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Stop thinking of freelance as a fallback

It’s a viable path.

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Image: ‘Death to the office’, AND CO

Fair or not, the label “freelancer” carries with it some negative connotations.

Some people think freelancers are flighty, averse to corporate settings or “lost” when it comes to their career direction. Others think all freelancers are creatives who lack business acumen and the general qualities of an entrepreneur.

If you read the headline of this article, you no doubt know where this is going. It’s time to stop thinking of freelancing as an aimless, temporary means for making ends meet. Technology and the rise of the gig economy have made it possible for ambitious solopreneurs to turn their talents into viable businesses. For these professionals, freelance isn’t a fallback; it’s a chosen way of life.

At AND CO, we were curious about the growing influence of independent workers within the global economy. Beyond statistics around the sheer volume of freelancers, we were most curious to learn about the behaviors, motivations and mindsets of today’s independent workers. And so, we interviewed hundreds of such professionals from around the world.

The results of our findings informed The Slash Workers, a new report on the changing face of freelance. While the research confirmed some of our hunches, other findings surprised us. All in all, the survey paints a clearer picture of how independent workers view their professional ambitions—beyond the stigma.

Our favorite finding: People are choosing to freelance

Contrary to the perception that freelancers are taking on gig work because they have no other choice, respondents of our survey overwhelmingly told us that they are independent because they want to be, not because they have to be.

Just 6 percent of respondents told us they were freelancing until a compelling full-time role comes along. And while a significant share would be open to re-entering the traditional workforce down the line (depending on the opportunity), more than 40 percent of respondents told us they intend to freelance “forever.”

Why choose an independent work path? Growth & flexibility

Freelancers aren’t jumping out of their cubicles for the perceived financial upside. In fact, just 7 percent of respondents said they went freelance because they believed they would earn more money this way.

Most people told us that they went independent to support their own personal growth (41 percent) and to live a more flexible lifestyle (26 percent). This personal growth likely comes from exposure to multiple clients and projects. Among freelancers we interviewed, 95 percent are “Slash Workers,” selling multiple talents (e.g. Designer / Engineer / Photographer).

With greater opportunities come greater challenges

Independent work removes the guarantees of a salaried job that includes such perks as employer-sponsored health insurance and 401K matching. As such, it’s not surprising that most freelancers said that they do not feel more financially stable since going out on their own. And yet, interestingly, 68 percent of this same group say their quality of life has improved since turning freelance.

For many freelancers, freedom is a form of wealth in and of itself. Having the ability to choose projects you care about and live a more flexible work lifestyle that perhaps involve greater opportunities for travel (or time at home!) is worth the financial uncertainty.

We also asked freelancers what was missing from their lives. What do they wish they had more of? Respondents told us they missed the feeling of community that a traditional workplace can afford, and are looking to employers to offer more remote options.

As the future workforce continues to scale towards more independent, project-based relationships, freelancers will assume an increasingly powerful cohort. Individuals and companies will need to adapt to the new landscape, and new products and services will emerge to support their unique needs.

In the meantime, it’s time for the professional community to treat independent workers with greater respect. This starts with paying them fairly and on time—44 percent of respondents told us they’d been stiffed before—and dropping the notion that the alternative to a traditional career path is no career path as all.

The future career path for many will be fueled by autonomy, entrepreneurism and a new value system. Are you ready for the Slash Workers?

AND CO is the support system for freelancers. Through automated business and accounting tools, AND CO helps independent workers save time so they can do more of what they love: the work. A free AND CO membership is now included with a subscription to Envato Elements!