The Pros And Cons Of The Freelance Economy

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The landscape of the American workforce is changing. Gone are the days of working the same 9–5 job for four decades before retiring with the company. That kind of job security disappeared with your grandparents when they left the office with a full pension.

Now, Americans can expect to work as many as 10–15 jobs before they reach the age of forty, and economists anticipate this number to rise. As for that pension — well, only the lucky few will be able to enjoy that privilege in their golden years.

The freelance economy has a large part to play in this greater shift towards contingent work. Freelancers, or people who accept individual contracts for a set fee over a permanent position with a salary and benefits package, make up a large portion of the population.

According to Upwork and Freelancers Union’s Freelancers in America: 2016, 55 million Americans are freelancers. At the time of the study, they accounted for 35 percent of the total US workforce and made a collective $1 trillion over the course of the year.

The Intuit 2020 Report identifies the freelance economy as one of the top twenty trends set to shape the next decade. By 2020, it predicts 40 percent of the US workforce will consist of freelancers, which will in turn increase the number of self-employed individuals and those working for a small or micro business.

Freelancing Offers Flexibility and Freedom

This transition brings with it positive change. Thanks to the Internet of Things’ increasing network of connected devices, people can access corporate content from almost anywhere there’s a signal or Wi-Fi router. The four walls of the cubicle no longer limit these freelance professionals. Instead, they can work from home, the café on the corner, or the beach halfway across the world.

Their time — like their location — is flexible. Many freelancers can choose their own hours and schedule work around appointments, chores, and even week-long getaways. They don’t have to punch in at a specific time or work for an eight-hour shift consecutively. As long as they submit their work by the deadline, when they work at each task isn’t important.

This flexibility is a rare freedom afforded to today’s workers, and if they manage their time correctly, they can arrive at the perfect life-work balance befitting their lifestyle and budget. On average, freelancers work less than their full-time counterparts, pulling 36-hour work weeks. Seventy-nine percent of freelancing professionals believe their way of work is better than traditional methods.

It also provides a cash incentive for employers

Though full-time employees will have an intimate understanding of company culture, that understanding comes at a cost. Freelancers get paid by the hour, with no extra cash accounting for vacation pay or medical insurance. Full-time employees, however, will have packages padded with benefits, sick days, and paid holidays. The company will also have to account for money spent on recruitment, training, taxes, office equipment, and distracted workers in the office.

Michael S. Solomon of 10x Management crunched the numbers. A full-time senior software engineer with an annual salary of $135,000 will cost a company as much as $311,535 once these add-ons are tallied. Meanwhile a freelancer completing the same work for $150 per hour would cost just $294,000 a year.

On a more modest level, CNN reveals the hidden costs of employing a full-time worker at a rate of $14 per hour ends up costing an employer an addition $6 every hour.

These “positives” pose unique financial challenges

What works to an employers’ advantage is a significant hurdle for a freelancer. Without a full-time contract, a freelancer doesn’t have the same financial support system that their full-time cohorts enjoy, so there’s no company-paid 401k or salaried vacation days. They have to pay their own taxes. They’re also vulnerable to a potentially volatile freelance market, where work follows and ebb and flow like the tides.

In the face of these unpredictable conditions, it can be a challenge to prepare for the future. As first, it may be hard finding the appropriate resources that can help them achieve financial security. With luck, each year it will get easier. As the number of freelancers continue to rise, the number of people sharing tips for saving money, preparing taxes, investing in medical insurance, and contributing to investments and retirement plans will increase as well.

With experts expecting more Americans to join the freelance economy each year, these experiences will no longer reflect the conditions of a niche industry but a major workforce within the nation. In a world that’s rarely black and white, these experiences have pros and cons in equal measure. There’s no blanket statement to be made, and there’s no one-size-fits all approach. Whether you’re currently a freelancer or hope to become one soon, the fact remains you’ll need to be a savvy saver if you expect to cash-in on its advantages.

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