The "gig economy" is making a sizable impact on the way professionals view work, especially freelancing. The limitations of the 9-to-5, full-time office job have dissolved, and freelancers can choose their own schedules, workplaces and projects.
According to a study by Upwork and Freelancers Union, 60 percent of freelancers in the U.S. started freelancing by choice versus necessity, and 67 percent of freelancers agree that more people are choosing to work independently today compared to three years ago.
Freelancing offers freedom and flexibility, and many workers are opting for this lifestyle over traditional, full-time opportunities. For instance, Nick DiUlio, a freelance journalist and adjunct professor of journalism at Rowan University in New Jersey, had been freelancing in his spare time and assumed it would be a stopgap between full-time gigs.
"It started as a way to get out of a toxic workplace where I was unhappy," DiUlio told Business News Daily. "I loved the flexibility and variety [of freelancing]. After a year, I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else." [See Related Story: Want to Be a Full-Time Freelancer? What You Need to Know]
Fastest-growing freelance positions
Whatever your skill set, it's important to recognize market demand to keep your freelance business running.
According to Upwork, demand for high-quality writers, programmers and designers soared in 2015, with each job growing more than 100 percent last year. Specific skills include:
- Content marketers (+136 percent): Content marketing is in demand. It enables businesses of all types to engage their customers and help build a brand.
- User experience designers (+141 percent): Your website or app has to make a great impression in seconds to your customers. With more entrepreneurs starting with design first, a UX expert is a must.
- WooCommerce developers (+134 percent): With advertising falling out of favor as a business model with investors, many entrepreneurs are turning to direct sales. Easy-to-implement platforms like WooCommerce stood out in 2015.
- Virtual assistants (+53 percent): Increasingly, business professionals and entrepreneurs are turning to virtual assistants to manage their nonessential tasks, freeing up time to focus on mission-critical, high-impact work.
- Electrical engineers (+51 percent): With the internet-of-things market heating up, companies and entrepreneurs need electrical engineers to help build connected devices.
Running a one-person business
DiUlio advises having a well-thought-out plan and doing your research.
"You need to know and approach [freelancing] with an economic plan," DiUlio said. "Web-based writing is a little easier, because the payment turnaround is quicker, as opposed to print which could have 30-, 60- or 90-day turnarounds."
Knowing payment structure, how much you'll get paid and when is invaluable information for your freelancing career, he added.
Most importantly, think of yourself as a business of one, said Ryan Johnson, director of categories at Upwork.
"Budget time to build your personal brand and market yourself," Johnson said. "In addition, allocate some of your time to refreshing your existing skills and adding new ones. Businesses are increasingly turning to freelance marketplaces to access skills that an in-house team doesn't have. Keeping yourself up-to-date with new and emerging trends will make you more desirable."
It's important to remember to keep in touch with your contacts, and to make new ones, said Michael Parker, vice president of collaboration at join.me. Networking is especially important for freelancers, to help get new client leads.
"Attend industry events you're interested in," Parker said. "Go to other events to network with prospective clients and sources."
The best way to start once you're ready? Just do it.
"Once you set up [an online] profile and land your first project, you'll be able to showcase your work, receive client reviews and start building your online reputation," Johnson said. "You should view your profile as a more innovative, better version of a résumé, since it provides proof of your work."
Whether you make a career out of freelancing or use it as a part-time platform, acknowledge your worth and don't work for free, DiUlio said.
"[For] your work, whatever that may be, you deserve to be paid," he said.