Earlier this week, the Diane Rehm Show featured a discussion on the rise of freelancing in the US. They touched on a number of great points, from misclassification of employees as freelancers to the unique financial challenges freelancers face. I rolled my eyes, however, when a caller chimed in to complain about competition from international freelancers who can afford to work for pennies on the dollar. How can a designer/writer/programmer compete with them?

“The answer,” Imaginary Diane Rehm Show Guest, Natalie Burg fantasied in response, “is don’t.”

You don’t have to compete with people in countries on the other side of the globe who can work for so much less if you’re doing something they can’t. It’s not even about being smarter or better educated or more talented than your global counterparts; it’s about being specialized. I, for example, write about development and growth with respect to small business, economies and communities with a special focus on Michigan and downtowns. Wouldn’t you know, nobody in Thailand fits that description.

So special, and so cute, to boot.
So special, and so cute, to boot.

In my own neighborhood happens to live another talented, savvy freelancer who designs, among other clever and wonderful things, wedding invitations. Her hand-illustrated map of Detroit was recently featured in Metro Detroit Bride. What designer tens of thousands of miles away could have worked with a local couple to create this? Obviously, it’s also uniquely adorable, which helps.

Globalization is here. It happened. It may make competition more difficult, but it’s also the only reason most of us are able to work in yoga pants. So instead of asking how we’re supposed to compete with seven billion other people, we should ask ourselves what makes each of our skill sets so unique that we don’t have to.

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