It might seem a bit early to be talking about the trends of 2016, but you should always be thinking and working with the your future plans and goals in mind. At any given point, as you focus on getting through your to-do list, try taking a step back and thinking about what you can do today to get closer to success (whatever that might look like for you) tomorrow.
We too need to remind ourselves to do this every now and then. So we took a small step back to look forward into next year to help you strategically plan your next steps in your freelance career, and to keep us on track in building something that will benefit freelancers well into the future. Here are the top ten freelance trends of 2016 that we spotted.
1) Representing nearly 40% of the workforce, freelance will become mainstream
You’ve probably heard that by 2020, 40% of the U.S. workforce will be independent workers. Today, there are already 53 million Americans (34% of the workforce) that fall into this category. More people are leaving their steady corporate or agency jobs to work independently, on their own schedule with the clients they want to work with.
But they aren’t the only ones seeking freelance work.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 20 million Americans are working less than 35 hours a week for “non-economic reasons” — they’re working part-time out of choice. Two-thirds of this group work part-time because they have family obligations, are attending school or are semiretired. At six million, the final third represent millennials who choose to abandon the traditional career path their parents chose to pursue their own passions, such as toy making, nonprofit advocacy or travel.
In fact, millennials are now the biggest cohort of the workforce at 44% and have already created a shift in career priorities.
One of the benefits they want most in a job is flexibility at 19%, second to training and development at 22% — a testament to their desire to learn, grow and evolve, which freelancing allows them to do at an accelerated rate. In 2016, we’ll see more of these workers turn to freelance to compensate their income as they turn their passion projects into businesses.
2) Large companies will organize around the worker and hire freelancers
As quoted in the Bloomberg Business story, Chauncy Lennon, who runs JPMorgan’s workforce initiatives said:
“The workforce of the past was organized around company. The workforce of the future is organized around the worker. If we can’t find the right people, it’s going to hurt our bottom line.”
If large and innovative companies want to recruit the top talent of tomorrow, they’re going to need to be open to hiring freelancers, as fewer millennials and even Gen X-ers are willing to commit to one company.
This also allows companies to focus more on results, hiring freelancers for end-to-end management of specific projects, therefore leading to increased accountability and more work done at a faster pace. For the economy, this means more innovation, more jobs, more high-quality opportunities for freelancers. And of course, more competition.
3) As demand for freelancers increases, so will their income
At 34%, the biggest challenge facing freelancers today is securing more work, according to a survey by Contently. The median income for full-time freelancers who responded to the survey was between $20,001 and $30,000. Whereas, the annual mean wage in the U.S. a year ago was $47,230, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
However, a shift in the freelance economy is quickly taking place. Despite the low-income of many of freelancers surveyed, 65% said their life as a freelancer improved over the past year. And 38% said they expect freelancing to become less difficult over the next decade.
As more opportunities are created for freelancers and demand for top freelance talent grows, we predict that freelancers will start charging higher rates, allowing them to live the life they want with a manageable book of business.
4) More startups will turn to freelancers with help scaling
Startups are focused on finding product-market fit, rapid growth and scaling, so they need to find top talent while remaining agile. Hiring experienced and diverse freelancers allows them to test different tactics and methodologies across departments to determine what will grow their business fastest on a project-basis without making a long-term commitment.
It also saves them money. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average employer cost is $29.71 per employee per hour, with roughly 70% of that accounting for wage and 30% for employee benefits. Because freelancers are technically self-employed, companies save 30% with each hire. On the flip side, for freelancers, working with a startup creates an opportunity to quickly strengthen skills, while learning new ones and building a referral network.
5) We’ll see the rise of the full-stack marketer
As more startups hire freelancers to test new tactics and strategies, they’ll increasingly look for a jack or jill of all trades, especially in marketing-related roles, such as community, content and PR.
In general, when it comes to marketing, a startup founder may have a vision, but more often than not, they don’t know what they need to do to engage their audience. They want someone to come in and advise them on the best strategies to reach their goals. This calls for someone with experience across marketing roles. It’s easier and more cost effective to hire one person who knows how to run a press campaign, build a newsletter list and grow a large following on social media than it is to hire three different people.
We’ll see more and more companies looking for marketing unicorns. Good news is, many of the freelancers entering the market today fit this bill. At CloudPeeps, we see both experienced, senior-level marketers who’ve left their corporate jobs and millennials who’ve gained these skills by simply growing up on the internet pitch for these type of jobs.
6) Workplaces will become more distributed with remote workers
It used to be common for freelancers to be required to work from company’s office. This has become less and less commonplace. Today, even full-time employees work from home. The number of employees who are, or have at one point in their career, worked at least one day a month from home has grown by more than 300% in the past 20 years.
As mentioned this New York Times article, the American Community Survey says that as of 2014, remote workers made up 3.2 million American workers and remote working rose 79% between 2005 and 2012 alone. The below chart is from the Wall Street Journal based on a 2013 report from the U.S. Census bureau, and although it’s a bit dated, it shows a clear and steady rise of Americans working from home rather than the office.
As more companies prioritize the needs and interests of the worker and continue to hire freelancers, more workplaces will go remote. This not only empowers freelancers to live the flexible lives they want – spending less time commuting and dealing with office politics – it also saves companies costs.
7) Freelancers will turn freelancing into long-term careers
More than two-thirds (67%) of respondents to the Contently survey mentioned earlier plan to keep freelancing for at least the next 10 years.
According to Contently, “The data suggests creatives are no longer just using contract work as a way to land a full-time job in the future — although that may be a result of staff jobs disappearing. As freelancing continues to shed its stigma as a second-rate career path, there will be more highly skilled creatives available to deliver on ambitious projects for publishers, marketers, brands, and anyone else willing to pay a fair rate.”
Our own data backs up this trend as well. Almost every day, a Peep tells us that they’ve quit their job to pursue full-time freelance work. The future is moving closer and closer to fully supporting the freelance economy.
8) More companies will create benefit solutions for freelancers
There’s already a ton of tools and software available to make the lives of freelancers better and more productive. In 2016, we’ll see more companies offering solutions to allow people pursue full-time freelance careers. These offers will focus on insurance and healthcare, work/life balance, healthy living and travel/digital nomadism.
9) Freelancers will build more products for fellow freelancers
CloudPeeps was founded because Kate experienced a need as a freelancer to be connected with the companies who needed freelance help. Tessa and I both learned about CloudPeeps as people who were either looking to diversify our experience with freelancing or who needed to compensate our income. We’re a product that’s evolved based on the need of both freelancers and startups because we live and breath those needs on a daily basis.
Look at Paul Jarvis, he’s a freelancer who’s created a ton of products – classes, books, articles, newsletters – to help fellow freelancers. He felt a pain, developed a solution, then productized that solution to help others.
As more people turn to freelance careers, we’ll see more and more people developing products and services on the side to help their fellow freelancers.
10) With annual earnings of $715 billion, politicians will be forced to address to freelancers’ needs
According to this Fast Company article, at 53 million, the freelance workforce is as large as the entire U.S. Latino community, often hailed as the nation’s most important rising political force. It’s more than the combined number of voters (Democrats and Republicans) who came to the polls in California, New York, Texas, Ohio, Michigan and Florida in 2012. And with annual freelance earnings north of $715 billion, they earn more than the combined value of Facebook, Walmart, Amazon, Starbucks and McDonald’s.
Freelancers aren’t the traditional worker who politicians are used to talking to, or even understand. As they grow as an important segment of the workforce, they’ve become increasingly interested in unionization. Although this will take years, politicians will need to address freelancer interests and needs in the 2016 presidential election, or risk losing the votes of this particularly strong voting bloc.
The freelance economy is growing in strength and numbers. 2016 will be an exciting year in terms of products and services built and policies created to cater to freelancers. Establishing an environment conducive to creating success (by whatever definition you choose) will take hard work, but will be worth it in the end for freelancers, companies and our future workforce.
Do you have thoughts on where the freelance economy is going? Share them in the comments below!
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