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Will 2016 be the year of the freelancer?

Find out why this could be the best year to start your freelancing career.

Mat Vogels
January 26, 2016
Freelancing

Believe it or not, freelancers now make up roughly 40% of the workforce. Forty. Percent. Are you ready to join them?

The revolution has already begun, and if you haven’t noticed, you’re missing out on an enormous opportunity.

Freelancing has always been a common “hobby” for creative professionals like designers and writers, but in the last decade or so, creative pros have started leaving the nine-to-five life in droves.

Now, this post isn’t meant to lure you to the “dark side” of freelancing, but to explain why it’s become the fastest growing professional group of our time (and will continue to be).

But if you’ve even thought about taking the leap, now may be the best time in history to do so.

Why has freelancing become so popular?

This could be you. But, you know, younger.

Surprise! The answer is: tech.

Every aspect of workplace logistics now has an app that lets you join up and chime in from anywhere.

And if you can work from a laptop anywhere in the world, why bother spending time at a desk?

To add fuel to the fire, much of the work traditionally done by creative professionals (like web design), has been greatly sped up by similar technological advancements.

I know that personally, before Webflow, it would take me weeks (or months) to complete a website project. After Webflow, that same project sometimes take hours.

This gives freelancers an all-new ability to take on more than one project at a time. Leading many creative professionals wondering: Why work for one person/company/project, when I can now work on many at the same time?

These shifts in tech have led to a similar shift in attitude. Years ago, the idea of leaving a stable job to pursue your “craft” was *cough* stupid. Freelancing was something you did at night before bed, like a hobby or after-school project — not a career.

Yet more and more people are taking the leap into the unknown. Leaving their nine-to-five cubical cells for the freedom of becoming a digital nomad.

And freelancers aren’t the only ones who find the freelancing life seductive. Companies are following suit.

Companies are driving the shift to freelancing

In an interview by PBS, author Richard Greenwald stated that companies as large and prestigious as NASA and IBM have been turning to freelancers at an accelerated rate. And they aren’t alone, with the likes of Pinterest, OpenTable, Panasonic, Unilever, NBC, and many (many) more right beside them.

But why?

I’ve found that there are 3 core reasons why freelancers make sense for business:

1. Cost / affordability

Although many freelancers charge a premium rate, the vast majority undercharge for their work (stop it!). These low rates make it extremely attractive for companies to hire freelance workers.

2. Flexibility

Many freelancers enjoy their flexible lifestyle, and companies are no different. The cost of hiring a full-time employee stretches beyond salary and insurance, including time and commitment in training, culture, etc. With contract workers, companies can cut these costs and gain the flexibility to hire/fire at any time.

3. Speed

Having both freelanced and hired contractors for a company, I can say that freelancers work faster. Maybe it’s the freelancer’s sense of urgency about completing the project and moving on. Maybe it’s the fact that the business can skip traditional onboarding/training. Maybe it’s that freelancers can skip meetings and internal politicking. But whatever the cause, freelance projects often move much faster than in-house jobs.

All of which means that freelancers can now blend their flexible lifestyle with the opportunity to work with some of the largest and most respected companies in the world.

It’s not all roses

I’ve spent plenty of time on both sides of the fence, being a full-time freelancer and a full-time desk jockey. Both have their pros and cons, but here are a few things you should know before jumping in to the freelance world.

Taxes suck

They suck no matter what, but they suck harder for contract workers. As a self-employed contractor, you’re not only responsible for paying your own income taxes, but also self-employment taxes.

We know, Zoe. Taxes suck.

To make it more complicated, you must also be prepared to track all money going in and out of your business to prove it. You can’t count on HR to handle your monies. You are HR.

Cashflow

This problem is typically a symptom of early-day freelancing, but you will overcome it. Not necessarily because you’ll always have work lined up (although you might), but because you’ll start to charge enough to keep you floating (happily) between projects.

‍Stacks of cash not guaranteed.

Still, it’s a bit harder to manage ongoing expenses like rent, utilities, food, etc. without a consistent paycheck. This is why I recommend starting your freelance career as a side project. When you aren’t worried about basic living expenses, you’ll be more likely to take on better projects (as opposed to whoever’s willing to give you money).

It’s lonely…

Most freelancers who’ve been doing it awhile will agree: Freelancing can be lonely.

At first it’s nice not having to leave your house or see another human being for days at a time, but eventually, you begin to miss the team environment of your office.

Unfortunately, obsessive Dorrito eating has not been shown to help with loneliness.

I learned that the best way to combat this was to simply put yourself in additional social situations. Instead of meeting clients over the phone, offer to meet in person or at least over video chat. Instead of working from home every day, head down to your favorite coffee shop, or better yet, a local coworking space.

Is it worth it?

I’d argue that it is. There’s nothing more empowering than knowing that every dollar you make is an exact reflection of the work you put in. If you work a few extra hours over the weekend, that’s more money going into your bank account — you can’t say that for your typical salaried job.

Plus, many of the pitfalls of freelancing can be resolved by simple preparation and planning. Yes, there will be hurdles, but when aren’t there?

So what do you think? Is this the year you take the leap into freelancing?

The missing guide to the freelance designer's life is here

Learn everything you need to know about making the leap to freelancing, from how to find clients to how to price your services.

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Mat Vogels

Mat is a web creator and evangelist at Webflow. Follow me at @matvogels.

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