Discuss as:

Freelancing expert says future lies in networking, partnerships

Comedian Dan Nainan explains how he went from a technical job to a career in standup.

Freelancers Union founder Sara Horowitz explains how the world of work has undergone a dramatic change as more and more Americans turn to freelancing to earn a living.

NBC News: How do you define independent worker?

Horowitz: An independent worker is anyone who doesn’t work a traditional 9-to-5 job with benefits. That means consultants, free-lancers, part-timers, temps, solo entrepreneurs. There’s also a growing number of people who have traditional jobs pursuing paid gigs in their off-hours. Like the accountant who sings opera at night. Or the nanny who designs websites. More and more Americans are searching for a new balance that only independent work can provide.

John Makely / NBC News

Sara Horowitz, founder and executive director of the Freelancers Union, says relationships are the key to success.

Many independent workers do more than one job or career. Some call it moonlighting. Others talk about a gig economy.  What do you see as the benefits?

There’s no doubt we’re changing the ways we work. More and more people are asking themselves the deceptively simple question: “Why work?” There was a time when working meant stability and a near-guaranteed path to the middle class. That’s not the case anymore. Instead, people are looking for other reasons to work. And they’re finding that work needs to mean something to them — it has to let them do what they’re passionate about and construct a life that makes sense. This isn’t just a change in how we get paid. It’s a shift in how we all view work.

What’s the downside?

The New World of Work: An occasional series on the latest job trends. Connect with us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or send us email.

People used to say the downside to freelancing was the lack of benefits and stability. But does anyone really think traditional work offers those anymore? So while there are challenges to the freelance life — getting health insurance, finding work, getting paid on time, etc. — the challenges of traditional work also continue to grow. That’s why we need to move toward a new economy that empowers all people to choose how and where and why they work.

Aside from freelancersunion.org, what are some of the most useful resources for independent workers?

There’s a whole ecosystem rising around the freelance workforce. There are now co-working spaces in almost every city – and networks of co-working spaces like LooseCubes, who are based in the same Brooklyn building as us. Sector-specific groups like Graphic Artists Guild and National Writers Union have been supporting freelancers for years. Freelance job sites like Hourly and Odesk are surging.

But I think the future is not only in resources that target individual freelancers, but also in platforms that help freelancers connect with each other and build real partnerships on their own. We hope to launch our own platform like that soon to help freelancers connect online and in-person.

What are top traits of successful independent workers?

The most successful freelancers are the ones who work hard to build their networks. But “networking” these days is about more than just handing out business cards. It’s about being there to help and support and learn from your fellow free-lancers. They’re the ones who help you find gigs in lean times. They’re the ones who take your overflow when you’ve got too much work. They’re the ones who are learning new tips and tools, just like you are. Feed and water those relationships. That’s what makes for a successful freelance career. 

Related: Freelance growth gives rise to 'slasher' careers

More business news:

NBCNews.com contributor Donna Wares is a writer and editor based in Southern California. Follow her on Twitter @donnawares