For the past five years, the Forbes freelance revolution blog has given readers a front row seat to the freelance economy. Its introduced readers to a wide variety of freelance marketplaces and platforms: Established global giants like Upwork.com and Fiverr.com, ecosystem leaders like Mybasepay.com or Open-Assembly.com, fast growing platforms like Gigged.ai in Scotland, Underpinned. com in the UK, Contra.com in the US and Indielist.ie in Ireland.
More recently the blog added Freelance Voices, profiling the stories of individual freelancers from Australia, France, Italy, Norway, Brazil, Poland and other countries.
This piece introduces a third POV on the freelance economy: Freelance Careers. This series shares examples of new and innovative careers made possible by freelancing and encouraged by future-focused clients.
The first example of a new and innovative freelance career is what Kiki Calis, Dutch freelancer and founder of Qommunity calls sustainable event creatives. Calis is a leader in the new field of sustainable event planning and design.
Readers may not be aware of the influence of events planners, both in driving GDP and impacting other freelancer categories. Its huge! Earlier Forbes articles describing the events industry, and spotlighting platforms like Honeybook.com, pointed out:
“The event industry is a huge vertical for freelancing, including event planners, photographers, videographers and florists. But, the indirect and extended events ecosystem is much larger still, including artists, entertainers, musicians, and the venue and travel services that support these events … A commonly referenced total market size for the global events industry in 2018 was $ 1.1 trillion dollars. ; The pre-pandemic growth rate was estimated at over 10% per year. ”
Events have been curtailed during the pandemic, and it’s been a tough slog for many event professionals. The industry is still recovering. According to the US BLS, there were 126K events planners in the US in 2015, but the number has dropped to 61,000 in 2022 reflecting the impact of Covid-19 and financial conditions.
But, a brighter time may be ahead for events according to a recent survey. A recent AMEX survey reported: “Meeting professionals say they are feeling more confident and well-equipped to plan high quality meetings and events and adapt to any ongoing uncertainties.” Moreover, two-thirds reported that meeting levels will return to their pre-pandemic numbers within one to two years.
The report also indicated the growing importance of sustainability: “Professionals intend to take lessons learned during the pandemic to improve the value, effectiveness and sustainability of future events. ”
The emphasis on sustainability is central to the unique career that Kiki Calis has established, and has been gaining popularity within the events community. Over the past ten years, freelancers like Calis have created a fusion of events planning and sustainability expertise and seen its demand grow. As she describes it:
“A big festival is like building a city for a weekend. There used to be so much waste: energy, decorations, food and drinks. In the beginning, sustainability was not a priority, but that’s changed as event producers and corporate planners began to realize how inefficient we had been, the crazy cost of so much waste, and the importance to protecting the planet. What we’ve learned is that sustainability in events sells, and people appreciate it, if you do it the right way. ”
Calis points out that as the importance of sustainability has increased, governments have pushed the events community to be more aware of environmental concerns, and reinforces the importance of expertise by insisting on sustainability plans in order to win support for large events. That sets a tone for organizations generally. For example, she notes:
“In Amsterdam, as in many cities, we started to see a big shift around 2015. Organizers could see examples of how sustainability contributed to a better event. And, municipalities started to add tougher restrictions and require a sustainability plan for how organizers would take responsibility for waste, transport, water use and energy. ”
Calis offers the example of the Brasserie 2050 Lowlands festival, as an example: “Festival visitors could try sustainable, healthy and tasteful food. The restaurant was built sustainably, constructed of reusable parts. Tables were recycled plastic. Above the tables, onions, garlic, corn, and wheat were stored. Chefs cooked on green energy, and food waste was composted. ”
Since Calis began her journey as a freelance sustainable creative events, the events industry has embraced sustainability in a number of ways. First, it has proven to be an attractive career direction for events planners. Second, more public and private venues require sustainability plans. Third, demand is attracting freelancers with various backgrounds and expertise, who see the potential to combine their professional area with a sustainability focus. Calis’s freelance platform, Qommunity, now has over 400 members and is growing quickly.
Fourth, there is global acknowledgement. The Sustainable Events Alliance, a relatively new organization based in Australia, provides a wide range of services and resources to its members, event planners who are committed to sustainability. Those services and resources include:
- Knowledge bank of events practitioners
- Training in sustainability
- Data base of suppliers
- Offer a portal for networking and discussion around sustainable event management
- Communicate and create a commonality of best practice in sustainable event management across all industry sectors and the supply chain
- Accreditation for event sustainability professionals – managers, consultants, auditors, trainers and sector specialists – setting knowledge benchmarks for competency and expertise.
- To open up opportunities for innovation of sustainable production solutions within the industry
Fifth and finally, corporate and governmental focus on sustainability is increasing. Organizations like Earth.org are identifying and sharing best practices. Leading news sources like WSJ and Nasdaq spotlight corporate leaders and laggards on environmental issues. And, the focus on sustainability will continue to grow as marketing and partnership budgets increase and events evolve post pandemic.
But, Kiki Calis’s choice of career makes a larger point. The fusion of event planning and sustainability is a good case study of how freelancers can uniquely marry their professional expertise and values in creating an innovative career. Roles in big companies can change, but they tend to be rigid and programmatic rather than evolving naturally, for obvious reasons. Freelancers don’t have that limitation. Freelancing is uniquely welcoming to individuals who want to create portfolios of work and career that reflect their values and interests as well as their expertise, and who are interested in going where the interesting work is headed.
More and more freelancers believe that meaningfulness matters in the work they choose to do and how they define personal professional success. Some freelance careers, by their nature directly enable a give back philosophy of contribution: Health professionals, for example. But, for the rest of us, there is the opportunity to do well and also do good in how and for whom we apply our skills. For Calis, it’s integrating her values into the work, and creating a new career category in the process. In other cases, it may be project selection. Independent consultants may prefer clients that more closely share their beliefs, for example choosing Alltrails.com over Clorox or IBM.
One of the best features of freelancing is that it is, by nature, an early adapter of new categories of expertise, and often inventors of the new field. Sustainable event creatives as personified by Kiki Calis is one of many ways that the freelance revolution is reinventing work and career.
Viva the revolution!