To Freelance or Work Full-Time?


To freelance or work full-time? Some tech pros view the prospect of signing up with a corporate entity as too controlling; they want the freedom that comes with being an independent contractor.

But for every freelancer who loves the lifestyle, there’s at least one worker who hates the uncertainty of scrounging up new gigs. The latter wants the security of a paycheck, benefits, and an organizational hierarchy.

Both sides have their pluses and minuses, of course—but as a new survey by Upwork and the Freelancers Union (and conducted by research firm Edelman Berland) demonstrates, it’s a pretty good time to freelance: Some 60 percent of 7,100 surveyed adults said they earned more freelancing than they did in traditional employment. Millennials and Baby Boomers represented the top two freelancing demographics.

More than a third of freelancers reported an increased demand for their services over the past year; a full three-quarters thought that technology had made it easier to hunt for new work. Some 83 percent of those surveyed thought that “the best days are ahead” for freelancing, a slight increase from the 77 percent who expressed that sentiment last year.

The data-point about freelancers earning more money comes with a significant caveat: Independent workers must handle their own taxes, Social Security, and other payments, which can tear a hefty chunk away from their annual gross pay.

While the study doesn’t break out freelancers by skillsets or profession, it’s all but certain that a significant fraction of those surveyed adults interact with the tech industry in some respect. A recent global survey of developers by research firm IDC, commissioned by the Application Developers Alliance, found that more than a third worked as freelancers or independent contractors.

“We believe that mobile devices and the app economy are important factors contributing to this [freelancer] growth,” said the report accompanying that data, “though the rise of gaming, and the higher level of freelancing in the economy in general are also contributing factors.”

Although some tech pros dislike the idea of freelancing, it seems like a healthy portion of them are making a go of it.

2 Responses to “To Freelance or Work Full-Time?”

  1. This can be misleading. “Some 60 percent of 7,100 surveyed adults said they earned more freelancing than they did in traditional employment” Does that include the benefits that you get such as medical/dental, paid vacation time, and maybe even access to the gym? I didn’t get those when I contracted.
    In addition, there are total freelance contracts, who (as you indicated) have to pay all the taxes and other governmental fees themselves (did they get enough pay to compensate for that) and the agency-contracted people, who are basically hired guns who typically get the same base salary as the employee but non of the benefits until the agency decides to give them, often at a much higher copay than full-time employees in a company get.
    In addition, staying on top of the tech industry requires ongoing training. You may be able to get that for free on-the-job but otherwise you could spend $1,000s annually to stay on top of the industry. Did you get enough in your rate to help with that?
    For these and other things, that’s why true freelancers often charge hourly rates that are 3-5x as much as employee hourly rates. Employees might get $35/hour but freelancers had better ask for at least $150/hour to break even.

  2. The answer really depends on your situation: Do you have a family, mortgage, car payments, etc? If you have heavy, financial obligations that you must meet every month, then the “stability” of a full-time job is important. Then again, these days there is no such thing as stability, hence why I put the word in quotes.

    If you are single like me, then working as a contractor may not be a bad idea. The past few years, I have been getting very good rates. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on where you work and how you market yourself.

    I have been in IT for 20 years and I view it as a game. To me, the game entails trying to amass as much money as possible, knowing that the field is rapidly changing and businesses are adapting in kind to this fact. At the same time, it is an unstandardized field with requirements all over the place, varying from job to job.

    So hopefully within the next 15-20 years, I will have amassed 1 million in savings and if IT will totally be cloud based by then and demand for IT and/or operations workers will be minimal, I will have enough to live out the rest of my life and give Corporate America the one finger salute.