The Surprising Reality Is Freelancers Are Happy and Prospering
The gig economy proves that independent contract work is much more than something to do between jobs. It can be a full-time career.
Freelancers, solopreneurs, independent consultants -- whatever you call them, the rise of the gig economy has made them a force to be taken seriously. Some believe this trend is dangerous to society as a whole, but what’s the reality from the perspective of the freelancer?
According to WiseBrand's recent "State of the Freelance Nation," freelancing is a sustainable, enjoyable and profitable career choice. The company, which helps freelancers build and promote professional digital presences, surveyed more than 2,000 freelancers to learn what's really going on with their careers.
Freelancing often is regarded as something to do between full-time jobs, but WiseBrand's results reveal that's an outdated notion. “Nearly 55 million Americans -- and millions more worldwide -- are working in microbusinesses or freelancing; that's 35 percent of the U.S. workforce alone,” CEO Orly Izhaki says.
The research uncovered some key realities and important takeaways for gig workers in 2018. Here's a quick look.
1. Freelancing is a viable, sustainable career path.
According to the survey, five out of six freelancers reach their income goals within two years of starting. The 42 percent who reach their goals within 12 months were twice as likely to earn more than $75,000 per year. “It's funny, but just knowing that your business is growing will immediately give you more confidence to pursue your passion,” Izhaki says. “We see it all the time with our clients."
Solopreneurs are taking their financial responsibilities seriously, too. Some 54 percent report they are saving for the future, and 60 percent have life insurance. Both figures bode well for an economy that is increasingly reliant on freelancers, since contract workers don’t receive corporation-sponsored benefits.
Micha Kaufman, CEO of freelance talent site Fiverr, sees the business landscape embracing gig workers who leverage their skills for profit. He says that “major shifts from offline to online opportunities have pushed digital skills-based work into the societal mainstream and the economic spotlight.” As more businesses rely on outsourced skilled talent, this demand for flexible expertise means freelancing opportunities will continue to grow.
The takeaway? Take yourself seriously. Take advantage of the favorable climate for gig workers to get strategic about your business. Set some income and performance goals. Consider giving yourself periodic performance reviews like a boss would. And continue to build your skills to offer real value to the market.
2. Freelancers are committed to growth.
The majority of freelancers are in this for the long run. WiseBrand’s data indicates that 54 percent have no desire to go back to full-time work (although “better income” is the biggest temptation to do so).
They also take marketing themselves seriously, saying it’s “important” or “very important” for their business. They spend up to $100 each month on marketing initiatives. But a little more than half of them think marketing is too time-consuming, and 41 percent also say it's too expensive. The majority -- a surprising 86 percent -- do it completely on their own.
Here’s the rub, though: Those who spend more than $100 per month on their marketing earn significantly more than their less promotionally minded colleagues.
The takeaway? Invest in your marketing. The numbers show that investing in marketing pays for itself. If your niche is business-to-business, consider LinkedIn as a platform. Only 15 percent of freelancers invest in paid activity on the professional social network, and that could provide you with opportunities to differentiate yourself. Don't go it alone. Outsource the marketing work that’s outside your wheelhouse so you can spend your time delivering your services.
3. Seasoned freelancers are a happy lot.
While millennials have broken ground by using social-media marketing to launch their careers, they aren’t the first generation to embrace freelancing. Older freelancers (those ages 35 and older) are far less likely to return to full-time employment than their younger peers, and 57 percent are satisfied with the work-life balance that freelancing brings.
Another interesting finding examines how respondents choose to label themselves. This says a great deal about their self-image and the career paths they envision. Half of the respondents identify as “self-employed,” 19 percent call themselves “small-business owners,” another 19 percent identify as “entrepreneurs” and 12 percent favor the term “freelancer.”
No matter what you call it, this type of work is thriving.
The takeaway? Steer your own ship. If you don’t like your work-life balance, how your business is growing or how much you’re saving, it’s up to you to fix it. With freelancing comes great freedom -- and great responsibility -- to forge the work, life and financial conditions that serve you best.
It's yours for the taking.
As the gig economy continues to grow, freelancers continue to build lucrative careers. In the U.S., an estimated 3.2 million full-time independent contractors claim an annual income of more than $100,000. Another 12.9 million are working as part-time freelancers.
“While we continue to see differences in attitudes between the different groups of independent workers, the population generally reports that independent work -- and the independent lifestyle -- is a satisfying way of building income and obtaining greater freedom, control and purpose,” says Gene Zaino, CEO of MBO Partners. “The very structure of work in America is evolving, and the demand for skilled independents will only increase as companies look to become more agile and flexible in the future.”
The future of work is here. And for millions of freelance workers, the future is looking pretty good.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor