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What Freelance Writers Should Really Fear

Carol Tice

What Freelance Writers Really FearIn recent weeks, I’ve heard a lot of writers confess their fears about taking the plunge into freelance writing. Today, we’re going to talk about something that’s even scarier.

It’s having a job.

Workplace experts have been watching how employers hire workers since the downturn began in 2008. Here’s their conclusion: Roles like writing are going to be done freelance in the future. Many of those jobs aren’t coming back as full-time gigs.

Freelancing is the new normal for writers.

While struggling to survive the downturn, many companies tried outsourcing. They liked it. Websites such as oDesk and Elance have made it easier to connect with freelancers, monitor their work, and pay them reasonable rates (or rock-bottom ones). This accelerated a trend that pretty much began the minute the Internet was invented. The fact is, tools exist now to make working remotely easy — Skype, Basecamp, email, PDFs, videoconferencing…it all makes it easy to plug use freelancers.

I spoke recently with a small-business expert, Steve King at Emergent Research. His firm’s estimate? Currently, 25 percent of design/writing/coding type jobs are being done freelance. By 2020, Emergent expects that figure to rise to 50 percent. That’s right — half of all the writing work will be done freelance, soon. Or, put another way: Twice as much freelance work will be available a decade from now.

If you’re wondering, King considers Emergent’s estimates conservative. Other industry pundits have forecast 75 percent of creative jobs being done freelance in future.

Which is really riskier?

Since 2008, I’ve watched friends of mine lose their jobs, get divorced, go bankrupt, have heart attacks from the stress, and lose their homes. Having all your income tied up to a single employer, we’ve learned, is actually very risky. That gives one company the power to devastate your family and destroy your lifestyle, overnight.

Finding another single, big fat job to replace the one you lost could take years, or may never happen. People who don’t know how to survive without sucking off the teat of Big Momma Corporation are facing radical changes in their quality of life.

By contrast, during the downturn, every editor I worked for either left or was fired from their job. All my gigs shifted around. But not all at the same time. I kept finding new clients to replace the old ones, because I’d learned how to market myself. Result: I lost gigs, but my income kept rising. My family life remained stable. I’m still living in the same house, eating out, sending my kids to camp, and putting away money for retirement.

After 12 years in staff-writing jobs, and now five as a freelancer, I can say I feel far more secure now than I did when I got only one paycheck instead of many smaller ones. I feel secure because I know how to find assignments now, no matter what. Also, my earning potential is unlimited, where at a job it was always capped at my salary. Maybe I could squeeze out a tiny raise each year, but that was it.

Still think freelancing is too scary? Here’s the reality:

Freelancing is the future.

The longer you hang on, fantasizing that things will go back the way they were, the more of a disadvantage you create for yourself in the marketplace. If you’re not freelancing now, you’re not out learning the vital entrepreneurial skills you will need to earn well in the years to come — skills like how to market and manage your freelance writing business.

I believe there’s never been a better time to learn how to be a successful freelancer. By getting started now, you’ll position yourself to gain experience, while many others are still clinging to their day jobs. You’ll be more established when more writers get laid off, and are scrambling to catch up.
Which do you think is more secure — a day job or freelancing? Leave a comment and let us know which — and why.

Photo via stock.xchng user brainloc