an Art Form (TED talk)

VR for Good at Sundance

Why 2017 Will Be the Year of the Freelancer

Guest post by Cassie Phillips, Technology & Internet Security Enthusiast; Blogger at securethoughts.com. Full bio located at the end of the post. 

Another year in the information age has come and gone, and the internet has cemented itself even further as an essential part of not only our personal lives but our business lives. Can you think of many positions that don’t involve the use of the internet and complex programs now?

With that advent comes the rise of freelance labor from all around the world, people much like yourself who wanted more control over their careers and their lives. And from what we can tell, people are starting to freelance every day and therefore joining the freelance economy.

Here are four reasons why next year will be a year freelancers and hopeful freelancers will celebrate:

Online Freelancing Platforms Are Cementing Themselves

When the internet as we know it was forming, there wasn’t a centralized location freelancers could go to find safe and reliable work. Craigslist at the time was more legitimate for finding work, and various illegitimate sites popped up and vanished after doing damage to the freelancers who tried to use them.

Now we have websites, such as Upwork and Freelancer, that let freelancers congregate and bid for jobs that not only have protections put in place but are numerous and specialized. Not only that, the most established of these sites are now perfecting their systems and their reputations, allowing freelancers and clients alike to find the people they’re looking to work with.

This makes the process of finding work much easier for both people just entering the freelance world and those who have been there for years. Potential clients are now focused on a few major websites, making job searches a shorter process. These platforms also allow for rating systems, and while those have their problems, experience is noted and commands a higher price.

More People Are Turning To Freelancing Than Ever Before

Given the shake-up the world economy incurred in the last decade, more people have tried out freelancing as a means of bringing in income when full-time employment was hard to find or to supplement reduced wages. This wave of freelancers not only created a stronger infrastructure for freelancers (by necessity), but it normalized freelancing more than ever among the average person. To show the numbers, the number of freelancers quadrupled over the last decade.

This is now combined with the proliferation of the internet and technology to create an environment where nearly anyone can try out freelancing as a career choice. While the dedication and hard work have not been removed from the equation, the high costs of entry originally required are now gone, and there are many websites that will help new freelancers on their path (such as this one).

More Businesses Recognize Remote Freelancers Are An Option

Fortunately, to match this increased freelance workforce, there’s an increased demand for freelance work as companies have more tasks that they need completed by specialists in their field who they do not have employed full-time. From their point of view, they don’t have to worry about HR problems, and they don’t have to maintain a long-term contract with the freelancer should a project dry up. They usually don’t need to use any office space as well, and due to the independent nature of freelancer, managerial time is kept to a minimum.

Quite simply, freelancers and prospective freelancers such as yourself are convenient for companies, and they often do better work than their in-house counterparts. Why wouldn’t companies take advantage of the opportunity to work with and learn from an expert? Next year will be filled with uncertainly, so freelancers provide a short-term commitment.

Not only this, but freelancers are now available all over the world. Companies are no longer bound to finding the best local employee. They can hire people from Canada to South Africa, even someone with special talents who happens to live in a place where they would be locally in low demand.

A freelancer can work from anywhere where there’s WiFi, so long as the connection is strong and that they’re using a Virtual Private Network to protect client information. Internet cafes aren’t as popular as they used to be in the United States, but worldwide the industry is still strong.

Freelance Workplace Culture is Becoming Mainstream Workplace Culture

When you think of workplace culture, do you immediately think of setting your own hours and having autonomy on projects? Many people wouldn’t think that, but people in some tech industries and forward-thinking companies are realizing that flexibility and specialization are keys in bringing a company ahead of its competitors. The workplace is becoming a little looser and open-minded, and with that freelancers are more readily accepted into a company fold, even if only for a short while.

It’s now standard for managers and projects leaders to use and communicate with freelancers to get the job done. Remote workers are now appearing in most major companies, and remote work (and partially remote work) is commonplace. While teamwork is as important as ever, individual creativity and decision making are growing in value as skillsets. These are skills that freelancers by nature are going to bring to the table.

Conclusion

Next year is going to be great for freelancers. Opportunities are growing, and the online culture making its way into businesses is only going to improve the general climate toward freelance professionals of all fields. In fact, no matter what industry you look at, freelancing is becoming a more viable source of income. I hope that you are in a good position for yourself whether or not you’re freelancing and that you take the steps forward to give yourself the life that you want.

About the Author: Cassie is a freelance author and marketer who has found the freelancing life to be an amazing one after she eased into the lifestyle. She hopes that others will consider opening up their life and turning toward freelance work as a potential choice for them.

Environmental Biohacking & Rumbling With The Unknown

Sunset at Big Sur taken during week 4 of my bio-hacking experiment

Big Sur, CA – Taken during Week 4 of my experiment.

The following is based on a talk I gave a few weeks back at Twitch HQ for Women’s Catalyst Lightening Talks.

At the end of September I deliberately kicked myself out of my studio apartment.

I sublet to a friend for two months and hit the road.

Now, I didn’t go very far. I drove around California in my trusty Prius C – living with friends, crashing on couches, spending time in nature.

I did this because I needed to get uncomfortable.

Because I believe that curiosity is greater than comfort.

[ Curiosity Zone > Comfort Zone ] *

I didn’t always believe this.

I’m a virgo perfectionist who likes her creature comforts. I’m in the upper half of my 30’s. What sense did it make to live out of my car when I had immediate goals to achieve?

Because I needed to clear my head. Because I wanted to get better.

Biohacking is a systems thinking approach to our own biology.

Here’s a short list of hackable things** :

• Nutrition – what we put into our bodies

• Physiology/Movement – muscle activity, cardio-vascular health, stretching & posture

• Environment – lighting, air quality, spending more time in nature

• Meditation – it can literally rewire the brain

• Mindfulness – practicing gratitude on a regular basis

• Sleep – measuring how much you get, performing regular quality checks

• Attention – how you think, learn, reason and focus

• Getting Uncomfortable…

…Ah ha!

Getting uncomfortable can mean a lot of things. It can mean taking a cold shower, contemplating death, or giving rejection therapy a spin. For me, it was a version of being homeless.

I’m not going to say it was easy. I oft dreamt about returning to my peaceful Oakland apartment.

But as soon as I returned to Oakland two weeks ago I felt a wave of disappointment wash over me. I walked to the window and looked out. Where was everyone, and…

…When can I do it again?

Here are my findings post-experiment:

1. Possessions – I can get by with less. A lot less.

2. Focus – Having less allows me to focus directly on my goals.

3. Self-reliance – I became stronger with my asks because my needs were clear.

4. Self-Awareness – I became more open minded to new situations.

5. Planning – I made a choice to just show up and take it one day at a time. And it worked.

Most of all, I learned that I don’t need to have everything figured out.

Becaue we are a generation defining life on our own terms. There are no right answers, no playbook to live by. We can write our own stories as we go.

 

* via this post by James Altucher

** via this post by Dave Asprey

Going Freelance – 5 Tips For Entering The Freelance Economy

5 tips for entering the freelance economy

Photo Source: Kaboom Pics

A few weeks back I gave a talk at The Alley about my experience in joining the freelance economy. The evening was filled with personal stories and powerful tips for getting started. I learned a lot from the other presenters and had a great time sharing my experience so far. Below are key takeaways from that talk.

1. Establish your value-add.

Before you make the jump, it’s critical to understand the value of what you bring to the marketplace. Speak with business leaders in your circle to understand their needs within your area of expertise. For me, it was an intimidating process because marketing is such a huge vertical. After I understood what people needed the most help with, I was able to establish a framework for how to help.

2. Get organized.

I use Trello to manage action items related to the business itself. For example, I have several lists set up for capturing to-dos and tracking leads.

One thing I wish I did earlier was set up a separate gmail account for business correspondence only. Having a separate account helps keep things streamlined and creates a better work-life balance.

Each client gets a tracking number. This number is added to their Trello board, Google drive folder, and company profile within FreshBooks.

Google drive is key for collecting and sharing project files and documentation. I use Freshbooks for invoicing, Slack and Skype for communication, and countless other services for managing my calendar and keeping inboxes streamlined.

I went to the bank and got a business checking card to separate business expenses from personal ones. In conjunction with Mint, this will make things much easier come tax season.

3. Optimize your environment.

For the first two months as a freelancer I worked from home. I learned that it wasn’t sustainable over time.  I needed to get out of the house in order to work more efficiently in general, and get at least a little amount of socialization in.

One of the hardest parts about going freelance for me, outside of worrying constantly about money, was working alone 100% of the time. I learned that I need to be around other people to get the juices flowing,  so I designed a work environment that worked the best in order to achieve that.

4. Remember that Energy is greater than Time.

As a freelancer it’s important to optimize your time, but it’s equally if not more important to maintain mental energy. If your energy is low, you won’t be able to complete tasks as quickly or with nearly as much focus. It may seem selfish at first to prioritize self-care and maintain a healthy work-life balance. But in the end, it’s critical in order to prevent burn out and keep your energy reserves high over a sustained period of time.

5. Plug-in to like-minded communities.

Go to events hosted by companies that support the freelance economy. Some examples of companies that host great events include:  WorkFrom, Fivver, and Cloudpeeps. Explore co-working places and opportunities to work with others. Co-working communities often host events for socializing and have Slack channels for participating in knowledge share during the work week. These communities are helpful for building friendships, finding resources, and generating leads.  

Remember, your desire to be a freelancer is a logical one. It was never explained to us when we were young that this way of living and working is a viable option, therefore the concept can at times appear hazy.

However, the percentage of freelancers is on the rise. Freelancers are part of a larger movement focused on creating a sustainable and independent work economy. With some solid strategy, decent organizational skills and willpower, you can make the transition too.

View the presentation from my talk here.