Debunking the common misconceptions of freelancing

Debunking the common misconceptions of freelancing
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Research shows the majority of freelancers love their work


There are a lot of misconceptions about freelancing. Often, people assume the life of a freelancer is filled with boring work without the benefits that accompany traditional employment.

Yet this picture doesn’t match reality. Most freelancers enjoy their work and value the autonomy of the freelance life. They see how freelancing offers both quality work and a quality of life not always found in traditional employment.

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Field Nation has talked to a lot of freelancers about their work and what motivates them. In 2014, we surveyed hundreds of freelancers for our study “The New Face of the American Workforce,” and we spoke to nearly 1,000 freelancers for our report, “The Rise of the Blended Workforce In the New Gig Economy.”

Our research shows us that the vast majority of freelancers love their work. Here are some common misconceptions about freelance work and what the research actually shows.

Misconception: Freelancers are forced into freelance work

Reality: Freelancers choose to work independently

There is no question that in today’s economy, it is tough to find meaningful work. Even after landing a job, it is unlikely to last forever. Recent graduates can expect to have 10 times as many jobs as baby boomers.

Given this instability, it is understandable many people assume freelancers fall into independent and contract work because there are no better options. Yet when we asked them, 88 percent of freelancers surveyed said they choose to freelance.

Of those who opted to freelance, 94 percent said they did so because they wanted to better control their own future, use their talents and simply take control of their careers. In other words, they valued the autonomy they had in their freelance professions.

So, while external economic forces are a factor for some, their importance has often been overstated. Simply put, the majority of freelancers choose their independent lifestyle.

Misconception: Freelancers would prefer to be traditionally employed

Reality: Freelancers say freelancing or being a small business owner is their ideal employment situation

There is a perception of freelancers getting by on contract work until they can land a stable job, yet the truth is nearly three quarters (74 percent) of freelancers say their ideal employment situation is freelancing or small business ownership rather than a traditional job.

The same amount of freelancers (73 percent) said contract work and freelancing was their primary income, with only 4 percent stating it was temporary income while they searched for a job. This debunks the myth of the moonlighter who works on side projects while employed full-time. Rather, the majority of freelancers see themselves as full-time business owners and entrepreneurs who are invested in their business and its growth.

Misconception: People with traditional employment are more satisfied with their jobs

Reality: Freelancers enjoy their work far more than their traditionally employed counterparts

If you’re searching for people who love their jobs, you will be hard-pressed to find workers more satisfied than freelancers. An astounding 97 percent of freelancers said they were satisfied with what they do on a day-to-day basis, and 95 percent reported they were satisfied or very satisfied with their career.  

This aligns with what we know about job and personal satisfaction. The science of motivation tells us autonomy is an incredible driver of personal satisfaction. Much more than the traditionally employed, freelancers have a large degree of autonomy in their working lives, and their job satisfaction levels reflect that.

According to one freelance web developer, being the boss makes him more proud of and engaged with his work: “Without a boss that I can hide under, I have more direct ownership of what I produce—which leads to a higher engagement with my work.”

Misconception: Freelancers make less than a traditionally employed worker

Reality: Many freelancers make as much or more than when they were full-time employees

Many factors influence freelancers’ earnings, including industry and number of years spent freelancing. Yet when we asked contractors and freelancers, we learned 72 percent of freelancers surveyed earn as much or more than they did when traditionally employed.

Of those who earn less than when traditionally employed, some have chosen to make less money in exchange for greater freedom and flexibility. In particular, millennials see a huge advantage to trading in the grind of the regular nine-to-five job for the freedom of a freelance life, even if there is a slight decrease in earnings. They value being able to fit their work around their life, rather than vice versa.

As one young entrepreneur with a daughter and a sick mother-in-law told us, he needed a job that would allow him to stay home and tend to his family’s needs. “Being able to make my own schedule helped me be there for my family.”

Put all of this together and it paints a powerful picture. The reality is that:

  • Freelancers choose to freelance.

  • Freelancers say freelancing or being a small business owner is their ideal employment situation.

  • Freelancers love their work.

  • Many freelancers make as much or more than when employed full-time.

  • Freelancers experience a high degree of autonomy and flexibility in their work.

Given how much freelancers enjoy their work, it makes sense that companies enjoy working with freelancers. When we asked them in 2015, three quarters of high-performing organizations intended to hire more freelancers this year. They have recognized that working with skilled, motivated freelancers who are passionate about their work helps their companies perform better.

With the high levels of satisfaction, confidence and motivation that freelancers experience in their work, it is not surprising that more and more people see freelancing as a viable option. Estimates show that by 2020, freelancers may make up as much of 40 percent of the workforce. It will be exciting to see how our economy and society is revolutionized when so many Americans experience the freedom and autonomy that freelance life provides.

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