Freelancing, Alternative Work, and the Rising Gig Economy

Last year, the Freelancer’s Union released a study from the research firm Edelman Berland that revealed that 53 million Americans do freelance work. Surprisingly, that number represents 34 percent of the American workforce, which means that about one in three workers have an income on the side.

Does that mean that more than 30 percent of the country’s workforce is building a dream job on the side? Not necessarily. As we’ve learned from coverage of the Internet’s gig economy, freelance work can mean a lot of different things, and it’s not the only alternative to traditional jobs.

The Freelancer’s Union survey defines freelancers as “individuals who have engaged in supplemental, temporary, or project- or contract-based work in the past 12 months.” Here’s a breakdown of what kinds of work freelancers and gig workers get into:

Independent contractors, 40 percent

Independent contractors are your typical freelancers. Working without a full-time employer, they piece together their income from freelance, temporary, and supplemental work in specific areas of expertise like copywriting, graphic design, or virtual assistance.

Moonlighters, 27 percent

Moonlighters take on freelance work in addition to their full-time, regular employment. These employees may or may not be building up to make the leap to full-time freelance; they simply use their specialized skills to take on extra projects in the evenings or weekends.

Diversified workers, 18 percent

Diversified workers are true hybrids, building an income from a combination of some traditional employment (such as a part-time administrative assistant job), freelance work, and work from the gig economy of small jobs (such as Uber or Fiverr).

Temporary workers, 10 percent

Temporary workers are traditional full-time employees with a very short contract. These freelancers pick up full-time work (such as nine to five consulting support) for a specific length of time. Then they’re on to the next client. This work may take place in person, or it may be completed virtually.  

Freelance business owners, five percent

Freelance business owners make up a unique hybrid group of part-freelancer, part-business owner. These workers might do so much freelance work that they subcontract or hire other freelancers to work as a team to complete the work. This leaves the freelance business owner both actively working in an area of expertise and managing a team of employees. A great example of a freelance business owner might be an independent website developer who recruits a copywriter, designer, and coder to complete a large-scale project.

Alternative work

Alternative jobs weren’t represented in the Freelancer’s Union study, but these non-traditional approaches to traditional careers are on the rise, as well. If you don’t enjoy the work environment that typically comes with your job, you might investigate alternative work models specific to your field.

For example, there is a rising demand among staffing companies for travel nurses. This is a great opportunity for nurses who don’t want to work in a hospital setting. A classroom teacher might also be able to transition into an alternative career as a virtual teacher for public schools.