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Freelancers need agents like companies need head hunters

A new milestone in the shift into the freelancer economy: the rise of greelancer agents. These are companies that represent top freelancers in hot discipline — like iOS developers in Silicon Valley. As reported in Businessweek, 10X Management, a company founded by some music agents is now representing freelance programmers. The company vets the programmers, looks over code samples, and then handles the business side of things. They negotiate with prospective clients, do the billing and collections, and market freelancers to companies that match the freelancers skills and desires. And they are working for the freelancer, and charge the industry standard 10-15% of the deal they strike for their client.

It all makes sense. The skill set of being a programmer doesn’t naturally equip a person to be a good negotiator, or have the right connections to find work.

And carried to its logical conclusion, it’s not just the best and brightest freelance programmers who could benefit from this service, it’s all freelancers. The friction involved in negotiation and networking is enormous, and the emergence of more of these companies will be an enormous benefit to everyone.

Organizations like the Freelancers Union have focused on the insurance and contract law side of things, but I can see the need for businesses (or a coop) that represents freelancers in this way.

And what about full-time employees? What if they used agents to negotiate during their annual review? A growing number of people have suggested separating the review process from salary negotiations. That would facilitate bringing an agent to work to get the best deal based on their greater knowledge of market conditions, and what a client’s skills should be worth.