Freelancing in America 2017 Report

I’m happy to share highlights from the 4th annual Freelancing in America report, produced jointly and published in October 2017 by the Freelancer’s Union and Upwork, the freelance job site.  The online survey queried 6002 U.S. adults who had performed full or part-time Freelance work between August 2016 – July 2017.  Freelancing was defined as temporary, project-based, or contract work performed at a for-profit or not-for-profit organization or government agency.  There are gradations of Freelancing, described as follows:

Independent Contractors          35%  exclusively Freelancing, f/t or p/t

Freelance Business Owners      7%    exclusive Freelancers who’ve hired employees

Diversified Workers                   28%   working a mix of p/t traditional jobs + Freelancing

Moonlighters                               25%   f/t or p/t traditional employees who take side projects

Temporary Workers                   7%

See the full report here  Freelancing in America 

There are now 57.3 million Freelance workers in the U.S., representing 36% of the nation’s workforce and a 30% increase over 2016, and we contributed about $1.4 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2017.  Since 2014, the Freelance workforce has grown three times faster than the traditional workforce. At that rate of growth, most U.S. workers will be Freelancers by 2027.  The Millennial generation is leading the way, with an astonishing 47% participation rate in the Freelance workforce.

Demographically, slightly more men (54%) than women (46%) are Freelancers.  There is great diversity in educational background, with 32% having earned a high school diploma or less; 24% have earned a bachelor’s degree; and 19% have an advanced degree (those statistics are nearly identical to members of traditional employees).  Most live in the South (40%) and in the suburbs (47%); 65% are white, 11% are black, 5% are Asian and those statistics also closely mirror the traditional workforce.

The majority of Freelancers report that they chose self-employment (63%) and 79% assert that Freelancing is preferable to traditional employment; 50% say they would not accept an offer of full-time traditional employment, at any salary.  Freelancers feel respected, empowered and engaged in their work, excited to start each day.

On average, the full-time Freelancer bills 36 work hours a week.  Freelancers seek to diversify the clients with whom they work and the services they provide; 63% feel that this strategy holds more advantages than working with one (presumably steady provider of adequate billable hours) client only.  In 2017, the average full-time Freelancer worked with 4.5 clients per month and repeat clients comprise 52% of their work. Economically, some Freelancers did rather well in 2017: 36% earned more than $75,000, with 19% who earned $75,000 – $99,999; 12% earned $100,000 – $149, 999; and 5% earned more than $150,000.

Presumably to enhance their value to prospective employers, Freelancers are noticeably more likely than their traditionally employed counterparts to upgrade their skills in response to an evolving job market, 65% to 45%.  Virtual-reality related skills, natural language processing and econometrics are among the fastest-growing skill sets for Freelancers.  More than 50% of Freelancers are concerned about the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence and automation on their future income, as compared to 19% of full-time traditional employees.

Cash-flow and getting paid weighs heavily on the minds of Freelancers.  Among those who participate full-time, being paid at what is perceived as fair value (52%), income unpredictability (46%) and debt (46%) are concerns. Among part-time Freelancers, difficulty in finding work (47%) and debt (56%) are primary concerns.  Sadly, 20% of full-time Freelancers lack health insurance; affordability is an issue for those with or without health coverage.

No doubt about it, there is greater economic instability in the life of a Freelancer as compared to the traditionally employed, the result of gaps in billable hours and checks that do not arrive within 30 (or even 45) days. 63% of full-time Freelancers report that they must tap into their savings one or more times a month, while only 20% of the traditional full-time employees feel the need to do so.  56% of Freelancers have less than $5000 in savings, compared to 49% of traditional employees who have such small savings. Perhaps in response to this harsh reality, 46% of full-time participants raised their hourly rates/project fees in 2017 and 54% plan to raise their rates in 2018.

Freelancing continues to have a significant impact on working and living in the U.S. and the expansion is expected to continue.  Those who Freelance full or part-time report that they’re quite satisfied with the arrangement and a chosen few are doing well financially, at least at this time.

But the spectre of debt and an inability to amass savings loom large.  The Freelancer Survey reported that in 2017, 20% of Freelancers lacked health insurance and as reported in Forbes Magazine in November 2017, 40% lack retirement savings.  Yet, traditional employment continues to hemorrhage advantages.  That promotion may come with a fancy title, but no raise to acknowledge the additional responsibilities.  The health insurance plan costs more and covers less.  Rumors of approaching lay-offs keep people awake at night.  Getting, or holding on to, your piece of the American Dream has become more difficult.

How can you cope? Remember that the best defense is a good offense.  Identify skills that can be expected to bring value-added to you and do what you can to obtain, package, promote and leverage them, whether as a traditional employee or a Freelancer.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Lewis Hine (1908) courtesy of the National Archives                                     Girls at weaving machines in Evansville, IN

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Stepping Up Your Game: Office Space

Working space matters.  We spend many hours at work and the place where we do our job can impact the quantity and quality of the work produced therein.  Freelancers often brag about our ability to work from home,  or the coffee shop,  library,  vacation house,  or wherever,  but these environments may bring many distractions that have the potential to de-rail concentration or creativity.  Furthermore,  none are a suitable location into which an A-list prospective client can be invited for a serious meeting.

If you find that you need an office outside of your home,  perhaps it’s because you’ve hired others to work with you and a home office is no longer practical and appropriate?  Your office,  regardless of the configuration that you can afford,  is an extension of your brand.  It must represent you well.

If your goal is to attract bigger budget clients,  then you must demonstrate in many ways that your operation is capable of delivering more complex products or services.  You must instill confidence in those who you ask to hire you. That will almost certainly entail contracting for good office space.  At last,  it’s time to move out of the house.

Co-working space

This is often the first place that Freelancers and entrepreneurs consider when it’s time to move from a home to a formal office.  Think of co-working as moving in with roommates.  Lay-outs vary,  but you’ll have dedicated work space that will feature a greater or lesser degree of privacy.

Besides your discrete work area,  all other spaces are common and amenities are shared. You’ll gain the use of resources such as a photocopy machine,  scanner,  conference room with basic audiovisual equipment like LCD for Power Point presentations and a screen.  There will probably be a kitchen,  or at least a coffee and tea maker, microwave and a refrigerator.

Many co-working spaces are exclusive to a particular industry (tech, usually).  They’re designed to encourage networking and referral building,  because they are populated by small operators who tend to outsource functions such as website building,  graphic arts,  accounting,  HR,  or bookkeeping, for example.

But like living with roommates,  privacy can be a challenge because so much is out in the open,  including perhaps the desk space.  Book the conference room for important meetings.  Or maybe confidential meetings could be held in a local coffee shop, ironically,  where anonymity could work in your favor.

Shared prestige

Some co-working spaces are in luxury commercial buildings that have lost a big client and the owners make up the lost revenue by renting out to those who seek the prestige of a great office,  but only for a fixed amount of time each month,  when they need to impress a client or prospect.  An office share is probably a more accurate term.

Typically,  there is a receptionist who calls when an appointment arrives and you come out to the desk and greet your VIP,  pretending that you can afford an elegant office on a full-time basis.  You’ll most likely have the use of a lovely conference room or maybe two.  You will have a proper office with a door that closes,  giving privacy.  You’ll have a great kitchen,  high-end photocopy machine and other standard office amenities,  too.  The receptionist may also answer your office land line and then forward calls to you,  which you can return at your convenience.  If it’s set up correctly,  no one will know that you’re in a share.

Private office

An office suite,  even a small space,  is a big financial commitment; commercial leases are often three years and difficult to break.  You must have a good handle on your projected revenues.

Think carefully about your staffing needs to determine the square feet that you’ll rent.  Do you anticipate hiring an administrative assistant and others to work with you in some capacity? There must be space to accommodate these workers,  even if they are not in-house 52 weeks/year.  Whether or not they are likely to all be in the office simultaneously is another consideration.

The types of work stations that different workers will require is another important consideration (as are the computer software programs they’ll need to do their jobs).  The size of the desks and the type of chairs matters,  as well. Ergonomics count,  as its use decreases the risk of developing back and neck aches and promotes productivity.

Finally,  there is the issue of the floor plan.  Open plans are popular,  but the office cubby gives more privacy.  Will you,  the boss,  have a private office,  or will the open plan work for you as well,  communicating that you are a team player?  Will you need a conference room?  Speaking with an office planning specialist could be money well spent.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Transition: Employee to Freelancer

Happy New Year! Is your number one New Year’s resolution to establish your own entity and become a business owner or Freelance consultant? Are you planning to abandon the “safety” of a traditional job to directly market and sell your products or services to customers with money and motive to do business with you?

Going out on one’s own is a thrilling and sometimes frightening prospect. Those who take the plunge eventually discover that many resources that are casually taken for granted while working in an office are not readily available to those who step out on their own.  As you weigh your options and prepare to write your business plan,  be aware of a few changes and expenses to expect should you join the self-employed sector:

No paid days off

It is now Winter and there will be days when extreme snow fall could make it impossible to meet with a client or otherwise work.  Further,  regardless of the season,  there will be no more paid sick days,  vacation days or personal days.  In particular for those who own a small B2B or B2C venture where the business model requires you or your employees to visit a customer location (e.g., cleaning services),  or customers to visit your location (e.g., a laundromat),  snow days = no revenue days.

Establish business credit

For tax purposes,  it will be useful to open a separate business bank account and also apply for a business credit card or two.  There will be business expenses to write off and you want to make it easy to monitor spending.  Do yourself a favor and check your personal credit ASAP and correct any errors.

Financial management

Financial management will assume more than one form.  As noted above,  you’ll need to establish credit for the business,  so that you can order inventory and supplies without immediately impacting business cash flow,  for example.  Those are Accounts Payable items.  You will also need to ensure that clients pay on time,  or at all,  and that is an Accounts Receivable function.

Maintaining sufficient cash flow is crucial to the business’ survival and your own ability to keep a roof over your head,  food on the table and your car on the road. You must develop a business budget and plan for the purchase of equipment,  licensing costs (if applicable),  insurance (if applicable),  professional certifications (if applicable),  or space rental (if needed).

In addition,  you may consult with a business attorney or accountant to discuss the legal structure of your venture: Sole Proprietor,  Corporation (chapter S or C),  or Limited Liability Company.  The type of business that you’re in and your exit strategy will play a role in choosing the legal entity.

Paying for office supplies

Free scanning and photocopying will be over.  When you need to staple a few pieces of paper together,  you must buy the stapler and the staples and you’ll buy paper clips,  photocopy paper and envelopes,  too.

There will likewise be no meeting space or audiovisual equipment for you to reserve.  You’ll have to meet at the (prospective) client’s office,  or at a coffee shop or other restaurant.  Privacy might be an issue and arranging a Power Point or other visual presentation can be awkward as well.  A lap top computer or tablet are must-haves.  It will be imperative to possess the tools of your trade and to always appear as a competent and prepared professional as you develop your reputation and build your brand.

Next week,  we’ll look at more unexpected challenges that await those who choose to launch a business venture.

 Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

The Best of Times!

There has never been a better time to live the self-employed life. Jacob Morgan, co-founder and principal of Chess Media Group and author of The Future of Work (2014), researches how market forces, demographics, political forces and advances in technology will likely impact the global workforce over the coming years and his research indicates that self-employment has significant momentum. “The picture for Freelancers is very good. It’s going to be a huge area going forward.”

Morgan points out what most traditionally and independently employed workers have learned over the past two decades: the steady paycheck is going the way of the dinosaurs. Those who are now age 50 or above started a career and expected to work steadily and at increasing pay for 25 or 30 years and then collect a pension as a reward for their contributions.  Employment at one company was considered an accomplishment and job-hopping was seen as instability, if not disloyalty. Morgan’s research shows that now, the average worker is employed at a place of business for an average of five years and Millennial Generation workers last an average of three years. “Nowadays, when a company is struggling, the first thing it tends to do is cut jobs.”

Because Freelance consultants typically have a list of active clients, we are somewhat insulated from the whims of business owners. We win some projects and lose others, but unlike the traditionally employed, we will not be laid off and abruptly lose all of our income. We do not qualify for unemployment benefits, but that benefit eventually runs out. The Freelance money is sometimes less than ideal, but finding project work is much easier than finding traditional employment that pays more than $20/hour, especially when the job seeker is 50 years or older. Freelancers are not at the mercy of a single employer. We have more opportunities to create options for ourselves.

As companies shed permanent workers, the demand for project-specific professional help continues to rise and for Freelancers, that is a good thing. Much depends upon one’s skill set and local economy, but the next three years and most likely more than that, look promising. Deciding which of your competencies are the most marketable and discovering how to connect with available projects forms the heart of the Freelance business model.

The uncertainties inherent in Freelance employment can also carry advantages, one of which is that you might earn a great deal of money. Traditional employment comes with income caps, unless you are employed in luxury real estate sales, high finance or big-ticket sales (fields that are overwhelmingly closed to most people).

The traditionally employed have been finding that getting a raise is harder than ever. Employers are keeping the money to themselves. The best anyone seems to get is 3%.  Bonuses and commissions for many sales reps have likewise been cut. Middle class wages have been stagnant to falling for 25 years. I’ve done adjunct teaching for 10 years and I’ve never received a raise, regardless of a decades’ worth of good evaluations from my students.

In 2010, Intuit predicted that the independently employed workforce in the US will rise to 60 million by 2020. There are already many associations and other resources, such as the Freelancer’s Union https://www.freelancersunion.org, that give relevant support to us in many practical ways, such as facilitating the purchase of affordable medical and dental insurance. Co-working spaces are available to those who need per diem meeting space at an affordable price or shared office space for those who would like to interact with a cohort of like-minded Freelancers.

Morgan recommends that those who have full-time employment consider taking on Freelance work as an experiment. “Now is an excellent time to do it, but I would do it in a smart way…do a little moonlighting and see how it goes. If it goes well, devote more effort to it. if not, you’ll have learned it’s not for you.”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Risks and Rewards of Time Management Triage

As of September 22 at 10:30 PM,  Summer 2014 ended and Autumn officially began.  September is a hectic month for many,  as projects that have been in limbo since June,  because completion would require more time and energy than the principals could muster during July and August,  are resumed.  September is when you pick up the thread and work toward a pre-Christmas victory.  It is time for you to evaluate both work responsibilities and social invitations and decide who and what are worth your scarce time and energy.

One must learn to triage,  as emergency room physicians and nurses do,  and give ourselves permission to prioritize and move forward with what has either value or consequences and ignore what and whom are a waste of time or a low-risk write-off.  Following this strategy is not without its own set of consequences and depending on who is tugging at your sleeve,  things can get uncomfortable.  Please,  allow me to rant for a minute.

At various times in my life,  I’ve had the misfortune of interacting with one or more disrespectful,  manipulative,  boundary-crashing and supremely entitled time-sucking vampires who shamelessly and relentlessly took every opportunity to control my time and hence,  my life.  These were personal relationships and thankfully not work relationships,  but the scenario was no less stressful just because a paycheck and professional advancement were not at stake.  I am inclined to believe that women encounter this problem more often than do men.  Sadly,  both women and men will disrespect women on a regular basis.

Be advised that failing to triage one’s time also entails consequences.  The only way to have the time to fulfill important responsibilities and also participate in activities that you enjoy is to neutralize the time-suckers.  It will not be easy.  These folks are determined to get their way and they do not give up without a fight.  Expect wheedling and pestering and be prepared for possible escalation to accusations,  emotional blackmail,  harassment,  lies and guilting.  Whatever you do,  never give in to a campaign for attention and control.

But I am getting melodramatic here.  The situation is not always so heavy.  It’s just that you must recognize that you are not obligated to do everything that you’ve been asked to do,  because it’s impossible.  Your first qualifier is doing what will bring consequences if you ignore it.  Taxes come to mind,  along with deadlines for important work projects.  Activities and special occasions that involve your children and spouse will closely follow in priority and and events that involve your parents,  siblings and close friends will occupy the next tier.

Less pressing work projects,  volunteer commitments,  acquaintances and relatives whom you like are the next level down and anyone after that can take a number.   You may decide to decline or ignore their requests because quite honestly,  they are not sufficiently important to you.  If Uncle Stanley is a mean-spirited idiot who enjoys undermining people,   why would you waste time going to his birthday party?  Do not let your mother guilt you into it.

According to Ed Battista,  executive coach and instructor at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA,  the key to making time management triage work is acknowledging the emotional aspects involved in saying no or ignoring people.  Attempting to assume an intellectual approach may not be useful,  for reasons that I’ve mentioned above.  The time-suckers are masters of arm-twisting and no one wants to be portrayed as cold and callous.

Battista recommends that we must aim to expand our comfort with discomfort.  Difficult emotions and awkward  “scenes”  will no doubt have to be managed in the triage process and that is a by-product of our need to control and allot our time and energy as we see fit.  Among the skills that may be helpful is acquiring the vocabulary to communicate how overwhelmed our current responsibilities make us feel and how the prospect of additional obligations will make us feel.  The line of people demanding attention may be long,  but we must learn to say a kind,  but firm “no” when it makes sense to do so.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Working Hard to Work Smart

Yoo-hoo,  wake up!  Labor Day is behind us and it’s time to get serious about business.  Our Summer reverie is over until next year.  As inspiration,  I will speak with you about  “working smart”  vs. “working hard”.  That dichotomy has roamed through the popular press for quite some time,  but experience tells me that it is a straw man argument.  In reality,  if you want to be successful and realize your dreams and ambitions,  you are going to work both hard and  smart.  It has never been either or.  It’s both.

Working smart means prioritizing and devoting scarce time and resources to people and projects that deliver results.  Some ideas and activities are very appealing at first glance,  but either they do not have the potential to pan out in the way you would like or you lack the resources to bring about the desired outcome.  Research and analysis shows that time and money would be wasted there,  so you move on.

Effective hard work requires one to work smart.  There are 24 hours in a day and we do need time to sleep and eat,  as well as attend to responsibilities other than work.  Not everything can be outsourced.  The willingness and discipline to roll out of bed at 5:00 AM and work productively until 10:00 PM or even later may be the sweat equity one needs to invest to make the concept viable and sustainable.

Founder of the hardware and software integration company MicroSolutions and owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team Mark Cuban knows all about working hard and making sacrifices.  Those behaviors supported him as he built MicroSolutions into a $30 million business.  In his role on the ABC-TV reality show Shark Tank,  the billionaire angel investor has found that aspiring entrepreneurs who have the discipline to learn more about their product,  their business model,  prospective customers,  the marketplace and the competition have the greatest chance for creating a successful enterprise.  He claims that money and connections are not as important as one might think  (I beg to differ on that point).   Cuban goes on to say that if you fail,  decipher what went wrong,  re-group and re-launch.

Cuban also cautions against constantly designing your products and services to give the customer what they say they want.  He advises business owners to solicit customer opinions about what could be made to function better and make doing business with you easier,  but to avoid relying on customer opinions to create future offerings.  Cuban points out that creating the road map to the future is the business owner’s job.  One stays in business by offering products and services to the customer that they don’t know they want until you give it to them.

But understand that hard work,  smart work and study won’t guarantee that you’ll create a successful business,  either.   Contrary to Cuban’s assertions,  connections count  (especially in the  intangible services arena,  where word-of-mouth is powerful);  money counts  (especially when funding the development of a product);  and good luck and timing count  (he may agree with these last factors).  Vision,  ingenuity and risk calculation also matter and these will impact your luck and timing.   Also,  let us not underestimate the momentum-building power of your absolute belief in your product or service and your ability to communicate that passion and enthusiasm to prospective customers and investors.

I leave you with a quote about working hard from Alexis Ohanian,  co-founder of the social news website reddit  and author of Without Their Permission  (2013) “I was willing to burn the candle at both ends.”

Thanks for reading,
Kim