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The Future of Freelancing

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What’s Going on With Freelancing – Now and Near Future

May 28, 2019
Freelancer engaged in negotiations

Introduction

There was a time when traveling to and from work for your daily interaction with employers and/or clients was as natural as breathing.  Technological advances have paved the way for seamless integration of remote working environments.  The ability to handle many activities – even large projects – from anywhere in the world is at hand.

We are living in a period where enterprises of all types and locations in all places are looking for talent.  There are approximately 6 million open jobs in the U.S.  People with talents and skills that are in high demand can enjoy a high degree of control over their work life – where they work; how they work; compensation packages; and a host of other arrangements.  

This is creating a feedback loop – traditional work is now in a talent competition with freelancing as more people choose to freelance.  The disruption created by the exponential freelancing expansion has caused the World Economic Forum (WEF) to report in its “The Future of Jobs,” that we are in a 4th Industrial Revolution.  Some are predicting that by 2027, over 50% of the workforce will be in freelancing to some degree.    

While there are some noteworthy challenges to overcome, a career as a self-employed talent can be stable, fulfilling and lucrative, and it can offer a measure of personal satisfaction you’d never find in a ‘regular’ day job. Welcome to tomorrow’s workforce.

Here is the bottom line – despite a multi-year economic expansion that has created more full-time, traditional jobs than there are available workers, more and more Americans are choosing the lifestyle and independence that comes with freelancing.

Real Freelancing Facts

If you find yourself conducting research or you’re just interested in facts related to freelancing, beware, there is quite a bit of punchline data that is not what it seems.  This stems from the fact that there are several ways to estimate the size of the gig economy and its independent workforce.  If you’re interested in finding out how various studies determine their results, take a look at Gig Economy’s Data Hub research page.  Here are clean statistics for America in 2018:

• 10.1% of American workers are dedicated freelancers – their primary income comes from freelancing.  

• 15.8 percent of workers are engaged in alternative work arrangements — defined as temp agency workers, on-call workers, contract workers, and independent contractors or freelancers.

• 36% of workers performed some type of freelancing.

It is estimated, conservatively, that in the next ten years, these numbers will rise between 30% to 40%. Clearly, the freelancing industry is only going to become a bigger part of our lives.  

What is Driving Freelancing Growth?

The natural question to ask is what’s driving the rapid growth of freelancing?  We can see several different influential factors and categories of those factors.  From techno-economic factors to the fading of perceptions that once abounded about freelancing, there are numerous considerations involved – here is a list of the most noteworthy:

GIG Economy:  Changing attitudes towards work is driving more people to freelancing – millennials, Gen-Xers and their older counterparts want the freedom and work balance that freelancers enjoy.  Meanwhile, employers are increasingly using gig workers to lower costs and meet project needs as the technology and infrastructure are growing to accommodate them.

Dated Perceptions of Freelancers Fading:  The fact is, freelancer is no longer a frowned upon word.  Between jobs or outsider are no longer even realistic let alone an embedded attitude.  The perception that freelancing means you don’t make good money has no basis in reality or people’s minds.  

The Individual Freelancer’s Outlook:  Along with the macro attitudes of the Gig economy, freelancers don’t miss the office politics & gossip, commutes, and having someone to report to.  Conversely, they love the lower stress, higher morale, better money, freedom and rewards that they feel aren’t available to them outside of freelance work.

What the successful freelancers are saying:  Of full-time freelancers, 79 Percent of think freelancing is a better fit for them than traditional employment.  50 Percent say they would not give up freelancing for any amount of money.

Best Freelancing Opportunities

What are the most in-demand freelance skills right now?  Business Insiders top 20 freelance skills.  Here is a couple of the top earners:

  • Freelance coders and software developers earn up to $1,000 per hour.
  • Copywriters earn over $250 per hour.
  • Junior software developers earn a base salary of around $119,000
  • Freelance graphic designers earns more than $85

How about the future – what skills will bring the high dollar rates for freelancers?

  • Robotics and internet of things (IoT)
  • AI and machine learning
  • Blockchain technology
  • Data science

These are indeed technical endeavors.  If you’re not a techy don’t fret, these are just the forecasted high rollers.  Many lucrative skills and possibilities abound.

The Challenges Freelancing Faces

Naturally, no job is perfect and this holds true for freelancing.  Freelancers suffer from three broad categories of circumstances:  clients; environmental factors; and federal protections.

Clients:  Freelancers are often – if not always – at the mercy of their clients.  The companies that hire you can make or break your business and affect your overall satisfaction with the freelance lifestyle.  Here are the issues dealing with clients as identified in “Top 6 Problems Freelancers Face.”

  • Vague requests
  • Clients who micromanage
  • Unreliable clients
  • Poor communication
  • Low payment
  • Late payment

Environmental Factors:  These are the institutional and legal disadvantages in which freelancing currently exists – due largely to the fact that in many ways we are still functioning both practically and legally as we were 50 years ago.  In “25 Solutions to Problems Only Freelancers Face,” AND CO gives us a less superficial and more unsettling look into the world of the freelancer.  Here are the top 5 from the article:

  • Sick Days = Work Days
  • Unpaid Vacations
  • Insurance Isn’t Cheap
  • Lack of Stability
  • Downward Wage Pressure (foreign and domestic competition)

Federal Protections:  If you don’t find that a bit disturbing, consider the federal protections provided to American workers that do not apply to American freelancer workers.  

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Age Discrimination Employment Act
  • Health & Safety Regulations
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – this is the law that protects Americans from discrimination on the basis of sex, color, race, religion or national origin.

Yes, it’s true - the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission makes it clear that independent contractors are not protected by these anti-discrimination laws.

The good news here is that with numbers comes power.  Freelancers are slowly forming up and collectively soliciting legislatures for the same protections that their traditional employment counterparts enjoy – at both state and federal levels.  Both states and localities are responding.  For detailed information about this – checkout “Freelancer Rights: What Workplace Protections Do You Have?

Conclusion

Clearly, how we work is changing.  More jobs will go freelance as new technologies continue to disrupt work as we know it.  Given the data available, this bodes well for freelancers and those considering the transition.

While there are some noteworthy challenges to overcome, a career as a self-employed talent can be stable, fulfilling and lucrative, and it can offer a measure of personal satisfaction you’d never find in a ‘regular’ day job. Welcome to tomorrow’s workforce.

Written By:
Kerrie Gill, PMP, ITIL

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