Freelancers and independent workers are a growing cadre of the U.S. workforce. They already account for an estimated 16 million workers, and recruiting firm MBO Partners predicts that figure may rise to 65 million by 2020 if existing trends continue.
“Since the beginning of the recession, we’ve continued to see an increase of people seriously considering freelance work,” says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of professional job service FlexJobs. “The perception that the traditional job is secure has been busted. Just because you’re full-time doesn’t give you guaranteed security, and in a way, you’re putting all your eggs in one basket.”
Sutton Fell says Gen-Y workers in particular are turning to freelance work by choice and out of necessity, and are finding it has its advantages. Working on a variety of projects offers a diversification of skills and exposure to different people. Self-starting and the ability to choose projects also gives them more ownership over their careers, rather than working on someone else’s terms. Plus, freelancing typically offers flexibility of location and schedule.
“There’s a lot of shifting going on,” she says. “It’s especially exciting for people who want to have work fit into their lives–instead of trying to find time for life outside of work.”
Freelance careers also appeal to those in life transitions, says Sutton Fell. Stay-at-home parents who want to dip their toes back in are able to re-enter the workforce without the commitment. Similarly, experienced retirees can take on projects at their discretion, and displaced workers can use freelance work to make contacts and get their foot in the door.
Freelancing is also on the rise because there are more opportunities to do it. Before, there were only a few specific jobs offered in a freelance capacity—writing, editing and graphic design, for example. “Now we’re seeing a really big broadening across occupations and industries,” says Sutton Fell.
An analysis of FlexJob’s comprehensive database of job listings revealed the 10 careers that feature the most and best-paying freelance openings in 2013.
Marketing is one of the highest-paying freelance gigs. Jobs like marketing coordinator, marketing manager and project manager feature estimated earnings of $46 to $52 an hour, and workers are responsible for creating brand strategies, overseeing multi-media campaigns and managing client relationships.
Creative fields continue to lead the pack in freelancing, with writing, graphic design and social media offering a wealth of good-paying freelance jobs. In addition, a few surprising freelance careers emerged, including business project management, insurance inspection, accounting and web development in locations around the country.
“There are a lot more freelance opportunities than people realize,” says Sutton Fell, particularly now that employers are experimenting with alternative work arrangements to keep costs down while staying competitive.
For those considering becoming a full-time freelancer, she offers the following best practices:
It’s Your Small Business
“Many freelancers don’t realize they’re starting their own small business,” says Sutton Fell. “You need basic business skills.” It’s no longer just about the graphic design work. Success also means marketing yourself, communicating with clients, coordinating projects, billing clients and paying your taxes. Understand your strengths and weaknesses.
Manage Your Time
“You have to project manage yourself,” warns Sutton Fell. Working on multiple projects means competing deadlines, making scheduling and organization skills critical. For those who have trouble juggling multiple projects at once, a better strategy might be to find one or two steady, long-term clients.
Set Reasonable Rates
Don’t under-sell yourself. “Some freelancers put in more time than they’re billing,” she says. “Be realistic about what you need to make to make it worth it.” She suggests tapping your network to learn from those in the trenches or joining a group like the Freelancers Union to build resources.
By Jenna Goudreau Forbes Staff