Why Highly Skilled Talent is Going Freelance

Everything you’ve read in the news about how freelancers are taking over the work world is true. The flexibility to work on projects they’re passionate about (when and where they want to) is drawing senior-level talent away from the rigid lifestyle of 9-5 jobs.

Skill at scale

The highlights of the recent Freelancing in America report from Freelancers Union and Upwork included plenty of eye-opening stats, including the fact that more than one-third of the U.S. workforce is now freelancing, which works out to 57 million (an increase of 4 million since 2014!) The number of people who see freelancing as a long-term career option is up to 28.5 million and climbing daily. 

There’s a few soundbites that jumped out in particular because they back up what we know at Sandy: Freelancers are highly skilled, dedicated, and capable of thriving outside the confines of a traditional office.

  • The self-employed set are highly educated – 41% of those with advanced degrees run freelance businesses.
  • 28% of independent workers are full-time freelancers (in 2014, it was 17%).
  • Only 7% say they are gig workers, and fully 75% say they are self-employed, independent workers

The “F word”

After the financial downturn of a decade ago, there were plenty of people who went “freelance” after being laid off, restructured or otherwise cut from corporate payrolls. In some ways, this – along with app-based “gigs” and the lack of jobs for college grads in the recession – made “freelance” a dirty word. 

In 2020, that’s absolutely no longer the case – Independent workers are independent by choice, and are building thriving careers as creative directors, video editors, copywriters, media strategists and more. The fact that three-quarters of freelancers now consider themselves self-employed (as opposed to gig workers) shows a major turn toward a stable and growing freelance workforce.

Freelancers today have proven themselves capable, trustworthy, and enterprising enough to strike out on their own. They know they’re more productive than many of their desk-bound colleagues, because every hour they work, they’re actually working. They are good at prioritizing things like wanting to spend time helping their kids with homework instead of road raging on their commute home each evening. We know that people who are great at freelancing have proven that they’re great at self-management, which is hugely beneficial for the growing remote work trend. 

Agency economics 

Consultants have always been an elite class of accomplished and connected workers, who typically have deep industry experience AND the tenacity to manage their own businesses. But this relatively small group of consultants used to be hard to work with, unless you knew them personally and they happened to be available when you needed them.

Flash forward to 2020, where data is showing that the ranks of skilled workers going freelance are growing by the day. It’s widely estimated that half of the US workforce will be freelance by 2025, which is amazing news for brands and agencies who are shifting their hiring philosophies to flex with this new reality. Think about it: It’s much more efficient to run a business with a core team of full-time workers and a rotating stable of experts to pull from only when you need them. 

Considering economic realities are constantly shifting, one way to recession-proof your business is to prioritize building your freelance network, workflows, and tools. The fact that freelancers want (and expect) to stay independent makes the relationship inherently less emotionally fraught than the prospect of laying off full-time staff when times get tough.  Keeping your full-time staff lean and focused – while having a deep bench of experts to bring in to pitch new business, fill expertise gaps, or help with executional support – makes agencies more nimble and ultimately more sustainable during unpredictable times, and even more profitable when the going is good!