An adjunct college professor
A web page designer
A business consultant
What do these people – and many others in other fields and industries — have in common? They are freelancers, and their ranks are growing.
According to a survey last year by Elance-oDesk, Inc., a company that pairs freelancers with clients who need their services, and the non-profit Freelancers Union, roughly one-third of America’s workforce does some freelancing.
That means nearly 53 million people! This number includes about 14 million workers who are what we traditionally call “moonlighters,” meaning they supplement their traditional 9 to 5 income with extra freelance work on the side. About 21 million do temporary work on a per-project basis. A little over 9 million people have several part-time jobs. About 5.5 million are temporary staffers working for a single employer, and another 2.8 million people are small business owners with five or fewer employees.
Here is some more evidence of this growing trend. A 2014 study by Oxford Economics found that 83 percent of surveyed executives planned to increase their use of freelancers over the next three years. A 2013 study by the software company Intuit found that by 2020, more than 40 percent of the American workforce will be independent and contingent workers.
Why is this sector of the workforce exploding? Let’s look at some of the reasons.
Probably the biggest reason people freelance is the freedom it offers. Freelancers tend to be people who want to balance their work and family life. They don’t want to work less; they just want to work around other life events that are important to them. Many surveys, including one by Ernst & Young’s Global Generations Research of about 10,000 workers in eight countries, find that millennials are willing to sacrifice salary and benefits for flexible hours.
Freelancers are able to determine their own hours and choose the work they want to do. For example, parents can schedule their work around their kids’ nap times or school events. Night owls can work in the wee hours, while early risers can call it a day to enjoy some early afternoon sunshine.
Freelancers often can save more of what they earn than traditional workers. Many freelancers can work from home, which cuts down on their commuting expenses. With web-based meetings and follow-up, you can “meet” with clients at their convenience – and yours.
Depending on your line of work, you may also save on the cost of an expensive work wardrobe.
Freelancers can gain some tax deduction benefits. Talk to your accountant or financial planner about possible deductions for your home office and for work-related phone bills, Internet access entertainment and food expenses.
Freelancing can be a great way to “get your feet wet” in a new career. Whether you are starting out in the workforce or switching careers, you can gain professional work experience and establish some valuable contacts with freelance work.
Before quitting your “day job,” you will find out if you like the work in a different industry. Then, as you gain experience, you will be able to establish a portfolio and a network of references from your satisfied clients. You can use these later to land a great full-time job.
The longer you work as a freelancer, the more your income can increase. Many freelancers start out working on jobs that pay less than they would like in order to gain the experience and references. Eventually, you can replace these low-paying jobs with higher-paying jobs.
Also, as a freelancer, you can tap into the global marketplace. Online freelancing platforms have paying clients from all over the world. You will be able to connect with new companies and with new people from all sorts of backgrounds who need your skills.
So What’s The Catch?
The freedom of freelancing does come with a price. While it sounds tempting to be able to work in your pajamas with no one looking over your shoulder, freelancing does require self-discipline and organizational skills. Being paid is a great motivator, however.
Another potential disadvantage of the freelancing life is the lack of employee benefits. It’s pretty simple: if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. That means no vacation pay and no sick pay. The other side of the coin is that when you are done with a project, you are done. You don’t need to wait around “looking busy” until quitting time comes around.
Probably one of the trickier aspects of working as a freelancer is the balancing acts you must master in order to have a steady income. You have to plan for both crazy busy times and some lean times. For example, during the holidays, when your full-time friends are getting paid to attend holiday parties and are raking in holiday bonuses, you may have a big work slowdown just when you need the money the most.
Let your friends, colleagues and social media contacts know you are looking for freelance work. Word of mouth is still a great way to get work. There are some great sources online for more information on freelancing. Here are a few to get you started:
https://www.upwork.com/ (formerly odesk)