Why Baby Boomers Make the Perfect Freelancers

Older workers have a few qualities that work to their advantage.

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By Matthew Baker

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Baby boomers face systemic ageism when applying for jobs in tech.

Because they're often denied for simply not being young, for many older professionals, the only way into the lucrative tech industry is through freelancing. While the freelancer stereotype is a scruffy millennial coder, it turns out 49 percent of current freelancers are over 50 years of age -- according to a 2018 self-employment report by FreshBooks.

Related: How Older Entrepreneurs Can Turn Age to Their Advantage

More and more baby boomers are reinventing themselves as freelance superstars -- proving ageist stereotypes not only false, but totally off the mark. In fact, boomers in the freelance world are showing themselves more effective, reliable and connected than their younger counterparts.

Here are the top five reasons why the baby boom generation is perfectly suited to freelance work:

1. They're playing on a level field.

Most freelancers never meet their employers in person -- meaning potential employers can only examine them on their qualifications instead of their age. According to a 2017 self-employment report, 22 percent of baby boomers have used social media to find work successfully, while 26 percent have used content marketing.

Leading with a resume, not a face-to-face impression, plays to baby boomers' strengths and proves a guard against knee-jerk ageism -- which 64 percent of adults reported facing in the workplace, according to a study conducted by the AARP in 2014.

Related: Forget Retirement. Baby Boomers Are Looking to Franchising to Stay Active.

2. They have friends in high places.

Baby boomers have more connections -- and more connections in senior positions -- than their millennial and Gen X counterparts. Like a fine wine, networks get better as they age.

In the freelance world, this matters. Eighty-one percent of freelancers on Linkedin's freelance market place ProFinder cited word-of-mouth referrals and personal networking as their primary source of work. Which is perhaps why three out of four freelancers on ProFinder are 41 and over.

3. They have a good work ethic.

Self-discipline is more important for freelancers than it is for 9-to-5 workers. That's because a self-appointed schedule is harder to keep than one set by a boss -- and without a direct superior, it's easy to turn in late or shoddy work.

Baby boomers were raised by parents who survived the Great Depression and won World War II. Their generation was instilled with a strong work ethic from childhood, and knows how to get out of bed in the morning without three alarms.

Related: The Surprising Reality Is Freelancers Are Happy and Prospering

4. They have decades of experience under their belt.

Consulting is one of the highest paying freelance positions, with an average hourly rate of $38.28, and an average salary of $72,043 per year as of March 2018, according to PayScale. In the consulting world, baby boomers can leverage their decades of experience for higher rates than millennial up-and-comers with a college degree and not much else. In fact, LinkedIn reports 70 percent of freelancers above the age of 41 have "advanced" technical expertise in their fields.

And while boomers' younger counterparts have the edge in certain areas -- like coding -- there are plenty of skill sets that don't have an expiration date. Strunk and White holds as true today as it did in 1945, when the baby boom started, and the qualities that make for good leadership have stayed stable across the generations.

Related: You'll Never Expect Which Generation Has the Most Freelancers Today

5. Retirement keeps things flexible.

Although Social Security isn't enough to comfortably live on in most states (with an average monthly payout of $1,404), it does give baby boomers a higher appetite for risk once they pass the age of 62. Additionally, freedom from a traditional work structure gives freelancers the flexibility to work with clients in different time zones.

In 2017, more than 10,000 baby boomers retired per day, according to Investopedia, and nearly 60 percent of self-employed baby boomers want to continue working rather than fully retiring. That's a lot of boomers with the desire to keep working, flexible time on their hands and enough security to justify taking a risk.

But while freelancing may provide a post-retirement adventure for some boomers, it will prove a necessity for others. A 2016 survey by GoBankingRates reported 30 percent of respondents over 55 had no savings for retirement, and an additional 26 percent had less than $50,000.

Freelance work -- particularly in the field boomers were trained in -- provides an ideal recourse for those who struggle to make ends meet after retirement, and face ageism when seeking work from other areas.

Matthew Baker

VP of Strategy with Freshbooks

Matt Baker is a contributing writer who covers finances and growth for small businesses. His industry experience includes VP Strategy at FreshBooks, engagement manager at McKinsey & Company, and senior strategist at Google, Inc. He also wrote a children's book.

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