I’m going to throw some statistics at you.
- In May of 2015, 15.5 million people were self employed.
- By the year 2020, an estimated 60 million people in the US will be freelancers, self-employed or contractors.
- 60 million people is the equivalent of half the population of the nation.
And that’s just in the United States. As both a freelancer and a client, you’ll find that you’ll network with people from all points on the globe. Over the past decade, I’ve worked with clients in the UK, Germany, South American nations, Korea, Canada – 6 out of 7 continents, in fact.
There are an increasing number of people who have, by choice, left the corporate world in order to start their own business. That business may entail consulting on a corporate level or simply selling through a multi-level marketing program. For quite some time, freelancing has been common in the industries of content marketing and management, as well as design and other skilled trades. Who hasn’t hired an independent contractor to fix a roof or a toilet?
But the future of work is changing. As more and more businesses begin to hire independents and the self-employed workforce, more and more workers who are currently employed by a traditional employer will face fierce competition. Surveys have reflected that 60% of executive decision makers are willing to – or would prefer to – hire freelancers to do tasks which were previously assigned to salaried employees.
The Many Faces of Freelancing
It’s tough to estimate an exact percentage of the workforce that is self-employed. Freelancing has many faces, from the independent service contractors (for instance, housekeeping and landscaping professionals) to gaffers and key grips. Some are moonlighters, while others work for themselves full time. Some are unionized, others are not. However, it’s been reported that 35% of the United States’ workforce fits into this category, and that number will continue to grow.
Among those freelancers are a class of “elite” – the specialized, creative and (usually) more well-educated than others. These are the designers, the content creators, bloggers and programmers. The most successful of these elite are the “influencers,” those who are perceived by others to have knowledge or authority. Think YouTubers and popular blogs. Most of these creatives achieved their status quite by accident.
On the opposite end of the freelancing spectrum are the “helpers,” as they’ve been called by Financial Times. These are those workers who specialize in data entry, data scraping, transcribing and similar tasks. These workers have the most precarious positions; their skills are easily learned, and they’re frequently replaced by workers who have one advantage: speed. The faster the worker, the more likely he is to get the job.
In the center stratum, though, are the future of freelancing. These are the creators, and studies would indicate that these workers are here to stay. Perhaps more elite even then the “trending” influencers, this category of freelancers are flexible, agile and diverse. They adapt to ever-changing trends and because of this, they’re unlikely to fade into pop culture history as the bloggers and vloggers will inevitably do.
It’s these freelancers who will define the future of work.
Is Freelancing the End of Traditional Employment?
Two factors will impact trends in traditional employment: automation and an increase in the number of freelancers entering the market. Some freelancers have started their own business out of necessity. Simply put, their traditional jobs aren’t offering either the financial means they require or the creative outlet they desire.
But the truth is that 67% of freelancers say that they started more out of desire to leave the corporate sphere than because they had to. And they couldn’t have done so at a better time. Employers are increasingly finding roles redundant within the office and are laying off workers in favor of hiring freelancers and migrating to an automated system. Need proof? Consider how popular Salesforce has become.
Freelancing isn’t the end of traditional employment. There will likely always be a need for consumers to put a name with a face. Of course, there will always be a need for physicians, attorneys, government workers and line cooks as well. And despite the rise of services like Uber and Lyft as well as self-driving cars, there will always be a need for professionals in the transportation industry.
But it’s safe to assume that in just a decade or less, our economy will see a massive shift toward the “gig economy.” The most industrious and creative of individuals will find their place in that economy, and the most successful will bend with the movement of their respective industry. If you’re considering making the switch to a full time freelancing career, now is the time to get started.