New Data Reveals Why Today’s Freelance Writers Are Smart

Carol Tice

Senior businesswoman professional portrait smartHave you been walking a lonely road, trying to make it as a freelance writer?

By the end of this post, I think you’re going to feel in good company.


New data shows that you’re on the cutting edge of the way more people will work in the future. I recently had a chance to listen in on a “State of Independence” presentation put on by MBO Partners, which provides back-office services to independent workers. The report, based on data from two separate studies, looked at trends in freelancing.

Here’s why, by learning about freelancing now, you are perfectly positioned to be more secure than you ever were in a day job.

People want to be you

If you feel unsupported by family and friends in your freelance journey, it may be because they’re jealous. Twelve percent of employees indicated they probably or definitely plan to become freelancers. Less than half said they definitely will not go out on their own.

Get happy

The majority of freelancers — 64 percent — said they are “very satisfied” with life as their own boss.

Most have no plans to crawl back to a cubicle. Only 1 in 7 said they had plans to return to employment.

For those who insist you can’t really earn a living as a freelancer, I ask: If no one is making it as a freelancer, why would 6/7th of independent workers be planning to continue?

Start asking around

Seventy percent of these successful freelancers said referrals, word of mouth, and their reputation were their top way of finding new clients. A similar number said they spend 5-20 percent of their time actively networking to find more opportunities and build their connections.

We’re earning more

Independent workers of all types now earn nearly $1.2 trillion in all, up from under $1 trillion last year. Income is growing, and four out of ten workers is or has been independent in some way — working for themselves, on contract, through an agency, or remotely.

The studies found 2.5 million independent workers earn over $100,000, with a median income of $147,000. So much for my earning six figures being a fluke…or a lie.

We’re hiring

Here’s something that surprised me — the independent sector is so strong that we’ve become a major source of jobs! More than one-quarter of independent workers reported they have hired other freelancers.

Independent workers spent $96 billion hiring the equivalent of 2.3 million full-time workers through their own subcontracting. All the more reason to hang out on sites such as LinkedIn’s Writeful Share group, to see if writers have work they could refer or sub out to you.

We’re not all young turks

There’s a reason the photo for this story is a mature woman — 33 percent of independent workers are baby boomers, and another 11 percent are seniors, many embarking on second careers in retirement for extra income and/or enjoyment. Gens X and Y barely beat out older workers with slightly more than half the pie.

“Independent work is perceived as viable, and entrepreneurship is cool,” the study reports.

We’re big — and growing

There were under 16 million independent workers in 2011, and now the freelance work force is estimated at 17.7 million. And no end in sight to the growth — by 2016, that’s expected to swell to 24 million.

Compare that to the number of people employed by microbusinesses with just an employee or two, small business and mid-sized enterprises, and you see how important freelancers are to the U.S. economy. By contrast to our 17.7 million, less than 6 million workers are employed in smaller companies.

So here’s the nut of it: If you are learning to freelance and successfully run an independent business now, you’ve got a leg up on those 6 million more freelancers who will enter the marketplace in the near future.

If you’re hearing from naysayers who’re nervous about your independent career, just know you’re part of a thriving, growing part of the economy. And those folks who’re down on freelancing may soon be joining you.

Are you satisfied with being a freelancer? Leave a comment and tell us how you feel about life as an independent worker.

Freelance Writers Den


  1. Mande'

    I’m constantly reminding my family that I have two jobs, one of which IS writing. No one wants to recognize it unless they need a paper written or proofed. Gets old. I just keep my head up and plug ahead.

  2. Karen

    As was mentioned previously, to start a business there has to be the financial means to do so. That’s my issue at this point. As a teacher in a low-paying state, I read information and comments such as those above and am envious. My goal is to find freelance work during the summer and holiday breaks, knowing I will most likely have to start low/free with not-for-profits. Ultimately I’d like to do B2B and a mix of other freelance just to keep things spicy. Taking on freelance right now is difficult due to youngish child at home who seems to want my entire focus when we are home. By the time he konks out I’m looking forward to doing so myself. Would love to get out of the rat race and I have a supportive spouse. I don’t need to be concerned about medical related insurance as I have coverage through his work. I wish I could afford some of the opportunities that exist to help individuals with their dreams of pursuing freelance writing (online courses and such). But it’s just not an option right now. Still, I enjoy reading every bit of the information I get through here as it helps me keep the dream alive and plan out my future. And I appreciate all that is shared.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Karen —

      It’s always hard juggling the transition out of employment to freelancing. If you check out my Useful Books tab, there’s a super-cheap ebook from Bryan Cohen, Writer on the Side, that might help you manage your time. Also check out Linda Formichelli’s new book Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race, which is just coming out!

      I hear the “I have no time to freelance” complaint a lot from moms of young kids who imagine that somehow they will develop ideas, pitch editors, interview sources and write articles while also entertaining an infant or preschooler. That’s just not realistic. You’ll need blocks of uninterrupted time to work on writing, and learning the business of writing.

      If you have a supportive spouse, see if they’ll commit to a weekend day each week when they’ll do childcare so you can pursue freelancing. If that doesn’t work, find other moms trying to do side businesses and work babysitting swaps. I did a ton of that when my first was a baby and he had fun AND I got a lot done. 😉

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