Here’s some timely news for Independence Day: According to the 2017 State of Independence in America survey recently released by MBO Partners (a business operating system provider for independent workers), a fifth of the nation's 40.9 million freelance workers earned over $100,000 last year, up from just 12.5% in 2011.
Thanks to the robust job market, gig economy workers are increasingly able to compete on their own terms and charge more for their services. Last year, MBO says, full-time independents averaged $65,300. Notably, older workers (those 53 and above), who tend to be more experienced, fared better than average — reporting a median income of $77,000.
The Gig Economy Workforce Is Growing
The number of independents (freelancers, consultants, temps and on-call workers) is rapidly growing and now constitutes an estimated 31% of the private workforce, up about three percentage points from 2016. Full-time independent workers age 53+ rose from 33% to 35%. And the number of people MBO calls Occasional Independents — those working irregularly or sporadically as independents, but at least once a month — soared by 23% over the past year, to 12.9 million.
The Downside of Gigging
This is not to say that the state of giggers is glorious: Nearly one out of four independents surveyed by MBO said they’d prefer a traditional job. Access to benefits remains challenging, too, and the insecurity of an unpredictable work flow is stressful for many.
Nonetheless, a whopping 74% of full-time independents are highly satisfied with the lifestyle, the highest in the seven years MBO has been surveying. And a striking 84% of full-time independents said they’re happier working on their own than in a traditional job. The majority of gig workers (65%) said they voluntarily chose to work this way. (Bear in mind that the survey was from a company that services independent workers.)
6 Tips to Launch in the Gig Economy
If you’re itching to strike out on your own, here are six tips to help you launch in the gig economy:
Turn to SCORE to learn the business of being a freelancer or consultant. From learning how to price your services to dealing with tax regulations, there are a host of issues you’ll need to master. Fortunately, SCORE — a nonprofit advisory service supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration — can help you get off the ground. SCORE has over 300 local chapters offering free and inexpensive workshops on topics like QuickBooks, financing your business and creating a marketing plan.
SCORE also offers individual mentoring sessions (local and online), as well as educational webinars. And if you get involved with your local SCORE chapter, you’ll likely meet other freelancers with whom you can swap leads and share projects.
Explore the benefits offered by Freelancers Union. Few independent gigs come with benefits, so you will likely need to secure your own. One option to consider is Freelancers Union, which offers members access to a variety of benefits, including health insurance and retirement plans. The plans are limited, and not every state participates, but even if you can’t use the insurance, Freelancers Union provides networking opportunities, discounts and downloadable business templates. Membership is free to independent workers.
The founder of Freelancers Union, Sara Horowitz, is the author of The Freelancer’s Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams – On Your Own Terms, which was one of my picks for the Best Books to Boost Your Career in 2013. It’s a terrific guide to mastering the world of independent work.
Reach out to your network for leads. For all the hype surrounding online platforms and mobile apps, most independents find opportunities the old-fashioned way — by networking. So remember to let your friends, colleagues and former employers know about your new independent status. Tell them that you’re interested in taking on projects and temporary assignments.
Check your industry association’s website for networking opportunities and job leads (many industry association career boards list project work and temporary opportunities). And get involved with local entrepreneurial networking groups where you can meet complementary service providers who you might want to partner with on projects.
Sign up with a “temp” service. If you think being a tempmeans stuffing envelopes or answering phones, think again. Today, temporary employees handle every job imaginable, from the mailroom to the c-suite. There are even interim executive service firms that place top-level executives into short-term roles, as well as firms specializing in connecting recent retirees to project work.
Check out online platforms and apps for independents. There are an ever-increasing number of freelance platforms, mobile apps and job boards available to independents in every industry. Some simply list jobs, while others feature a full-suite of support services, including billing and payment processing services.
Two articles to help you begin your search: “The Best Freelance Websites and Marketplaces in 2017” from the Nation1099.com site and a Next Avenue article I wrote in 2016, “10 More Great Sites to Find Gigs and Part-Time Work.”
Finally, if you’re not yet ready ditch your full-time job, but wouldn’t mind earning a few extra bucks, check out sites like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, SurveySay.com or Swagbucks.com. They feature relatively easy-to-complete tasks that you can take on as time permits, like doing video transcription and conducting online surveys. These gigs generally don’t pay much, but they offer an easy way to supplement your income from the comfort of home. This article from NerdWallet.com, “How to Make Quick Money Online,” gives a helpful overview of their pros and cons.
Happy Fourth — and cheers to your work independence!