Navigating the future of freelance work

4 min read
Arielle Crane
  •  Jun 5, 2017
Link copied to clipboard

The freelance economy is growing. In just 3 years, 40% of the US workforce will be freelancers. Workers from all different industries have discovered ways to be productive outside of the confines of a cubicle and rigid employment schedule.

Meanwhile, businesses have latched onto this trend, realizing they can utilize a more fluid, results-driven workforce by bringing in contractors to address challenges and opportunities as they arise, rather than trying to retrofit their existing talent resources to a present state.

Related: The 7 principles of empowered freelancers

Unique challenges come with the benefits that this independently-led labor structure affords to both organizations and individual workers. On the employee/contractor side, there’s the self-management of business operations, tax complexities, and a feeling of instability regarding one’s own finances and job security.

“By 2020, 40% of America’s workforce will be freelancers.”

Twitter Logo

And on the company/employer side, there’s the issue of how to find the right independent talent, and how to motivate them to partner with you to produce results. Fortunately, with the right resources and tools, both sides of the partnership can successfully navigate these challenges.

To reap the greatest reward out of the independent work movement, it’s imperative to understand the workings behind it—including the freelancers leading it and their own views on work and life. Here at AND CO, the support system for freelancers, we’d be remiss if we didn’t have some tips up our sleeve and knowledge of our own to impart (hint: we have lots!) on this workforce revolution.

Understand who’s leading the future of work

There are 55 million freelancers in the US today. Traditionally, the word freelancer has been fraught with stigmas that indicate a professional who “can’t hack it” in a corporate setting or someone who’s creative but perhaps not the most business-savvy.

“68% of freelancers say they’re happier now than they were before going independent.”

Twitter Logo

We had a hunch that these stereotypes were outdated, so we fielded a comprehensive study to better understand what motivates today’s independent workforce.

Read on for some findings that may surprise you.

The freelance revolution has gained momentum in the past 5 years.

Two-thirds of respondents in our study told us they’re relatively new to the game, freelancing for 3 years or less. What does this mean for employers? Forget what you thought you knew about independent workers—there’s a new guard, and they’re likely not who you think they are.

With the advent of technology and increasingly globalized world, it’s fitting that people are starting to live—and work—in broader, yet more connected terms. Companies are capitalizing on the benefits of technology, too, as is evidenced by the flurry of fully remote organizations such as Buffer, Zapier, and InVision, to name a few.

Despite the challenges inherent to their work lifestyles, most freelancers we surveyed say they enjoy a better quality of life since going independent.

One of the more interesting insights to come from our exploration is this idea that “freedom is the new wealth.” Despite the fact that a majority of freelancers say that independent work does not make them feel financially stable, 68% of respondents are happier now than they were before going independent.

“Freedom is the new wealth.”

Twitter Logo

The stresses of running a business and keeping a full pipeline are ever-present, but freelancers gladly accept this trade-off for the freedom to pick and choose the projects that fulfill them, split their time across a range of employers and collaborators, and carve out their days to their own liking, whether that means taking a midday yoga class or traveling the world as a digital nomad.

For many independents, freelancing fulfills needs greater (and deeper) than financial sustenance.

There are some stereotypes about freelancers, like: they earn far less than or far more than their traditionally-employed counterparts.

The truth is likely somewhere in between, yet there’s something unique about why independents have chosen to take this route. For one, it’s not about the money: just 6% of our respondents said they began freelancing for the financial upside.

In fact, 40% of freelancers said they went independent for the personal growth opportunity.Twitter Logo Beyond paying the bills, freelancers feel their career choice is helping them evolve as a professional and as a person.

This is especially interesting when one begins to understand the multifaceted nature of today’s independent workforce, of which 65% (per our findings) say that “partnering with talented clients and collaborators” is an important career objective for them.

Many independents today are “slash workers,” selling 2 or more skills within their careers.

Balancing billable and nonbillable work makes the life of most freelancers pretty hectic. But beyond being “busy,” we were surprised by just how much freelancers juggle at a given time. Per our study, 70% of freelancers juggle 2 to 4 projects at a given timeTwitter Logo (17% juggle 4+!).

Across these projects, freelancers are shifting gears between varied skill sets: 95% of freelancers sell 2 or more skills within their careerTwitter Logo, hence the term “slash workers.” Just 5% of respondents focus on a single craft.

Given this, it’s no surprise that these “slash workers” reported more personal growth, freedom, and flexibility. By offering more than one skill, they’re able develop multiple crafts over time and learn from a broad range of experiences and individuals across their projects and partners.

Uncover the potential roadblocks

With freedom comes challenges. Sure, there are tools to help make some aspects of managing your freelance business easier, but there are still larger challenges that are less easy to overcome—at least not overnight.

In our study, 60% of respondents said there’s a stigma against freelancers, and with 61% stating that a stronger community is missing from their freelance life, fighting this stigma might require a more tight-knit community to help tackle it first.

That’s where strong communities like Freelancer’s Union come in to band together and help debunk any common mischaracterizations. In fact, the Freelancer’s Union brought over 8,000 freelancers together last year to sign the Freelance Isn’t Free petition and push the act into law. It went into effect on May 15.

“44% of freelancers have been stiffed by a client.”

Twitter Logo

The legislation was much-needed, as many freelancers can related to the feeling of stressing over a late invoice—or, worse, getting stiffed by a client (44% of our survey respondents have had that happen to them). When we asked respondents why they believe they hadn’t been paid, half of them told us that they don’t think companies take freelancers seriously and another 35% attributed it to vague or shoddy contracts.

Find where you fit in

The future is clearly independent—and 41% of those we surveyed want to freelance forever. Whether workers choose to define themselves by terms like freelancer, digital nomad, slash worker, etc. matters less than learning to operate this lifestyle.

For freelancers, being independent is about owning and doing your work well, but also understanding and managing the business side of your career. Tracking your time, expenses, projects, and managing your invoices can be an energy suck (and waste when not done right), so find ways to optimize those pain points and turn your focus on the actual work at hand.

Related: Dear client—We need to talk

For businesses and employers, it’s understanding the nuances and intricacies of a freelance life, including what motivates these workers so they can feel fully supported. It also includes fair payments and contracts with agreeable terms and conditions and a more open approach to what is sure going to be “business as usual” in a few years.

AND CO is the support system for freelancers. We help independent workers manage the operations of their businesses with ease, so they can focus on what they really care about: the work. With AND CO, freelancers can invoice clients, draft contracts, automate expense reporting, and more, all from an intuitive mobile and web app.

Have you recently gone independent? Give us a shout on Twitter @InVisionApp.

More posts about freelancing

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard