Why Freelancing Is on the Rise

As more and more people seek flexible work hours and employers seek to save on benefit costs, it should come as no surprise the so-called "gig economy" shows no signs of slowing down.

In fact, 74% of companies plan to contract with more freelancers, according to new numbers from online work platform Field Nation and executive development firm Future Workplace. One of the top reasons cited for the increase — the is the Affordable Care Act, with 68% of companies saying the ACA will have a high impact on hiring more freelance workers.

"Other than the top level of management, we almost exclusively hire freelancers and contractors, both on the content marketing side and on the product side," said George DoRole, chief operating officer of software company Long Tail Pro.

DoRole said while the rising cost of healthcare and the ACA is triggering some of it, there is also a case to be made that many people just want the freedom and flexibility of freelancing.

The survey's numbers bear that attitude out. When asked what their primary satisfaction is as a freelancer, 40% said better control of their time and nearly 75% indicated their ideal employment situation is freelancing or small business ownership as opposed to having a traditional job.

"Freelancing absolutely has its benefits for the freelancer and the company," said Jean Walker, chief communications officer at the marketing firm The Regear Group. "Aside from project deadlines, freelancers have the ability to set their own schedules. They're able to pick and choose which projects to accept, versus being told by a boss that you have to do something and having no say in the matter.

"It's a great way to work if you're patient enough to find the best strategy that works for you," she adds.

While the flexibility of freelancing may be good for the individual and the lack of benefits may be cost-effective for the employer, whether it's good for the overall economy is another question.

"One downside of the rise in freelancing is its implications for the economy," said Marc Prosser, co-founder of the small business help site Fit Small Business. "Historically, companies are loath to lay off their full time employees and often will absorb temporary losses rather than let go of their workers. But it's much easier to end a freelancing arrangement."

However, Prosser adds the "gig economy" has plenty of reason to continue, including the fact that as freelancing has become more popular, the online and offline infrastructure has grown to help connect freelance jobs and workers, and more Americans have ventured into freelance work in response.

"Just a few years ago, freelancing was relatively limited to a small set of jobs and careers," Prosser said. "Now though, new types of work are opening to freelancers, bringing more and more people into the gig marketplace."

DoRole said from his — the employer's — perspective, hiring freelancers has distinct advantages over hiring employees in that it allows companies access to the talent pool of the entire world, rather than just those in your immediate vicinity.

"Also, you can scale up and scale down operations much more quickly with freelancers than you can with paid staff," DoRole said. "Given the advantages that come with hiring freelancers, I expect the trend in freelancing to continue. Now more than ever, businesses need to be nimble."

And while freelancing may not improve the overall economy, it may improve things even more important to many, he adds.

"As for how it affects the economy — my guess is that the rise in freelancing won't be a positive contributor to GDP," DoRole said. "But I believe life satisfaction will likely improve on the margins as more people escape the monotony of the nine-to-five and choose to set their own schedules, choose to go location independent and seek out more varied experiences in their lives."

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