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The year is 2021, face-to-face business is becoming a relic of the past and the gig economy is raging hot.
There are a multitude of reasons to take on a freelancer: your workload could have piled up too high, maybe there’s a task your team lacks the skill set for or perhaps you just aren’t positioned to take on a new permanent employee.
Whatever your reason, enlisting the freelance workforce is a more viable option now than ever.
Before you dip your toe into the waters of the ‘Gig Economy’, get to know the good, the bad and the unexpected ugly emerging as freelancing grows ever larger in our modern society. Here are some shocking freelance statistics to help you make an informed decision.
The State of Freelancing (Statistics & Studies)
1. 57+ Million Americans Dabbled with Freelance Work this Year (Upwork)
Joining the freelance workforce is easier than ever. People are emboldened to take their unique skills and forge a lifestyle less constricted by the domineering presence of employers.
Over 57 million Americans participated in at least some freelance work last year; that’s 35% of the nation’s workforce. Freelancing is no longer solely an option for the ambitious and lucky few, not in 2020. It is becoming a legit online job.
2. 61% of Freelance Workers Specialize in 2-3 skills (And Co)
A traditional job may hire someone based on a skill set, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have more to offer. Most freelance workers (61%) generate an income from 2 to 3 distinct specializations, increasing their creative fulfilment and keeping them agile in an ever-changing working world.
3. Only 2% of Hiring Managers Plan to Cease Work with Freelancers in Response to COVID-19 (Upwork)
The COVID-19 crisis has shaken the traditional workforce to its core with 45% of companies putting hiring on standstill and 39% of hiring managers expecting significant layoffs in the near-future.
Despite this, only 2% of hiring managers report planning to halt their working relationships with freelancers in the coming 3 months. Freelancers just aren’t at risk from COVID-19 career complications like their regular working counterparts.
4. Freelancers Raked in more than $1 Trillion in Income (Upwork)
There’s serious money to be made freelancing. In 2019, freelance work contributed over $1 Trillion dollars to the US economy alone. That is no small figure: more than both the US construction and transportation sectors and roughly on par with the information sector.
5. 44% of Freelancers Have Reported Not Being Paid by a Client (And Co)
The risks of going freelance cannot be overlooked. There is less support for independent workers facing mistreatment than ‘regular’ workers, and when 44% of them report not being paid by a client, it paints a worrying image.
Reputable websites like Upwork or Fiverr offer a framework of support, but the nature of freelancing can sometimes mean navigating a minefield of scams and opportunists.
6. Freelancers Earn $21/Hour on Average (Payoneer)
Freelancing is not only growing in popularity, but the global hourly rate for freelancers is rising too. 2 years ago, the hourly income sat around $19/hour, now, it has climbed to $21/hour. This is the global figure of course; freelancers in the US stand to earn around $31/hour, well above the national average.
7. 31% of Freelancers Earn $75,000 or More (Forbes)
Not every freelancer can commit to independent work full-time, but there is enough demand to make it a viable full-time career for many of the most skilled and dedicated.
A significant portion of the freelance workforce, 31%, reported earning $75,000 or more in 2019 exclusively from independent work. This dwarfs the average annual income of $48,672 for the US in the same year.
8. In 2019, the Freelance “Gig Economy” Grew by 78% (CNBC)
With smartphones, laptops and Wi-Fi in coffee shops, the office can be taken with you wherever you go. Nowhere is this having more of an impact than the US, where the Gig Economy grew by 78% from 2018 to 2019.
While the US’ Gig Economy is unrivaled by other countries in terms of year-on-year growth, nations like the UK, Brazil and Pakistan aren’t doing too badly either, with growth rates ranging from 47%-59% for the same 2018-2019 period.
9. 45% of Freelancers Feel More Secure in Their Career Choice Than in the Previous Year (And Co)
The instability of freelancing as compared to a traditional job can’t be denied, but with 45% of freelancers reporting increased feelings of security over the previous year, it seems as if the ‘rickety bridge’ of freelance work is slowly becoming something more stable.
Granted, this figure does not suggest that freelancers feel completely secure in their career choice, but it is definitely a significant step in the right direction.
10. Only 25% of Companies Hiring Freelancers Would Consider Doing So for HR Roles (Upwork)
HR roles are the least viable for freelancers it seems, with only 25% of freelance-hiring companies even willing to consider outsourcing HR duties to an independent worker.
Contrasting this, creative roles such as writing or graphic design rank among the most popular for companies that enlist freelance workers.
11. 70% of Freelancers work on 2 – 4 Projects at Any Given Time (And Co)
Juggling projects and careful time-management are core parts of the freelance lifestyle. 70% of independent workers report having between 2-4 separate projects on the go at any given time. Freelancing is best suited to the multitaskers out there.
12. 61% of Freelance Workers are Doing it By Choice (Forbes)
Freelancing may once have been perceived as a ‘backup choice’ for the skilled unemployed, but it’s increasingly becoming a deliberate career move for people who crave the lifestyle of freedom and undefined working hours.
61% of freelancers claim to be doing so completely by choice, and that figure only stands to grow as the working world shifts away from the office and towards ‘working from home’ alternatives.
13. 47% of Freelancers Believe Companies do not take them seriously (And Co)
Due to their independence and lack of corporate backing, 47% of freelancers report not being taken seriously by the companies that enlist their services.
Despite its continuing growth, freelancing still possesses a ‘novelty’ factor for many companies and it’s causing independent workers to feel marginalized.
14. Companies Are 63% More Likely to Choose a Freelancer to get Projects Completed Faster (Upwork)
Speeding up a project is the top reason companies report hiring a freelancer, with 63% of companies preferring independent workers to temporary employees for this purpose.
Other significant reasons given for hiring an independent worker over a temporary employee include saving money, maintaining a transparent hiring process, and accessing a freelancer’s unique skill set.
15. 77% Freelancers Believe they have a better work-life balance (Website Planet)
One of the significant contributors to a worker’s general quality-of-life comes from a healthy work-life balance. Freelancers must be a happy bunch indeed because 77% of them claim to enjoy a better work-life balance as compared to their pre-freelance careers.
Lack of bosses or managers; completely flexible working hours and locations; plus, the ability to decide which jobs to accept or decline make it obvious how a good work-life balance is easily achieved with independent work.
16. 43% of Freelancers Report Being Worse Off Than When They Were Traditionally Employed (And Co)
That positive work-life balance comes with a trade-off, however. Without a consistent monthly pay check and a dependence on multiple discrete clients, freelance workers are inherently less financially stable than their traditionally employed peers.
43% of freelancers report being in a financially worse position than when they were traditionally employed. On the bright side, 34% claim to be in a roughly equal financial position and 23% report being better off. Going freelance is a risk financially, even if it’s a slam dunk in terms of life satisfaction.
Freelancing is the New Norm (Looking Ahead):
17. 77% of Freelancers Praise Tech for Helping them Find Jobs (Upwork)
The future is all-digital, all-remote and all-electronic. As pioneers in the new norm of working, freelancers are making the most of technology to maintain and even grow their careers.
This means making the most of online training, digital job boards, personal websites, and social media. Long gone are the days of newspaper ads and noticeboard flyers; in fact, 77% of freelancers cite technological sources as their primary resource for finding work.
18. 64% say Top Industry Professionals will choose to work as Independent Contractors or as ‘Freelancers’ (Upwork)
Freelancing isn’t exclusive to part-timers or up-and-comers. In fact, even top industry professionals are found on the freelance scene.
64% agree that freelance work of any industry is being taken on by top industry figures. Whether writing, programming, accounting, or designing, you don’t need to be working for a company to be seen as ‘the best’.
19. 51% of Hiring Managers Not Using Freelancers Would Consider Them
Not every company is hiring freelancers, but among the ones that aren’t, over half (51%) would still consider them in the future. This suggests that one of the major hurdles for would-be freelance customers isn’t any kind of stigma or negative association, but instead just a lack of opportunity. As time passes and opportunities arise, the freelance market stands to grow ever larger.
20. 75% of Part-Time Freelancers work to Make Extra Money (Website Planet)
It can’t be a full-time career for everyone, and for 75% of part-time freelancers, the extra money stands out as their primary motivation. With the job market in the coming years looking uncertain, it’s likely that growing numbers of people without traditional full-time jobs will supplement part-time employment with income from freelancing.
21. 73% of Hiring Managers are Continuing or Increasing Their Use of Freelance Workers (Upwork)
Despite the furloughs and layoffs of recent months, companies that hire freelancers show few signs of stopping (or even slowing) their freelance hiring activity. 73% of hiring managers report either maintaining or increasing their use of freelance workers.
The lack of commitment needed on the employer’s part to enlist an independent worker as opposed to an official employee is a major factor here. Not so good for the traditional worker, but fantastic for the freelancer!
22. 75% of Freelancers Worry About Saving for Retirement (Upwork)
Lack of retirement funds and savings prevail as the leading concern facing freelancers, with 75% of them sharing the same worries about their post-working lives. The freelance lifestyle doesn’t come with a built-in pension scheme; it’s up to the individual to be responsible for their own savings, which isn’t possible for every financial situation.
23. 91% of Freelancers Think That the “Best Days Are Ahead”
The future of independent work is looking bright, according to the workers themselves. An overwhelming 91% of freelancers believe that their “best days” in the game are yet to come.
It’s shocking to see such an optimistic opinion from the vast majority, but who can argue with the numbers? Especially when the same question posed in 2014 only saw 77% agreeing that the best days were ahead.
Final Word: Freelance Statistics
Dystopian business professionals got it wrong. Our future is not bleak. It’s just that the workforce is changing. Freelancing is the way of the future—free from bosses, free from rigid structure and free from the office.
It’s not a perfect career style: the lack of financial security or retirement structure make the lifestyle more suited to younger workers with fewer dependents or those who are looking for a side hustle idea.
However, with a higher quality-of-life and real potential for well-above average earnings, those that can handle the risks can look forward to a fulfilling and fruitful self-guided career.
The freelancing industry is here to stay, and it is only poised to expand as technology develops and the culture of work shifts. The 9-5 world is disappearing, and as it fades away, a more flexible and empowering world steps up to take its place. Are you ready to face it head on?