The Harpoon Blog

What’s Driving the Freelance Workforce?

by Sylvia Burleigh in Business Tips

The recent downtick of the national unemployment rate, once a tried-and-true measurement of full time work in the U.S., has financial analysts, the Fed, and the media second-guessing. While economists declared the recession over in June of 2009, five years later 32 states in the U.S. have yet to see the jobs lost during the recession return according to Associated Press sources. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the labor participation rate, tracked by the BLS.gov, is at its lowest since the 1970s.

So, here we stand. Depending upon the source, we receive inconsistent reports of what the U.S. employment looks like on any given day. But if we’re going to follow trends, let’s follow what we know to be consistent. According to the Freelancers Union, recent estimates place independent workers at 42 million, up from 10.3 million in 2005.

Private studies tell us more about the “big picture” of the freelance market, predicting that by 2020 independent workers and consultants will be the majority. Within the next decade that figure is expected to jump to 65 million, or more than half of the U.S. workforce.

Lots of people point fingers at outsourcing, cheaper labor and advancements in technology as the biggest culprits. But 88 percent or (9 out of 10) freelancers would keep doing what they’re doing even if they were offered traditional, full-time jobs according to a recent survey of 1,000 independent workers by Freelancers Union.

It’s not about the Money

It might surprise you to know it’s not all about the money. What this online survey showed was that freelancers crave doing what they love more than chasing a paycheck. It’s as if the old adage “do what you love and the money will follow” actually worked. Even before thoughts of a bigger paycheck danced in their heads, was the need for “choice, time and freedom.”

What 78 percent of freelancers found most enjoyable about the “new freelance market place” was their ability to control which clients were a good fit for them and their business career. Determining where your career is headed is a big incentive for many independent workers.

Another 77 percent reported the ability to control their own schedule was important to them, and 75 percent said the opportunity to be their own boss was an important factor in choosing a freelance lifestyle.

Build a Network and They Will Come

One key piece of advice that the current 42 million trailblazing freelancers have for beginners is to keep networking no matter what it takes. To survive and thrive means understanding how a freelance community supports and guides one another, whether it’s participating in organizations together or passing jobs along to other freelancers. Eighty-one percent of freelancers were happy to refer another freelancer they trust to a client.

The benefit of networking as a freelancer is immense. Over half of freelancers surveyed found their next gig through networking. Others found networking helped them keep up with industry trends and topics within their specific industry. Fifty-two percent collaborated on team projects or hired other freelancers to help during crunch times.

Developing a support network is empowering, and successful freelancers have this process down pat. Learning from one another helps solve the challenges of work, like how to handle a demanding client with finesse or how to juggle multiple projects.

Beyond the Network

Surrounding yourself with key people in your industry is a smart tactic to grow your client base. But all the networking and marketing in the world won’t help you without the necessary expert skills to take you there. Seven out of 10 independent workers say they have advanced skills and education. This is the type of worker corporations can count on to “hit the ground running” to solve problems or carry a project to completion.

Overall, as corporations let more employees go to find their own way, it will give workers an opportunity to work from anywhere and with anyone they choose. From my viewpoint, the new freelance economy is here to stay.  

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