Results of the 2010 Global Freelancers Survey

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.

Why Freelance?

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

Freelance Confidential
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

5 Ways Creatives can Deal with Non-Paying Clients

Freelance designers have serious problems when it comes to collecting payment from clients. As a follow up to another post that deals with some steps being taken to give creatives some defense against clients who refuse to pay, I wanted to know more about the experiences other creatives have had in dealing with such clients or what design professionals have done to successfully collect on what they’re owed.

The range and variety of solutions offered up by members of the LinkedIn group, Creative Dilemmas, came as a pleasant surprise, shedding some brilliant and practical solutions to creative professionals’ invoicing woes as well as steps other creatives can take to avoid getting burnt.

Below is a list of five ways creatives can prevent getting burnt by non-paying clients.

I.  Collect a deposit before any work begins.

“We collect a deposit up front and then invoice the balance at the end. This way we are covered for at least half of the total cost.”

Having to deal with a non-paying client can be easier to manage — or completely avoided — if some preventive strategies are put in place from the very start. Making payment on a project deposit a necessity of every project you take on protects you in two key ways. First, it ensures you get paid for at least a portion of your total projected time and/or expenses. I’ve found my own clients to be comfortable with 25% of the total projected cost of the project, though it’s common for creatives to ask for at least half of the total cost.


“If [clients] don’t want to pay a deposit, then they have no intentions of paying [later
].”

Many creatives have also found collecting a project deposit to be a useful tool for separating good clients from the bad. If you choose not to collect a deposit, you may never get paid — no one likes to work for free.

II.  If You Don’t Trust Them, Don’t Work with Them

“The two times in my 22-year career that I felt uncomfortable about a client were the two times I got stiffed.”

In our day to day lives, we choose to associate with people we can trust. This mindset should also apply to the way we conduct business. A client that’s in a rush to get work done or makes promises that sound too good to be true are signals that you should reevaluate the relationship. Trust your instincts. Ending a relationship with a client that displays warning signs like these could save you a lot of time and energy later down the road.

“I only deal with companies who I feel are trustworthy from the very start. Life’s too short to be chasing invoices.”

III.  Be Professional, Be Assertive

“Perception is everything. To many, ‘freelancer’ means ‘pushover’. If they think you’re a pushover, that’s the treatment you’ll receive.”

Freelancers have to make themselves crystal clear in the way they conduct business. Otherwise, we run the risk of being walked all over, or misunderstood. Let your clients and prospects know that you’re running your business on your terms – not theirs. It might come as a shock, but people don’t want to work with a quirky, egotistical designer that’s difficult to work with: they’re looking for a reliable, honest professional that is as concerned about their business as they are about theirs.

IV.  Get Creative When It’s Time to Collect

“I have a photo of my dog looking extremely sad by an empty dog bowl with a headline that reads “Time to Feed the Dog”… it has invariably caused my invoices to be found and processed.”

While this may be proof that even funny, good-humored approaches to collecting payment can work, it also proves that there’s no single approach to invoicing that guarantees you’ll be paid on time. Every invoice I send out consists of one copy delivered to the client in the mail, one via email and a phone call to letting the client know that they’ve been invoiced. This may be annoying to the client, but it shows them that I’m serious about what I do and that I want to be paid in a timely manner. A client can’t say that an invoice was lost in the mail if they have it sitting in their inbox, or vice versa. If I think a client may be dodging me in hopes that I’ll just forget about their invoice, that’s when I send another one – this time as a certified letter. Resourceful professionals will demonstrate that sometimes you’re going to have to get creative.

“I was once contacted by the president of a design firm who was owed a fair amount of money… I told her to go to the client’s office and sit in the waiting room until someone came out with a check. It worked.”

V.  Explore Your Other Options

“I have only had one instance where I turned a client over to a collection agency… much to my shock, I actually got the money.”

You do have options available to you if a client absolutely refuses to pay. Collection agencies, the better business bureau and small claims courts are a few of the options available to designers in such events. It’s best to weigh the cost and effectiveness of these and any other options available to you to find the one that is best suited to your needs.

Small claims court is a great tool for small businesses. When you get a judgement in your favor, the sheriff goes over and collects the money for you plus all expenses.”

What have you found to be an effective way of dealing with non-paying clients or your own invoicing troubles? Suggestions?

A Large Concern for Freelancers: Getting Paid

If you’re a freelancer, it’s more than likely that you’ve been burnt by a client at some point in your career. My latest burn constitutes finishing a large project on a tight schedule for a new client, only to be denied the second half of the payment due to me after the job was finished and off to press.

At first and against my better judgment, I wanted to give this client the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they’ve fallen on tough times; Maybe there was some kind of emergency… anything to rationalize the behavior of an unprofessional client that was blatantly ignoring my attempts to touch base.

After failing to contact them by either phone or email over a months time, I decided to send a certified letter and enclosed my final invoice. I knew that the letter was received, being I had the signature to prove it, but another week came and went without a reply or a check in the mail. I contacted a lawyer that could help me to a point, but things could only go so far being I was not financially in a position to take things to court.

Through this recent experience, I’ve discovered a new-found dedication to reading the fine print of every client contract and the importance of assessing each client I take on at a deeper level before entering into a work agreement. In the process, I’ve learned what I thought I already knew: not all clients are good ones and not all projects are worth taking on. A client that doesn’t pay and a client that breaks their own contract is one that you’ll get absolutely nothing but a headache from – trust me.

Which leads me to my point. Where’s the line of defense for freelancers confronted with situations like these? Here in Nebraska, I have two feasible options: contacting the Better Business Bureau and filing a complaint (which never seems quite as satisfying as I’d like) or taking a gamble in small claims court. In the near future however, freelancers in other states may have the law on their side – thanks to recent actions by the Freelancers Union.

Let’s set the stage. In the past, the Freelancers Union has surveyed 3,000 of its members nationwide, asking if they have ever been denied payment for a project. An alarming 80% of survey participants have indicated their difficulty settling up with clients upon a project’s completion. Collectively, freelancers of all types make up nearly one-third of the US workforce, rendering the results of this survey as only a mere sliver of the enormous problem shared by freelancers: getting paid.

Confronting the problem head on, the Freelancers Union recently crafted the Unpaid Wages Bill (S8084/A11520) in an effort to grant independent contractors – such as designers and copywriters – protection against companies that don’t pay for completed work.

“There have been zero standards for freelancers, and that’s why this is so important,” (Sarah Horowitz, executive director of the Freelancers Union)



First introduced in the Senate earlier this summer, the bill aims to grant the New York State Department of Labor additional powers to take action against companies that violate work agreements made with independent contractors, or those that refuse to compensate freelancers within a “reasonable” amount of time. The aim of the bill isn’t to hinder small businesses that rely on independent contractors – only those who choose not to pay for work completed.

“We need solutions to help independent workers get paid,” says Sarah Horowitz. “New York State and New York City can lead the way for the rest of the country.”

While the Unpaid Wages Bill has failed to make it to a vote, the bill speaks for the need for similar bills to be introduced nationwide. An advocate for freelancers since 2003, this organization – 135,000 members strong – has made some significant strides for the 135,000 members they they support. One recent accomplishment includes winning tax cuts for freelancers in the organization’s home state of New York, eliminating New York City’s Unincorporated Business Tax (UBT) on independent workers earning less than $100,000 per year.

Poll Results: Have You Ever Worked with a Freelance Designer, Studio or Agency?

In early December, I posted a new poll on my LinkedIn profile page. It raised the question Have you or the company you work for ever hired out work to a freelance graphic designer, studio or agency? While there wasn’t as much participation in this poll as I had hoped for, I was still able to gather some good information from the results.
The Predictions:

  • Participants from larger business/organization will most likely answer that they have worked with a design studio/agency.
  • Participants from smaller business/organizations will be somewhat split: some may have worked with a freelancer, some may have worked with a design studio/agency.
  • Most participants will reply that they have never worked with a freelance designer.

The Findings:

  • A majority of the respondents, ages 25-34, are women in a management position with a background in sales.
  • Half of the participants represent mid-size businesses and have never hired out work to a freelancer, studio or agency.
  • One quarter of the participants have hired out work to a design studio or agency in the past.

While the number of the participants in this poll wasn’t as large as I had hoped, it did point out some things worth mentioning and did reflect some of my predictions. I was surprised to find that a majority of participants had never worked with either a freelancer, design studio or larger agency. I wasn’t surprised to find that most of the participants hadn’t worked with a freelance designer, and that makes me wonder why. Is it because these businesses don’t feel comfortable working with a freelancer?, Is it because they’ve never been approached by one?, Did the thought ever cross their mind? Maybe it’s a combination of a variety of reasons.

Keep an eye out in the days ahead for more information about the advantages of working with freelancers as well as the value it can bring to your business.

Poll Results Here

The Highs & Lows of Self-Employment From a Solopreneur’s Perspective

So much has happened in this year alone it’s hard to believe that it’s been only 12 months since I took a very big, frightening leap and became a fully-fledged freelancer.

This month (November) marked my first-year anniversary as a solopreneur/freelancer. All I can say is wow, what a year it’s been. So much has happened in this year alone it’s hard to believe that it’s been only 12 months since I took a very big, frightening leap and became a fully-fledged freelancer. Since last September, I’ve started my own business, became a father and have since worked harder than I think I’ve ever worked in my life up to this point – all highs. I think most people would agree this past year has had it’s highs and lows (not just talking about the stock market). For me it certainly has, but I’m a the glass is half full kinda guy. Here’s a short year in review from Scott Creative:

Relationship Building

It’s not so much about growing the list of people and businesses comprising my address book, but meeting the interesting, determined business owners and professionals that have an interest in growing their business.

Probably the most successful thing that’s happened this year has come about through my ability to build on my past relationships while forging new ones: I think they call that networking. It’s not so much about growing the list of people and businesses comprising my address book, but meeting the interesting, determined business owners and professionals that have an interest in growing their business and recognize the opportunities that working with a creative professional such as myself can afford them. The continual, steady work provided by many of these business owners and professionals – who are now clients of mine – has kept me busy this past year; a number of direct mail/marketing pieces for Ironwood Golf & Country Club, multiple website design contracts for Whettstone Business Solutions (Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, the Indian Center and Carson Wealth Management), an ongoing brochure project for Design Associates, Inc., as well as the opportunity to act as lead designer for one of the most progressive magazines in O-town: Food & Spirits Magazine. This past August, I had the opportunity to meet with a wonderful woman, Tonya Ward of Energy Rescue: a small non-profit with some big potential. This new working relationship has come to fruition over the past few months and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to be working with an organization with so much potential.

Building On the Future

Earlier this year I joined the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, which I have to say is one of the greatest investments I’ve made in my business thus far.

While I have many past relationships to thank for my ability to move onward with Scott Creative, I’ve sometimes downplayed or have been just too damn busy to remember how important it is to get out there, meet people and market the design services I’m able to offer a wide range of clients – primarily small business owners. That’s not to say I haven’t gotten around though: earlier this year I joined the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, which I have to say is one of the greatest investments I’ve made in my business thus far. The number of networking and educational opportunities supported by the chamber and offered monthly to their members is staggering: they have kept my calendar full week to week. Maybe I haven’t attended all the events that I wish I would have, but I’m glad that I was able to attend the ones I did. Meeting other local business-owners and professionals in the community has been a great experience, creating relationships that I’m sure will just continue to grow.
As I’m working on this blog now, the new, revised Scott Creative ‘Marketing Machine’ is underway as well. I’ll be releasing a newsletter each month that sheds light on pressing design-related questions, design world news, etc. for my clients and those that I’ve met along the way. If you’d like to sign up, shoot me an email and I’ll add you to the list: scottcreativedesign@gmail.com. The Scott Creative website will also be up in the following month as well, so make sure to check that out here: http://www.scottcreativedesign.com. This is all being done in an effort to increase my visibility and make it easier for clients and prospects alike to understand what Scott Creative is all about: giving the small business owner an edge in this competitive marketplace by enhancing their visual communications: in short, making your business look good for your clients and prospects.

Getting Over My Mistakes

I’m still trying to find my ‘center’: that sense of balance that should come naturally when a business is doing well.

While I like to say that overall it’s been a successful year, that’s not to say it hasn’t been one without a few speed bumps and road blocks – ones that I, as a business owner, put up. I’m still trying to find my ‘center’: that sense of balance that should come naturally when a business is doing well. I often find myself going though extremes of very productive weeks, only to follow them with very very slow weeks… and I know it’s my own doing. While it’s easy to blame it on outside forces in this economic climate that we’re treading through right now, it’s been an eye-opening experience in identifying what I’ve done that’s worked as well as what I haven’t done to grow my business.

Wrap It Up
In summary, yes – things have been tough, but there’s been plenty of bright spots this year to make this freefall into freelancing worth all the effort. And while we start closing out 2009 (I think I just threw up a little bit), I’m excited to see what 2010 has in store for all of us.