A few decades ago, freelancing was somewhat of a rare and ballsy profession reserved for well-established designers or writers that had a handful of loyal clients on retainer. Or the bold and whole-hearted who didn’t mind taking out classified ads and cold-calling prospects to land their next gig.
Fast forward to 2017, and nearly a third of us engage in some sort of independent work. This is partly because the opportunities for doing so are much broader than ever before — you can sell services on Fiverr, rent out your spare room on Airbnb, or drive for Uber on weekends. And so more people are simply supplementing their income with a few hours of flexible work on the side.
But with greater mobility and the desire for a better work/life balance, more people are also recognising freelancing as a full-time gig. Negotiating remote work agreements with their employers, building their reputation on online marketplaces, and even choosing their career path according to the lifestyle it affords.
Freelancing is taking over the workplace. And, much sooner than you think, it will become the new standard of work. In as little as five years, more than half of the UK’s working population will work for themselves. Add another five and, at least in the US, the number of freelancers will have surpassed traditional workers.
The benefits are clear for those on both sides of the equation. However, as many businesses are heavily invested in outdated practices and well and truly stuck in their ways, some won’t make the move until they notice all their employees are picking up and heading elsewhere.
So, to put freelancing into context and show it isn’t just a passing trend but integral to the future of work, let’s look at a two of the big, driving factors that are bringing the revolution into full swing.
Preparing for AI domination
AI and automation will clearly have an impact on the world of work. New tech and systems will cut down the need for human labour, reducing the number of permanent staff needed and even making some professions completely redundant.
But the biggest effect won’t be because robots simply push us measly humans out onto the streets. People won’t wait around for that to happen.
As the figures show, people are already finding their own streams of income and taking their future into their own hands. This can be seen in the 65 percent of independent workers who’re keeping on top of skills, setting aside time for learning new ones in order to stay relevant and not to one day suddenly end up jobless.
By establishing yourself as a freelancer, you build the skills to support yourself independently of institutions. Learning how to market yourself, secure assignments, use payment systems, and build lasting relationships with clients. All this makes freelancers infinitely more resilient than someone in the system who’s susceptible to forces outside of their control.
Life before retirement
With more companies taking advantage of the lower costs of contractors, and barriers to entry getting lower every year, with each new generation more and more freelancers enter the marketplace.
So much so that today’s role models are not Richard Branson or business people who’ve risen to success in the corporate world. They’re Youtubers who live off advertising, Instagram photographers who have big name sponsors, and Twitch stars who make money from promoting products.
As such, the people gen Z aspire to be are not those that work manically all their life and look forward to the bliss of retirement; they’re people who’ve chosen the life they want to live now and have built a support system around it.
The big difference here is, to start building this lifestyle, you don’t have to wait until you’ve got your degree or even left school. And you certainly don’t need to a pursue a graduate scheme or accrue experience from working at the bottom of some bureaucratic corporation. All you need is a half-decent skill, a web presence, and congratulations, you’re a freelancer.
Joseph Pennington is a freelance writer and long-term traveller from the North of England. Find him on Medium exploring remote working, technology, spirituality, meditation, and everything in between.