4 Ways that Today’s Freelancers Differ from Earlier Generations

Millennials are hitting the workforce at full speed. According to US labor stats, they already outnumber boomers and Generation X. The impact of their arrival in the business scene has many watching apprehensively.

While millennials tend to get a bum rap, the truth is that their approach is simply different from generations past. Not necessarily better or worse – just different. Different values, different lifestyles, different needs and (possibly the most offensive of all to the old-school workforce) a different look. Every day may soon be casual Friday.

The combination of a work force saturated with digital natives, along with the advancements of technology in our ever-evolving, interconnected world, has clearly had a large impact on the independent sector. But how exactly are today’s freelancers different?

MBO Partners has recently concluded its fifth annual “State of Independence” study, providing us with some solid insights into the relevance, challenges and differences this new generation of solopreneurs face. According to MBO’s data, millennials already make up 30% of the total freelancing population, and they’re likely to overtake Millennials as the largest generation of freelancers within two years.

Let’s take a look at four of the most eye-opening stats unearthed by the study.

  1. Today’s Freelancers Have Tougher Challenges

While some challenges may never change for freelancers, millennials are more likely to cite these freelancing challenges than others. Here’s a breakdown of the top three challenges noted by the independent workforce:

  • Lack of predictable income: millennials 57%, non-millennials 48%
  • Lack of job security: millennials 48%, non-millennials 28%
  • Lack of workplace benefits: millennials 46%, non-millennials 30%

It’s easy to see why today’s young adult freelancers may have it harder than their predecessors. The global economy is unstable, and with the rise of project marketplace websites, there’s stiffer competition for gigs than ever before. It’s possible that with virtual work so easily accessible, the freelance market has become overly saturated with service providers, in turn giving the clients the upper hand.

On the other hand, there’s a distinct possibility that the first generation to grow up with the ability to access whatever they desire with the tap of a touchscreen has less patience for the long-term game of independent career building. Or perhaps this generation is more in tune to the challenges we all face, pointing a spotlight on the need to think about retirement plans and workplace benefits that we all need down the line.

  1. Today’s Freelancers Are More Willing to Get Day Jobs

The “State of Independence” study found that 29% of Millennials currently working in the independent sector plan to move on to traditional jobs over the next two years, compared to just 12% of non-Millennials. So what’s changed? Why would someone who chooses freelancing have an end goal of leaving the grind behind?

In previous generations, it seems that the order was reversed: work for a company, build your reputation and network and then go out on your own. These days, freelancing is considerably easier to get started with than in generations past. With the popularity of platforms like Fiverr and Upwork, experimenting with freelancing has never been easier – not to mention the many social media platforms available for network building.

These platforms make freelancing an easy go-to for young people to grow their skills and experience and meet people in industries they may eventually want to be conventionally hired in – all while getting paid.

  1. Today’s Freelancers Are Twice as Likely to Be ‘Creatives’

Some 20% of full-time millennial freelancers describe themselves as creative professionals, compared to only 10% of non-millennial full-time independents.

Millennials are known for wanting to find meaning in what they do for a living, and perhaps the rise of the independent creative supports these values. It’s also possible that the economy as a whole has created a higher demand for creative professionals.

These days every business, large or small, needs at least one go-to creative on their team: graphic designers to make their website pop and differentiate them from the competition, creative writers and content marketers for weekly blog posts and social media engagement, photographers for fresh headshots to use in earned media assets and so on. It makes sense that the need for creative freelancers is on the rise, and there are many millennials who are more than happy to fill these roles.

  1. The Gig Economy Beckons, but It’s Grueling

Yes, the gig economy is booming, but the gigs are fleeting. The pricing value and lack of commitment is great for clients, but many millennials say they aren’t satisfied with staying on that hamster wheel for long. Overall, the freelance career dissatisfaction rate for millennials,19%, comes in at more than double the dissatisfaction rate of non-millennials, 8%. Does this mean the gig economy isn’t viable, or are millennials just harder to please?

The study found that while millennials do take on temporary and fixed-contract work, the satisfaction ratings are low. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Temporary/On-call work: millennials16%, non-millennials 8%
  • Fixed contract work: millennials 21%, non-millennials 9%

Perhaps today’s young adults are simply more in tune with their needs, as they build on the failures of their predecessors. Quick-turnover gigs can often serve as stepping-stones towards landing long-term clients while building reputations, portfolios and knowhow.

Times Have Changed

The freelancing world today is drastically different from what it used to be, so inevitably the latest generation to join it has new challenges to face. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s also doable.

Millennials are known for ambitious trailblazing, innovation and ingenuity. These younger members of the freelance scene may be a bit confusing to those who have been at it for longer, but as the nature of independent working continues to evolve, there’s a lot we can all learn from each other.