The Future of Work: The Impact of Freelancer Marketplaces on the Events Industry
By Michelle Bruno
August 15, 2023
This is the second in a series of articles about the event workforce and the potential of outsourced skilled labor. Read part 1»
The event-industry workplace is evolving. Easy access to an available supply of freelancers, independent contractors and fractional executives is changing the behaviors, capabilities and bottom-line potential of organizations that plan events. Here’s how.
The rise of talent-sharing marketplaces
Outside the event-industry bubble, talent-sharing or freelancer marketplaces—online platforms that help companies find specialized contractors for (primarily) short-term projects—have been around for about a decade. They’ve recently emerged in the event space, assisting firms to lower the risk of hiring outsourced labor by vetting freelancers and making their qualifications and experience transparent.1
Two firms, Soundings and Cadre, help event-industry organizations and freelancers with industry-specific skill sets to connect. The companies take different approaches. Soundings consults with clients on agile talent strategy and then places freelancers in the appropriate positions. Cadre is an online marketplace that directly connects event-industry freelancers with active opportunities.
Either way, freelancer (more of a catchall term for independent contractors at all levels and with a wide range of specializations) marketplaces help employers bring in the right resources for the right job at the right time. They have the potential to not only reshape the labor market in the event industry but open the door to new opportunities for companies that utilize events as a marketing channel or line of business.
How employers can mine the potential of freelancers
In an industry that is predominantly female, agile talent strategies, says Tracy Judge, founder and CEO of Soundings, give employers access to an untapped resource—scores of talented women, many of whom are also caretakers and whose previous alternative was to exit the industry completely (as they did in large numbers during the Covid pandemic).
With more accessible and broader access to talent, employers can avail themselves of otherwise unattainable opportunities, such as expanding existing event programs—planning more different (perhaps niche) events in more places—or leveraging local talent. They can also outsource talent to move into new markets (gaming, scientific or medical meetings) by contracting specialists with prior experience in those areas.
Independent event management firms and even independent planners can use freelancers to scale up or down for specific projects and price their services more competitively. On Cadre, the same freelancers looking for help on one side of the platform also register as contractors available for work on the other side, says Todd Taranto, Cadre’s president.
How freelancers are impacting the event industry
In a cyclical (and vulnerable) industry like events, freelancers can be a stabilizing force. “Our biggest growth area in the past two years has been from planning companies saying, ‘Instead of hiring the next incremental person, I’m going to contract someone for three or six months to get us through the peaks and valleys,’” Taranto says.
Forbes contributor Jon Younger writes, “Visionaries like Steve King of emergentresearch.com, and John Winsor of the Center for the Transformation of Work, argued that freelancing was a powerhouse resourcing option of extreme benefit to large corporates as well as younger, more entrepreneurial enterprises. The best workforce, they argued, is one that combines stability, expertise and the ability to pivot in response to opportunity and threat. In short, a flexible, blended workforce.”2
In an industry where labor is the most significant cost component, outsourcing talent is a more efficient use of the workforce, Taranto explains. Freelancers can take on multiple jobs at once, and they’re only contracted for specific tasks or projects when needed. “If you can optimize your labor usage, you’re hopefully picking up a couple of margin points on your income,” he says.
Historically, the event industry has yet to attract the type of talent that other sectors, such as technology or finance, have been able to attract. Freelancing can change that by giving organizations access to top talent part-time that they wouldn’t be able to attract or afford permanently. For employers, top talent translates into enhanced company capabilities and higher performance.
Just as the event industry professionalized its full-time workforce, a growing community of contract professionals—freelancers, independents, fractional executives and consultants—is honing its skills to move freely across companies and employment opportunities. Freelancer marketplaces are one point on the outsourced skilled labor spectrum. We’ll discuss specialty agencies next.
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