Study Estimates About 53 Million Americans Are Freelancing


CoverofFreelancingReport (2)More than one in three workers — 53 million Americans — are now freelancing, according to the most comprehensive survey of the U.S. independent workforce in nearly a decade.

The study, “Freelancing in America: A National Survey of the New Workforce,” was conducted by the independent research firm Edelman Berland and commissioned by Freelancers Union in partnership with Elance-oDesk.

“Freelancing is the new normal — and this survey shows that America’s new workforce is big, crucial, and here to stay,” said Sara Horowitz, Founder and Executive Director of Freelancers Union.

“The 53 million Americans who are freelancing already contribute more than $700 billion to our national economy and help U.S. businesses compete and find the skills that they need. This is just the start: The connected era we live in is liberating our workforce. The barriers to being a freelance professional — finding work, collaborating with clients and getting paid on time — are going away,” said Fabio Rosati, CEO of Elance-oDesk.

Key Findings

The economic impact of the 53 million Americans who are freelancing is significant. Collectively, they contribute more than $715 billion in freelance earnings to the national economy. And that impact is expected to grow in the coming years. Findings show that:

Freelancers are seeing more demand for their work. Twice as many freelancers have seen an increase in demand in the past year as have seen a decrease (32% increase, versus 15% decrease).

Technology is helping freelancers find work. Nearly seven in ten (69%) freelancers said technology had made it easier to find freelance work, and 42% said they have done freelance work via the Internet.

As demand increases, so does their reputation. Almost two out of three (65%) freelancers said freelancing as a career path is more respected today than it was three years ago.

The potential for earnings is helping to drive the growth of freelancing.  80% of non-freelancers surveyed said they would be willing to do additional work outside of their primary job if it was available and enabled them to make more money.

There is room for growth. Three times as many freelancers expect their hours to increase in the next year as expect their hours to decrease (38% expect to increase hours, versus 12% expect to decrease).

Millennials (workers under 35) are more likely to freelance. 38% of Millennials are freelancing, compared to 32% of those over 35. Millennials are also most optimistic about the future of the freelance job market, with 82% saying that the best days are ahead (compared to 74% of those over 35).

Five Freelancer Segments

The study identified five segments of freelancers, covering the diverse range of people who are freelancing today:

Independent Contractors (40% of the independent workforce / 21.1 million professionals). These “traditional” freelancers don’t have an employer and instead do freelance, temporary or supplemental work on a project-to-project basis.

Moonlighters (27% / 14.3 million). This professionals have a primary, traditional job but also moonlight doing freelance work. For example, a corporate-employed web developer may also do projects for non-profits in the evening.

Diversified Workers (18% / 9.3 million). This group includes people with multiple sources of income from a mix of traditional employers and freelance work. For example, someone who works at a dentist’s office 20 hours a week may generate the rest of his income driving for Uber and doing freelance writing.

Temporary Workers (10% / 5.5 million). These freelancers work for a single employer or client on a temporary job or contract project. For example, a business strategy consultant may be contracted to work for a startup client on project that lasts several months. .

Freelance Business Owners (5% / 2.8 million). These freelancers are small-business owners, with between one and five employees. The freelance business owner consider himself both a freelancer and a business owner. For example, a social marketing guru still identifies as a freelancer even after hiring a team of other social marketers to build a small agency. .

Mikki Morrissette of Minneapolis spent more than a decade in corporate publishing in New York City before switching over to become a freelance writer and communications specialist 15 years ago.

“I am so much happier in this new stage of my career,” Morrissette said. “As a single mom with two kids, and an itch for travel, I love the flexibility. I get to choose the projects I work on and mostly work with other eclectic entrepreneurs like me. I love being free to pursue my interests where they take me.”

About the “Freelancing in America” Study

For the study, more than 5,050 U.S. working adults over the age of 18 were surveyed online between July 19, 2014 – July 31, 2014. Of those, 1,720 were freelancers and 3,332 were non-freelancers. Results are weighted to ensure demographic representation in line with the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics 2013 Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. The study has an overall margin of error of ±1.38% at the 95% level of confidence.

About Freelancers Union

The Freelancers Union serves the needs of the growing sector of independent workers. More than one in three working Americans is an independent worker. They are lawyers, nannies, graphic designers, writers, artists, photographers, illustrators, marketing specialists, and more.

About Elance-oDesk

Elance-oDesk is one of the world’s largest online workplaces. More than 2.5 million businesses and 8 million freelancers tap into and to work together via the Internet.


Freelancing in America: A National Survey of the New Workforce

About Freelancers Union


Survey Shows Freelancers Are Optimistic About Business Prospects

Despite the meteoric growth in freelancing and self-employment over the past decade, very little information has been published about who freelancers are, what they do, how they land work, what they earn, and why they freelance.  The 2012 Freelance Industry Report by Ed Gandia seeks to fill this information gap.

In the report’s introduction, Gandia cites a May 2012 Aberdeen Group report that shows that in the average organization in the U.S., nearly 26% of the workforce is considered contingent or contract-based. The labor law firm Littler Midelson predicts that over the next few years, contingent labor (i.e., freelancers, consultants and independent contractors) could rise to as much as 30 to 50 percent of the entire U.S. workforce.

“Politicians and the mainstream media seem to completely overlook this segment of the workforce,” says Gandia. “When addressing the needs of small businesses, most discussions center on traditional brick-and-mortar operations. Freelancers and other self-employed service providers are ignored, forgotten or dismissed.”

The bulk of the free, 70-page report summarizes the findings of a 2012 survey of 1,491 freelancers in more than 50 different fields.  The top 10 professions represented in the survey of freelancers were:

  • Designers (20.4 percent)
  • Writers (18 percent)
  • Editor/Copy Editor (10 percent)
  • Copywriter (10 percent)
  • Translator (7 percent)
  • Web Developer (5 percent)
  • Marketing Profesional (4 percent)
  • Business Consultant (2 percent)
  • Virtual Assistant (2 percent)
  • Illustrator (2 percent)

Other creative professionals represented in the survey included Photographers, Videographers/Video Editors, and Authors at around 1 percent each.   Other freelancers specialized in proofreading, IT systems support, training, software development, public relations, blogging, SEO, and social media.

Survey Findings

The report includes charts and data on income trends and lifestyle choices, including: hourly rates, billable time, pricing, the impact of the economic downturn, and how freelancers attract clients. Here are some noteworthy findings:

Status: 47 percent are the primary income earners in their households; 14 percent work their business on the side while holding a full-time day job.

Age: 62 percent of the freelancers were under age 50, with 26 percent in the 30 to 39 age range and 25 percent in the 40 to 49 age group. Of the 38 percent over age 50, 12 percent were age 60 and up.

Satisfaction: 90 percent report being happier now than before going solo. 55 percent said that they wouldn’t consider working as an employee again, regardless of what the job paid or what it entailed.

Business Prospects: Fully 77 percent of the respondents said that they are optimistic about their business prospects over the next year. Pessimism was highest among photographers (25 percent), business consultants (16 percent), and editors/copy editors (16 percent).

Challenges: The biggest challenges facing freelancers as a group were:

  • Finding clients (21 percent)
  • The feast-or-famine cycle of work (16 percent)
  • Maintaining work/life balance (10 percent)
  • Managing time/staying productive (7 percent)
  • Getting better fees (5 percent)
  • Getting affordable health insurance (4 percent)
  • Having to wear all the hats (4 perecent)

Professionals who reported the most difficulty finding clients included photographers (33 percent) and copywriters (27 percent).

Marketing Methods: 68 percent of freelancers named referrals, word of mouth or tapping their own personal and professional networks as their most effective methods for finding and landing clients. Only 6 percent considered online job sites such as Elance and oDesk to be most effective way to get clients, and a mere 3 percent ranked social media as the most effective method.

Self-Promotion: Even though finding clients is the top challenge facing freelancers, most freelancers (53 percent) said they spend five hours or less on self-promotion. In fact, 30 percent spend fewer than 2 hours per month. Only 12 percent spend more than 20 hours per month on self-promotion.  Photographers (44 percent) and copywriters (17 percent) were among those who said they spent more than 20 hours per month promoting themselves.

Accidental and Entrepreneurial Freelancers

The report takes an in-depth look at differences in the data among two key groups: accidental and entrepreneurial freelancers.

“Accidental” freelancers include those who started freelancing as a result of a layoff or company downsizing. The report reveals that “accidental” freelancers are faring well. About 85 percent said they are much happier now than they were as employees, even though they are more likely to earn less than freelancers who planned their way to self-employment. Still, 66 percent of the accidental freelancers are optimistic about their business prospects.

When asked whether or not they considered themselves to be entrepreneurs, 72 percent of the survey respondents said yes. The professionals most likely to identify themselves as entrepreneurs were business consultants, virtual assistants, and copywriters. Photographers, researchers, and editors were the least likely to view themselves as entrepreneurial.

Freelancers who regard themselves as entrepreneurs tend to be happier and earn higher rates: 38 percent of “entrepreneurial” freelancers earn $70 or more per hour, as opposed to 20 percent of non-entrepreneurial freelancers.  When asked if they were happier overall since they started freelancing, 92 percent of the self-labeled entrepreneurs said yes, compared to 86 percent of the freelancers without the entrepreneurial mindset.

International Freelancers Day: September 21

The 2012 Freelance Industry Report helps set the stage for the International Freelance Day event on Friday, September 21. Sessions at the free, online conference are designed to help freelancers take their business to the next level. Experts will cover a mix of business and personal development topics and present tips for negotiating, prospecting, writing winning proposals, promoting yourself, keeping your creativity flowing, and designing an abundant life.


The 2012 Freelance Industry Report

About Ed Gandia and The International Freelancers Academy

International Freelancers Day

Conference Celebrates International Freelancers Day Sept. 23

International Freelancers Day is a global initiative to celebrate independent workers and the tremendous impact they have on our economic growth. The movement was founded by three long-term freelancers–Steve Slaunwhite, Pete Savage and Ed Gandia–who are experts in the freelance market, making the transition into self-employment, and building a profitable and enjoyable solo business.

International Freelancers Day will be celebrated on Friday, September 23 with a free, online video conference that is expected to connect tens of thousands of independent workers and other viewers from all over the globe. The conference will start at 10 am EST and run through 6:30 pm.

Gandia, Savage, Slaunwhite, and 14 other authors and thought leaders will present sessions on topics such as pricing, attracting clients, working more productively, outsourcing administrative tasks, promoting yourself, and growing your business. The goal of the conference is to offer strategies that can help take your “business of one” to the next level.

“With many economists and thought leaders heralding the arrival of the ‘freelance economy,’ there’s never been a better time to celebrate freelancers and solo professionals the world over,” says Ed Gandia, co-author of “The Wealthy Freelancer.”

A record number of professionals are currently pursuing freelance work — either by necessity or simply because they want to. According U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates, one-third of the workforce is now self-employed or freelance. As a growing portion of the labor force continues to shift in this direction (a 10% year-to-date increase, according to SurePayroll’s Small Business Scorecard Review in July) many of these professionals are now seeking better ways to not just survive — but to thrive — in the new “gig economy.”

Register for the free conference at:

2011 Freelance Industry Report

Earlier this month, Ed Gandia released the “2011 Freelance Industry Report: Data and Analysis of Freelancer Demographics, Earnings, Habits, and Attitudes.” The report presents data from more than 1200 freelancers who responded to a survey conducted through Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail during a nine-day period in August, 2011.

Self-employed individuals from 37 different fields responded to Gandia’s survey. The report tabulated statistics and findings from the top 10 fields represented among the respondents:

  • Writer (18% of respondents)
  • Copywriter (12%)
  • Designer (11%)
  • Translator (9%)
  • Web developer (7%)
  • Editor/copy editor (6%)
  • Marketing professional (4%)
  • Business consultant (4%)
  • Software developer (3%)
  • Virtual assistant (2%)

2011 Freelance Industry Report by Ed GandiaOther types of freelancers who responded to the survey included bloggers, illustrators, photographers, video editors, authors, SEO specialists/consultants, fashion designers, videographers, accountants, engineers, bookkeepers, and social-media consultants.

The report includes 70 charts that provide insight such as:

  • The biggest challenges freelancers face and how those challenges differ by profession, location, experience and other factors.
  • Attitudes toward freelancing, the economy’s impact on freelance work, and freelancers’ business outlook for the next 12 months.
  • Income trends, hourly rates, billable time, and how different freelancers price their services.
  • Lifestyle choices, including average hours worked, the importance of free time and flexibility, and attitudes toward re-entering the traditional workforce.
  • How freelancers attract clients today, how much time they spend promoting their services and what marketing strategies they’re planning to implement over the next year.

One major finding is that “Professionals who are freelancing as a result of a layoff or being downsized are more likely to earn less as a freelancer than peers who planned their way to self-employment. However, 80% of these ‘accidental’ freelancers are much happier now than they were as employees.”

Download the free 50-page report  from the International Freelancers Day website.


International Freelancers Day Conference

2011 Freelance Industry Report by Ed Gandia

Book: The Wealthy Freelancer: 12 Secrets to a Great Income and an Enviable Lifestyle