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IH 🗞: Freelance work could change under the Biden administration

(from the latest issue of the Indie Hackers newsletter)

We all hoped for a return to sanity in 2021. But after just one week and more than one political victory for President-elect Joe Biden, we're seeing rioters storming statehouses and tech platforms banning Trump.

But instead of talking politics per se, let's talk political implications for indie hackers and the gig economy. More on that below.

Here's what you'll find in this issue:

  • The Biden Administration plans to change laws around freelancing. Here's how this might affect you.
  • This founder went from bankruptcy to growing his business to $88k MRR. Get the backstory.
  • Which is better: a memorable landing page, or a likeable landing page? Marketing expert Harry Dry gives you the answer.
  • Top journalists make industry predictions for 2021. We highlight several that will affect indie hackers.

As always, you can submit a section for us to include in a future newsletter. —Channing

🕵 Freelancing Might Change Under the Biden Administration


from the Indie Alternatives newsletter by Bobby Burch

According to a recent Upwork study, more than one in three working Americans are freelancing during the pandemic, an increase of two million since 2019.

And now that President-elect Joe Biden's party has secured a Senate majority, he hopes to transform the freelancing space in 2021.

Here's how: Biden is aiming to implement a federal gig-economy policy similar to California's controversial AB-5 law. That measure, which has been fiercely fought by Uber and Lyft, extends the benefits and protections of a W-2 employee relationship to many freelance workers. Currently, over 100 other industries have been granted an exemption as well.

The problem: The law uses an "ABC Test" to determine whether workers are independent contractors under the California Labor Code. Freelancers are automatically presumed to be W-2 employees, and the burden is on the company to show otherwise. To reclassify the person as an independent contractor, the company must satisfy the test's three criteria.

The numbers: According to a study by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor and Education, 64% of independent contractors in California would be categorized as an employee under the current AB-5 law.

Here's Biden:

"This epidemic of misclassification is made possible by ambiguous legal tests that give too much discretion to employers, too little protection to workers, and too little direction to government agencies and courts."

The players: Over the summer, five union presidents served on Biden's unity task force, and two union Presidents (Teresa Romero of the United Farm Workers and Lonnie Stephenson of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) were recently appointed to his transition team advisory board.

The Biden Administration looks to address employer misclassifications of gig workers that enable companies to withhold legally required benefits and protections from their employees.

Could There Be Unintended Consequences?

Background: Biden supports the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which would hold company executives liable if they interfere with union organizing efforts. The Biden Administration maintains that it will "aggressively pursue employers who violate labor laws, participate in wage theft, or cheat on their taxes by intentionally misclassifying employees as independent contractors."

The issue: Biden's gig economy goals have alarmed many freelancers across the country. Some fear that the "B" portion of the ABC Test, which defines a "contractor" as a person performing work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity's business, may make it difficult for freelancers to accept work within their actual industries. The federal act would use that same California-ABC test to decide who is considered a freelancer nationwide.

Looking forward: Even with a divide Senate, Biden's Administration would have had authority to influence existing labor laws. For example, a re-interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act could allow gig workers to qualify for minimum wage and receive overtime pay. But the president-elect's party won both houses of congress. So he'll have many more tools at his disposal.

What are your thoughts on the Biden Administration's goals for the gig economy?

Discuss this story, or subscribe to Indie Alternatives for more.

📰 In the News

👎 Facebook and Google formed an online advertising pact to avoid anti-trust lawsuits. Read the reaction from marketing expert Rand Fishkin, who believes a reckoning is coming to the online advertising industry.

💡 Indie Hackers co-founder Courtland Allen shared three business ideas for founders on New Year's Eve.

💸 $1 trillion: The combined value of all cryptocurrencies just hit 13 figures due to the recent Bitcoin and Ethereum surges.

👩‍🏫 Thousands are discussing this viral Twitter thread on career advice for tech founders.

👉 OpenAI just launched DALL-E. It's an AI program that generates images, just as GPT-3 generates words. See some examples here.

👉 Adobe has officially discontinued Flash. Macromedia Flash 1.0 appeared on the scene way back in 1996 and was acquired by Adobe in 2005.

💰 He Was in Bankruptcy Court With a Newborn. Now His Business Does $88k MRR.


from the Deep Dive newsletter

Wes Burke felt like his life was crumbling. Instead of spending the afternoon with his newborn, he was sitting in a bankruptcy lawyer's office — three months behind on his mortgage.

Freelancing as a 3D-environment games artist wasn't working out.

For me it was a self-reflection moment, like when Atreyu is confronted with the magic mirror gate. 🤓 I was recognizing that it was me. I put myself in that position, and ultimately it was my responsibility to get out.

Something needed to change.

During his 5:30 AM train rides to Chicago for work, Wes built his first company: CG Cookie. The site teaches artists how to use Blender, a 3D-sculpting software that, until CG Cookie came along, was shrouded in mystery. In fact, the first question Wes set out to answer for his community was "How do I use Blender?"

Now, 12 years later, CG Cookie boasts more than 500,000 users globally as well as 15 crew members who continue to provide Blender users with resources.

I took questionable risks by covering initial costs of contractor payments with credit cards. I'd commission a tutorial for $125 with the hopes that eventually I'll make that back plus additional money to help commission the next tutorial. Rinse and repeat this for a few years.

His brilliant idea for getting users to his new site? Convince the thought leaders to join first, then the rest would follow.

What really worked for us in the beginning were interviews with famous artists like Alex Yarotsky or Ted Wallace. Nearly every Pixar or ILM artist I emailed would say, "Sure." This provided interesting content for our visitors, while being an easy share on CG news sites and of course the artists themselves would share it.

These days, CG Cookie has gained a reputation as the the premier destination for Blender resources.

Yet Wes's thirst for perfection hasn't subsided. He's taken the platform beyond text-based documentation and recently released novel tools that help artists speed up their workflows. While some founders can be content with success — and then stagnate — he isn't one of them.

While providing for my family is a driving force, fundamentally I simply enjoy building things that didn't exist: the challenge of it, potential rewards, to simply enjoying the thought of it affecting people's lives in a positive way.

Read the full interview to learn how Wes dug out of his financial hole to bootstrap a seven-figure business.

Discuss this story, or subscribe to Deep Dive for more.

🧠 Harry's Growth Tip

Cover Image: Harry's Growth Tip

from the Marketing Examples newsletter by Harry Dry

How to choose a landing page title:

  1. Write down 10 titles
  2. Show them to your friends
  3. Ignore their advice
  4. Wait 24 hours
  5. Ask which one they remember

Memorable is more important than likeable.


Go here for more more short, sweet, practical marketing tips.

Subscribe to Marketing Examples for more.

🔮 Top Journalists Make Predictions for 2021


from Courtland's Newsletter by Courtland Allen

Every year, top journalists share what they think is coming. Here are some of their predictions for 2021:

👉 https://www.niemanlab.org/collection/predictions-2021

I love stuff like this. It's a giant dump of experts talking about the future of their field. That makes it a potential goldmine for indie hackers looking to spot trends and opportunities to capitalize on.

I took some notes below on my favorite passages, trends, and predictions.

Nieman Lab

It's worth noting that the source this stuff comes from, Nieman Lab, is itself interesting. It's funded by Harvard, and they describe their mission as "an attempt to help journalism figure out its future in an Internet age."

Basically: They do a lot of work to find out what's happening in journalism, then they publish their findings for free.

Their "Business Models" section seems like particularly useful reading for founders. Want to find out what is and isn't working for journalism? Here you go.

Like all opinions on (and off) the internet, these are heavily biased and prone to error. It's journalists discussing what they think journalism needs.

So you can't just turn off your brain and accept what they say as the gospel truth. Rather, it's better to treat this as a source of problems to which you can apply some indie hacker analysis.

My Notes on Predictions

There are over 100 journalist predictions on the page. I read through a handful and skimmed the rest.

1️. First, the obvious themes

  • Politics is dominating the discussion. It's clearly the majority of what journalists are thinking about. At least in the US.
  • On that note, journalists are overwhelmingly left leaning.
  • The biggest political topics are: the spread of misinformation, the erosion of trust in journalism, and promoting diversity in media orgs and news rooms.
  • There's lots of uncertainty about Substack and paid newsletters.
  • Journalists are cheering to see Big Tech broken up, and hopeful it will mean more advertising dollars for the media.

And here are some interesting passages, along with my notes:

2️. Misinformation and Missed Perspectives

For between 15 and 20 hours a week, I moderate misinformation in the comments section of Wall Street Journal articles. Based on the things I read there, I believe our current levels of discord and misinformation could be significantly reduced if people felt their experiences were more accurately reflected in the journalism they are consuming. (source)

  • What do people want to see reported that isn't being reported?
  • Perhaps it's worth perusing the comments sections of some large media orgs.

Also, the case for more diversity in news rooms is strong.

  • A lack of diversity among journalists means many niches don't get the coverage they should, because writers aren't familiar enough to understand or care.
  • This doesn't necessarily mean there's business value here.
  • But anyone working to solve this problem would, at minimum, enjoy good will and support from a great many journalists.

(The same is true of fact checking and stopping the spread of misinformation. The business value isn't obvious, but support is massive.)

3️. Podcasting and Advertising

In podcasting, the download is the King on the chessboard — a useless figurehead and status symbol that must be protected at all costs… On the other hand, the listen-through rate is a true and mighty figurehead whose worth can be strengthened, measured, and influenced over time by creators and business owners. (source)

There's so much focus on helping podcasters and writers find advertisers…

  • …but who's helping advertisers find the right content creators?
  • In podcasting in particular, numbers are opaque, and download counts are often mis-measured and inaccurate.
  • What's the actual reach of a podcast or a newsletter?
  • Do advertisers even care? They probably do.

4. Social Media and Traditional Media

What do audiences need from us? Not in the macro, but the micro. That new franchise you’re building, that podcast, the video series: Who is it for? What need is it serving? What will the audience do with it? Do they really want it, need it? Or are we just trying to keep their attention long enough for the ad to serve? (source)

Traditional media is just as concerned with engagement and selling ads as social media.

  • Same business model, different methods and technology.
  • At their worst: sensational headlines vs addictive feeds and notifications.
  • At their best: sincere conversations and social connections vs high-quality journalism and well-researched editorial.
  • Are there analogs from successful social media companies that should be back-propagated to traditional media companies?

5. The Upshot

I shared thoughts on other trends in the full post. But regardless of what you think about the various predictions and opinions, I think it's clear there's a lot of opportunity here.

More indie hackers should be building in the "content" space.

Not just for other people in tech, but also for people and companies in the media who've been underserved.

Discuss this story, or subscribe to Courtland's Newsletter for more.

🐦 The Tweetmaster's Pick

Cover image for Tweetmaster's Pick

by Tweetmaster Flex

I post the tweets indie hackers share the most. Here's today's top pick:

Jack Butcher on Twitter

🏁 Enjoy This Newsletter?

Forward it to a friend, and let them know they can subscribe here.

Also, you can submit a section for us to include in a future newsletter.

Special thanks to Nathalie Zwimpfer for the illustrations, and to Bobby Burch, Pete Codes, Halden Ingwersen, Harry Dry, and Courtland Allen for contributing posts to this issue. —Channing

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