More than 6,000 US-based freelancers responded to a new in-depth survey. I dug through the data and pulled out the most interesting insights, which paint a picture of optimistic professionals who have taken control of their own destiny.

This could be in part because the organizations who sponsored the study — The Freelancers Union and the freelancer marketplace Upwork — have a vested interest in making freelancing look good. So take these numbers with a grain of salt.

Giant bees flying in formation near their tiny house.

Freelancers are now one third of the US workforce.

You read that right. I double-checked this figure with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and it is indeed accurate.

Let’s break the 55 million people who did some freelance work over the past 12 months down by the type of work they’re doing:

  • 35% are Independent contractors. They may work for a company — like Uber — but they do so in contractual capacity, and are not technically employees.
  • 28% are diversified workers — people who work full-time jobs but also do side gigs for extra cash, such as photographing weddings.
  • 25% are moonlighters. They work full-time and also take on additional projects outside of their job that use the same skill set. Think of a designer who works full-time at a product company, then does client work for friends on the weekend.
  • 7% are temporary workers who are working on short-term assignments, often through a staffing agency.
  • 7% are freelance business owners. Depending on their level of expertise, reputation, and sales skills, they may earn substantially more money than their full time employee counterparts.

Freelancers tend to be slightly younger than the rest of the workforce, but are otherwise demographically similar. They have the same educational background — 40% have at least a bachelor’s degree — and the same ratio of women to men.

Freelancers generate $1 trillion in economic activity each year.

Half of all freelancers went so far as to say that “there is no amount of money that would get [them] to take a traditional job and stop freelancing.”

Full-time freelancers work an average of 36 hours per week. That’s a lot less than the 47 hour work-week of average working Americans.

79% of them say freelancing is better than a traditional job. And 63% of them freelance because they want to — up from 53% just two years ago.

More than half of freelancers who left a full time job now make more money than they did before. Less than a third of them took a pay cut when they started freelancing.

Most freelancers find work through their own personal networks.

The top methods of finding clients are through friends and family, professional contacts, and their existing social media presence.

Almost half of freelancers saw increased demand in the past year, and only 9% saw a reduction. As a result, half of all freelancers raised their rates last year, and most of them plan to raise them again in the coming year.

Here are their self-reported reasons why they’re able to charge so much:

Freelancers are optimistic about the future. Most of them believe that the perception of freelancing as a career is improving. And a vast majority of them feel like their best opportunities are ahead of them.

Freelancing is an entire skill set of its own

I’ve worked as a freelance web developer. Actually doing the work is the easy part.

The real challenge lies in finding reasonable clients, convincing them you’re a reasonable choice, then convincing them to enter into a reasonable contract with you.

If you want to succeed as a freelancer, it’s not enough to merely be good at what you do. You also need to be a good freelancer.

One skill everyone should learn — especially freelancers — is how to better persuade people.

I’ve read a lot of books about developing sales skills, most of which were more motivational than practical.

By far the best-researched and most actionable book I’ve read on the topic is Daniel Pink’s “To Sell is Human”:

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others
A fresh look at the art and science of selling.amzn.to

You might also enjoy The Freelancer Show, a long-running podcast hosted by freelance developers. They’ve covered a wide range of topics, such as this episode where they discuss how to avoid agreeing to deadlines when some aspects of a project are outside of your control.

If you have time and are curious, the full results of the 2016 Freelancer Survey are here.

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