Majority of independents are satisfied with freelancing career

09 December 2021 5 min. read
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The majority of freelancers are satisfied with their independent careers, according to a new academic study. Research by two University of Toronto experts has found almost 80% of workers enjoy the flexibility that comes with freelancing, while seven-in-ten said it allowed them to work in more “interesting” areas than salaried life.

Prior to the global pandemic, the gig economy was never far from the headlines. Across economies, the number of self-employed professionals – including independent consultants – has boomed, as individuals enjoy the concept of being able to dictate their schedule and the type of work they taken on, while also enjoying better pay and work-life balance.

As with nearly every other sector, the freelance economy took a hefty hit from the coronavirus outbreak – and earlier in 2021, research suggested that two-thirds of the sector’s workers were negatively impacted. Meanwhile the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed found that close to one-fifth of freelancers are considering a return to salaried life as a result.

What do freelancers enjoy most about their careers

A few months down the line, though, a whitepaper has suggested the freelance market is stabilising, and that its members are still enjoying life outside of a traditional firm. The ‘Global Survey on Freelancing’ from Professor Jon Younger and Gerald Cupchik of the University of Toronto surveyed nearly 1,900 freelancers, and found that the majority are extremely satisfied, when it comes to their key career indicators.

Defining freelancing

Of course, there is no one definitive “type” of freelancer. There is a massive heterogeneity in freelancing, and it includes every type of profession around, from television presenter to rocket scientist, engineer to diplomat, or even lawyers and baristas. In the case of the study, while it considered all kinds of freelancers, a large portion of respondents came from the professional services world: working as an independent consultant, project manager or interim manager.

Freelance platforms focused on consulting roles that partnered with the research include Comatch, Expertpowerhouse, Mash, Outsized, Riverflex, Talmix, Toptal and Worksome. As a result, assertions this is a definitive representation of all freelancer sentiment should be taken with a pinch of salt, as the respondents are heavily weighted toward well-paid, white-collar work, while more than 30% were baby boomers over the age of 50 – a far cry from the younger members of the so-called ‘precariat’ who are working in bars or other service industry roles as ‘freelancers.’

Overall, the study found freelancers generally enjoy their work: as 63% found it satisfying and only 11% were negative about it. Going into more specific reasons for this positivity, 78% said the flexibility and independence of being their own boss was the most satisfying factor.

Relatedly, 69% said their work enabled them to work for interesting clients, and 66% said they were more able to specialise in areas of personal interest than if they were with a firm – while the same number also noted they were able to better enjoy their quality of life.

How do freelancers see themselves

At the same time, this independence seems to have enabled many freelancers to see themselves more positively. A majority of 78% said they felt they were able to demonstrate strong values and ethics as freelancers – perhaps due to their ability to be more selective with clients, or in their own procurement

Meanwhile, 74% felt they worked well with people, and 70% felt they were more self-sufficient, meeting commitments and taking responsibility for their own actions. While it was lower on the list of top answers, 63% also felt they were able to better demonstrate creativity as a freelancer. According to the researchers, this may reflect why, even in a volatile market like the one at present, freelancers remain satisfied.

They noted, “Most freelancers understand and accept the trade-off they make by trading traditional professional employment for a solopreneurial life and career. The data lines up with earlier results; freelancers value the flexibility and independence that freelancing provides, enjoy the quality of life it offers, and appreciate the chance to build satisfying client relationships. And, they accept the occasional volatility of opportunity, and the challenge of a frequently changing workplace and colleagues.”

Zooming in on the management consulting segment, Christoph Hardt, the co-founder of European consultants platform Comatch, said: “The University of Toronto research confirms previous studies we’ve done and our experience in practice. The big majority of independent consultants prefer being self-employed over being employed. Work-life-balance and pay improves and they experience higher professional fulfilment.”

The hurdles

Even with that said, many freelancers in the University of Toronto survey still noted facing challenges finding a regular stream of work. In some cases, 30% reported that they had more work than typical colleagues, while a further 38% were frustrated by insufficient project work – a precarious position when one is unsalaried.

Hardt, who previously was a salaried employee at McKinsey & Company himself, said that this is where leading platforms and matchmakers can differentiate themselves from the rest. “A good facilitating marketplace will provide support for these challenges. At Comatch for example, we create work opportunities for consultants and support peer referrals, encourage networking, and offer trainings and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing.”

The German-origin company also has a team dedicated to working with clients on scoping work accurately – one of the bottlenecks that surfaces across surveys and also pops up in the University of Toronto study. “We challeng project briefs if necessary – across topics such as work, scope, deliverables and pricing. Our clients describe this as value added, and independent consultants value this pre-work as well.”