The Emerging “Freelance By Choice” Era

Are You Part of the Emerging “Freelance By Choice” Era?

Recently, my colleagues and I thoroughly read through all those studies you see quoted that say one third of the workforce is freelance to see if we can get a better sense of the gig economy. It turns out that it depends on how you’re counting. The share of us who treat freelancing like a job rather than working in a traditional job is more like 11 percent.

Meanwhile, several other fascinating themes emerged in our review of the gig economy data, the highlights of which are summarized in the infographic below. One trend that will interest the LocalSolo community is evidence that the gig economy is increasingly made up of people who choose it and who strongly prefer it. Even people who have been shoved reluctantly into the gig economy by circumstances often come to prefer it.

For example:

  • The data in The 2016 Field Nation Freelancer Study documents a “societal shift that sees contract and gig work as an impressive, viable life choice . . . . Freelancers are now feeling the power to take control of both their work and their lives.”
  • The annual Freelancing In America survey by UpWork/Freelancers Union found in 2016 that 63 percent of us started freelancing more by choice than necessity, which is up from 53 percent two years earlier.
  • The MBO Partners State of Independence In America 2017 survey found that “In 2017, 74 percent of Full Time Independents reported they were very satisfied . . . up sharply from 65 percent in 2016.” MBO also describes how, while the Great Recession pushed many people into freelancing, the recovery isn’t drawing them back. It’s getting easier to jump back into traditional employment, but “year in and year out, most independents say they plan to continue to stay the course as an independent or even build a bigger business.”
  • A McKinsey Global Institute study counts 72 million full-time freelancers in the U.S. and EU countries. They characterize 23 million of those as “reluctants.” But more than twice that number—49 million—are “free agents” who actively choose freelancing as their primary employment. (Another 90 million are side hustling while in traditional employment.)

These and several other surveys also provide some strong hints about what’s driving this “freelance by choice” trend. Other highlights that jumped out at us is that employee engagement is in freefall, and work-life balance is entirely out of whack for most professionals.

What the data on the gig economy shows is that freelancing is not just a choice. For many people it’s a dramatically superior choice. As I’ve discussed before, this is something that talent management and HR professionals are going to have to consider in order to take advantage of the gig economy.

In short, the days of the “between jobs” freelancer are in decline and the days of “freelance by choice” are on the rise. We may even soon see a day when freelancing is seen as the more secure career and traditional employment as the more vulnerable.

Freelancers In The Gig Economy


Robert McGuire owns McGuire Editorial content marketing agency and is the publisher of Nation1099, a forum for professional freelancers working to grow their gig economy businesses.

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