Two Surveys Give Differing Perspectives of Freelancing

Fruit baskets
Image courtesy of Hubspot

What is it really like to work as a freelance professional? It seems many Americans are gravitating toward that kind of work lifestyle these days. According to the 2018 Freelancing in America survey by Upwork, nearly 57 million Americans worked as a contractor or freelancer in 2018, making up roughly 35 percent of the workforce. That percentage is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2027.

In Upwork’s survey, a majority of freelance workers work independently by choice, not out of necessity. While many freelancers surveyed admit they earn less money, they also enjoy better work-life balance (77 percent).

With so many freelance professionals flooding the workforce, it might be helpful to learn more about this independent work arrangement. What is so appealing about working  freelance? What are the pros and cons? What type of work do they do? How do they find clients? What are the benefits and challenges?

A survey by Flexjobs.com of 1,000 flex workers and freelancers provides some valuable insights, including some that are surprising and unexpected.

According to Flexjobs, the typical worker whose freelance work is their sole source of income is a female, generation Xer working in the marketing, editing, writing and creative career fields, primarily for small companies and individuals and juggling two to three clients at one time. She has been freelancing for at least three years and plans to continue freelancing for the long-term.

Interestingly, that conflicts with the Upwork survey, which indicates that Millennials and Generation Z workers are the driving force behind freelance work. I suspect that many of Upwork’s estimated 12 million site users fall into those demographics, while Flexjobs’ users are older, more experienced professionals.

Flexjobs reports that while 45 percent of respondents have been freelancing at least three years, 38 percent have been doing so for less than one year. That’s an awful lot of newbies in the market. Interestingly, that percentage dips to 18 percent for one to two years. My guess is the drop off occurs because the newcomers have decided to return to full-time work or that the first year of freelance was to test the waters.

While most freelancers work in multiple fields, the highest percentage are writers (29 percent) followed by customer service professionals (23 percent) and administrative professionals (21 percent). While writing is still considered a valued skill by employers, it seems they’d rather hire them out on a project basis than full-time.

Roughly 24 percent report that their work is a combination of freelance and employee jobs while 45 percent choose to freelance full-time. While 39 percent of freelancers work between 21 and 40 hours per week, 35 percent work less than 20 hours a week. I suspect those working fewer hours are new to freelancing and have yet to build up a steady client base. Or perhaps they choose to work freelance on a part-time basis.

More than half of respondents said they found gigs through networking (56 percent) and from job sites (47 percent). While you would think large companies would be the source of most assignments, that isn’t the case. Instead, most freelancers work for other individuals (56 percent) followed by small companies (46 percent), and mid-sized companies (30 percent). Freelancers worked for large companies only 17 percent of the time. The takeaway from this is if you want to find work, the best sources will be other professionals or small businesses.

Another surprising tidbit: Three-fourths of freelancers do not have a website to support their freelance business. If your work is good and you perform client assignments well, word gets around. Clients will find you. Don’t underestimate the power of a strong referral. A website may not be as necessary for your long-term freelance success as you might believe.

The biggest benefits of being a freelancer are flexible schedule (84 percent), work-life balance (66 percent), freedom to work where they choose (61 percent) and no commuting (60 percent). The desire to be your own boss was cited the least (49 percent)

The biggest challenges for many freelancers are finding clients, cited by 65 percent, and having a steady income, cited by 64 percent. That’s nothing new. Despite the romanticized view of freelancing, often by traditional employees working 60-hour work weeks, freelancing is hard work. One critic of the Upwork survey and the rosy picture it painted of the freelance industry said this: “People who don’t have to freelance love to romanticize freelancing – the actual truth is that making a living as a freelancer is harder than hard and sucks a ton of the time.”

Bottom line: Not everyone is cut out to be a freelancer or entrepreneur.

Despite the challenges, two-thirds of freelancers in the Flexjobs survey reported a better overall quality of life. Sixty percent said freelancing helped them become healthier, 66 percent are less stressed than when they worked in a traditional job and 59 percent are less financially stressed.

Anyone considering freelancing needs to consider the good, bad and the ugly side of the business. For all its outward glamour, the freelancing lifestyle still requires a lot of hard work just to make half of what you earned in a steady gig. Upwork may boast 12 million freelancers using the site, but only 400,000 of them actually earned money in 2018, says Stephane Kasriel, Upwork’s founder.

“Like any business to be successful, specific competencies are required, and our most successful freelancers are painstakingly aware of what they need to do to remain successful. That means having and investing in the right technical skills. But it also means having the right entrepreneurial skills, the ability to sell, deliver, evolve your skills and keep improving over time,” says Kasriel in a Forbes interview.

Which might explain why so many freelancers and small businesses struggle within the first year. Freelancers don’t think about the extra time and work involved to evolve their skills or to sell their services when they set up shop. It’s important to think about these factors when considering joining the freelance movement.

Tips for Creating Work-Life Balance as a Freelancer

equality-1245576_1280
Image courtesy of Pixabay


When you work as a freelancer or independent contractor, you are your own boss. You can set your own schedule, goals and priorities. You can take time off when you want to. You have more freedom. 

Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

But the fantasy rarely lives up to reality. More often than not, that self-imposed schedule and responsibility can get out of hand if you’re not careful. While it doesn’t happen often, freelance work can result in forty-hour plus workweeks. For many freelancers, the opposite is true. There isn’t enough work and they’re scrambling to find new clients. Constant fear and worry can nag at you about making ends meet or getting clients to pay on a timely basis.

When you work for yourself, it’s easy to focus more on your clients than your own family. Even more than your own well-being. It’s easy to lose track of your schedule. It’s easy to forget that you have a social life.

But take heart. There is hope for all freelancers. According to the 2018 freelancer survey by Upwork, 77 percent of full-time freelancers reported having a better work-life balance since becoming self-employed. It is possible to achieve that balance. But like everything else, you have to work at it, and you have to plan for it.

Having work-life balance is critical for your well-being for several reasons. It helps prevent burnout so you won’t feel overwhelmed by all your responsibilities. It helps you feel more energized and refreshed so you can face each new challenge. It helps clear your head so you can think more clearly.

pexels-photo-459971.jpeg

Once you decide to begin working for yourself, it’s important to establish work-life balance early on in your freelance career. When you shift from a full-time job with a fairly set schedule to not having a set schedule at all, it can be easy to lose your sense of balance. As your own boss, it’s up to you set create that balance. Make it a part of your business planning. But how do you do it?

Here are a few ideas to help you create more work-life balance in your freelance career:

1. Set a regular work schedule. Establish consistent work hours and stick to them. If you worked a nine-to-five job previously, establish a similar type of schedule when you first start out. Make sure you give yourself two days off each week. Setting up a regular schedule with two off days keeps you in a routine that you can sustain.

2. Stay connected with family and friends. When you work for yourself, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing you are alone. That’s not true. No matter how busy you are setting up your business and pursuing new clients, don’t forget about your family and friends. They are your support system, and they can give you proper perspective when business gets too hectic or if things don’t go as smoothly as you planned.

3. Don’t be afraid to say no. No to assignments that would be a waste of your talents, no to outside obligations until you meet your deadline, no to clients who don’t pay on time or change their requirements. Know your limits. Know when you’ve had too much on your plate. Pass on the assignment or refer to another professional.

4. Keep your calendar organized. Keep all appointments in one place, both personal and professional so you don’t accidentally overbook yourself. Also set clear goals and priorities and list them in your calendar as a quick reminder of your obligations.

5. Detach and disconnect from devices. Information comes at us 24/7 via our devices, social media, computers and TV screens. It can be difficult to shut it out. It’s up to you to do that. Set aside a day or a weekend to do a digital detox. It might be helpful to put those detox dates in your calendar.

6. Set up a “fun” account. Small Business Trends, an online publication about small business practices, suggests setting up a separate bank account to be used solely for fun activities. As you get paid from clients, set aside a set amount into this fun account so you have money to splurge on that weekend spa getaway or ski trip you’ve had your eye on.

7. Practice self-care. To be your best for clients, you need to live healthily, suggests experts at FilterGrade.com. Eat properly, get proper sleep, practice meditation and yoga, or take long walks. Do anything you can to clear your mind and center yourself.

8. Keep up with personal interests. Maintain your hobbies, whether that’s playing tennis, reading the latest best-seller or attending concerts. Volunteer with your favorite cause. Sometimes when you spend time with those less fortunate, it puts your own troubles into perspective.

Whether you’ve been freelancing for for some time or are just starting on your journey, setting aside time for yourself is as critical to your success as helping your clients. When you work for yourself, it’s up to you to make work-life balance a priority.

Related Articles
7 Strategies for a Better Work-Life Balance in the Freelance Economy, Forbes
Here’s Why the Freelance Economy is On The Rise, Fast Company

Why Vacations Matter for Your Professional Life

cell-1344985_1280

Yes, Virginia, you are allowed to take a summer vacation.

The long Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer, and the start of summer vacation season. But many American workers are likely to forego any summer plans. For some it is because it costs too much to pack up the kids and the dog and head to far-off destinations. For others, work calls for them to stay close to home and to their jobs. If you’re one of these workers skipping your summer vacation because you are tethered to your job, you are not alone.

According to a 2017 survey by employment website Glassdoor, 66 percent of American workers report working when they take a vacation, up from 61 percent in 2014. Fewer employees are able to completely “check out” while on vacation (54 percent in 2017 versus 63 percent in 2014).

Even when they were able to take time off, 27 percent of workers said they were expected to stay aware of work issues and get involved if a problem arose, and 12 percent were expected to be reachable by phone or email, deliver work projects and participate in conference calls while on vacation.

Much of this has to do with technology, which has enabled people to work anywhere and at any time. But it also makes it difficult to shut down and unplug ourselves, to truly unwind and relax. Most employers give their workers earned time off for a reason – to regroup mentally, emotionally and physically so they can return to work refreshed and avoid burnout.

But not everyone takes advantage of this employee benefit. We should though. Science says so. A 2016 study by the University of California-San Francisco and Harvard University finds that taking a vacation for one full week brings about genetic changes in our body that reduces stress and boosts the immune system, and the mood-enhancing benefits can last up to 30 days.

To get that mood-enhancing benefit, you have to take the time out for yourself. You need to give yourself permission to take a vacation. No one is going to force you to take it. It’s all about setting boundaries to your work life.

The key, say scientists, is to do it right. Yes, apparently, there is a right way and wrong way to take a summer vacation. According to small business expert Barry Moltz, here are a few suggestions for getting the most out of your summer vacation.

1. Make a plan. Put it on your calendar. Browse destination websites and brochures and learn about places you plan to visit. Just by researching and looking at travel images can boost your mood – before you have even begun your vacation.

2. Keep it simple. Don’t try to cram every activity into every day. Keep your schedule loose, and allow time to just “veg out.” There’s nothing wrong with doing nothing. That’s what vacations are for.

3. Break free of patterns. Try something different that can get you out of your comfort zone. For example, try disconnecting from electronic devices and talk to people you are traveling with, or sleep in until 8 a.m. if you are used to waking up at 5 a.m. When you change up your routine on vacation, see what creative ideas come up.

4. Seek out blue spaces, like bodies of water. Blue is associated with calmness and leads to lower levels of stress, according to researchers. I would also seek out green areas too, which is grounding and calming. Think public parks and golf courses.

5. End your vacation on a positive note. Enjoy a romantic dinner for two or plan a fun adventure, like sky diving or zip lining. People tend to remember their vacations more favorably if it ends on a high note.

With these suggestions, there’s no reason to skip a summer vacation. When you do it right, you’ll come back to the office more refreshed and energized. Your bosses will thank you, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

Have a safe and relaxing holiday weekend!

The Search for Motivation and Passion in Your Work

snail-83672_1280

Many years ago, I attended a professional workshop led by a woman who ran her own communications agency. During the event, she admitted to putting in some long hours for her business. Someone in the group asked, “Do you mind working longer hours? Is it worth it to have your own business?” The woman replied, “I love what I do, so I don’t mind working longer hours.”

She is one of the lucky people who found a career that they were passionate about. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all find that passion?

But not everyone is as lucky as this business owner. Most of us strive each day to find the drive to keep going, keep searching, and keep reaching for our goals. For many of us, just waking up and getting out of bed in the morning is a major achievement.

As I watched the Summer Olympics in Rio few weeks ago, I was struck by the notion of performing our best when there isn’t a whole lot expected of you. With more than 10,000 athletes participating in the Summer Games, only a handful were expected to contend for a medal. How do you compete when you know you probably won’t win? How do you motivate yourself to stay positive, to keep going, to keep driving towards the finish line?

Consider the performance of Oksana Chusovitina, the 41-year old gymnast from the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, who appeared at her seventh Olympic Games. She competed  only in the vault contest and was not expected to medal, but she was thrilled to participate because she loved the sport of gymnastics so much.

Finding that one thing you love so much, that you are so passionate about, is the key to staying motivated. When you love what you do, you are more willing to make sacrifices to achieve your goals. When you love what you do, time stands still, and you find yourself living in the moment. When you love what you do, working longer hours is never an issue.

Sometimes motivation is driven by an inner goal that you set for yourself, one that is not obvious to others. It’s not necessarily about winning the race as it is about finishing it. Finishing the race is as much an accomplishment as winning. You know you’ve found your motivation, your passion when your brain is on fire with ideas and your heart is wholly engaged.

So whether you are a manager, a writer or an athlete, ask yourself today, “What is my motivation? What keeps me motivated to perform my best?”

It could be the love of your family that drives your performance. It could be the desire to one day publish a book or get a byline in a magazine. Or it could be the satisfaction of seeing others that you coach achieve their best.

More important, ask yourself “How do I perform when there isn’t a lot expected of me, when I’m not expected to win a prize or be the best? How do I perform when I don’t expect a lot from myself?”

If you don’t expect the best from yourself, how will others expect the best from you? And how will you be able to perform your best if you don’t believe in yourself? Belief in yourself is the most powerful motivation. Believe in yourself, and others will believe in you too.