I am proud to be a full-time career freelancer. After 25 years in traditional journalism jobs, I chose to start my own business. So when I talk about freelancing, I tend to think of, well, me.
But the reality is not so black and white. Look across the membership of the National Press Club (NPC), for example, and you’ll see many different shades of freelancers:
• Full-time freelance – solo: One person with no other source of income or benefits
• Supported freelance: People who have a working spouse or partner with benefits
• Retired part-time freelance: Retirees who are supplementing their retirement income, or freelancing for fun and fulfillment
• In-between freelance: People who have lost a full-time traditional job and are freelancing to support themselves while looking for another full-time traditional job
There are other categories. But in whatever form, more journalists are freelancing than ever before. It’s a goal of the NPC Freelance Committee to support all of them. Each group, however, may have different needs.
A recent report by MBO Partners, a company that sells services to independent workers, says that 40 percent of adult Americans are working as “independents” or have at some point in their careers. And they like it – about 64 percent of those currently freelancing rate their satisfaction as very high and 77 percent say they’ll continue working independently. MBO Partners estimates the number of independent workers in America today at 17.7 million people, and predicts it will grow to 24 million by 2018.
The report offers a breakdown of independent workers by age category, describing the differing mindsets of each. Although this covers all kinds of contractors – not just journalists – these categories fit well with what I’ve observed:
• Millennials (ages 21-33): This group seems to be motivated both by a lack of opportunity and a desire to do things their own way. Forty-five percent indicate that previous employers did not recognize the value they offer. Nearly 25 percent went independent because they couldn’t find a traditional job, left a job out of dissatisfaction or lost a job. Over half say that going independent was their own choice, and a significant number – 22 percent versus only 10 percent for other groups – say they are working independently in order to gain skills that will advance their careers. Forty-five percent say they planned to stay independent. Only 26 percent planned to seek a full-time job in the next two to three years.
• Gen X (ages 34-49): This group recognizes the structural changes in the job market and is preparing by learning how to use the latest online tools, building professional networks and acquiring experience that will help them as independents. They have enough industry experience to get better gigs than millennials. Fifty percent say they can earn more money as independents than at a traditional job. Because many in this group are raising families, work/life flexibility is a key reason to go independent. Interestingly, 44 percent report that office politics was one of the reasons they went freelance. They also believe that freelancing is “less risk and more secure than traditional employment.”
• Boomers (ages 50-67): This is my tribe (I am 54) and the description fit me to a tee. Boomers are “the new evangelists of the shift to independent work.” Boomers started in the traditional job market and probably have the most battle scars from living through its wrenching changes. Over a quarter (27 percent) went independent due to loss of a job. Another 17 percent left a job they were unhappy with. (That’s me!) “They’ve been transferred, downsized, regrouped and relabeled enough to get fed up and change their path,” says the report. “In search of work that is more meaningful and in their control, they’re exiting traditional jobs to hang their own shingles, branding themselves as ‘Boss of Myself’ and ‘Chief Initiator of my Future.’” One third say they made a conscious decision to start their own business. And they haven’t regretted it: 84 percent report being satisfied with independent work.
• Matures (ages 68 and up): This group is the happiest. In most cases (71 percent), they say independent work was their choice and 94 percent say they are satisfied. More than half report they are working in part to supplement their retirement income; only 15 percent report they still need to work.
What’s missing from the report is what each group needs to become more successful at their style of freelancing. That’s where the National Press Club can help. Its Freelance Committee is now planning 2014 programs and events for all types of freelancers. If you’re a freelancer or considering freelancing, now is the time to join the NPC and get involved.
What type of freelancer are you? What are your biggest needs? Comment here or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.