Why So Many Americans Prefer the Freelance Lifestyle

More than 55 million Americans are freelancers — a full 35 percent of our workforce, according to the 2016 Freelancing in America report from the Freelancers Union and UpWork. The freelance economy has added two million workers since 2014.

Why do they do it? Most freelancers (63 percent) are in it by choice, the study reports. They feel good about their role and don’t miss traditional employment. In fact, they are significantly more likely than non-freelancers to feel respected, engaged, empowered, and excited to start each day.

“Even if the pay is less, which isn’t always the case, freelancing means freedom in how you work and people love that,” says Matt Inglot, host of the Freelance Transformation Podcast and a freelancer himself. “One summer my wife and I moved to Croatia for a month. We rock climbed every morning. Work got done in the evenings and my clients had no idea.”

Compared to traditional employees, 79 percent of freelancers believe freelancing is better. Half, in fact, say there’s no amount of money that would get them to replace their current situation with a traditional job. Better still: Most say they made more money freelancing than they did by working for an employer within one year.

“I call it the ‘Freedom Economy,’” says Greg Pesci. Pesci left his role as president of payment processing firm ProPay in 2014 to launch a platform called Spera to support the freelance community with specialized support for invoicing, project and client management and payment processing. “The workplace is changing,” Pesci notes, “and every entrepreneur, whether a freelancer or not, will be affected by it.”

Earlier this year Sphera released its 2016 Freedom Economy Report, which includes details from over 120 interviews with freelancers. “We asked them why they decided to pursue freelance work. 100 percent of them — every single freelancer — mentioned freedom, independence or flexibility as their motivation,” Pesci says. “We also asked them how long they thought they would perform independent work and they were quite candid with us: Forever.” If you run a company with full-time employees, and you want to keep them, you will need to address the desire your team has for this freedom and flexibility.

Why does a company use freelance workers instead of hiring a full-time employee? Some work with freelancers when they have a specialized need that comes up infrequently and therefore doesn’t justify a full time hire, or as a way to test out potential full time team members.

Phil Cox, the founder and CEO of ecommerce food companies Legacy Food Storageand Silver Fern Brand, relies heavily on freelancers and contractors instead of full-time employees. Cox outsources web design and development, brand design, content, reports, consulting, social media and PR. Cox’s companies are growing aggressively and hiring freelancers allows him to keep costs low. He values the ability to engage service providers for “testing” periods without a long-term commitment.

“In an ideal world, a company would have the ability to have a ‘courting period’ with a new employee before hiring, pay the new employee based upon the results of their work, and have complete accountability on a project by project basis,” Cox said. The benefits of freelancing aren’t one-sided, however. “The freelancers we work with make more money and have more available time on their hands because companies, like mine, are mostly interested in the completion of the project, and we are willing to pay more to have the project done right the first time,” Cox said.