It has been described as the most significant shift in the workplace since the industrial revolution (The Atlantic Times, The Future of Work Special Report). Although the US Department of Labour doesn’t keep accurate statistics on freelancers, it’s estimated that one third of the American workforce is now an independent worker, or freelancer; that’s approximately 25 million Americans. And the freelance surge isn’t restricted to the world’s greatest economy; it’s a global trend being observed in Europe and even here in South Africa. As former Fortune editor, writer and futurist Alvin Toffler predicted back in 1980, The Third Wave is here.

What is Freelancing?

The word ‘freelance’ was first used to describe a knight not sworn to any lord’s service; working for himself, he was a ‘free-lance’ (the lance being a weapon of war), or mercenary. These days, a freelancer is someone who does work for various people, and isn’t contracted to one particular employer. In other words, a freelancer – also referred to as an independent contractor – is self-employed.

Freelancers don’t receive a fixed salary, but charge clients for their services, based on market-related or perceived value-related rates. Freelancers may charge a per project rate, per hour or per day rate or a piece rate (for example, a writer might charge per word or per page).  In the past, freelancing has been popular amongst workers in creative fields, like graphic design or writing. In the future, however, the freelance surge is going to overflow, swamping all professions, including those traditionally seen as freelance-free, such as law, accounting, finance, admin and medicine. The trend towards freelancing will also impact how companies hire staff, and could even alter the structure of the corporate organisation forever.

Why is Freelancing Trending?

The end of the Master-Servant relationship may be nigh, but for what reasons?

  • Job losses have forced many workers into freelancing for a living
  • Rapid advances in technology have made it possible to work remotely, for clients around the globe
  • Employers are contracting freelancers to avoid the expenses with hiring permanent staff
  • Freelancers facilitate a company’s flexibility to expand the workforce, depending on client demand.

The Low-down on Freelancing

Resources for workers embracing freelancing: