Freelancers: We Are the Future

Presented for your perusal are relevant statistics and observations gleaned from the third annual “Freelancing in America” survey, conducted by the Freelancer’s Union.  According to the organization, “Freelancing in America” is the largest and most comprehensive measure of independent workers conducted in the U.S.

Who we are

In 2015 55 million of our fellow citizens, representing 35% of the nation’s workforce,  participated in the Freelance economy to greater or lesser degree and we earned $1 trillion.  The survey found that 63 % of us were Freelancers by choice, rather than by necessity, and we enjoy this way of working.  Freelancers reported feeling positive about our work and 79 % preferred Freelancing to traditional employment.  We’re much more likely than our traditionally employed counterparts to feel respected, empowered and engaged in our working environment.  The survey assigned categories to different types Freelancing:

  1. Independent contractors (35 %, 19.1 million) — Full-time Freelance Consultants whose only income is derived from client work.
  2. Diversified workers (28 %, 15.2 million)– Freelance Consultants who regularly do client work, but provide themselves a guaranteed income floor by working part-time (maybe as an adjunct professor at a local college or maybe as a bartender and possibly both!).
  3. Moonlighters (25 %, 13.5 million)– those who take occasional side projects along with their traditional employment.
  4. Freelance business owners (7 %, 3.6 million)– Full-time Freelance Consultants who put together a more-or-less permanent team to form a consultancy, so that more complex and lucrative client work can be taken on.
  5. Temporary workers (7 %, 3.6 million)

What we like

Flexibility is a huge perceived benefit for the majority of Freelance Consultants and 60 % felt that a Freelance Consulting career is a respectable choice.  Further, more than 50 % of workers who left full-time employment to join the Freelance economy were able to earn more money within the first year of Freelancing.  46 % of us raised our project fees/hourly rates in 2015 and 54 % said they planned to do so in 2016.

Serious challenges

Money is an issue for Freelancers.  Survey respondents reported that adequate billable hours, negotiating fair project fees or hourly rates and receiving timely payment of invoices (or receiving full payment of accounts receivable) could be problematic.  On average, full-time Freelance Consultants obtain 36 billable hours/week. When the billable hourly rate or project fee is considered inadequate,  cash-flow is impacted and there can be a struggle to meet financial obligations.  As a result, the survey also found that debt is a real concern for us Freelancers.

Access to health insurance and retirement benefits remain major concerns.  Full-time Freelance Consultants rank medical and dental insurance as a primary concern; 20 % of us have no health insurance.  Of those who had health insurance, 54 % faced increased premium rates or deductibles in 2015 as compared to 2014.

Surprisingly, the matter of retirement funding was not addressed by the survey.  Freelance Consultants, unless we are moonlighters who have full-time traditional employment or we’re married to a spouse who receives that important benefit, must completely self-fund our retirement and many millions of us do not have the income to build a worthwhile retirement account. Please see my recent post on retirement planning for Freelancers Exit Strategy: The Retirement Plan

Shaping the future

As traditional full-time, middle class paying employment continues to disappear, the ranks of Freelance Consultants can only increase, making us a fast-growing segment of the American workforce.  Sadly, politicians have paid no attention whatsoever to either our special challenges or our voting-bloc potential.

85 % of survey respondents said that they planned to vote in the 2016 election cycle.  If that statistic can be applied to the entirety of Freelance Consultants in this country (and I feel it is unrealistically optimistic) it would represent nearly 47 million voters, more than enough to influence a presidential election.  70 % of survey respondents would appreciate candidates and political representatives addressing Freelancer needs, because no matter how lovely things may be for the chosen few who command lucrative project fees, Freelance Consultants (and most part-time workers) are vulnerable.

The holiday season approaches and that means drastically fewer billable hours will be available to the vast majority of us, as many clients limit work from about December 15 to January 2.  We will not receive holiday pay for Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Day.  How do we fund our retirement accounts and buy health insurance when it may be all we can do to cover basic living expenses? We need political representation, advocates and activism.  The Freelancer’s Union is what we have now.  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/business/freelancers-union-tackles-concerns-of-independent-workers.html

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

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Ready To Fly Freelance!

According to the Freelancers Union, 53 million Americans, 34% of the workforce, engaged in some level of Freelance work in 2014 (that includes workers like Uber drivers, who are classified as private contractors). Of that number, 45% were Freelancers who consider themselves self-employed professionals; 27% were moonlighters, doing Freelance projects in addition to their primary employment; and 18% were considered “diversified” workers, who cobbled together three or more revenue raising activities to support themselves.

Businesses large and small continue to eliminate traditional full-time employment and push American workers into figuring out how to support themselves independently. Some workers have an entrepreneurial mindset and an independent spirit and would strike out on their own regardless. Maybe that is you? Whatever the circumstances, the time may be right for you to plan to work for yourself. Here are some signifiers:

You are confident You’ve honed a set of skills over the years that you are certain others will pay you to provide to them. You have access to potential clients who are familiar with you and your work and you are fairly certain that you can build a successful organization that will yield an income that will allow you to pay your bills and maybe even exceed your current salary.

You have a very good professional network and colleagues who will make referrals for you (and you will be able to return the favors and make referrals as well). You believe in yourself and your abilities and you are not afraid to step out and go it alone.

You are self-motivated You want to be independently employed, the captain of your own ship. You are a self-disciplined leader who is comfortable working alone or in a team. You are able to meet deadlines and enjoy meeting and especially exceeding expectations.

You cannot get a better job The new economy is unkind to so many. Middle-class jobs have been disappearing since the late 1980s as a result of computer technology, globalization, the off-shoring of labor and most of all, unprecedented corporate greed that has driven down wages, restricted merit raises for the vast majority and made billionaires of the 1%.

Age, race and gender discrimination are real and well-documented. The pervasive use of “search committees” that control the hire of even administrative assistants, whose members apparently aim to hire minimally competent functionaries who are incapable of out-shining the committee members, effectively block the employment of many talented workers.

Regardless of your skill set and experience, work ethic and track record of working collaboratively, you may not be able to get either a promotion or a new job anywhere. Breaking into a new field with “transferable” skills is usually limited to either the enormously well-connected or the very fortunate.

You’re a good salesperson  Freelancers and business owners are salespeople, first and foremost. Devising and implementing a marketing plan (and financial and operations plans as well) requires that you promote your venture in ways that will put you on the radar screens of potential clients and referral sources. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, you must effectively talk up your business, in particular to those with money and motive to do business with you.

You have money saved You’ve been able to save 6 months + wages that will float you as you bring in projects and rack up billable hours. To further cushion your Freelance experience, you would be wise to identify and pursue other revenue streams, better known as flexible part-time employment. Teaching is a popular sideline for consultants, but do not be embarrassed to consider taking a low-level job that will not bring you into contact with potential clients. You just want to discreetly make money and also have time to pursue your real work.

Flexibility matters You may have aging parents who need your help; you are the parent of school-age children; or you prefer to work intermittently (or all three). Being saddled with the ongoing requirements of a 40 hour + job may not blend well with your personal obligations.

If you think that you have a marketable skill, arrange to let potential customers know and try to get hired for a few projects while you still have traditional employment. The strategy also applies to those who are retired or about to retire. Join the 27% of Freelancers who moonlight and beta test your business concept. You could be pleasantly surprised by how much you enjoy running your own empire!

Thanks for reading,

Kim