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Vancouver Needs a Freelancer’s Co-op – Here’s How and Why

There’s something that many people in Vancouver know and experience daily: the life of a freelancer or a consultant. Our economy, while vibrant, is pushing people into nontraditional working relationships: we’re no longer getting full-time jobs that allow for advancement within a company; instead, we’re getting short-term contracts that are precarious, coupled with an environment that’s reluctant to hire permanent employees.

This has some interesting outcomes: first, there’s an increasing crowd of freelancers and consultants in Vancouver. Some really cool outcomes come from this: people are unafraid to work together in unique ways, and organizations get the best talent they can, albeit on a reduced commitment timeframe. However, there’s a significant downside: the life of a consultant or freelancer isn’t stable, and it lacks more than just stability – freelance jobs rarely have extended health benefits, put most of the administration work (invoicing, accounting, legal review) onto the hands of the freelancer or consultant. That part isn’t fun.

But there’s a way we can make it easier – if we build up a Freelancer and Consultant’s Co-op. The co-op could handle things that we all need, as freelancers and consultants: extended health benefits, accounting, legal review, infrastructure for billing, and more. The co-op could partner with a coworking space so that freelancers has a place to call home, and the co-op could provide services to all those workers, too.

The idea is simple: there’s services we all need as freelancers and consultants. We can provide them by working together in a cooperative fashion.

Shared Services

The idea behind a shared services co-op isn’t something that’s new: in fact, it’s a basic concept in cooperatives. The idea is solid in that there’s lots of services that can be purchased for better rates if they’re purchased in bulk. We know this in co-op land already: credit unions, insurance co-ops, and retail co-ops all work on the same basic principle. You bring together a large number of member who need access to the services your co-op is offering, and you can build a solid business case.

What kind of services would a freelancer and consultant co-op provide? Here’s a good solid start:

  • Extended health benefits. There are already examples of organizations, such as the various Freelancers Unions, that provide extended health benefit plans. Perhaps a co-op could connect with one of these to pool more insured persons and make it more financially effective.
  • Legal services. A co-op could retain a lawyer for a set number of hours per week, allowing members to access an in-house lawyer for any reason: contract review, advice, employment, demand letters, and more. It may be hard to otherwise contract with a lawyer because of retainer amounts and amount of business, but a bulk purchase agreement may work, much like a legal clinic.
  • Accounting. A co-op could have an on-staff bookkeeper or accountant to help members with their individual accounting or bookkeeping; everything from actually keeping the books to advising on how to record expenses to ensure compliance.
  • And more: the amazing thing about co-ops is that they’re accountable to their members. If the members design a new set of services, the co-op can be nimble and offer what its members need.

I think it would be amazing to see a shared services co-op connect with a co-working space: connecting with a space that already offers services in a way that makes sense to freelancers and co-ops would allow for some great connections to be built.

Here’s how we start this

To get something like this started, we need to have a critical mass of members interested in building up an effective and efficient organization. Some volunteer time will be needed at first, in order to get the organization built and off the ground. Beyond that, we need to have enough members to make the organization financially sound: enough people paying dues to allow for the invoices to the services to be covered.

If this interests you, leave a comment in the space below and we can put together a mailing list or discussion group.

About Kevin Harding

Kevin Harding is a principal of the Incipe Cooperative, and is a volunteer board member of the Art for Impact Society. He has worked in the nonprofit, public, and cooperative sector for some time, and has a passion for working with coops, nonprofits, and advocacy groups that want to make a better world. A coop developer, he strongly believes that cooperatives can build a better world.

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