Report Documents Growth of Freelance Workforce

In October, Upwork and Freelancers Union released the results of “Freelance in America: 2018.” The fifth annual study estimates that 56.7 million Americans freelance, an increase of 3.7 million in the past five years.

More than one in three (35 percent) of American freelanced in 2018. Whereas the freelance workforce grew 7% in five years, the non-freelance workforce grew just 2 percent (from 103 million to 105.3 million) in five years.

Full-time freelancers now make up 28% of the workforce, up 11 points since 2014. The percentage of part-time freelancers has declined 9 percent since 2014, and the number of full-time workers who earn some income from freelance work has risen by 1 percent.

The full study results are available here.

Here are a few key findings:

People are increasingly starting to freelance by choice. Asked whether they started freelancing more by choice or necessity, 61% of freelancers said by choice. This is up from 53 percent in 2014. Younger generations are freelancing more than any other generation in the workforce.

Americans are spending more time freelancing.The average weekly hours spent freelancing increased from 998 million hours a week in 2015 to more than one billion hours per week.

Technology makes it easier to find work. 64% of freelancers found work online, a 22-percent increase since 2014.

Lifestyle matters most. Both freelancers and non-freelancers prioritize achieving the life they want, but freelancers are more likely to get it. Fifty-one percent of freelancers say no amount of money would entice them to take a traditional job.

Freelancers place more value on skills training. 70 percent of full-time freelancers participated in skills training in the past six months, compared to only 49 percent of full-time non-freelancers. Many freelancers are seeking training to enhance their skills in technology, networking, and business management. Freelancers are more likely than non-freelancers to pay for the training themselves.

About 69 percent of freelancers have an annual personal income of less than $75,000. Only 14 percent make $100,000 a year or more.

Freelancers feel anxious about all they have to manage and the unpredictable nature of the work.  Sixty-three percent said they are anxious about managing financials, taxes, insurance, etc. The same number expressed anxiety about the unpredictability of their assignments and workloads. Fifty-six percent said freelancing can make them feel isolated.

On the flip side, 76 percent said they feel more stimulated by the work and 77 percent said freelancing has given them more time for the people and things they care most about.

“The Freelancing in America survey remains a touchstone in for anyone interested in the true measure of freelance work in the U.S. today,” said Louis Hyman, Director of the Institute for Workplace Studies at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. “As a collaboration between Upwork and Freelancers Union, it is an interpretation from both sides of the client-freelancer.”

“Freelancers play a critical role in our economy and shaping the future of work,” said Stephanie Kasriel, president and CEO of Upwork. “Despite an economic boom that has created a record number of full-time, 9-to-5 openings, Americans are increasingly choosing to freelance.”

She notes that technology is freeing people from the time and place work constraints that are no longer necessary for today’s mostly knowledge-based work: “This year’s results reveal that most workers prioritize lifestyle over earnings, but freelancers are much more likely to attain the life they want.”

Kasriel believes professionals with the most in-demand skills will increasingly choose to freelance.

“The 2018 Freelancing in America report demonstrates the remarkable growth of the freelance workforce over the past five years,” said Caitlin Pearce, Executive Director of Freelancers Union. “Freelancers are the backbone of our economy, but this crucial segment of America’s workforce faces unique challenges, including access to affordable healthcare and workforce development training to update skills in a competitive environment.”

About Upwork

Upwork is the largest global freelancing website. It enables businesses to find and work with highly skilled freelancers and is freeing professionals everywhere from having to work at a set time and place. Upwork is based in Mountain View, California and has offices in San Francisco and Chicago.

About Freelancers Union

Freelancers Union is the largest and fast-growing organization representing the millions of independent workers across the country. It gives its 400,000 members a voice through policy advocacy, benefits, and community. 

Practical Advice on Managing Your Freelance Business

One big hurdle that new freelance professionals face is learning how to build a steady, livable income. Part of the process involves finding ways to minimize the amount of non-billable hours spent on necessary tasks such as marketing, sales, accounting, and administration.  These were some issues that speakers addressed at the International Freelancer’s Day (IFD) Conference on September 21.

“You have to be good at every aspect of your business when you’re starting your business up—especially if you’re a solopreneur,” said Danielle LaPorte, author of the book “The Fire Starter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide for Creating Success on Your Own Terms.” Even if you must handle everything yourself for the first 12 to 24 months in business, micromanaging every aspect of your business is not likely to make you happy in the long run.

“Your goal is to work yourself into a place where 80% of your time is spent doing things that are your true strengths–the things that are lighting you up, the things that make you feel almost guilty that you are getting paid to do them because they come so naturally and easily,” said LaPorte.  Practices implemented during your first years in business will determine how quickly you reach the point at which you can comfortably outsource some of the business-management tasks.

Two business skills that don’t always come naturally to freelancers are negotiating for reasonable pay and efficiently writing business proposals. During the International Freelancer Day Conference, these topics were addressed by Carol Tice and Ilse Benun.

Setting and Negotiating Prices

Carol Tice is an experienced freelance writer who publishes the “Make a Living as a Writer” blog.  She teaches e-courses, and offers an e-book entitled, “Make a Living Writing: A 21st Century Guide.” During the IFD conference, she talked about pricing your work and offered 13 negotiating strategies that can help you earn more.

“The issue of what to charge as a freelancer is a tough one, because there is no such thing as a going rate in freelancing,” says Tice. “Clients are different, situations are different, topics are different, deadlines are different, and rates a very customizable and variable.”

She said a lot of negotiations go wrong because freelancers fail to nail down the details of the job: “Freelancers tend to get really excited and jump on the offer before getting a lot of questions answered about what is going to be involved.” Find out more about parameters of the project, the goals, and how it will be executed. Get a sense of how many people you will need to interview to get the information, and how many people will review your work.

Then, just ask the client what they are considering spending for the freelance assignment.  If their budget is far too low for the amount of time involved, don’t be afraid to turn down the job.

“It’s key to your overall rate not to let low payers suck up a lot of your time,” said Tice. “And the quickest route to finding out whether this is a client that pays a professional rate is to just ask them.” If they won’t share that information with you, you can find a range of prices in publications such as Writer’s Market. You can also ask around in online freelancers groups.

She urged freelancers to stay alert for potential problem clients: “The woods are just full of dysfunctional companies who would like freelancers to be available 24/7 on instant messaging. These are really needy clients and often they also do not pay well.”

She acknowledges that it’s often difficult to tell a potential client that you don’t want their money, but she reminded attendees that, “Every time you take an assignment, you’re taking marketing time off the table. If the assignment doesn’t pay enough, you’ve sacrificed the chance to use that time to find a better client.”

Once you’ve come to agreement about what you will do and what you will be paid for it, put together a contract that puts it in writing. It doesn’t have to be formal, but it’s important to get something in writing that outlines the gist of your agreement and defines when you will get paid.  You can put the agreement in an e-mail and ask your client to respond with “I agree.”

You can find plenty of additional advice on Carol Tice’s “Make a Living Writing” blog. Subscribers to the blog get a free 20-week e-course entitled “Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers.”  Also check out the guest post she wrote for the Copyblogger blog. That post lists 40 questions you need to ask every potential copywriting client.


Make a Living Writing

Copyblogger: 40 Questions You Need to Ask Every Copywriting Client

Writing Proposals

In her presentation “Anatomy of Winning Proposals,” Ilse Benun of Marketing Mentor explained why proposals should be considered selling tools and must do the best possible job of persuading your prospect that you are the best person for their project.  Using project-winning proposals as examples, she highlighted some of the elements that make proposals stand out.

Benun described four types of proposals freelancers can use, keeping in mind that each proposal must be tailored to the type of project, the type of client, and how well you know the client.

  • A one-page agreement is essentially a confirmation letter that puts in writing what you have already discussed with the client.
  • A small proposal (1-3 pages) could be sent as a long e-mail. Use this type of proposal if the client is already sold on you, but just wants more details about how you will go about it.
  • A medium proposal (4-10 pages) is recommended for large projects, or projects in which your contact may need to persuade others in his organization that you are the right person to handle the project.
  • A long proposal (10-20 pages) can take a couple of days to write and should include lots of relevant examples that demonstrate your experience and knowledge. Use these proposals only for major projects with ideal clients and for higher-fee projects that you are fairly confident that you will win.

Each proposal needs five things:

  • a project description
  • deliverables
  • price ranges
  • a timetable
  • a sign-off sheet.

Optional elements include:

  • work samples
  • relevant work samples
  • images that represent your process
  • client references
  • information about your firm
  • details about the people who will be involved in the process.

“Keep in mind that the proposal document isn’t the only element in a winning proposal,” said Benun. “How you present it is important, too.”

To see some of the examples Benun described in her presentation, order her proposal bundles for Designers and Copywriters. Each bundle includes 11 samples of winning proposals, plus additional tips for writing and presenting proposals.

Marketing Mentor specializes in helping creative professionals learn how to get the type of work they want. On the site, you can find a variety of resources related to marketing, pricing, and closing the sale.


Designer’s Proposal Bundle: 25 Resources for Project-Winning Proposals

Copywriter’s Proposal Bundle: 25 Resources for Project-Winning Proposals

Marketing Mentor

Freelancers Can Thrive in New Era of Independent Workers

Plenty of opportunities await professionals who aspire to the flexibility and independence of freelancing. That was the theme of the keynote presentation delivered by Erik Vonk, during the 2012 International Freelancer’s Day Conference held online by the International Freelancer Academy.

Vonk is CEO of Back of The House, a privately held company that offers portable health, retirement, and liability protection to independent professionals. The firm also can handle distracting administrative, accounting, tax, and IT tasks for solopreneurs. Vonk’s speech was titled “How to Thrive as a Free Agent in the Upcoming Era of Independent Work Arrangements.”

The growth of global commerce, online communications, changing demographics, and the speed of technological change have created both confusion and opportunity. In addition, these mega-trends are creating an increasingly dynamic workforce, said Vonk.

Exchanging our competencies for income today is no longer tied to a specific job with a specific employer. Since 1980, the percentage of people who work independently or on a contract or project basis has more than doubled, rising from around 15% in 1980 to 31% in 2011.  Over the same period, the average length of time a person held a specific job has declined from about 15 years to less than 4 years.

“So there’s nothing permanent about work anymore,” observed Vonk. Now that organizations are under pressure to have access to talent and competencies on an as-needed basis, he said, “It no longer makes sense for organizations to make open-ended commitments to workers.”

To replace fixed employment costs with the variable expenses associated with contract workers, many companies now use their business plans to determine what kinds of employees they will need and for how long.

To Vonk, this progression is simply part of societal evolution. The way work worked in the past was steeped in the evolution from an agricultural era to the industrial era. In the industrial era, professionals were all dependent on the employer. As workers, our identities, status, security, and destiny in life were all tied to our place of work. As we have evolved through the information age, our identities as workers have become further and further detached from our place of work, and more attached to ourselves, as individuals.

“And that is where we are today, in the conceptual age, where worker identity is attached to the self,” said Vonk. “The worker has become global and independent, and no longer attached and dependent.”

During the heyday of permanent employment, freelancing was often regarded as something to be tolerated if you happened to find yourself between jobs. Freelance work started to become more desirable as people wanted the flexibility to design their work schedules around family life, travel, and personal interests. Now, independent work is becoming something that more and more people are aspiring to.

Vonk acknowledged that some misperceptions still exist about what the U.S. government still calls “the contingent workforce.” The Back of the House website includes a list of Ten Myths and Realities regarding taxes, terminology, and employee quality and loyalty.  He advised freelancers to educate themselves about these issues, and discuss them when negotiating contracts for new assignments.

“For all of us who work independently or have plans to work independently,” said Vonk. “This is the era in which to do it.”


International Freelancers Day Conference

Ten Myths and Realities about Contingent Work Arrangements

About Back of The House

Online Design College Offers Business Skills for Freelancers

Freelancing is very prominent within the design industry. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 29% of graphic designers are self-employed, along with up to 59% of individuals working in digital arts, multimedia, and animation. Unfortunately, many design programs do little to prepare students to run their own businesses.

Recognizing that entrepreneurial training is an essential part of preparing design professionals, Sessions College has introduced a new concentration to their certificate program curricula: Design Business.

“The Design Business concentration helps students prepare for careers and freelance work through identity building, portfolio design, online marketing, and self-promotion,” states Sessions College Chief Academic Officer Tara MacKay. “Pairing this concentration with a certificate program gives students a great foundation for entrepreneurship in a creative environment.”

Cover of Sessions College Brochure

This new concentration, along with 13 other design concentrations, can be added to any of the 7 available certificate programs at the Professional or Advanced levels. Using this range of options, students can build a strong foundation in visual design while gaining skills in a variety of design subjects; preparing them to fill a niche of their choosing within the design industry and increasing their potential for success.

Sessions College® for Professional Design is a fully online college of design. Sessions College offers accredited visual arts degree and certificate programs in fields such as graphic design, web design, multimedia arts, and game arts. The college also offers a wide selection of  individual courses, including layout design, logo design, digital photography, digital video production, digital video editing, figure drawing, Photoshop for game artists, and photo retouching.

To prepare art and design professionals for successful careers, Sessions College provides a thorough training in the technical, creative, and critical-thinking skills required for a fast-changing industry.


Sessions College for Professional Design

Courses in the Design Business concentration

Accredited Visual Arts Degree and Certificate Programs

Brochure (PDF): Sessions College of Design


Online Employment Report Shows Growing Demand for Creative Skills

In its “Global Online Employment Report – Q1 2012,” Elance notes a significant rise in the demand for online workers with creative skills in design, multimedia, and writing.

According to report, “The rise in creative jobs has been driven by consumer demand for video, audio and visuals and by marketers incorporating this content into marketing and social media strategies. Graphic design jobs are now the second most demanded skill on Elance, and other skills in this category increased substantially in Q1, including: video production (+68%), video editing (+56%), audio editing (+52%) and voiceover (+48%).”

In Q1 2012, 42% of the jobs posted on Elance were in the “Creative” category. Source: Elance Global Online Employment Report

Compared to last quarter, the demand for creative skills was up 32%. Within this category, the skills most in demand were web design (+101%), Photoshop (+71%), graphic design (+70%), video production (+68%), and content writing (+56%).

The online employment report notes that “The Online Employment Industry shows no signs of slowing. During the recession, companies turned to freelance labor to control costs and manage uncertainty. Now, as the economy rebounds, demand has continued, driven by small business hiring, and talent opting to work online.” The analysts also see a fundamental shift in how enterprises are using online workers in their workforce strategy.


Press Release: New Global Employment Report Highlights Online Work Trends

Elance Global Online Employment Report – Q1 2012

About Elance

Survey Shows Companies Plan to Spend More on Social Media

In a new survey by The Creative Group, more than half (53 percent) of advertising and marketing executives interviewed said they expect companies to increase their investment in Facebook this year. Respondents also anticipate more marketing dollars will be channeled toward Twitter (43 percent), Google+ (41 percent), LinkedIn (38 percent) and YouTube (36 percent).

The national survey was developed by The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service for interactive, design, marketing, advertising and public relations professionals. It was conducted by an independent research firm. The survey results are based on more than 500 telephone interviews — approximately 375 with marketing executives randomly selected from companies with 100 or more employees and 125 with advertising executives randomly selected from agencies with 20 or more employees.

When advertising and marketing executives were asked, “Do you anticipate that companies will increase or decrease their advertising/marketing investment in the following social media sites in 2012?,” their responses were as follows:

“Companies recognize the powerful role social media can play in brand building, and they are willing to invest in initiatives that can help them increase customer engagement,” said Donna Farrugia, executive director of The Creative Group. “As platforms like Facebook continue to evolve, it’s especially important for businesses to keep pace.”

Added Farrugia, “Although companies plan to spend more on social media, finding the talent needed to oversee these programs can pose a challenge. Bringing in freelancers who have worked on successful social media initiatives can be helpful, since these professionals can not only develop and implement strategies but also impart their expertise to core team members during the process.”


 About The Creative Group

What’s Next for Creatives? A Tale of Two Videos

Now that everyone can create and distribute their own books, recordings, films, photographs, and art, is this the best of times for creative professionals? Or is it the worst of times?

Below are links to two videos that address these questions in slightly different ways. “PressPausePlay,” by the creative agency House of Radon, looks at how digital technology has affected filmmaking, music production, and photography.  “Creative Collision: Where Do We Go From Here” was produced by Agency Access to help photographers and illustrators better understand what potential customers want.


I first learned about this video while reading the “Beyond the Lens” blog of Robert Rodriguez, Jr., a former music producer who now makes his living as a landscape photographer and photography workshop instructor. In his post entitled “The Digital Revolution and the Impact on Photography,” Rodriguez wondered how we separate the good from the great in an era in which everyone has affordable access to the tools to be an artist: “We all have access to the gear and technology, therefore getting the next best lens or camera body, or improving your HDR skills is not necessarily going to help you say something meaningful.”

PressPausePlay from House of Radon on Vimeo.

In PressPausePlay, one grumpy critic complains that a lot of the work being produced and posted online is nothing more than “digital masturbation” that forces all of us to wade through a lot of garbage to find what we like.

Other commenters are less harsh, noting that “Everyone’s equally excited and afraid.” It’s wonderful that we call have the tools to express ourselves, but if we want to make a living as a creative pro, it has become much harder to break through.

The mystery of how books, records, and films are produced has disappeared, and production steps that once took months to accomplish can be done in minutes.

Personally, I agree with the observer on PressPausePlay who emphasizes that “The artist comes after the technology.” He cited Jimi Hendrix as a creative who demonstrated what could be done with an electric guitar.

I have watched many creative pros experiment with new technologies over the years. Those who have thrived have been those with a genuine curiosity about testing the limits of the new technology. They also have confidence in their vision and the perseverance to keep putting themselves and their new work out there until they connect with people who really appreciate their work.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The PR people from Agency Access called my attention to this video. Agency Access provides direct-marketing support to photographers and illustrators who don’t have the time (or desire) to actively promote themselves to the extent that it is required today.

Creative Collision: Where Do We Go From Here? from Agency Access on Vimeo.

This video was produced in response to a question raised by one of their customers: Where is the industry headed?

Kelly O’Keefe, professor at VCU Brandcenter notes that “Most enlightened creatives have an understanding that doing fewer, simpler, more impressive pieces will make your recognition grow faster than doing hundreds and hundreds of things.” He pointed out that Steve Jobs sold to Disney for $7.4 billion after Pixar had only made 6 movies—all of them hits.

“We will be best remembered as creatives based on a few great pieces and not on a huge body of work.” says O’Keefe. He urges creatives to focus time and attention on those few pieces, make them relevant, and make them stand out.

Cabell Harris of Work Labs notes that many people wonder “Where is the industry going?” But he admits that, “I don’t even know what the industry is.”

He’s not alone. Technology is transforming publishing, marketing, communications, and entertainment in ways that are both scary and exciting. So far, no one seems to know for sure what the formula for success in any of these fields will be.

Harris agrees that it’s great that every creative pro can now go into business for themselves. But, he says, “It’s important that you promote yourself, and do things that you are interested in and are proud of, and become your own judge.” He emphasizes that, “You have to be inventive, start fulfilling some needs, but you also have to have some fun.  No one does good work unless they have fun at what they are doing.”


Robert Rodriguez Jr.: Beyond the Lens Blog

About Agency Access

About House of Radon