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. Allena

    I’ve never been happier in my life and have consistently said that it would take a LOT for me to return to a more traditional work life.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Allena — I’m with you…at this point I can’t imagine what kind of offer I’d have to get to think about becoming an employee again. Been 8 happy years, and each one has been better than the last.

  2. Kevin Carlton

    Of course, Carol, it’s the Internet that’s changed everything. So much is done electronically and remotely these days.

    But to answer your question at the end, wild horses wouldn’t drag me away from freelancing.

    Working for yourself is tough. Really tough. But why would I want to sit in an office for 7 or 8 hours a day with people I don’t even like?

    Being your boss means you can pick and choose who you work with – something that you’ve highlighted many times.

    • Carol Tice

      You hit on something that used to really get to me as an employee, Kevin — friendships of convenience.

      You think you’re friends with those office mates you’ve spent hours chatting with about what happened on Grey’s Anatomy, you’ve lunched with them and heard about their personal woes, and then the day you leave that job… poof! You never hear from them again.

      I’d rather hang out with my actual friends, who’re going to be around no matter what.

  3. Daryl

    I’m not quite there in terms of being fully independent, as I do freelancing in addition to my day job. That being said, I’m looking to make the switch as soon as I have enough savings, and I can’t wait for that moment!

  4. Joseph Rathjen

    Although this is never discussed much, freelance writing makes a perfect second-career choice for a retiree or even as a part-time job. There are many writers (like myself) who write part-time because they have successful careers in another field. However, after retirement, a freelance writing career can offer all the convenience and extra-supplemental income opportunities without the travel or age-related concerns. Plus, all that age-related, or work-related experience you possess can do wonders for your creativity and attraction for prospective clients. It can make the golden years…quite a bit more golden.

    • Carol Tice

      Right on, Joseph — and as the data shows, more and more seniors are going freelance when they retire.

      We all know most Americans have sad little retirement accounts, and that ageism is real…and all of that points to freelancing when you’re older.

  5. Bob DC

    When I got into this a year ago it was dead,
    and it has gotten worse in the meantime.

    I don’t believe any of the happy talk.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Bob — I don’t know where you’re looking that’s “dead,” but there really never has been more opportunity for writers to earn.

      I’m sorry you’ve globalized your short personal experience into a perception of the entire multi-billion dollar freelance industry…because that’s a mistake.

      If you’ve found the market “dead,” you’ll probably have to look elsewhere from how you’ve been prospecting for writing gigs to find better pay and more opportunity — most likely by proactively marketing your services. I meet few writers with a solid marketing plan that aren’t getting clients and professional rates. And almost every writer with your attitude seems to be hanging around Demand or Elance or answering Craigslist ads. Those aren’t a route to a full-time living for most writers.

      I run a better-job board inside my Freelance Writers Den community, and we see a steady stream of great opportunities — and to clarify, we don’t post anything under $50 a blog post or $100 an article. I just referred out a $150-a-post blogging gig last week. There is a lot of good writing work out there to do, but you have to know how to find it.

      And you have to believe it’s possible to make a living as a writer, or it will never happen. Might as well start scanning those full-time job ads.

  6. Cinthia

    I love the freelance like and would never go back to a cubicle. If I ever do have to get a “real” job it will be of the non-traditional variety.
    However, freelancing isn’t easy. It’s tough giving up the companionship of office life and those small ways we share parts of ourselves with our co-workers: We know one another’s histories and home life, and we support each other after mistakes and conflicts.
    Working alone can be difficult. Clients and interview contacts don’t want to hear how your dog ate your socks or the reason you couldn’t sleep last night. Freelancing can be lonely. And being your own boss brings out parts of your personality you never knew existed.
    Still, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Being able to work while baking bread is pure bliss. (If you were my office mates, I’d offer you a piece. Bummer–I’ll have to eat the whole loaf myself.)

    • Carol Tice

      One of my great joys as a freelancer is being able to stop working around 2 on Fridays to start my challah dough, Cinthia. πŸ˜‰

      That and just getting to attend every play, conference, and soccer game my kids are in.

      You don’t have to be lonely as a freelancer — there’s always co-working spots and working from bookstores and coffeehouses if you need the companionship. The bakery near me is like an office annex! Always bustling with meetings going on.

      And funny you mention “non-traditional” full-time jobs. Fact is, both of my two long staff writing jobs, I worked from home most of the time! 100% for the first employer — they were based in NYC and I was in LA — and about 70% for the next one. I usually just went in 1-2 days a week for meetings. I think that really trained me up for freelancing! I was already used to being self-disciplined to get my work done.

  7. Jawad Khan

    I am very satisfied with my decision of going freelance. Not only because I am earning more than my job, but also because I am making a difference with my work that I can directly see.

    The only tough phases of freelancing are (a) when you’re starting off and do not have a regular stream of clients (b) when you lose self-discipline.

    But there’s certainly no better feeling than being your own boss and knowing that your career growth is in your own hands.

    • Carol Tice

      I think it’s a major inflection point when you realize you can earn MORE as a freelancer, and get out of the ‘starving artist’ mentality, Jawad. And another one when you DO it.

      I’ll never forget when I hit the point where I exceeded my staff writer income. That’s when I realized the sky was truly the limit for enterprising writers — especially today with the self-publishing avenues that are open to us.

  8. bparatore

    I want so desperately to be an author/writer/blogger/freelancer but have not been able to secure a job(s). I was hired for ten blog post which the employer claimed were perfect and willing paid, but has not provided any further opportunities. How does one get started as a freelancer? I can write on just about any topic and have plenty of time to do so and research.

  9. Susan Springer

    I too am a happy freelancer! It’s creative, family friendly, and I like the independence. The only downside for me has been the shocking high price of health care after leaving the corporate world. So (not to get political here!) but I’m glad to know much better options await freelancers on January 1st.

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah, I hear you on the health care. Hopefully the onset of Obamacare and health exchanges here in the US is going to help more of us freelance without going broke paying health premiums and deductibles.

      Speaking as someone who’s currently on the hook for about $15K out of pocket beyond my premiums from a major illness my son had…I’m excited to see the changes.

      I had a great plan and low out of pocket costs as a staffer with American City Business Journals, so that was definitely a big one for me, too. And the cost has risen nearly every year of the 8 years I’ve been freelancing. Jealous of writers with national healthcare in other countries, who don’t have this concern!

      But what I always say to writers is…solve it. It IS a solvable issue. Actually, did a whole post about options for Freelance Switch a while back:

  10. Kimberlee Morrison

    I too have found freelancing to be more secure than working a 9-to-5 and despite my recent challenges, I have no plans to go back. I took that risk once and it didn’t really pay off. The hours were demanding and the collaboration difficult. Indeed, I am a happy freelancer and what I enjoy most is being in control of my own time and my own projects. My kids tell people I’m an entrepreneur, which makes me so proud. Being a freelancer also allows me the freedom to pursue other passions, including becoming a certified yoga teacher. I love it and this study provides some much needed encouragement.

    • Carol Tice

      Wow, that’s great Kimberlee!

      And I’m with you — I think it’s great role modeling for those of us with kids for them to see us creating our own business and directing the course of our own lives, instead of being squeezed into some corporate box we hate.

      I grew up watching my dad operate as an independent insurance agent, and I believe it had a great influence on me and my thinking that I could go out on my own.

      And by the time our kids grow up…man, about everybody will be a freelancer or working remotely on contract. All trends point to increased Internet tools and usage make it ever easier to use independent workers for companies.

  11. Joyce

    I’ve been a full-time freelancer for almost seven months now and every day is as exciting as the first one. I never feel like I am “working” and I love “going to work” every day. Plus, my business has expanded far beyond what I had originally intended. I now have six writers working for me part-time and I’m adding web design as part of my services just because my daycare asked for it! lol

    I have a feeling that I’m not even close to where I’ll be in another year as I improve my website and begin marketing to local clients. I already make more money than I ever have at other jobs, even when I worked two or three. While you could say being a freelancer is hard work, I love the fact that what happens is up to me. If I want to earn more money, I simply work harder. I decide when and how much I’ll work (as long as deadlines are met) and I decide what kind of work I want to do. I love this freedom so much, nothing could compel me to go back to being an employee.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for sharing your success story, Joyce!

  12. Shauna L Bowling

    This is very promising and motivating information! I have a huge band of support in my freelance endeavors from family and friends. I’m in the group of ‘older’ people. At age 55 I quit my day job to pursue writing full-time. I’m not there yet. I mean, yeah I can write and do so for my blog and HubPages. Until several months ago I wrote for content mills and thought I was doing great. I’ve gained more respect for myself and have ceased that activity. However, I need to attract clients. I’ve been in the learning mode for the last few months. Now I need to find clients that are willing to take a chance on my ability. I won’t give up until I succeed! I definitely do not want to go back to work for corporate America. I’d sooner bag groceries than subject myself to the politics and lack of respect that coats the corporate ladder!

  13. Lindsay Wilson

    I exchanged a big city for a small city for a job change for my other half, and found the market for jobs in the writing and editing field much more scarce! I’d also had a child and wanted to work part-time, and most of the jobs going, regardless of location, are full-time. So how about creating my own job from the ground up?

    Really freelancing was something I’d been wanting to do for a long time, but had been afraid to try. It took me months of practicing on the content mills to build the confidence to try my hand in the real freelance market. Building the business has been slow, but I’m so proud of what I’ve done so far, and there is so much potential that I haven’t even had the time to explore yet. I love being able to set my own schedule, even though it means early mornings and working in evenings and during my son’s naps (luckily he is an awesome sleeper!), because it also means I can do things like play with him during the day and open the Friday toddler group. It’s also so incredibly motivating to know I’m doing everything for my own business rather than someone else’s! πŸ™‚

  14. Angie

    It would take one heck of a disaster to make me ever consider going back to being an employee.

    Freelancing is often stressful, and sometimes downright scary. But I love it wholeheartedly, which is why I’ve clawed my way up from the bottom and held on for dear life instead of looking for another job. And as my income slowly improves (and health insurance is now easier to get), the freelance life only gets better. πŸ™‚

  15. Octavia

    I love how your articles are always encouraging and uplifting. This is one very good example. I work as a freelancer and I am happy with it. Sure, it has its ups and downs, but what in the world doesn’t? And I feel that what you said in this post confirmed an assumption of mine: that soon enough, most of the people will work remotely, on a freelance basis or simply online.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks Octavia! I think sometimes our posts also look at the dark side and how to avoid scams and things…but I think too many writers are discouraged from joining the freelance sector by people who don’t understand how prevalent freelancing is. So I always like it when I find data that shows the growth and success of freelancing. πŸ˜‰

  16. Jackson Anderson

    Those were some really interesting stats Carol thanks for putting all of that in one place!!
    Really gives all levels of freelancers some more insight to how big this industry is and the potential, I mean a median of 147k USD is quite crazy when you think about it!

    Just shows even the smallest piece of the pie could replace the 9-5 income if you go about it the right way!


    P.S I finally pressed publish! The journey begins!

    • Carol Tice

      Congrats, Jackson!

  17. David

    Great article, though as a reader from abroad, I would have appreciated a little more clarity that these numbers are US specific.

    • Carol Tice

      Sorry David — believe you’re correct that these figures are just for the US…which means the global freelance market is even bigger!

  18. Rob

    Job satisfaction is worth more than money. Freelancing is infinitely more satisfying to me than having a job ever was, even though, after nearly 5 years, I’m just beginning to make as much as I made when I was “working” (and that wasn’t much, either).

  19. Mridu Khullar Relph

    I’m Gen Y. Only ever had one job. I was in college at the time and it only lasted eight months. I’ve been freelancing for 11 years now, since I was a sophomore at college.

    I’ve never had to live through the gruelling “real job” slog, but even so, I couldn’t be happier with my choice and can’t imagine doing anything else.

  20. Paula Cowan

    Always happy to see an article like this. I’m sure my friends and family think I’m nuts.
    Thanks for the tip about Writeful Share. I do hope it’s one of the those groups that approves members quickly. My membership is still pending.

  21. 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. πŸ˜‰

  22. 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.

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