The state of freelancing in 2018

Introduction

Every year for the last 5 years, Upwork and the Freelancers Union have commissioned a survey in the United States. The goal of these surveys is to have a better understanding of the independent workforce in the country. The study has 4 objectives:

  • Quantify the number of people freelancing in the US and their economic impact.
  • Assess the state of freelancing, especially current demand for freelance services.
  • Gather insights into drivers and barriers impacting freelancing
  • Gauge the outlook for freelancing, especially among millennials as they become the majority of our workforce.

This study is focused on the United States workers. While many of us might not be concerned by the state of freelancing in the US, I believe we can draw some conclusions about the state of freelancing elsewhere as our economies become more intertwined.

Definitions

First, we need to define some terms.

  • Freelancers: Individuals who have engaged in supplemental, temporary, project or contract based work, within the past 12 months.

The study differentiates 5 flavours of freelancers:

  • Diversified workers: People with multiple source of incomes from traditional jobs and freelance work. Someone working part-time in a company and writes code as a freelancer on the side while managing an AirBnB.
  • Independent contractors: Traditional freelancers who do not work for an employer and do freelance, temporary, project or contract based work.
  • Moonlighters: People with a traditional, primary job who also do some freelancing on the side. An corporate-employed accountant working for non-profits on the week-ends for example.
  • Freelance business owners: These freelancers have employees but still consider themselves freelancers.
  • Temporary workers: People with a single employer, client, job or contract project where their employment status is temporary.

What the numbers say

Ok, so now we know what we are talking about. Let’s pull some numbers from this survey that I found interesting. Many of these numbers are compared to the first survey conducted in 2014 to see how freelancing has evolved.

Numbers of freelancers

There are today 56.7 millions freelancers in the US workforce, which represents 35% of the entire workforce. There are 3.7 millions more freelancers compared to 2014.

Diversified workers and independent contractors represent the majority of freelancers, with 31% each. Moonlighters represent 26% of the freelancers workforce, freelance business owners and temporary workers represent 6% each.

Who, What and How?

  • 28% of the US freelancers are full-time freelancers. (17% in 2014)
  • 43% are between 18 and 34 years old. (32% in 2014)
  • 61% started freelancing by choice, not necessity. (53% in 2014)
  • 31% earn more than 75000 $/year. (16% in 2014)
  • 42% freelance less than weekly.
  • 48% see freelancing as a long term thing. (35% in 2014)
  • 74% started in the last 5 years. (70% in 2014)

Training

  • 70% of freelancers participated in training in the last 6 months. (49% among the non-freelancers)

Freelancers look for their training themselves (online forums, books, websites…). Non-freelancers train mostly on the job.

Among the freelancers who graduated from college, 93% found skill related education/training useful to the work they do now. Only 79% of those freelancers found the the college education useful to the work they are doing now.

Most freelancers find the cost of training and skill education too high. (53% vs 33% for non-freelancers)

Many freelancers would benefit from education on essential business skills. For example:

  • 44% of the responders did not agree with the sentence:

I have a good contract that I use for my freelance work.

  • 36% did not agree with the sentence:

I know how to effectively market my skills.

Work and Life

A large majority of freelancers and non-freelancers give the priority to their lifestyle, compared to earnings. However, 84% of full-time freelancers say that their work allow them to have the lifestyle they want. Only 63% say the same thing for non-freelancers.

  • Freelancers enjoy the flexibility and independence they have.
  • The biggest worries for freelancers are income predictability, difficulties in managing their businesses and isolation.
  • Freelancers report they are feeling less stressed, more stimulated and healthier compared than when they have a traditional job.

Freelancing provides opportunities to people unable to work in a traditional job because of health or family issues. 29% of the respondents said a traditional job would not work for them because of health issues. 22% because of a family related issue.

Looking ahead

  • 59% of the freelancers estimate that the freelancing job market has changed compared to 3 years ago. (only 42% said the same thing in 2014).
  • 87% of freelancers think the best days are ahead. (vs 77% in 2014)

A large majority of freelancers (76%) admit that technology makes it easier to find work. Almost 2/3 (65%) think there is a higher demand for freelancers over the past year.

Freelancers find work through multiple sources. Friends and family are the most frequent source with 46%, social media with 40%, previous clients with 38% and professional contacts with 36%. These are the four more frequent ways freelancers will find work nowadays.

  • A good majority of freelancers find work online (64% vs 42% in 2014)
  • 82% of non-freelancers admit they would be open to freelancing on the side to make extra money.
  • Among the freelancers who left a traditional job to freelance, 60% earn more money. Among those 60%, 77% took less than a year to have an superior income than their former job.
  • Half the freelancers today say they wouldn’t go back to a traditional job, no matter how much money they were offered.

Conclusion and Sources

Freelancers are already a huge part of the workforce. They will most likely become the more important part of the workers in the future. This series of studies might help us understand what freelancers are expecting from our society, where they come from and how they can help our economies.

Below, you will find the links to the slides for the surveys from year 2014 to 2018. In each, there is a section about politics. Freelancers might very well become a crucial part of the electorate in the future.

Sources:

2018 Survey
2017 Survey
2016 Survey
2015 Survey
2014 Survey

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