A year and a half ago, Lisa Risdal thought she’d lose her two story suburban Sacramento home. She had just been reassigned from a high paying job at Sacramento State to another position with half the pay. And she worried she could no longer provide for her three teenage sons.
Risdal: “At first you kind of go into panic mode and you start thinking, I’m gonna be waving a sign on the corner or working at WalMart handing out carts – which, when it comes to supporting my family, I’m not beyond doing that.”
For a few months Risdal didn’t know what to do. She considered finding a second job, but as a single mom, she couldn’t be away from home that much. To save money she made cutbacks – no more cable, or going to the gym – and she started talking light rail to work instead of driving. But it wasn’t enough. Then she came upon an idea.
Risdal: “I’ve had some friends and family say, instead of always looking out there for another job or looking for a part-time job or another source of income, why don’t you look at what you already do well and see if you can make a living doing it.”
For years, Risdal had dabbled in helping friends with personal and professional development – anything from writing resumes and cover letters to dating advice. So she decided to freelance, but not for money. She started bartering services with friends and acquaintances. Risdal helped one woman find a new job in exchange for house cleaning work; an attorney who needed help managing her office staff gave Risdal legal advice.
Risdal: “Most of these people are in the same situation as I am. They need the help. They don’t have the money to seek the help. So it’s become kind of a barter system: If you do this for me, I can do this for you.”
Turns out freelancing like this is a nationwide trend. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says, as of last December, the number of people who said they were self-employed because they couldn’t find work elsewhere was more than twice as high as pre-recession levels.
O’Keefe: “When people have skills but cannot find a job, they will try almost anything new to make ends meet.”
Suzanne O’Keefe is a professor of economics at Sacramento State. She says the four-county capital region saw a 20 percent increase in self-employment from 2003 to 2007.
O’Keefe: “Past 2007, we don’t have hard data on that. But it seems to be a trend and a growing trend. And word of mouth is that since then, it’s only grown further – and perhaps faster.”
O’Keefe says that will likely increase as the economy shifts from better-paying manufacturing jobs to a more service- and retail-oriented job base. And, she says, freelancing could help the economy recover.
O’Keefe: “If we have a lot of people who are self employed able to earn enough money to make ends meet, they’re spending money and creating jobs for other people. And that is all part of getting this downward spiral to turn around and start spiraling up again.”
Even though she’s making half of what she used to, Lisa Risdal’s mornings start the same way they always have. She gets her three teenage sons out of bed, packs their lunches and rushes them off to school. But on this day, she’s furloughed from her regular job. So as soon as the kids are out the door...
Risdal: “… I will plop myself down with my second cup of coffee and open up the emails and see what I’ve got, and hopefully I’ve got some really exciting stuff from my new client.”
Risdal says she’s serious about her freelance coaching. She’s building a website and wants to eventually get a business license. But mostly she wants to move beyond bartering and start making money.