The Reality of Freelancing: How It’s Growing, and Why it Rocks

Are you nervous about going it alone as a solopreneur and freelance writer? Well, today I’ve got a big shot of hope for you.

With the second annual International Freelancers Day coming on Friday, the event organizers have released an interesting study on the state of freelancing. You might be expecting gloom and doom as the economy continues to snooze along, but this report shatters some myths.

Is it a race to the bottom on prices out there? Hardly. Reports of freelancer poverty turn out to be exaggerated.

The report gives great, concrete info on what’s working in marketing for freelancers today. By the way, the biggest chunk of the respondents in this study were freelance writers, too.

A quick summary of the big news:

  • Freelancers prefer the independent lifestyle. Forty-eight percent of freelancers have more free time now than they did as an employee. And, 54 percent said that they wouldn’t even consider working as an employee again, regardless of what the job paid or what it entailed.
  • Finding clients was the biggest challenge facing freelancers today (cited by 22 percent of participants). Interestingly, obstacles such as getting paid on time (4%) and competing against lower-cost freelancers (3%), which are commonly cited as having reached alarming levels, were not among the top-ranking concerns for freelancers in 2011.
  • Freelancers earn healthy rates for their work. Although the range varies widely, 45 percent of freelancers earn between $20 – $59 per hour. Furthermore, 26 percent earn $80 or more per hour and 17 percent earn $100 or more per hour.
  • The economy’s impact has been exaggerated. The majority of freelancers (52%) either have not been impacted by the economy or have faced only a very minor impact. Only 19 percent said that they have been significantly affected.
  • Optimism is high. An overwhelming 78 percent said that they are optimistic about their business prospects over the next year.
  • Old-school marketing methods work best. Word of mouth (23%), referrals, and tapping their own personal and professional networks (17%) are freelancers’ most effective methods for finding and landing clients. Online job boards (9%) such as Elance and oDesk ranked above networking (7%), social media (3%) and cold-calling (2%).
  • Social media grows in importance. Social media (46%) and tapping their own personal/professional networks (46%) ranked as the top tactics freelancers are planning to do more of in the coming year.
  • “Accidental” freelancers fare well. Professionals who are freelancing as the result of a layoff or being downsized are more likely to earn less as a freelancer than peers who planned their way to self-employment. However, 80% of these “accidental” freelancers are much happier now than they were as employees. Seventy-four percent of them are also optimistic about their business prospects. And fully 30% of them are earning $80 or more per hour.

There’s more good news outside this study on the trend toward freelancing. If you’re getting into freelancing now, I think you’re smart.

Why? Companies have tried outsourcing in this downturn, and they love it. Many aren’t going back to paying the big marketing staffs they once had. Forecasts are that in the future, more freelance writing will be done by contractors, along with graphic design, software development and other tasks.

Those of us who learn how to run a freelance business now are positioned to benefit in the years to come. Others will catch on later — but by then, you’ll have a leg up.

Are you optimistic about your freelance earning potential for the coming year? Leave a comment and let us know.

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18 comments on “The Reality of Freelancing: How It’s Growing, and Why it Rocks
  1. Lucy Smith says:

    I can certainly see how the transition is easier for people who’ve had a chance to prepare for taking the plunge. You’ve got time to build up a client base slowly, while still earning and squirrelling away money, and learn the ropes before you essentially just change jobs.

    It’s much harder when you get dropped in at the deep end – I never thought, or dreamed, of working for myself but when I finished my (unrelated) study and couldn’t find work, what are you to do? Two-and-a-half years later I’m finally getting somewhere, and I’m proud to say I never worked for $10-for-500-words slave rates, but it’s a really, really tough road with some very steep learning curves. It would have been nice to have some preparation for it.

    But that said, I don’t think I’d change anything now – I love not having to travel to work, I love not having to deal with office politics, and I love the fact that the only performance reviews I have to go through are those I give myself!
    Lucy Smith recently posted…Writing copy for other audiencesMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m sorry there wasn’t Freelance Writers Den back when you started…that’s my whole goal with it, is to shorten the ramp to where you’re making a good living from your writing.

      • Rose says:

        Thanks for the information on the report. It’s definitely more fuel for my fire. On another note-Carol’s BlastOff class is worth the time and money, for those who are looking for a speedy ramp up map. I got a really great gig following her guidance, and now, after I learned about the TRUE state of freelancers from this post, I’m planting my flag in freelance territory and claiming it.
        RM

  2. Kymlee says:

    This is great news! I was reading the report this morning and it totally lifted my spirits. I’m also optimistic. I won’t say its been easy to build my freelance business since leaving the magazine, but I have and I’m looking forward to what the future holds. I actually turned away a potential client because I just didn’t have the time availability. A good sign I’d say!
    Kymlee recently posted…Stay Low, Keep Your Head Up and Keep Your Feet MovingMy Profile

  3. Nicky says:

    I am optimistic about my future as a freelance writer. In my home town in Australia I had two regular publications that I wrote for and a third who I did project work for and for an hourly rate that I was happy with.

    I have just moved states and I know that it will be work of mouth that gets me my new projects. So in the mean time I am finally getting stuff up on my website. The pace of freelance suits me too as my husband works a massive week and I have a two year old and I like to get to the gym most days so I can fit it all in around freelancing.

  4. Samie says:

    This is really great to hear! With 40% of freelancers making $80/hr or more, that encourages me to try for higher rates. Especially if I think the company can handle it.

    I am also going to look more into the top two most successful marketing techniques…
    Samie recently posted…Self Publishing Is a Dirty WordMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      So many writers get trapped in low rates. And in large part, it’s self-inflicted. If you have the attitude that you’re worth professional rates, and seek out the kind of clients that pay those rates, then you’re well-paid. It’s kinda that simple.

  5. Debra Stang says:

    Hi Carol,

    Thanks for posting this. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as International Freelancers Day.

    I was a little “white-knuckle” after going fulltime with my freelance work in August, but a month into it, things are going well. I’ve attracted new clients, and the clients I had before are delighted that I’m more available to them. Now, if I can just get my nerve up to raise my rates…

    Debra

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, at least raise it for new clients.

      We’re coming toward the end of the year, which is the perfect time to introduce rate raises to existing clients. As in, “Just to let you know, my going rate now is X, and starting next year all my clients will be at that level.” Of course, only say it if you’re ready to walk if they won’t go up.

  6. Linda Bryant says:

    I downloaded this reported yesterday and was so impressed with all the research. I think they surveyed a few thousand people, so it’s very legit. Great stuff!
    Linda Bryant recently posted…Top 10 Marketing Take Aways from the 2011 IFA ConferenceMy Profile

  7. These statistics are eye-opening. Thanks for the valuable insights revealed by these freelance findings!

  8. That is good news! It encourages me to keep going and I know I’m doing the right thing!
    Stephanie Raines recently posted…Hello world!My Profile

  9. Taylor says:

    Those are some great stats to hear, and it makes me feel a bit better about freelancing as an actual career instead of just a fall back! I gotta work on my marketing though, so I am anxious to hear more about this, and will also go back to read some older articles on this topic. Thanks for the words of encouragement this morning.
    Taylor recently posted…Downy Unstoppables Reviews And ExperiencesMy Profile

  10. Wow, I’m surprised that only 17% command $100 or more. My hourly rate is $125, and I wonder to what extent your rate is related to your niche market. I write mostly in the technology sector, and I have never had a client flinch (even remotely) at my rate. My sense is that it is fairly standard. I really do think that freelance writers need to muster the confidence to ask for more money. At the end of the day, the services that we provide usually represent cost savings to the client, even at $100/hour.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, what I saw as cheering news is more than 40 PERCENT over $80 an hour. That really shatters the common perception that there are just a few freaks up there earning real rates. It’s LOTS of people.

      If you’re not up there, the question is, what can you do to move yourself into the high-earning category?

      Obviously being in a niche like tech really helps. I have yet to meet a generalist who earns like those of us who’ve carved out a specialized area or two that fewer writers can compete on.

  11. Michael says:

    Hi Carol, I’m happy that the future of freelance writing is great. I also agree with your statistics in finding clients and discovered that word of mouth referral is the best.

    Off course, the 2 clients I write for today, were referred to me by another client. I think social media is also effective. I’ve to position myself properly and tap into this writing opportunities. Thank you for taking time to share this. I hope to achieve success like you…isn’t that your prayer for me?
    Michael recently posted…Coca Cola Marketing Strategy – 10 Formula To Become A Blogging SuperstarMy Profile