This piece is the first of an occasional series on how Metro Detroit’s gig economy has evolved over the past decade and where it’s going. Have a suggestion for someone we should talk to? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Eagin is a veteran of Metro Detroit’s gig economy. She's been a freelancer since 2003, growing her career as an independent creative professional specializing in web design and WordPress. After studying graphic design at Purdue University and the Savannah College of Art and Design, she worked a few stints in agencies, but ultimately, she has embraced the gig life.
Metromode spoke with her to find out why, and how she makes it work.
Metromode: How did you get started working in the gig economy?
Laura Eagin: Actually I had to do the math and I've been freelancing since 2003 so, wow. I started freelancing when I was in college. I studied graphic design. People would hear me say the word ‘graphic design’ and they would have a need for graphic design. I could do it in the evenings or between school semesters, and started working with businesses, and found that it is really fun to bring that technical and creative expertise to somebody who doesn't have those skills, and was a way to get paid for this skill set that I had.
Laura Eagin consults with client at Bamboo Detroit. Photo by Anita Expert.Metromode: How did you decide to build your career as a freelancer?
I have had a couple of stints in an agency environment in 2005 and in 2010, and it’s so different from the freelance lifestyle. I found that I was sitting behind a desk, working for clients all over the US, and not really needing to do client meetings, cause you don't with web design. So I felt kind of like, why do we need these restrictions? Why do we need to be here nine to five in this office when you could be, you know, living, traveling, working from a laptop in a coffee shop. And so that's what I do now. I have coworking memberships, and I work from anywhere, and my clients are anywhere. And I get to be my own boss now.
Metromode: Which coworking spaces do you work out of?
I work at a TechTown, and I work out of Bamboo, and SheHive in Ferndale, so I actually have three coworking memberships. Coworking adds so much value, it connects me to communities of entrepreneurs that I not only can relate to, but that I can help professionally through web design, technical support, etc. So I just get so much value out of it, it just becomes a vibrant entrepreneurial environment. I go to the learning events in the evenings. I participate in the meetups. So for me, it's the perfect community.
Metromode: How do you justify the cost of three coworking memberships?
It pays back double or triple. It is such a good investment for me. I've actually grown my team, so now I have a dozen other experts who are available on a freelance basis to work with clients. In 2019, I re-branded and my business expanded. So we put on an event at TechTown or Bamboo or SheHive where we bring in a bunch of freelancers, and we meet with people who have a website or a digital marketing need. And all of these face to face connections are priceless.
Coworking memberships aren't as expensive as one might think. Most shared desk coworking memberships are $150 to $300 and allow 24-hour access. This makes it much more affordable than a brick and mortar office.
And every coworking space has its own unique community. If you look around Detroit you can find a coworking space to connect you with any type of businesses: nonprofits, food & restaurant businesses, health and wellness businesses, writers, artists, woman-owned businesses, academic institutions, etc.
Metromode: Do you consider yourself a freelancer or a business owner?
I consider myself a business owner. And I would actually suggest that most freelancers truly are business owners, whether it's a one-person company or a 10-person company. At my company, Anita Expert, I'm connecting individuals, business owners, and freelancers to this the skilled person who can help them. And that person just happens to be a freelancer. So I'm solving two problems. I'm solving a problem for individual freelancers who maybe aren't getting paid enough for their skillset — they're really talented, but they don't have a coworking space. They don't know how to meet with new clients. I'm connecting them to some new clients. On the flip side, I meeting all these business owners. Detroit is just full of people doing really cool things, trying to reach their customers, trying to build their online presence, and I'm saying I can match you up with experts.
Metromode: How do you find the right people who are the right fit for your team?
I'm an entrepreneur as well, so I love going to entrepreneur learning events. I love being a part of programs that support businesses and so essentially I go to the networking events learning events or the workshops and I'm there for myself and it would just happen to be the person sitting next to me also needs something that I offer. This is the age of digital marketing and everybody's got a website and a social media presence, and the irony is that while my business is all about helping people build their online presence, I'm getting so many face-to-face connections, so many handshakes that turned into wonderful, long-term client relationships. So it's the best of both.
Metromode: How has Metro Detroit’s gig economy changed and evolved over the past decade or so?
The market has changed and evolved in some ways. I think freelancers used to be very much isolated and remote and maybe holed up at home or in a coffee shop, and maybe once a year going to a conference and meeting other freelancers. Now we are a lot more connected.
We’re just a lot more numerous — we’re everywhere. If somebody works a full-time job, they might have a freelance gig as well on the side. Now. So in that sense, it has become more widely known and understood. I do still find that coworking is a new concept to a lot of people that I meet, so that's probably within the last seven or five years has really come into the mainstream.
I hope it continues to move in this direction, but I really think that with the term freelancer, we're still fighting that perception that maybe we don't make a living, don't have real professional credentials and strong portfolios. Well, we do, and we're growing our businesses. Freelance might be the word for somebody who's a business owner, and that business just might be one person, and they might have anywhere from one to a hundred clients.
Metromode: What about on the work side; how has the market for freelancers changed in Detroit?
I think there are more opportunities to get work. I think that as there are more talented freelancers and people going independent who used to work for an agency, they're realizing that they'd love to have a little bit of independence and to specialize. Freelancing allows you to do the particular, niche thing that you're the best at. I'm constantly connecting more and more freelancers to opportunities. I'm not looking to generalize and to do anything anymore. I'm connecting with the right freelancer for email marketing, the right freelancer for Instagram, for Instagram, or the right freelancer for Squarespace or Wix. I know what I do best and I now have a network of people who do something even better than I could, so I will connect the client to them.