The Numbers of Freelancing

Quick. Without thinking about it too much, what sort of person do you think is statistically most likely to make it as a small business owner or freelancer?

  • Male or female?
  • Under 30 or over 30?
  • White? Black? Asian? Indian? Coloured?
  • Those with loads of start-up cash?

It’s possible some of your preconceived notions are off-base. (Mine were.)

What the stats say

The Kauffman Foundation’s 2013 Firm Survey is one of the longest and largest studies ever of privately owned start-ups, examining the effect of things like age, gender, and amount of start-up capital on company outcomes after five years.

Guess what? Its most recent results are pretty unexpected. Like these:

  1. There’s almost no difference between male and female-run small businesses or freelance ‘firms’ in terms of survival rate. Men and women are equally likely to do well or badly in their own businesses. Good to know.
  2. The obsession with youth? With young bucks? With fresh faces? It’s so, like, lame. Because small companies started by people in their 20s are statistically more likely to fail. So if you’re a bit older, it seems your odds are better.
  3. Surprisingly (at least to me), more companies are founded by white people than by any other racial group, with Asian freelancers and Asian-run start-ups mostly likely to thrive long-term in their respective niches.
  4. Here’s some good news: Lower levels of start-up moolla make no significant difference to a company’s chances of survival. (I started mine with R4,000 back in 2005 – and I’m still going. I guess that’s a good sign, right?)

If you’re interested, you’ll find the full Kauffman survey results and infographic here.

Some other numbers

Why the concern with who succeeds and who fails? Well, there are lots of us out there. Not everyone can hack it sustainably. And those who can’t leave a vacuum to be filled by those who can. Let’s take a quick look at some more numbers, shall we?

  • The number of freelance workers in the global economy is projected to outpace full-timeworkers by 2020 (Forbes Magazine, 2013). Will you be one?
  • According to this cool infographic, artists, creatives, and writers make up the majority of freelancers, with tech and web development just behind. But there is also growth outside of the stereotypical freelancing professions, like lawyers, nannies, accountants, chefs, yoga instructors, etc. (The Freelance Union, 2014).
  • People who freelance apparently contribute an estimated $715 billion in freelance earnings to the American economy every year (The 53 Million Report, 2014). Aside: I’d be interested to know what the SA figure is on that one. Anyone know?
  • Earning extra money (but not financial necessity) and schedule flexibility are the top drivers of freelancing, while finding work and income stability are the top barriers to freelancing work (The 53 Million Report, 2014). Do you agree?
  • 69{7aef4e5c6853be3cc4d057a807069aa9f2ae8fd184061eb63ea53e14fedec9bd} of freelancers say technology has made it easier to find work; 77{7aef4e5c6853be3cc4d057a807069aa9f2ae8fd184061eb63ea53e14fedec9bd} say the best days are yet ahead for freelancing; and 65{7aef4e5c6853be3cc4d057a807069aa9f2ae8fd184061eb63ea53e14fedec9bd} say freelancing as a career is more respected today than three years ago (The 53 Million Report, 2014). I have to agree with all three of those assertions, but it really depends on how you market

On how I market?

Yes. How you market yourself. What you need to know is this: You’ll be fine. With a fair bit of talent and a lot of hard work, commitment to marketing, and administrative discipline, you should make it. People do, every year.

The trick is being brave enough to put yourself out there – even when things are quiet and you’d like to retreat into a fetal ball and panic or when they’re busy as hell and you don’t have time for lunch, let alone some networking.

Good luck.


*This post originally appeared on freelancentral.