Back in high school, when my English teacher asked me what I want to do when I grow up, I answered, “I want to be a freelancer.” I had no idea what being a freelancer actually meant, but the idea sounded somewhat romantic.
I knew people back then who were translators or writers—and they called themselves freelancers. All I knew about their work was that they didn’t go to the office, but, rather, worked from home and still got paid. It sounded like fun. You make your own schedule; you work when you feel like it; you’re your own boss.
These were the days of dial-up modems that got around 128kbps of throughput. Communication was still done by phone or via email, and voice and video chats were yet to come. Of course, technology has changed since then, making remote work much easier. Especially in tech, you can see how all of this affects the way we work, both in the rise of full-time “regular” positions that allow you to work remotely and in the growth of the gig economy.
The Future of Work
The gig economy is trending right now. The term basically refers to people taking on temporary jobs or projects, known as gigs, either instead of or in addition to their regular work. Many Uber drivers are part of the gig economy, as are freelance journalists, content marketers, and teachers at various coding schools and bootcamps.
What’s fueling this trend? Is it that people are scared of having only a single income stream in today’s economy? Does greater autonomy give people a greater sense of power? Maybe it’s just a consequence of improved communication channels?
I’d say there are many factors contributing to the rise of freelance jobs. Many individuals, even if they are not necessarily bored by their daily jobs, are looking for new challenges. Others are motivated by higher paychecks; they can earn as much or more freelancing in a year as they did in a salaried position, while putting in fewer hours. Depending on how many hours you want to work, freelancing can augment, or even replace, your regular job. And if you’re considered an expert in your field, especially in tech, your salary likely will only grow with each subsequent client.
There are also those who love the flexibility of gigs. If you are no longer tied to a chair in an office, you can venture out and explore the world — and still work! Digital nomads are (quite literally) everywhere, combining work they are passionate about with another passion: traveling.
So, whether you want to keep your job, replace your job, or travel around the globe, there are possibilities for you in the freelancing world. For me, it’s a mixture of those things. The compensation is factor, but the ability to make my own schedule and have flexibility with my location are much more important. With freedom of movement, I can spend a few weeks in Norway waiting to see the Northern Lights—without sacrificing my vacation time. I am there working, after all.
What I Like About Freelancing
Other than the factors I just mentioned, there are many other benefits to freelancing. When I was working at a “regular” job, for instance, projects rarely changed, and each day resembled the previous one. Yes, I learned new skills from time to time, but it usually required a lot of work to convince my supervisors to let me use those newly learned skills in a project.
When I’m freelancing, however, I can take on challenging new projects whenever I want. I can be a Python developer one week, a Kubernetes administrator the next, the DevOps consultant for a huge corporation the week after, and end the month by teaching a course in Python. (Yes, I love Python.)
This means that my professional growth is much quicker. With each new gig, my skills grow, and my professional network expands.
If you are like me, and you enjoy doing a bit of this and a bit of that, freelancing offers great opportunities that are unavailable anywhere else. Since I love writing, and I’m a tech person — not a common combination– I was happily surprised when I saw that IOD was looking for people just like me. I was equally amazed when I learned I was the only person within a huge network of freelancers who had experience writing both C++ and Electron applications.
Why Businesses Need Freelancers
I mentioned earlier that freelancers usually earn more than their salaried counterparts. Why then, would businesses want to hire freelancers—and pay them more? It doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it?
One result of hiring full-time staff is that salaried employees are typically paid whether there is work to do or not. If a company develops AI applications, for example, it makes sense to have AI engineers available full-time. But, if a company’s core business is something else—let’s say a software house specializing in Web applications in Django—it might be better to hire a freelance ML/AI researcher for a specific application, rather than bring on a new full-time team member.
That’s where freelancers are helpful to organizations. If a role is not necessarily repeatable in the long run, a hired expert may be a better choice than internal talent. Such experts are especially needed in niche fields that require specialization, especially if this specialization crosses over into different disciplines. For example, you can find cloud engineers quite easily. The same goes for content marketers. But what about content marketers who are cloud engineers and can provide interesting content that other developers would actually enjoy? Now, there’s some crossover specialization!
The thing is, most of the time, businesses don’t need full-time engineers who also create content, so it doesn’t make much sense to base hiring decisions solely on that skill. But what happens when the marketing department wants to grow their blog and they know they need highly technical content? Well, you guessed it: They hire a freelancer or a tech marketing agency to create the content. (In most cases, they arrive at this decision only after several unsuccessful attempts to force their developers to write blogs. An approach I don’t recommend.)
Of Course, It’s Not All That Perfect
Ah, the glamorous life of a digital nomad who easily secures freelance gigs and spends the rest of his time watching the sun set on deserted beaches on various exotic islands! If you’re used to reading similar blogs, you know there is something I have to be hiding—nothing on Earth can be that perfect.
And, of course, you’re right.
This article focused on the upsides of being a freelancer in the modern world. But there are downsides, as well. For example, quicker growth can lead to quicker burnout. The dreaded freelance pendulum often swings from “I have too much work right now to handle” to “Oh no, I am working on my last project and have nothing scheduled for next month.” We will be focusing on the downsides of being a freelancer in our second post in this three-part series so stay tuned! In the meantime, if you think you have skills that can be applied to content creation, be in touch with the team at IOD to see if there’s freelance work for you.