First, you’ve read it online and now you’re seeing it everywhere.
There’s a revolution happening out there in the freelance economy.
It’s a silent and peaceful revolution, and it’s changing the way we work and live.
You can see it on the billboards showcasing people’s dreams coming true when they start working for themselves.
You can read it on the news and your neighbour’s face when you meet him at the cafe downstairs. He’s given up his business shirt for a relaxed t-shirt. You haven’t seen him with so much energy before. It looks like he can’t wait to go back to his laptop to give shape to all those ideas that are popping out of his head.
You hear that many marketers, IT managers and companies of all sizes have adapted to more flexible work arrangements. Initially, it was out of necessity. Due to the pandemic, they had to adapt and experiment with different approaches. But now they’ve adjusted and adopted more efficient and cost-effective workflows.
What do all of them have in common? They have joined the freelance revolution.
It goes beyond your neighbour and the marketing manager looking for a cheaper way to build their website.
The Freelance economy by the numbers
One in two organisations in the US has increased their use of freelancers in the last five years, according to an EY survey. Freelancers comprise 35% of the US workforce, based on data from the Department of Labour. This means that one in three North American workers freelance in some capacity.
And it’s not just a US phenomenon. Businesses across the globe are waking up to the opportunities offered by hiring independent workers.
A survey conducted by the financial services company Payoneer, shows that 36% of freelancers’ clients are located in North America
The remaining 64% are spread throughout Europe (27%), Latin America (11%) and Asia (10%).
To get an idea of where things are heading, consider that today Google hires more freelancers than permanent employees
). And from here, the trend is expected to follow an upward trajectory.
The projected gross volume of the freelance economy for 2023 is US$455.2B worldwide (Statista).
The freelance economy is coming to maturity, with investors more and more interested in investing in freelance startups
This is confirmed by the vote of confidence given to freelance concepts by top incubators and accelerators (Forbes
Within the freelance economy, skilled professionals make up the biggest portion of the total. According to MBO Partners
, they work in a variety of fields, with the top professions including:
Consulting, coaching, and research (19%)
Creative services (15%)
What spurred the revolution and how it is impacting the way we work
It won’t come as a surprise that the pandemic has added momentum to this trend. Once companies have moved to remote work, shifting some of their workforces to freelance or contract workers has been a natural progression.
But this trend started well before Covid19, as shown by the number of US skilled independent workers, which has risen from 4.5 million in 2011 to 7.7 million in 2020
Technology is playing an important role in the transition towards working remotely, or in operating an independent business.
But possibly the biggest change is in the mindset of hiring managers, who are discovering that remote work is possible and beneficial, and that integrating remote independent workers into their teams is easy and effective.
Companies are seeing the benefits of working with skilled talent, on-demand and without the burden of the overhead cost.
This shift is helping firms of all sizes to eliminate inefficiencies, unnecessary costs and low-value tasks. Streamlining their workflow is ultimately helping them become more competitive.
On the other side of the spectrum, reliable freelancers with highly specialised skills become a firm’s preferred partners. They are able to develop long-term relationships (also known as perma-lance) that benefits both parties.
Freelancers enjoy the peace of mind of a steady workflow (and income), while companies balance quality and responsiveness with budget efficiencies.
Benefits of the freelance economy
Why companies hire freelancers
Using freelancers offers companies the following benefits:
Highly specialised skills from resources available on-demand, when needed
Access to talent often scarce in the traditional job market
High quality and consistency with perma-lance
New dynamics and fresh ideas when freelancers are introduced into established teams
Why independent workers love freelancing
More autonomy and flexibility, especially for: Baby Boomers looking to extend their career span; Millennials and Gen Z-ers who are experimenting with life-hacks to counteract the uncertainty of today’s world
Need for control where traditional employment has not guaranteed security in times of crisis
Work-life balance and ability to work from anywhere
Being able to pursue personal passions
Opportunity to develop new skills (thanks to a plethora of online training tools)
Greater health and increased optimism, due to the higher independence
Where the freelancer economy is heading
The available data shows the freelance economy is here to stay:
It is projected that in 2027, 86.5 million people will freelance in the US - that is a whopping 50.9% of the total US workforce (Statista)
A BCG survey
found that 40% of executives worldwide expect to use freelancers
over the next 3 years
In the same research, 50% of them agreed that corporate adoption of gig platforms would be a highly significant trend
The latest data around the growth of online marketplaces is proving them right. In 2012, only 3% of freelancers reported having used online platforms in the previous 12 months; by 2020, 27% did
For employers, online marketplaces give them “on tap access” to a broad pool of talent that competition and market dynamics have validated and rated.
Independent workers use freelance platforms as a primary channel to be hired or to fill in their schedules, find new clients, and test out new business ideas.
As of 2021, the leading online marketplace by number of users is Freelancer.com. With more than 50 million users it is the largest freelance platform in the world.
Through the Freelancer.com marketplace, employers can hire freelancers to do work in areas such as software development, writing, data entry and design, right through to engineering, the sciences, sales and marketing, accounting and legal services.
The freelance economy and the growth of online talent marketplaces are born from the need for flexibility in the current job market. As technology and the world keep evolving, the offering of solutions to meet increasingly more specific needs will also grow.
Just take it from Tony Steadman, Americas Total Talent Supply Chain Advisory Leader for Ernst and Young.
In a world of liquid expectations where customer experiences seep over from one industry to an entirely different sector, Steadman says “customers expect goods and services to arrive faster and more flexibly than ever before. In an effort to meet these demands, businesses and governments need access to highly skilled professionals for short-term projects to drive innovation and rapid change.”