Freelancing isn't for everybody. There are certain risks and insecurities that come with the lifestyle. For example, building a reliable client base takes a lot of time and hard work; after a few months on their own, many freelancers miss the social interaction of an office environment; and income is sometimes unsteady and unreliable.
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But despite all this, the freelance workforce continues to grow.
Thirty-five percent of the American workforce did some type of freelance work last year, and all combined freelancers pulled in more than $1 trillion in income, according to Freelancing in America 2016, a study from online freelancing platform Upwork and the Freelancers Union. Considering the study shows that 81 percent of non-freelancers surveyed are open to trying out freelance work, it seems that those numbers will only go up from here.
Steady Growth Continues
A number of factors are contributing to the growth of the freelance workforce.
"The biggest motivation for professionals becoming freelancers is freedom and flexibility," says Shoshana Deutschkron, senior director of communications at Upwork. "People realize that today, thanks to technology, the rigid barriers of traditional cubicle-bound, nine-to-five jobs no longer make sense."
According to Deutschkron, the younger generations are particularly interested in freelancing. As they become the majority of the workforce and their older counterparts retire, freelancing growth will only speed up.
"There are currently 55 million Americans who participated in some type of freelancing work last year, up from 53 million freelancers in 2014," Deutschkron says. "Much of the best talent will want to be independent, and companies are going to have to adapt their staffing strategies to accommodate this."
This type of growth in the freelance world hasn't come easy. The business world often resists change, and contract workers have traditionally been viewed as less capable, lazy, or only good for small projects. Fortunately, that perception has shifted in recent years, with 63 percent of freelancers saying that the perception of freelance work is becoming more positive, according to the Upwork report.
"The best talent is increasingly going independent," says Deutschkron. "As a growing portion of our workforce freelances, traditional workers are finding that they have more friends or family participating in the freelance workforce. They're recognizing that this way of working is not a fallback or last resort, but a better work- and lifestyle that people are actively choosing."
Deutschkron says freelancers tend to have higher satisfaction and engagement levels at work than traditional employees do, which means many of them deliver better work product.
"At the end of the day, their work speaks for itself and helps change perceptions as well," she adds.
Fair Pay for Fair Play
While freelancing is appealing to an increasing number of workers, there are still many concerns. Fifty-two percent of full-time freelancers and 39 percent of part-time freelancers expressed concerns about being paid fair rates.
"Don't sell yourself short. Know what you're worth and be willing to ask for it," says Deutschkron. "Perhaps do a few lower-priced projects to start in order to gather feedback and build your reputation, then assess raising your rate. The most successful freelancers on our site often give themselves raises."
In addition, freelancers need to put in the effort to make sure current and potential clients view them in a way that showcases their value and skill.
"Invest in branding and marketing yourself," Deutschkron says. "Freelancers are businesses of one, and being successful requires that a portion of time be dedicated toward ensuring an effective personal brand that's showcased well online, such as on the freelancer's profile on sites like Upwork. Clients select freelancers who they are most confident will deliver results, so it's especially important to provide proof of skills and past project success."
Freelancers should keep their skills sharp, because the growth of the freelancer pool shows no sign of stopping and future competition may become even more fierce. With so many Americans turning freelance work into a viable career that gives them flexibility and freedom, there is little doubt that the size of the freelance workforce will continue to grow.