Co-ops, a love story

Sep 19, 2013

I devote a lot of time here to talking about cooperatives, and sometimes people ask me, “But what do cooperatives have to do with freelancers?”

I admit the connection between an agricultural cooperative and a freelance bookkeeper might not be immediately obvious. But it is there.

And as more and more people join the freelance workforce, I think it will become clear: Freelancers and cooperatives are made for each other.Immediate priorities are to keep expenses down and gigs up.

Once you start freelancing, immediate priorities are to keep expenses down and gigs up.

Each of those probably has at least 10 categories, but those are two fundamental truths.

So you become more conscious of every dollar you spend.

Let’s start with work: Though many think about doing it at first, the cost of setting up a fully-equipped office or studio may be hard to swallow.

So you join a co-working space. Or, like a group of screen-printers I met in Austin, gather a few people together, buy equipment, and launch your own screen-printing cooperative.

That’s just the beginning. Maybe you join a purchasing club, or get together with friends for a big-ticket item, or a vacation. Join a food co-op for the produce, unknowingly become part of a community.

Maybe you start rethinking day care--but a few people in your neighborhood also have kids, and before long, you have a babysitting cooperative going. (Members of co-working space NextSpace, in San Francisco, recently set up a babysitting cooperative in the building, called NextKids.)

Groceries are another big one, so you join a CSA, because you want high quality food for better prices. Or maybe you join a food co-op.

And a funny thing happens. You may join a food co-op for cheaper organic produce, but you unknowingly become part of a community, and a network.

Every freelancer knows that aside from keeping costs down and gigs up, being connected to your community and building your personal network are the next priorities on the list.

I’m not saying that all freelancers should join cooperatives (well, maybe I am)—but what I would love to see is more freelancers coming together to launch cooperative businesses.

It just makes so much sense.

Sara Horowitz

As the founder of Freelancers Union, Sara has been a voice for freelancers for over two decades.