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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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).

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

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