The Future of Work: Freelancing Goes From Rags to Riches

Business.com / Starting a Business / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

With the current global spend on contingent workers reaching over $3 trillion, opportunity abounds for all parties.

In 2015, the current global spend on contingent workers was over $3 trillion with nearly 70 percent of that being independent contractors and freelancers (seen as highly skilled professional workers).

And, by various estimates, 20-33 percent of today’s US workforce now comprises of freelancers, contractors and temps, up from six percent in 1989. Worldwide, companies now spend an estimated $300 billion dollars per year on such contingent labor. There are now large United States-based conglomerates that spend upwards of $80 million in contingent labor alone per year to keep the lights on in their businesses and to maintain competitive advantage.

Economists project that the extended workforce will continue to increase as part of a long-term trend and there are important conversations to be had about how that affects the economy, U.S. businesses and the workers themselves in the long run.

Workers can sit back and worry about how things are changing, or they can take action and drive their careers forward. There are currently four clear options for American workers.

Related Article: Follow the Yellow Brick Road (to Your Ideal Career Path)

1. Maintain a Salaried Job

A job for life is an antiquated terms these days. It is rare for people to stay in a single job from the time of graduation through to retirement age, no matter how good you are or how hard you work. Economies demand efficiency and better, stronger and faster resources seem to win. That being said, we are seeing an upward trend for workers staying with some jobs for longer, especially for the younger generation.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for 25-34 year old workers the average tenure at a job was was 3.2 years in 2012, up from 2.7 years in 2002. This is still true today and is partly due to the recent recession (2008). As the U.S. gets stronger financially and more opportunities arise, we will likely see tenure dropping due to the rise of multiple salaried job workers or hybrid salaried/freelance workers. While this is not a job for life, it certainly is a job for a few years, and that is good.

These are the hybrid salaried/freelance workers, and this is the most likely future for many Americans. People are starting to see the opportunities to follow passion projects and even turn them into reality. No longer are people constrained by lack of funds, or even lack of time. 

Brian Chesky, CEO of AirBNB puts this very well, “Now we’re living in a world where people can become businesses in 60 seconds.” And, it’s true. We are more connected than ever and we can grab our smartphones and a credit card and get going.

Start Projects on the Side

These days, on-demand freelancing, and crowdsourcing platforms, like Freelancer.com, let you post projects to build apps, ecommerce website, hire virtual assistants and even do the accounting quickly and easily without the constraints of the local workforce and availability. That means the day job can carry on while the dreams are being built in the background. It’s like being a mini-entrepreneur, or solo-preneur as some like to say.

Having a second source of income, from a fun project is always going to make people feel more satisfied and that can even have a positive effect on their day jobs as well.

Related Article: Should Freelancers Form a Business Entity?

2. Go Freelance

In 2014, the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that 2 million Americans are leaving their jobs every week. Some end up at new jobs, however, many are choosing to forge their own path forward. Freelancing platforms have become increasingly streamlined to allow for real-time communications and freelancers can browse thousands of jobs every day.

There was a time when being a freelancer was seen as a risky proposition and a second-class worker in companies. In 2014 the Freelancer’s Union found that 65 percent said freelancing as a career path is more respected today than it was three years ago. With this acceptance comes growth, both personally and with the economy. Companies are growing stronger by hiring these contingent workers.

Related Article: Why Your Product Will Fail

3. Become the next UBER, Facebook or AirBNB

All of the aforementioned companies worked hard over years to build technologies and then grow their businesses. They received funding early and built on successes they had. Although they are now seen as the unicorns, that does not mean you cannot get going to prove out your idea.

In the U.S. alone, Freelancer.com has over 2 million registered users that are across all major cities—NYC, Chicago, Atalanta, San Francisco, LA, Boston, Seattle—and everywhere inbetween. There are freelancers with over 850 different skills, from mobile app development to engineering, and from accountancy to 3D printing to even more complex tasks like quantum mathematics, VR development and mobile games. They can be called up with your smartphone in a few seconds and your idea can become a reality in minutes, hours and days.

This paves the way for bold ideas and confidence that experimentation with business may not lead to bankruptcy for fledgling businesses. In fact, 42 percent of founders cited a "lack of capital" as their biggest obstacle to growth in 2015, up from about 35 percent the previous year, according to Mainsail Partners, a private-equity firm that works primarily with bootstrapped businesses.

Now it takes just hundreds of dollars to get a business running and get online and only thousands of dollars each year to hire teams across the world for core business functions like business development, support, customer care, accounting, design and data analysis.

Sound too good to be true? Many companies have become multi-million (or even billion) dollar businesses. Whatsapp’s early technical team was even found on these platforms and they have certainly done well.

There are the options and opportunities. Even if you have a small idea for something you’ve always wanted to do then just do it. Maybe it’ll be the next unicorn and you can be the next CEO that everyone is talking about.

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