In recent years, there has been a significant change in how companies perceive and work with freelancers. Appreciation and duration of cooperation have increased. For freelancers, new ways of clientsare emerging that go beyond recruiters and traditional marketplaces. And new providers are focusing on making their working lives easier.

From the “mercenary market” to the expert market

In the past, freelancers were primarily there for companies to cushion demand peaks or major absences among employees. They were brought on board at short notice and were often to disappear just as quickly when normality returned. Their duties were the same as those of salaried employees and they served as substitutes or reinforcements. Similar to mercenaries, they were contracted for clearly defined activities – their consulting services as experts were not in demand.

Things look very different today: Freelancers have become an integral part of workforce planning. Companies can no longer get around them if they want to work with the best talent and launch their projects quickly. While hiring times for a new developer can be months, a freelance developer can be up and running in days.

In addition, he brings expertise that is perfectly suited to the project and thus particularly enriches the team. Companies are learning to appreciate the second aspect in particular and are also opting for freelancers with expert knowledge regardless of the capacity situation. They are then happy to sign on for longer projects and, for their part, enjoy planning security. The pandemic has made remote work, distributed teams and digital collaboration the norm, improving the circumstances for working with freelancers.

Power shifts in the direction of talent

As we move closer and closer to full employment, the employer market is changing to an employee or talent market. Whether employees or freelancers: talents can increasingly decide for themselves how, when and for whom they want to work. Self-actualization becomes the purpose of work, which brings us to the top of Maslow’s pyramid of needs. In the U.S., in a movement known as the “Great Resignation,” scores of workers are quitting their jobs in search of greater meaning.

These developments make freelancing more attractive as a career path: more flexibility and self-determination and, at the same time, higher demand on the part of companies that have to fill the gaps that have arisen and are growing. IT-freelancer in particular are in demand and can now often choose their projects. This makes their everyday work exciting and varied. Companies must accept this changed power imbalance and offer freelancers good conditions when working together.

An increase in the number of freelancers has been taking place for quite some time. For example, the number of self-employed (freelancers) in Germany increased from 514,000 to 1.46 million between 1992 and 2021, almost tripling. Figures from a Statista survey in the USA show that 50% of Gen Z already work as freelancers, closely followed by Millennials at 44%. It is therefore likely that this trend will continue.

Previously: clientsvia recruiters

Let’s take a look back at the past: In the past, freelancers usually found their projects through contacts or via classic recruiters. These were commissioned by the companies and were paid by them. Therefore, their work was mainly focused on satisfying their clients and quickly finding suitable talent for them. Often recruiters had short retention times and there was no verification of success with the clients. For freelancers, the experience was usually not very good.

Then: marketplaces come up

Later, freelancer marketplaces took over some of the placement work. On portals such as Upwork, Fiverr or, talents can offer their services and be found and hired directly by companies. As in other areas, marketplaces bring transparency to the market and thereby depress prices. The classic portals of this type tend to work well for smaller orders.

They are particularly successful when they exploit international arbitrage, i.e., clients from countries with higher wages and living costs buy services from countries with lower costs. This makes the marketplaces a less attractive acquisition channel for many German freelancers, because they cannot and do not want to assert themselves in this price war.

Develop curated marketplaces with a focus on talent

In recent years, an additional new category has emerged: curated marketplaces. These work similarly to a recruiter in that they place selected talent with the clients. But they do so by drawing on a pool of curated talent that has signed up to the marketplace, often requiring them to go through a selection process. Thematically, these marketplaces are specialized. Examples are Toptal for IT-freelancer, COMATCH for freelance consultants or ScribersHub for independent copywriters.

With my company CodeControl, I have also built such a marketplace for tech freelancers. Often these portals focus more on talent and providing them with a good experience. At CodeControl, for example, we organize community events, provide legal support, and pay talent on time – regardless of when the clients receives payment. Because the same applies to marketplaces: top freelancers can choose where they sign up and where they accept assignments. They do so where they find added value beyond the mere placement of orders.

Trend: Mix of marketplaces and SaaS platforms

The latest development we can see in the freelancer market is a hybrid between marketplaces and software-as-a-service platforms. This can have very different manifestations. Some providers focus exclusively on helping freelancers process payments, such as Xolo or Sonnovate. Others represent a new form of social networking and allow freelancers to create meaningful profiles, such as Contra and Polywork.

With our newly developed own platform 9am we want to follow this development and support with a holistic solution in all areas of freelancer life. On the one hand, talents can find new assignments with us, but on the other hand, they can also manage their existing clients, network with other freelancers and continue their education.

Conclusion: New reputation, new channels, more support

Fortunately, freelancers now enjoy a very different reputation than they used to. They are no longer the fire department that helps out in unforeseen incidents. Instead, they are seen as experts and companies are increasingly interested in long-term cooperation with them. The ways they find clients have evolved from recruiters and traditional marketplaces to specialized curated marketplaces and novel platforms. There they will also find a community and support for other aspects of being a freelancer.


Marc Clemens is founder and CEO of CodeControl and 9am. He is a serial entrepreneur and studied at the University of St. Gallen and HEC Paris. In 2016, he founded CodeControl, a curated marketplace and community of Europe's best tech freelancers. With 9am, he has built a platform that enables easy collaboration between companies and freelancers.

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