Three Compelling Reasons Everyone Should Freelance — Not Just the Desperate

Isn’t it mandatory to start every article about the sharing economy with a wildly optimistic vision of a future? Where ‘everything changes’ and ‘anyone can change the world’? With some overused, generic image of an environmentally conscious, metro-sexual event that is supposed to exemplify the ‘meaning of sharing’? Hopefully I’m doing it right.
“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.” — Tom Goodwin

It’s impossible to ignore this seismic change in the global economy. The biggest companies are no longer ‘producers’ in the conventional sense. Instead, they’re distributors — complex networks that connect demands with those who can fulfill those demands. And yet most people want to continue living as if this change never happened.

When we think of a ‘freelancer,’ it’s instinctive to imagine someone who failed at their normal career and had to resort to selling their skills online. No one would ever choose to be a freelancer, would they? The way we conventionally talk about work encourages us to either sell our labor to a corporation or start a corporation of our own. Few of us were told that we can cut out the middleman and directly sell our services to clients.

Well, more and more of us are imagining this new possibility. There are now 53 million freelancers in the United States — almost 35% of the national workforce. These unorthodox delinquents now contribute about $715 billion to our national earnings each year.

And yet, we all too often think of freelancing as a last resort. It’s something you do when other work falls through, something to earn extra money, something you do as a relief from the grind of the day job. However, freelance work is not just for the desperate. It is a liberating, efficient, flexible way to work that focuses on your raw skills rather than on politics, qualifications, or any other arbitrary factor. Everyone should consider being a freelancer.

1. You can capitalize on rarely-used skills.

Let’s think about it in pure economic terms. As a worker, you have a set of skills that are demanded by others. For example, since you’re reading an article on Medium, you’re probably a developer or a writer. You can utilize your ability with technology or language to make money. But you also have lots of skills that are not capitalized on at all. For example, you might knit in your free time. You might know a ton of useless trivia about a show like the X-Files or The Office. Maybe you’re a great teacher who rarely has the chance to help people. You might know how to ride a unicycle. You probably think no one would want to pay you for these skills.

Freelancing is an incredibly satisfying way to use your most obscure, unexpected skills. For example, I recently started working as a freelancer on Upwork. I also love mountain biking — but I never thought my passion for exploring nature on a bike would help me earn money. One of my most fun jobs so far involved writing copy about various types of suspension for a mountain bike company. I can pretty much guarantee that this knowledge would have been irrelevant for any typical career.

As a freelancer, you are able to use nearly every skill you have developed. This makes it much easier to continue learning constantly. As you practice the mandolin or read obscure Tibetan philosophers, you don’t have to tell yourself “this will never come in handy.” The world is an immensely big place. There is someone who will pay for almost any kind of knowledge if you’re willing to put yourself on the freelance economy. This is great for people who felt trapped in a traditional job and want to expand their role and learn new things. When you’re using your most unique and enjoyable skills, it hardly feels like work.

2. It increases freedom and independence.

These benefits talked about often when it comes to freelancing. But the freedom that comes with freelance work is not just a myth that’s become accepted through sheer repetition. When you employ yourself, external constraints on your time start to disappear like spiderwebs in a tornado. As long as you are serving your clients effectively, no one can control the way you work except yourself.

To be honest, this takes a while to get used to. Even after you start getting clients and become a full-time freelancer, you might continue acting as if you had a boss. But eventually, you realize how radically free you really are. For example, I had a friend named Timothy who quit his grueling job at a design agency and started using his exceptional skill to do freelance design. For a while, he was scared of taking a break. The routine of his normal job had transferred over to his freelance work. He sat at the computer all day, mass-producing logos on Photoshop and whizzing through endless website layouts. Then he decided he was done acting like a boss was still staring over his shoulder. He let his clients know that he was going on vacation, and he disappeared into the wilderness to go on a weeklong backpacking trip.

At his old job, Tim probably would’ve been fired for leaving with such short notice. But as a freelancer, there wasn’t even a problem. He completed all his jobs before he left. His clients stayed with him. After that, Tim started to act as free as he really was.

Becoming a freelancer is a powerful way to become a free, independent worker. When you are directly connected with clients, there is no one who can hurt your earnings except yourself. There is no one who can control your life or determine the way you complete projects. All that matters is that you deliver high-quality work and meet deadlines. In part because of the immense joy that comes with being free, more than 3 in 4 (78%) would recommend freelancing to their friends and family — and millenials loved the freedom even more, with 84% saying they would reccomend freelance work. Even if you’re not ready to quit your day job, you can start a side hustle to add a little more self-determination to your life.

3. You get paid for what you are worth.

Freelancing can increase your yearly earnings dramatically. In fact, more than 60% of freelancers who left a traditional job now earn more than they used to. That means that if you are willing to take the risk of freelancing, there’s a high probability you will get a raise along with the increased freedom.

Often, working at a company, firm, or organization can limit how much you are compensated. You’re rarely paid as much as what you’re worth. Just as a supermarket earns a profit margin by charging costumers high prices for products that are cheap to produce, companies earn profit by making clients pay a high prices for a service done cheaply by workers. For example, at my friend Timothy’s design firm, he may have created a logo that a client paid $200 for. However, he probably got less than 75% of that money. The rest of it was taken by the company, which used most of the payment to make a profit and then distributed the rest to the designers. As a freelancer, you can charge clients directly. This means you get paid proportionally to how well you work; your salary isn’t dependent on anyone but you.

If you’re tired of working at a job where you get paid less than what you contribute, freelancing is ideal. Again, you don’t have to completely abandon your salaried position. Maybe you just want to do some freelance work on the side to help pay off a debt, earn for a new home, or increase your savings. There are plenty of freelancers who also hold down a part-time or even full-time job at an ordinary company. Maybe they like the feeling of having a secret identity.

Freelancing is for everyone

The evidence seems clear: freelancing is not just for people who can’t survive at a normal company. There are millions of skilled freelancers who have started working for themselves not as a last resort, but as a way to use unique skills, increase their freedom, and maximize their earnings. Don’t feel ashamed to be a freelancer. It’s one of the best and most liberating career paths in the modern economy.

Whether you’re a side hustler, a full-time freelancer, or a worker at a normal company, remember this: freelancing isn’t for the desperate. It’s for anyone and everyone.