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You’ve probably heard the stats about the growth of the freelance workforce (a.k.a. freelance economy). Upwork’s Freelancing in America report shows one in three U.S. workers freelanced in 2017. At the current growth rate, most of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers within the next few years.

This may make you wonder who’s really freelancing, anyway? Are they people who can’t get a job elsewhere? Are they stay-at-home parents who want to work flexible hours?

To answer that, let’s start with the skills today’s freelancers offer. They may surprise you.

From data entry to data scientist

In the past, stereotypical freelancers were creatives, such as writers and photojournalists, and people performing admin work a few hours each week for supplemental income. Although these workers still make up an important part of the flexible workforce, technology enables other highly skilled people, from attorneys to robotics engineers, to run their own businesses in lieu of 9-to-5 jobs.

Q1 2018 faastest growing freelance skills in demand

Having access to a larger range of talent benefits companies, as evolving and new technologies require skills that many companies don’t have in-house. Businesses of all sizes are realizing that independent contractors (ICs) provide a cost-effective way not only to get important work done but also to drive sales and growth.

According to the Future Workforce Report, 53% of companies are using more flexible workers compared with three years ago. During the next 10 years, those same companies expect more than one-third of their work (36%) will be done by flexible talent.

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Why would someone take on the risk of working from project to project when they could work full-time for one organization? The short answer: for more freedom, flexibility, and funds (increased earning potential).

Top 5 reasons people freelance

Source: Freelancing in America: 2017, Upwork

A Freelancing in America survey shows:

  • 63% freelance by choice, up from 53% in 2014
  • More than half wouldn’t take a traditional job, no matter how much money they were offered
  • 63% believe having multiple clients provides more security than having one employer

Let’s take a closer look at why people freelance:

I want to do work that matters
Freedom includes satisfying their desire for more purpose-driven work. Nearly seven out of 10 say they freelance so that they can choose projects they feel passionate about or find meaningful. “Freelancing is the future of work because it gives people the freedom to work on their own terms,” says Usama Riaz, a freelance web and mobile developer. “Because of sites like Upwork, my business is thriving. And I get to work on things that deeply interest me.”

I create my own opportunities
Melody Richmond owns Richmond Concept, a remote creative agency. She started a remote agency to maintain a more balanced life. “Living in Flint, MI, job opportunities are limited,” says Richmond. “With two school-age children at home, moving or commuting multiple hours into Detroit isn’t an option. [Freelancing] gives me the ability to spend time with my family while allowing me the freedom to choose the projects I work on. With Upwork, location is a thing of the past.”

I want to work to feel satisfying and rewarding
Kat Campise, PhD, is a freelance data scientist who specializes in machine learning and artificial intelligence. She is also highly creative and found that the structure of traditional jobs limited her freedom to innovate. Freelancing enables Campise to work on her own terms and choose projects she enjoys.

Learn more about Kat Campise, PhD:

I want to build my own business
Some people want to use their skills to create something larger than a successful career; they want a successful business. “I love the unlimited possibility of freelancing: the challenge of creating your own business, the excitement of constantly working on new projects, the never-ending need to improve,” says freelance copywriter Alex Portera.

Seeing freelancers with a new lens

People may have different reasons for striking it out on their own, but at their core, they’re fueled by passion for doing what they love and for delivering high-quality work. Compared with employees, freelancers are nearly twice as likely to update their skills. That’s not to say every person a company engages will be a perfect fit, but if you follow a thorough vetting process, you’ll likely find someone who’ll impress you.