The Top 7 Freelancing Trends for 2016

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Sofia AgrasBy Sofia Agras, VP Business Development, Marketeeria

  1. The freelance economy is exploding. The on-demand “Free Agent” economy is rising and projected to grow.

$715 Billion! According to a Freelancers Union report, that’s the total amount spent on contingent labor worldwide.  According to some studies, outsourcing contracts with Fortune 100 companies have more than doubled since 2000.  As more businesses begin to realize the benefits of having an on-demand workforce, that number will explode to $6 trillion, according to Accenture.

Freelancers now represent 34 percent of the US workforce – a stunning 53 million people. (Mary Meeker Internet Trends Reports, May 2015). This represents over a third of the American workforce, and there are 700,000 more freelancers this year than last.  Indeed, the work of many people’s lives is shifting from full-time employment to free agent or part-time work. “Traditional employment will no longer be the norm,” according to the Intuit 2020 Report.

As companies seek to cut costs due to the lingering effects of the Great Recession, and smart technology and the cloud make it easier for people to find gigs and work remotely, more people are choosing to work for themselves, as independent contractors on a non-permanent basis.

  1. Talent is shifting online

Within the past 15 years, we have seen a proliferation of online platforms that match freelance workers with companies, for small projects and long-term projects.

Over 12 million workers have earned close to $2 billion as outsourced “talent in the cloud” – with more than $1 billion of that coming in the past 12 months.  The new era of an on-demand online work force is here. It will dictate how a large part of how work gets done in the U.S. and around the world.  This year, 51 percent of freelancers surveyed have found a project online, and nearly three-quarters of those say it typically takes less than a week to do so.

  1. Jobless but not workless.”

Some workers freelance because they can’t find jobs. But 60 percent of those surveyed say they do it by choice, which is up five points in the last yearThey freelance because they are underemployed or are not being used for their chosen skill set.

Millions who have grown weary of their cubicle prisons finally have a viable way to pursue work they love, while taking control of their lives, finding the freedom and flexibility that the gig economy offers.

The trend is to “work when-I-want, from-wherever-I-want,” and not at a single corporation.  For half of those freelancers polled, no amount of money could make them quit freelancing for a traditional job with an employer

The perception of being a freelancer is changing… It’s Now Hip to Be a Freelancer.

  1. Pay will go UP

The Freelancing In America Report: 2015 (which was the source of most of the statistics in this essay, unless otherwise noted) also that tells us that the majority of freelancers earn more than they did at their old, traditional job, with three in four earning more within the first year of leaving. And the vast majority of freelancers believe things will only improve as time goes on.

Many platforms specialize in one industry or segment and that allows for workers to charge more. (I work at Marketeeria, the world’s first online marketplace for marketers.)

Companies no longer outsource only their low-level admin or customer service tasks. Some freelancer platforms aggregate a vetted talent pool of highly educated, seasoned executives and mid-level professionals with specialized knowledge for companies to hire directly.

These elite workers are part of a curated community and command higher prices than the typical $4/hr outsource worker in the Philippines.  They could be UX Designers, MBAs, Engineers or CMOs. They might have done deals on Wall Street, ad campaigns at an Agency, run IT Depts for Blue Chip firms, and have a Harvard degree. 

  1. An On-demand workforce benefits both the freelancer and the company.

By leveraging a freelance workforce, in combination with permanent employees, companies become more agile to scale up or down to meet the demands of an ever-changing marketplace.  Roughly 80% of large corporations are planning to vastly increase their use of a flexible workforce. (The Intuit 2020 Report). Being able to get what you need, just when you need it, only for as long as you need it, explains the relentless growth of freelancer earnings.

For example, a Geekwire article mentions just how massive Microsoft’s “Shadow Workforce” is: more than 71,000 workers are contingent staff or contractors, which is more than two-thirds of all 100,000 Microsoft employees.

Hiring contractors also allows companies to extend their workforce and improve their talent pool quality overall. They are given access to a wider range of talent they might not have had available to them before. They can find the right talent with a more diverse skill set, without having to commit to them long term.

Companies prefer hiring freelancers because they don’t have to shell out stiff Recruiter or Temp Agency fees, which are often marked up 3-4x more than what the worker is being paid.

This is very helpful to smaller companies who might not normally be able to afford the Senior VP of Marketing Strategy from BMW who, in this case, might be available for a one-hour consultation at $350. This empowers the entrepreneur and small business owner to have access to the same level of talent as a billion-dollar brand.

Companies also like to hire freelancers because their performance in a temporary assignment is supposedly a better predictor of future performance than a job interview, a resume or a LinkedIn profile. It’s Plug and Play talent.  This changing ecosystem is fostering collaborative partnerships between big and small businesses and individuals. 

  1. An On-demand workforce benefits both the freelancer and the company.

For Freelancers:

The freelancers are pleased because they can often decide how much they want to charge, and can keep more of what they negotiate directly with the company.

Gone are the days of mind-numbing online job board searches, that lead to the black hole of resume hell. These are dynamic marketplaces, with fresh jobs being posted daily, and talent is not limited to only putting their profile up on only one platform.

Freelancers can quickly gain experience in a new field, build a portfolio of work, take on smaller projects just to keep cash flowing, and decide how much work they want, all by clicking a button that says “Available” or “Not.” They have a variety of projects to choose from, and they can test drive what it’s like to work in an organization without having to quit another job or commit to an unknown situation for years.

Another benefit is that freelance remote work can also combat ageism.

  1. More Collaboration… Less Hierarchy… More Co-working Spaces Hybrid Jobs

Another emerging trend that mimics the rise of social networking and online communities is the increase of physical co-working spaces, where freelancers often set up temporary office space.  Although many prefer working from home, they can find it isolating and lonely. It can get tiresome to work out of a coffee shop where you can’t talk on your cell phone privately, or spread out on a large desk.

In LA alone, the number of co-working/incubator spaces has grown from only a couple to at least 20 in just a few years.  The desire for communal work spaces has also led to the formation of hybrid work teams, a rise in startups, hackathons, demo days and pitch events, where people come together and interact, face-to face to form ad hoc teams and even companies.

Freelancers can rent a space for as long as they need it, find on-demand projects in the entrepreneurial culture that is cultivated there, and meet new colleagues who become friends. They may even bring those coworkers with them into a new company to work on a gig after they finish their current project.

Startups, in particular, can benefit by setting a budget for a few press releases, for example, and hire a PR pro to knock them out, without having to on-board them as full time employees or an extensive agency contract.

In today’s crowdsourced sharing economy, it’s becoming more feasible for workers across diverse industries and professions to work together collaboratively. No more silos.

What we are seeing at Marketeeria is that a marketer might work on a gig that requires a hybrid set of skills—perhaps SEO, PR and social media for one project, then a focus on copywriting and content marketing on the next gig. Instead of hiring three different people, a company can hire one diverse marketer to do all of these tasks. This empowers those who are nimble and have a blend of capabilities in multiple areas of marketing.

And if you have most of the skills needed, but you’re a little weak in one area, you can still land the project because YOU can always hire another freelancer to help you out!

So go ahead. Post your profile. Get a gig. The Freelance Economy is here to stay and welcoming you to be a part of it.

About the Author: Sofia Agras is Vice President of Business Development at Marketeeria (www.marketeeria.com), the world’s first online marketplace for marketers.  Prior to joining Marketeeria, she held Business Development positions at Idealab, eNow (acquired by AOL), Sun Microsystems, and was a Market Researcher at Harvard Business School. She developed content at NPR, Sony and Hearst Entertainment, and is a Startup Mentor at TechStars. She holds a BA from Vassar, with additional studies at Columbia School of Journalism and UCLA.