There are plenty of freelancers among the ranks of web workers, myself included. The web makes it easy for us to work with clients located all over the place, as well as to make the connections that lead to new clients. But being a web-based freelancer […]

There are plenty of freelancers among the ranks of web workers, myself included. The web makes it easy for us to work with clients located all over the place, as well as to make the connections that lead to new clients. But being a web-based freelancer can be isolating: it’s hard to know how you’re doing compared to your peers if you never actually meet them. That’s one reason I was interested to read the 55-page report from FreelanceSwitch with the summary of their survey of 3700 freelancers worldwide.

Among their key findings:

  • An astounding 89% of respondents describe themselves as happier since freelancing.
  • 33% earn more as freelancer than they did full-time. 43% earn less. (The remainder never worked full-time in their industry.)
  • A slight majority – 55% – feel more secure as a freelancer.
  • 45% of respondents are socking away money in a retirement fund, and 65% have health insurance. But the percent with health insurance drop to 31% if you look at North Americans only.
  • Only 10% have business insurance.
  • 85% work at home.
  • Referrals and portfolio web sites are the most popular ways to get work, followed by internet job sites. Only 15% maintain a blog.

It’s tempting to draw conclusions from the raw numbers. Indeed, the full report – available for a donation if you didn’t participate in the survey – has some well-done analysis sections, looking at things like the factors that correlate with happiness and income. But before staking too much of your career on this survey, you need to keep two things in mind:

  1. The survey sample was self-selected, since the survey was open to anyone reading the FreelanceSwitch web site. This means that you can’t properly extrapolate the numbers to be representative of some “freelancers as a whole” group. Indeed, looking at some of the results gives hints as to how the numbers might be skewed. For instance, 67% of the respondents are either web designers or graphic designers. This doesn’t make the results invalid, but it does mean that you need to be cautious drawing conclusions.
  2. There’s a strong temptation, when presented with demographics plus numbers on things like happiness and income, to indulge in post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning. Just because two factors appear to correlate does not mean that one causes the other. You can’t, for example, conclude that freelancing makes people happier just because most freelancers in the survey were happy. It could just as well be that people who are happy are predisposed to freelancing – or that some other factor (owning high-end computers?) predisposes people to both freelance and to be happy.

Of course, I want to believe some of the conclusions that I could leap to from this survey: that freelancers are happy with life even when they’re not drawing in tons of money, for example. But that’s because those things accord with my own prejudices. But at the very least, if you’re on the fence about freelancing, this is a worthwhile collection of data to review. The numbers are large enough to be significant (3700 participants), and the overall picture of the freelance life is rosy – which, after all, is the way that many of us experience it.

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  1. sir
    nice post..
    im interested in working as a freelancer.
    Could you please let me sites where i can find freelance writing work..it will really kind of you if u can help..

  2. I have tried to get started in freelancing, however I find that it is dominated by the third world programmers. They can live on $20k where we in the USA would need 120K.

  3. I do live in the 3rd world, South America, here we cannot live on $60k/year, but Asia peers bring the hour rate low down. So there is no way for competition on price, I do not know where it goes to…

  4. I’ve been a freelancer for over 5 years now. I’ve been lucky that I landed a bread-n-butter contract that I’ve had now for 5 years as well as the sporadic Web business I pickup from word of mouth. There are pros and cons. For instance, when I interviewed for a ‘real job’ not long ago, they looked down on me because I had been a freelancer for 5 years, they didn’t think I would be a team player. They want specialized drones, not free thinkers. I miss having peers to help perfect and debug a web app. It’s harder to switch gears between both the creative role and developer role but I enjoy the flexibility to work 60 hours a week whenever I want to. If you do this, my greatest advice is to not get behind on your estimated tax payments.

  5. The hardest thing is finding a niche in which to succeed. If it’s plain vanilla “here, do this business logic as an application”, the files are going to Bangalore. It’s just economics. But if you can add value to the development process, say by adding great documentation or business process engineering to the mix, then the employers will recognize that and build you – not just a programmer – into their production and maintenance costs. Otherwise, you have no choice: move to India. :)

  6. Dear All, I think this is quite an interesting topic;
    Reply to Charles Darwin: I am a free lancer , I live in supposedly 3rd world country, there is competition ,under pricing and what nots but the key word is innovation and consitency.That’s what keeps me going.

    Reply to John – Thumbs up man – never settle for thinking like a drone – when u can be the queen bee – that’s what scares every-one about ‘free lancers’- you choose your clients.you choose your time( just make sure you deliver though :))

    General Commments: The only reason why anybody gets paid is because he solves problems-dont mention the ‘hang-ons at the work place please’. The only reason why free lancers make it to the top and build empires is because they think like entrepresnuers. Regards Everyone

  7. Mike how do i get permission to use your report in a research?

  8. Jason, FreelanceSwitch commissioned and owns the report, not Web Worker Daily. You’ll have to ask them. Mike only reported on it.

  9. Hi, I’ve been a freelancer for several years now. First started of as someone willing to learn more though (!).
    The interesting thing in freelancing is that -you- have to do the work. If something goes wrong, it’s -your- fault, not someone else’s (unless of course your client has more than one freelancer/worker on the job)

    The sad thing is -however- that it’s difficult to get started. It’s quite the handful to get your first couple of jobs, and low prices is one of the clues in there (Too low to be honest)
    After a while, things just grow steadily. (I’m actually talking about websites that offer people to put their jobs on there, with multiple people bidding)

    The positive part of it now: I’m way happier now, even though I had little business experience, I’ve learned loads and loads of stuff. Freelancing is a way for me to go above and beyond, I like to take jobs that are truly challenging to me. I love my job, and my job loves me :)

  10. i second that jason. everyone sees the world in different angles. not all clients are as clueless as you may think they are. i’ve been freelancing since 2000 and an extra $20k is better than nothing. it keeps me busy and improve my skills. :)

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