Several articles over the last couple of weeks tried hard to pop the freelance balloon but hardly made a dent. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a surprising slight reduction in freelancing over the past decade, other studieshave shown the opposite trend and continue to demonstrate significant growth in independent professionals both here in the U.S. and around the world.
To be sure, the rate of freelance growth is interesting. But, for most professionals, a more meaningful question is how the freelance revolution is evolving, and what it means for individual freelancers. And, here, a report by future-of-work research shop JFF offers a useful framework. It describes three types of jobs being created by the new economy:
- Lifetime jobs: career jobs, paying well and offering future opportunity.
- Springboard jobs: jobs leading to careers, enabling workers to advance in pay and responsibility.
- Static jobs: dead end jobs, offering lower pay and little future potential.
Springboard is an interesting and novel way of thinking about the value of freelancing as a career choice. And using the concept, here are five ways freelancing offers independent professionals a career springboard:
- Preparing for a changing work landscape.There is no doubt that the future of work will look quite different than today. The data show that freelancers may have an experiential advantage. Upwork’s research found that freelancers are more aware of, and put in greater time and effort preparing for the changes they see emerging or likely in their area of expertise. Overall, half the individuals Upwork surveyed think their work will be significantly disrupted, changed, or morphed into something else within twenty years. However, while fewer than half of full-time employees report actively building and updating their skills to meet the challenge, more than two thirds of freelancers are doing so.
- Seeing the bigger picture. We live in an inter-connected world, and the knowledge and experience of dealing with different cultures is obviously important. Freelancing makes that possible. For example, Jobbatical.com, a European startup, offers freelancers the opportunity to work around the world. Remote work opportunities also free freelancers from the gravity of a fixed location, making it possible for freelancers to work wherever on a temporary or more permanent digital nomad. As the BBC reported, “By their very nature, it is impossible to know how many digital nomads there are. They move too quickly to count, but there are certainly hundreds of thousands of them, and as more work becomes possible to do online, the number can only grow.”
- Being a risk taker. Risk taking can be career threatening for full-time employees. A recent SHRM survey found only a third of full-time employees thought management was open to their ideas. But freelancing offers a more attractive risk profile. By having multiple work experiences, and multiple clients, the risk of trying something different or taking a new or innovative approach is reduced. As one freelancer put it, “As a full-time employee, I’ll take the safe route because I only have one job. As an independent, I have several employers over the course of a year. So, I’m more willing to take a risk.”
- Taking advantage of rocket job experiences.Rocket jobs are unusual opportunities that accelerate a career. Being in the right place, at the right time, is the secret of rocket opportunities, and freelancers have an edge. For example, a mid-career freelancer I know, doing some consulting work for a fast-growing consumer product company, was asked if she “had time” to participate in a new product launch. That led to a next assignment, and then another, and eventually made it possible for this individual to be offered an executive role as a full-time product strategist at a huge increase in pay.
- Practicing entrepreneurship. Rehearsals make it possible for musicians or actors to get it right before taking their show on the road. It might be helpful to think of freelancing in similar terms. For would-be entrepreneurs, freelancing is a chance to learn and master the skills needed to build and run a successful business: creating a product, defining a strategy, marketing to clients, dealing with investment decisions, responding to competition, and managing change. It’s all there, and the experiences are broadly transferable. One young person I know used his freelancing experience to build the skills and confident to raise funding and start a regional propane business. Intuit reports that 30% of freelancers are would-be entrepreneurs.
If you are freelancing now, are you taking full advantage of one of these springboard opportunities and the career insight it can provide? If not, give some thought to how each might torque your career. And if you’re not currently freelancing, is it time to shake up your career with what these springboard opportunities can offer? Whether a temporary sojourn, a stepping stone to something new, or just a side gig, you might find that freelancing is an attractive path forward.