Earlier this year, I was delighted to take part in the 2010 Global Freelancer Survey – mainly because I was so interested in seeing the published results. Often times, freelancing is a lonely undertaking. It can be difficult to measure your success amongst others in this group. Being a freelancer myself, this new survey is undoubtedly one of the best tools I’ve come across for both validating the success and failures of my own career and establishing a way to measure how I’m stacking up against other freelancers.
Whether you’re a freelancer like me, or someone interested in either working with a freelancer or pursuing a solo career for yourself, spend some time with Amanda Hackwith’s 2010 Global Freelancer Survey. Below are some notable findings from Hackwith’s study. Published by Rockable Press, the full report, titled Freelance Confidential, is also available for purchase.
Freelancer Background, Training and Skills
The 2010 Global Freelancer Survey gathered data from a group of over 3,000 participating freelancers worldwide. The results indicate – amongst other things – a large increase in the number of full-time freelancers internationally. The findings also indicate that a majority of freelancers are male (76.6%) and over 40% of freelancers received their training at a university/technical college. Collectively, a majority of the respondents (54.3%) have been freelancing for less than a year or up to three years. The top three professions of the surveyed group include web developers (25.3%), web designers (23.2%) and graphic designers (22.9%). Nearly 50% of the participants are freelancing on a full-time basis. Another 10% of respondents say they freelance on a part-time basis with the intentions of a making a transition to full-time freelancing (13.6%).
Where Freelancers Get Their Work
The survey contains a variety of interesting statistics from where these freelancers are finding their work. Participants indicated that a majority of their work comes from referrals (34.2%), portfolio websites (16.1%) and social networking sites (14.4%). Interestingly, the results indicate that a relatively small amount of work comes from traditional forms of marketing/advertising. Less than 10% of work comes from cold calling and advertising (web, print, etc.).
Freelancers’ Skills and Workload
A majority of freelancers rate their experience as ‘highly skilled’ (51.2%), but findings also indicate that over 50% of freelancers work fewer hours in comparison to their full-time counterparts. Also, less than a quarter of full-time freelancers are able to bill 61-80% of their work for clients on a weekly basis. Freelancers can expect to work 10-20 hours per week(19.5%) on average, but this statistic doesn’t describe the work involved. Time spent for marketing and other business-growing activities aren’t addressed in this survey, but there are reasons to believe that such activities would account for much of a freelancers’ time.
Freelancers’ Rates and Income
Not surprisingly, freelancers with more years of experience charge a higher hourly rate. Freelancers with 5 years of experience or more charge an average of $59 – $85 per hour while freelancers with less than five years of experience charge an average hourly rate of $45 – $50 per hour. Aside from experience, rates are also determined by which field these freelancers are in. Out of the 14 professions included in this survey, the top three with the highest hourly rate belong to 3D Production Artists ($107.32), Photographers ($83.87) and Business Consultants ($81.44). The three professions with the lowest hourly rate belong to Graphic Designers ($45.71), Illustrators ($44.91) and Virtual Assistants ($23.84). On average, the gross income of a full-time freelancer is $34,340. After expenses, a majority of freelancers indicated that they make less than they did as full-time employees (48.7%). See this post for more information on compensation for graphic designers working in studios/agencies.
What are this group’s primary reasons for freelancing? There don’t seem to be any surprises here. The top three answers indicate that these individuals were looking for either more flexibility, more creative control over projects or had the desire to work from home. Less than 3% indicated that they chose freelancing due to their failure to find full-time employment. Associated findings indicate that an overwhelming majority of freelancers are happier since they started freelancing (93%), but their feelings of security in their profession are nearly split: over 45% of freelancers say they don’t feel secure as freelancers. As for this groups’ plans for the future, less than 10% have intentions to return to full-time employment.
A Freelancer’s Take on the Findings
I work when I want, where and want and with who I want. It’s how I work. I’m fortunate to have built up a client base that wants the work with me.
This September, I will have been a freelancer/small business owner for three years. It’s been quite a trip – that much is for sure – and I’d be lying if I said it’s been all roses. I never expected it to be. I’ve sweated it out waiting for that final deposit, chained to my iMac for days while a project drags on. I’ve had clients refuse to settle up after finishing the job both on time and on budget. I hate to admit it, but at times I’ve turned to crowdsourcing in the hopes of bringing in an extra few bucks. Many times, I’ve also thought, “how am I going to make this work?”. As bad as that all may sound, this career path has also given me the chance to travel, do what I love and watch my little girl grow up without ever having to “take time off” or ask anyone’s permission. I work when I want, where and want and with who I want. It’s how I work. These are the benefits I see in freelancing and I’m fortunate to have built up a client base that wants to work with me.
Freelancing as a graphic designer has been a career decision I would best describe as a balancing act. With all the potential downsides to freelancing, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I can honestly say that I’ve worked harder as a freelancer than I ever did as a traditional employee and for less money. If you’re considering freelancing, be prepared to make more than a few sacrifices (a regular paycheck, for one) and find the perseverance you’re going to need to actively grow your business. On the flip side, also be ready to reap the rewards that freelancing has to offer. More time with your family, ownership of your work, more self-respect and a realization of your abilities are just a few of the things you’re able to enjoy as a freelancer.
Additional Links & Media
The Wealthy Freelancer: 12 Secrets to a Great Income and an Enviable Lifestyle
The Principles of Successful Freelancing
My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire