Growth in independent professionals or freelancers is expected to be one of the most significant employment-related trends globally over the next couple of decades. As a quick recap, in our previous piece we highlighted the following six major findings:
Freelancing or independent working is a conscious choice being made by professionals with experience with nearly 40 per cent of those surveyed having transitioned into working independently after an extended stint in the corporate sector.
An increasing proportion of mainstream professionals are opting to work independently. Strategy and business development, general management, marketing and sales, research/academia followed by human resources and finance were the top functional categories.
Sectorally, we see freelancers from a range of disparate industries with professionals from advertising/media/publishing and professional services forming the top two categories.
Several distinct segments of freelancers are emerging. The largest segment with nearly 35 per cent of the respondents is of professionals who have opted to freelance after an extended stint in the corporate world.
The desire for greater control over ones schedule and portfolio of work are the primary drivers. Better control and the ability to be self-employed were the top two reasons for choosing to freelance.
Freelancing remains nascent and needs much greater organisation. The data shows that 50 per cent of the professionals started working independently less than two years ago and the biggest challenge faced is sustainability i.e., finding a steady stream of assignments. In this piece, we look to provide further insight into the various segments of freelancers that we see emerging.
As mentioned above, by far the largest segment of freelancers (35 per cent) is of professionals who have opted to freelance after an extended stint in the corporate sector. The next four segments in terms of materiality are: Young mothers/professionals who have opted for freelancing owing to personal commitments, professionals in creative and technical fields where freelancing is seen as more lucrative and also as aiding better in achieving career objectives, entrepreneurs who have started their own ventures and are freelancing to keep cash-flows going, and finally professionals pursuing other interests like music or writing. The sixth largest segment that emerged from the data was of professionals looking to leverage their skills post regular hours (the professional moonlighters!). What’s interesting to note is that several of these segments have started gaining ground in the last few years whether it be the corporate freelancers, entrepreneur freelancers or professional moonlighters!
We find some interesting patterns as we look at the characteristics of the various segments. Professionals who are now freelancing post a corporate stint (the corporate freelancers), tended to have a greater degree of work experience (three-quarters had 10+ years) and were drawn from a broad range of functional and industry segments. This diversity of experience could also be seen for the professionals who are freelancing owing to personal commitments, though in this case the amount of work experience was far lower. The remaining three categories of freelancers saw a much greater concentration in the functional and industry focus areas. For example, in the case of entrepreneurs who are also freelancing to keep cash flows going, 60 per cent were drawn from three areas – strategy/business development, general management and IT.
In terms of gender-mix too we saw differences – freelancers post a long corporate stint, and/or from the creative/technical fields were equally likely to be male or female. Freelancers who were pursuing a passion or had opted for it were likely to be women in 75 per cent and 95 per cent of the cases respectively. Interestingly, more than 75 per cent of the entrepreneurs who were also freelancing were men!
An interesting common thread we saw across the segments was that the top work-arrangement was for multiple assignments simultaneously, followed by a desire to do single full-time projects and then move onto the next. The desire for arrangements that permit defined hours every day or defined days a week, were preferred most by the freelancers who are also pursuing a passion and by entrepreneurs (40-45 per cent). Interestingly, young mothers preferred these limited hours/days arrangements in less than 30 per cent of the cases which runs counter to what most would believe.
In terms of location of the work, overall our survey has found that 65-70 per cent of the freelancers desire a combination of on-site and remote work and this was true when we looked at the segment-wise analysis too. The segment where the desire for remote working arrangements was highest was the entrepreneur freelancers!
In terms of longevity as a freelancer the creative freelancers are the oldest and 50 per cent of those in the creative and technical fields had been working independently for over five years. For the other segments, 50-60 per cent of the respondents had only taken to freelancing within the last two years. This supports a trend we had highlighted in the last piece as well that the mainstreaming of freelancing into other professions is a recent trend and we are now seeing new segments of independent professionals emerge as we outlined above.
The top reasons across segments for professionals opting to freelance were better control over ones schedule and work, followed by the desire to be one’s own boss. Of course, specific segments also had specific reasons that were additionally important given their context i.e., young families, need for cash flows to support a fledgling business etc. For the creative/tech field, many professionals saw freelancing as a way of better achieving their career goals through a stronger work-portfolio.
We thought we would share these early trends and patterns as the team starts to delve into the data, and hope you found this interesting reading. Our next few pieces will look to further understand the emerging segments of freelancers/ independent professionals in more detail as also the issues they face.
In case you are an independent professional and/or freelancer you can share your opinions on these issues by following this link.