The Perks Of Being A Freelancer

woman on computer and making mealFreelancing has become one of the major buzzwords in the world of work in the past few years as technology has made it possible for more and more people to work from the comfort of their own homes or wherever they like. Statistics from 2006 by the Government Accountability Office showed that as much as 30% of the U.S. workforce, or 42.6 million people, worked as some sort of freelancer. By 2020, estimates peg the percentage at 40%. On the one hand, this means that work flexibility is really becoming a central consideration for an increasing number of working people as they have the technological means to achieve it. On the other hand, the trend reflects a deeper change in how work is done, with many companies offering their employees working conditions much similar to freelancing, that is, remote working and non-fixed work hours. In short, freelancing is changing the work landscape. The drivers behind this shift include the tech advancements already mentioned, but also an economic transformation that has prompted employers to be more reluctant to hire and more determined to make cost cuts. This transformation, of course, was the latest financial crisis that hit in 2008. Since then things have started to look optimistic, with unemployment numbers falling and entrepreneurship thriving thanks in part to newly emerging phenomena such as crowdfunding. And freelancing is on the path to becoming the norm.

Choosing to strike out on your own is not always an easy choice. In a crisis-stricken country it could be the lack of choice that drives people to start freelancing and it often is, says journalist Teresa Wiltz. What’s more, like everything else, freelancing has some disadvantages that need to be addressed, the earlier, the better. These disadvantages mostly boil down to lack of any employer benefits that are available to salaried workers. Freelancers, though they may be free to work when they wish, rarely can afford to indulge in “I work when I please”. They don’t have employer-sponsored health insurance, they don’t have 401k and they don’t have unemployment insurance. In short, freelancers don’t have the safety net available for regular employees. This, says Wiltz, makes it harder for them to get a loan or refinance a mortgage, for example, and it makes healthcare much costlier. Freelancers also lack the security that goes with a regular salary — if the client decides not to pay for a freelancer’s work, there’s little one can do to get the money that’s due them. What makes this picture grim for those seeking permanent employment too is the fact that employers have come to realize how much cheaper it is to hire freelancers, for all of the above reasons, and some among them flat out refuse to hire a new employee, offering instead a freelance job. According to Wiltz, America is turning into a nation of freelancers and the government needs to recognize the fact and put in place some form of a safety net for independent workers.

But we should let some sunshine in and talk about the perks of being a freelancer. Basically, some of the disadvantages to independent work can be seen as advantages, depending on your point of view. Freelancing means, for instance, that you don’t have to be tied to a job you don’t really like doing. You can, with some luck, choose to work only on projects that will make you feel happy and fulfilled professionally. And you’re free to choose who to work with, you don’t have to put up with a manager who makes you miserable all the time. It’s great to know that you’re only accountable to yourself and you don’t have to report to anyone else. Well, apart from the client that you’re working for at the moment, of course. In short, freelancing gives you freedom unavailable in any salaried job.

However, being your own boss can be both gratifying and frustrating. While on the one hand it means you can choose your own assignments and therefore do something that you know you’re really good at and something that you love passionately, on the other hand, it means that you have to be your own marketing department and your own accounting department. In other words, unless you earn comfortably enough to hire professionals to do these things for you, you would be the one doing all the bookkeeping and advertising for your services. Yet, this isn’t as scary as it may sound, thanks, once again, to technology. There’s a host of online outsourcing platforms that give you the opportunity to seek clients and let clients find you without any, or with a reasonable, initial investment, so you may opt for one of these instead of, or in addition to, approaching potential clients directly.

The five biggest and best platforms for freelancers at the moment are Freelancer.com, oDesk, which recently merged with number three Elance, People Per Hour and Fiverr. Freelancer is the biggest among them and it charges a monthly membership fee but in exchange it offers a wide range of services and incentives, such as daily updates about jobs available for freelancers with your skills, diminishing commission fees as you upgrade your account and flexible payment methods. oDesk, on the other hand, is completely free, it charges a stable 10% on any project you sign up for and also offers incentives and options for building a strong profile, such as tests that are free to take, unlike those on Freelancer. All in all, the biggest players in this segment take upon themselves much of the marketing that you would otherwise have to do, such as providing you with feedback options from clients that can significantly increase your chances of being hired and regularly updated tips to help you make a better impression on potential clients.

True, freelancing isn’t for everyone. There are those among us who feel happier with a job security in the form of benefits and insurance that go with the salary, even if they aren’t really crazy about the job itself. But various statistics are making the case for freelancing increasingly stronger. Consider, for example, the latest Gallup research on employee engagement, or rather, disengagement. It revealed that just 30% of the American workforce is engaged with their work. More than half, or 52%, were disengaged and 18% were actively, that is very, disengaged. Disengagement means that workers are not putting their heart and soul in what they’re doing, they are not productive enough and this ultimately leads to losses for their employers and negative feelings for the employees themselves. Looking at remote workers versus those working in an office, there was a slightly higher engagement among the first group, but still, the figures were similar to the overall, with 32% of remote workers engaged, 50% not engaged and 18% actively disengaged.

If you freelance, on the other hand, chances are that you wouldn’t have to do things you don’t like too often. That’s the idea of freelancing, after all — employing your best skills that you have acquired and developed by doing work you enjoy. This breeds happiness and happiness makes you more productive. Perhaps this could be one factor for employers to lean more toward hiring freelancers — they don’t have the responsibility to motivate them and worry about their engagement, since the freelancer is the one deciding if they want to do this particular job. In other words, freelancers tend to make for much more engaged workers; good for them, good for their clients.

The case for freelancing could be especially strong for mothers who don’t want to go back to a full-time salaried job but want to contribute to the family budget. It’s made all the stronger by another survey, from Princeton University, which found that only a measly minority of 11% of those who have been unemployed in the last six months have a chance of finding a long-term full-time job. This could be a crisis, but then again, it could be an opportunity for the remaining 89%, especially with the freelancing world developing to provide opportunities even for people who don’t like working from home and need human interaction on a daily basis. That’s called co-working and it means you rent working space that you share with others like you. Co-working can provide you with that working atmosphere that you would miss at home and the human contact that helps you tick. And, of course, the other reason for choosing freelancing is the undeniable fact that the more you work, the more money you make, something that can hardly be said for most salaried jobs.

There are two sides to everything and that’s valid for freelancing too. Freedom is a great thing but with freedom comes responsibility. For those unwilling to be responsible for every single aspect of their working lives, freelancing would not be the best choice. This freedom also means that income will not be regular — there will be dry spells if you freelance, but you’ll be able to make up for them in periods of higher demand for your skills and expertise. Add to this the opportunity to work from wherever you want and, sometimes, whenever you want, allowing you to manage your time in the way that works best for you instead of forcing you to conform to the 9 to 5, very often 9 to 5+ rule, and freelancing starts to look especially attractive, doesn’t it? Striking out on your own involves risks but every move forward involves some degree of risk. Not taking any risks means simply not moving and few among us would be content with such a state of immobility. For the rest — remember, 40% of the workforce will be freelancing by 2020, consider getting on the bandwagon early.

 

Sources:

1. Smith, Paul. “Freelance Writing Job: Advantages And Disadvantages.” The Little French Book.  http://thelittlefrenchebooks.com/world-of-publishing-2/freelance-writing-job-advantages-and-disadvantages/

2. Leveille, Cassandra. “40% Of American Workers Will Be Freelancing Within 10 Years.” PolicyMic, April 2013.  http://www.policymic.com/articles/34601/40-of-american-workers-will-be-freelancing-within-10-years

3. “America’s Uncounted Independent Workforce.” The Freelancers’ Union, 2011.  http://fu-res.org/pdfs/advocacy/2011_Counting_the_Independent_Workforce%20Policy_Brief.pdf

4. Wiltz, Teresa. “How America Became A Nation of Freelancers.” The Guardian, February 2012.  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/feb/07/how-america-became-nation-freelancers

5. Krueger, Alyson. “7 Things To Know About Freelancing Before Quitting Your Job.” Forbes, February 2014.  http://www.forbes.com/sites/alysonkrueger/2014/02/12/7-things-to-know-about-freelancing-before-quitting-your-job/

6. Shengale, Ram. “World’s 5 Best Freelance Websites 2014.” Gyantastic, February 2014.  http://gyantastic.com/best-freelance-websites/

7. Nicholas, Elizabeth. “How To Become A Successful Freelancer In 6 Months.” PolicyMic, April 2014.  http://www.policymic.com/articles/86657/how-to-become-a-successful-freelancer-in-6-months

8. Lipman, Victor. “Surprising, Disturbing Facts From The Mother Of All Employee Engagement Surveys.” Forbes, October 2013.  http://www.forbes.com/sites/victorlipman/2013/09/23/surprising-disturbing-facts-from-the-mother-of-all-employee-engagement-surveys/