While the unemployment rate in the US has dropped to 8.6% as of November, the job market is still feeling the effects of the 10.1% rate of October 2009, when the job market was struggling the most it had in two decades.
A scarcity of jobs resulted in an abundance of freelancers—people couldn’t get jobs so they went off on their own to compete for jobs on a contract basis. Hiring freelancers eliminates the liability and benefit responsibility for employers, making it an attractive alternative in a down economy. Thus, while full-time job seekers couldn’t cut a break, freelancers were reporting increases in earnings, according to a report released in 2010 by Elance.
Long story short, there are a lot of freelancers. This causes fierce competition and a growing need to stand out from the pack. There are countless ways to increase your incoming work flow as a freelancer, from amping up networking efforts to charging a dime and a nickel.
However, sometimes the answer isn’t what you can do more or less, but rather about refocusing your efforts. One way to do this is to specialize in a skill that is in demand; one that other freelancers are slow to pick up on.
One answer? Learn a second language. Learning a language is one of the best ways to distinguish yourself as a freelancer in the global workplace. Here are five reasons why you should be using languages to get ahead of the competition.
1. Cast a Wider Net
Learning a second language allows you to apply for a wider range of jobs. This could be simply conducting your business in another language (such as writing for a foreign publication). It could also offer new, secondary opportunities.
For example, say you are a freelance graphic designer who happens to know another language (French for example). You can score a job that is:
1) regular old graphic design conducted in your native language,
2) regular old graphic design conducted in your secondary language,
3) an unrelated job that requires French skills. In a down market, those unrelated jobs could be the difference between putting extra cash in your pocket and being unemployed and penniless.
2. Earn Double the Money
Own the license to your freelance work? You can easily translate or reposition it in a different language, resulting in two paychecks for the same work. Word to the wise, though, be aware of plagiarism laws and how that applies to the adaptation of the original work.
3. Show Cultural Aptitude
Sure, English is the standard language of business, but in a shrinking global market language is infiltrating the business world in more ways than one. Whether it is hiring foreign employees, expanding to a foreign market, or interacting with foreign customers, more and more organizations are conducting business on a global scale. Knowing a second language can work to your advantage; providing not only a valuable skill set but also showing a cultural sensitivity that can help you stand out.
4. Take Networking to a Whole New Level
People connect over languages. When you know a second language, every person you meet who also knows that language is a potential networking target. Thus, knowing a second language will allow you to find better leads. Moreover, the more in depth you know that language, the more likely you will be able to engage with these people on a deeper level.
Ask any networking expert and they will tell you most job opportunities come from the people you know. Reaching out to people in a different cultural group—whether on purpose by joining a language meet-up or by accident at a party— not only widens your net, but will also allow you to find real leads from real voices.
5. Open Doors to Expat and Abroad Opportunities
If you are a traveler, this is an especially attractive reason for learning a language. Knowing another language will allow you to explore jobs in different countries. As a freelancer you have the opportunity to up and move to the country of your choice (assuming you can get a visa). While most freelancing projects are conducted via modern technology, freelancers that get ahead know that being able to meet face-to-face with high-value clients could mean the difference between landing the job and not.
Especially with larger, old-world-think corporations, face-to-face business meetings are still the norm, so moving to another country allows you to capture those high-value relationships. Even a willingness to move to a country paired with proficiency in the second language might encourage the potential employer to sponsor you—landing you a working visa and a one-way ticket to the country of your choice.
The age of the monolingual workplace is over. Learning a second language can help you gain a competitive edge and score the interesting jobs that motivated you to become a freelancer in the first place.
[box]Written by Adria Saracino
Adria Saracino is a part-time freelancer and language learning enthusiast. She can be found writing for organizations like Pimsleur Approach, a language software e-tailer that offers everything from pimsleur French to pimsleur German software packages.[/box]