Future of Work

Why More and More Top Talents Become Freelancers

An increasing number of highly qualified professionals are choosing to be freelancers. Upwork’s Freelance Forward Report 2020, for instance, shows a continuous increase in the share of freelancers in the U.S. in recent years. Currently, 36% of working people are already freelancers on a full-time or part-time basis, up from 34% in 2014. This way of working seems to be particularly attractive to younger people: among Millennials, the proportion is 44%, and in Generation Z it’s as high as 50%. But why is that so?

Growing desire for self-determination

In many cases, the desire for more autonomy is a key factor. Top talents in particular want to choose their own clients and projects, because that way they can ensure they can make the best use of their skills. React developer David Leuliette from the CodeControl community says: “In my job as an employee, I was often given tasks that I didn’t feel like doing and that didn’t fit my field of expertise. Now as a freelancer, I don’t have to accept such project requests.”

And backend developer David Schuld sums up his motivation for the decision, “I wanted to choose the projects I work on, decide by myself how many hours I work, and not having to report to anyone. Being my own boss, basically. ”

Flexibility is becoming increasingly important

For many new freelancers, greater flexibility in terms of space and time is also a decisive factor in their choice, whether they want to travel as digital nomads or simply have more time for their families. The pandemic has also seen some changes in terms of flexibilityfor employees. More companies than before allow remote work, even on a long-term basis.

But this is by no means the case everywhere, or at least it’s often limited to a part of the week. Working hours are also usually fixed, and vacations often have to be applied for in annoying processes. As a freelancer, all of this is eliminated; the place of work and working hours are usually flexible.

For David Schuld, precisely this was a motivation for setting off as a freelancer. “I wanted the possibility to work remotely, at least for a limited period of time,” he says. “I don’t see myself as a digital nomad, because I need a stable place to work from. But I’ve used the flexibility to work while travelling several times, each time between one week and one month. I’ve been to five different countries so far, and in some cases I visited family members who live abroad.”

Variety, upskilling and a higher income

David Leuliette is happy about the great variety in his everyday life, even apart from the diverse projects: “I give courses for other developers, and I’m even writing a book. With a full-time job, that would be difficult.” This versatility provides precisely the enthusiasm and motivation that employees often lack after a few years on the job.

Freelancers learn a lot through the different projects and have the opportunity to constantly challenge and expand their skills. They are also more likely to take advantage of opportunities for advanced training than employees. The Freelance Forward Report shows that 59 percent of freelancers had participated in a skill-related training in the six months prior to the survey - compared to only 36 percent of employees.

In addition to the soft factors such as variety, motivation and flexibility, there is often a very tangible reason: as a freelancer, many top talents can earn a higher income. According to the Freelance Forward Report, 60 percent of freelancers earn the same or more than they did as employees. David Schuld can confirm this. “In my case, freelance work is financially more lucrative than a permanent position,” he says.

Job dissatisfaction can be a driving force

Even though the importance of employee satisfaction is widely acknowledged, many employees are unhappy. Monotonous tasks, excessive or insufficient demands, too little appreciation, low flexibility, problems with managers or a lack of identification with the company - there are many possible triggers. Instead of a job change, freelancing can also be an attractive option for people who are no longer satisfied with their employer.

For David Leuliette, for example, the many limitations and regulations in his old job were frustrating: “The company’s hardware didn’t meet my requirements, but I wasn’t allowed to choose it myself. Plus, there were always annoying rounds of approval whenever I wanted to purchase a new tool or attend a conference. Now I buy my own equipment I can work with best, and decide by myself which investments will advance my skills.”

But are these talents then permanently lost to the job market? David Schuld says, “I can imagine myself in a permanent position again at some point in the future, if I find a task that is really exciting and fulfilling for me. But even then, only if I still have the same benefits I have now as a freelancer, especially the possibility to work from anywhere I want.”

Multiple reasons and paths

When it comes to freelancing, there are multiple paths possible. Whether by chance or as a conscious decision, whether with a part-time start or with a clear cut from one day to the next, whether out of frustration at work or the desire for more self-determination - the result is often the same.

For David Leuliette, for example, the path led through part-time freelancing. He says, “I was afraid of customer acquisition at first, I didn’t want to be a sales guy. That’s why I was a part-time freelancer at first. But when external circumstances made me a full-time freelancer, I picked up these skills quickly.” After all, that’s what makes this path so interesting for many top talents: always learning something new and using it by your own rules for your own success.

In our article “Working Successfully With Freelancers: 7 Hacks” we show how companies can get the most out of working with external talent.


Foto-Dunja-Rühl

About the author

Dunja Rühl is a writer and content marketer specializing in Future of Work topics. She has worked in a content marketing agency and a software start-up before becoming a full-time freelancer. Whenever she's not typing away on her keyboard or researching exciting new topics she enjoys travelling, reading or yoga.

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