Understanding and Projecting Your Worth as a Freelancer

In a knowledge-rich economy, businesses need agility more than ever. Traditional hiring can slow operations, leading many to seek experienced freelancers for quick, efficient project execution.

Charles Handy introduced the concept of the Shamrock Organisation in 1989 [1]. He envisioned three types of workers:

  • the core, composed of permanent staff dedicated to essential tasks;
  • contract workers, specialists brought in for specific projects; and
  • peripheral workers, or part-timers, offering supplementary support.

While the organisation's core remains intact and central, including contract and peripheral workers, it allows for agility and quick access to specialised expertise. However, this model also presents challenges in ensuring a cohesive organisational culture.

Cedric Chin [2] echoes this shift in the workforce landscape in his review of Neil Irwin's "How to Win in a Winner-Take-All World."[3]

Irwin observes that although automation and outsourcing can suppress wages, high-value freelancing roles still hold the potential to thrive.

You must showcase your unique capabilities to stand out in the freelance talent economy.

For freelancers and consultants, this means continuously honing their value proposition. Understanding your value goes beyond service delivery; it's about the overall impact on a client's operations.

Regarding pricing strategies, it's a delicate balance between your charge and the perceived value. Overcoming initial self-doubt is vital, particularly when starting. And as Irwin points out, freelancing in high-value roles can be lucrative, even in a world where wages face pressures from automation and outsourcing.

I have a contracted graphic designer on a freelance platform paid hourly. She was so productive that she only earned a few dollars for her top-rate work. Recognizing this, I shifted her to value-based pricing to ensure she gets paid well.

Similarly, I use a fixed value-based rate for a web developer I collaborate with, even for a 5-minute job. When I have a problem, he fixes it quickly, taking a lot of stress and worry away. That’s the point I am trying to make about understanding your value and the following ideas.

But what does actual professional value look like?

Neil Irwin introduces the concept of the "glue person" in his book. These individuals have rare and valuable skills, making them indispensable in large organisations. They're the connectors, bridging various specialties and ensuring seamless collaboration across domains. At the same time, Cal Newport advocates for professionals to seek out and cultivate rare, specialised skills.

Balancing your role as a "glue person" while developing specialised skills can be the winning ticket. It means diving deep into a specific domain while also having the versatility to integrate and communicate across various fields.

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Continuous learning extends beyond traditional means like books or courses in the ever-evolving knowledge domain. Every project provides an opportunity to hone both technical and soft skills. From navigating client needs, overcoming unexpected challenges, and extracting wisdom from feedback, real-world experiences often provide valuable insights. These practical encounters help freelancers evolve, allowing them to anticipate challenges, spot patterns, and adapt strategies based on prior experiences.

As freelancers consistently gain insights from their work, their expertise naturally broadens. This growth is more than personal development; it adds tangible value to their services. Hence, it's essential to articulate this evolution to clients, showcasing how their enriched expertise warrants price adjustments.

While the future of freelancing remains dynamic due to technology and market shifts, certain constants offer guidance. A dedication to skill enhancement, understanding client needs, and proactive adaptability will remain timeless assets.

The modern professional landscape is shifting towards the Shamrock Organisation's freelance model. As highlighted by Irwin and shown in real-world cases, freelancers and consultants are more than just service providers. They fill gaps, provide critical insights, and help execute projects efficiently. With the organisation's core team in place, talented freelancers add agility and specialised expertise. Adapting, maintaining solid relationships, and continuously demonstrating value will be essential for long-term success in freelancing.


[1] Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason

[2] Cedric Chin, How to Win in a Winner-Take-All-World


[3] Neil Irwin How to Win in a Winner-Take-All World, The Definitive Guide to Adapting and Succeeding in High-Performance Careers

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