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Work Reimagined: Freelancers Find More and More Gigs Online

26 Nov 2015 by Susie Steckner

Technology is constantly evolving — not unlike a living organism. It isn’t static. It isn’t constant. That makes it disruptive. Businesses, even niche businesses, often forget to, or choose not to, evolve with technology and are turned upside down — because their products, their policies, their customer interface becomes, simply put, outdated. We live in a consumer-driven world, and we are often drawn to technology everything — from convenience to novelty. This is Insight’s Disruptive Technology series. We will be addressing how technology enters an industry and does exactly that — disrupts.

A designer creates a logo. A virtual assistant handles e-mails and calls. A strategist helps build a brand. An operations manager keeps projects on track. All as freelancers.

Freelance work, once the domain of writers and editors, has exploded to include an almost unending list of professionals who are choosing to work for themselves and seek out gigs online.

They locate opportunities quickly and easily through a range of sites built around the freelance marketplace. They find work across town or across the globe. They take on projects and complete work entirely online, and then move onto the next gig.

“The Internet and social networking have revolutionized how to find and access work,” according to the survey, “Freelancing in America.”

Among the findings from the 2015 survey:

  • Nearly 54 million Americans are working as freelancers, roughly 34% of the U.S. workforce. That’s up from 42 million “contingent workers” identified a decade ago by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
  • About 73% said technology has made it easier to find work, up from 69% the previous year. More than half, about 51%, said they found a project online. Just over 70% said it typically takes less than a week to do so.
  • About 50 percent said they won’t consider quitting freelancing to take a traditional job, no matter what it pays.

Reinventing work

Freelancers say they are joining the marketplace for a range of reasons: the ability to set their own schedules and salaries, the challenge of working on different types of projects, the opportunity to pursue a passion, the flexibility to work from home and more.

Freelancers also see more stability with four clients rather than with one boss, helping “diversify financial risk,” according to a new report by MBO Partners, “State of Independence in America.”

In fact, nearly 80% of freelancers are happier being self-employed, the report says.

And while freelancing has long been seen as a “feast or famine” career, today’s freelance marketplace offers workers a wide range of opportunities for full-time, part-time and pocket-money work. Creatives can pick up $5 gigs through Fiverr. Accountants can find outsourced work during busy tax seasons. And consultants take on multiple projects for a 40-hour work week.

According to the MBO Partners report, one in four freelancers are earning more than $75,000 annually. Most earn in the $25,000-$75,000 range.

Help wanted

The ability to quickly and easily find jobs online is drawing people to the marketplace in huge numbers — whether T-shirt designer or tech consultant. The sites are largely free to use, with some paid premium features, and they offer millions of opportunities to users.

Freelancers can find dozens of sites with postings for a range of general opportunities —  everything from developing mobile apps and boosting ETSY shops, to guiding business strategy. Leaders like Upwork, Guru and Freelancer boast millions of registered freelancers around the world seeking online gigs.

Sites also cater to specific professions. DesignCrowd, for instance, draws creatives for jobs that run the gamut from website design to logo creation. Rev targets freelancers who can provide on-demand transcription services.

This freelance marketplace is only expected to grow. About 34% of freelancers surveyed in “Freelancing in America” said they saw an increased demand for their services during the past year.

And, of course, this kind of marketplace has become the rule rather than the exception for millennials, “many of whom have spent their entire working lives in this freelance era,” according to the survey.

What’s ahead

Flexibility and choice. This will continue driving the marketplace.

About 60% of freelancers surveyed in “Freelancing in America” said they turned to freelancing more by choice than necessity, up about 7% from last year.

“Freelancers are pioneering a new approach to work and life — one that prioritizes family, friends and life experiences over the 9-5 rat race,” according to Sara Horowitz, founder and executive director of the Freelancers Union, a partner in the study.