From the outside, freelancers can appear to have a pretty great work life. They can set their own schedule, work from where they want, take time off for doctor’s appointments or vacation without asking a manager for permission, and choose which projects to take on. While there are absolutely perks to being a freelancer there still challenges and things that can be made to improve their outlook.
Here at Kalo, we began compiling the Kalo Best list as a way to give a voice to freelancers about their experiences. As we heard a wide range of freelancer stories, we decided to expand the survey to include concerns they have, obstacles they face, and their vision for freelancing in the future. ( Read more about Kalo Best and check out the list). This year, the survey included questions designed to yield greater insight into what the freelance life is like for independent workers in 2019 and how it can be made even better.
Here are the key findings:
- 40% of those surveyed said they felt the companies they worked for treated them worse than full-time employees
- 52% who were regularly paid late reported feeling stressed and anxious as a result.
- 61% believe the freelance lifestyle is healthier than a traditional full-time position
- 62% believe their mental health and wellbeing is better.
“With larger companies, freelancers get sent down to the bottom of the pack and are treated as if their livelihoods, schedules and workflows don't matter, said a freelance writer based in Oregon. “At the start of the year, I was still chasing unpaid invoices from 2017 projects. The worst thing, by far, is getting paid on time. Chasing invoices, money and even necessary work pieces is a huge drag on time and resources. It makes the freelance lifestyle highly unreliable.“
It’s interesting that while many freelancers believe they are treated worse than full-time employees and find financial instability to be stressful, a majority still say that the freelance lifestyle promotes health and wellbeing. The freedom, flexibility, and autonomy that freelancing offers ultimately seems to outweigh the drawbacks.
What do freelancers do?
Kalo’s survey also found that freelancers work with many different companies throughout the year: Nearly half of freelancers worked for 5 or more different companies, with 70% saying they worked for 3 or more companies. Maintaining relationships with multiple clients at once helps freelancers earn a steadier flow of work income. It also underscores how important networking and organization are to succeeding as a freelancer.
While freelancers work across industries, there are a few that rely on freelancers the most. According to the survey, the top freelance services offered are:
- Writing & Translation
- Graphic Design
- Digital Marketing
It’s no surprise that when asked, “What is the primary industry you do work in?” the most common responses were:
- Writing and Editing
- Marketing and Advertising
- Graphic Design
- Online Media
What makes a positive experience?
Every freelancer has a different path to freelancing and their approach to their work is unique. Across skill sets and industries, however, there are major themes that emerge in what freelancers look for in an employer and what companies can do to create a positive experience for their freelancers.
“The best companies I’ve freelanced for have placed a greater value on their freelance workers,” said a freelance designer from North Carolina. “Engagements with freelancing are getting longer as companies are placing a larger emphasis on customer and user experience, which is not a quick task. With these longer engagements, some companies are offering close to the same benefits for freelancers and contractors as full-timers.”
Beyond treating freelancers well and offering consistency and stability, businesses can build strong relationships with freelancers by valuing and respecting their work, as well as their time. One freelancer graphic designer from Ohio, who freelanced for over 24 companies in 2018, said feeling included is key to freelancer satisfaction:
“A good company respects and value my work as an illustrator understands that I have experience working on successful projects and they trusts me. They pay me on time, know what they want in a project and effectively communicate to me in time. But most of all, they treat me as part of their team and takes into account my opinions.”
As the U.S. workforce becomes increasingly freelance, the ability of businesses to compete and thrive will require them to attract and retain the best freelancer talent. Understanding what freelancers want—what to do and what not to do—will be critical moving forward. This survey demonstrates that while autonomy and flexibility are key to freelancer satisfaction, so is developing relationships with employers that are built on open communication, consistency, and respect.