As a kid, I used to enjoy watching reruns of the TV show “Naked City”, a police drama set here in New York City in the 60’s. As always, the good guys won and the bad guys lost. And, the closing voice-over, each week, solemnly intoned: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” The line reminded me of the more than eight million individual stories that make up the freelance revolution these days. Too often, when we talk about freelancing, we don’t share the richness and variety of professions for which freelancing is a growing career alternative: diplomats, scientists, pharma clinical trials managers, architects and construction managers, lawyers, as well as technologists, management consultants, sales professionals, medical doctors, and marketing communicators.
We also don’t often talk about the challenges facing freelancers. If you are an AI expert these days, or a whiz at digital marketing transformation, the chances are that your options are fairly rosy. But not everyone is in the same boat. Musicians, actors, and events professionals, reliant on crowds and filled theatres, are having a tough time. And plenty of professions fall in somewhere between these poles.
One of the professions that offers a range of freelancer experiences is the graphic design industry. As background, ibisworld.com, the research firm, reports that the global graphic design industry has revenues of $45 billion dollars in 2020, has grown modestly (3-4%) over the past five years, and is expected to remain flat or slightly decrease in the next five years. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies around 280,000 graphic design professionals in the US, and you can likely double that on a global basis. Professionals were hard hit by the pandemic as projects were canceled or delayed at the beginning of the pandemic, and thousands of full-time employees were furloughed or laid off, and turned to freelancing where many were already doing side-gigs.
A new survey by 99Designs provides a window into the varied experience of freelance design professionals, both full-time and part-time. The platform’s research, just released, shares the perspectives of 11,000 graphic designers working in over 100 countries. It’s worth a look at the entire survey here. For many it’s a good news story, and freelance is certainly on the rise today in the design field, but it’s also a challenging period for many design professionals. Here are the findings I found most interesting:
First, this is the kind of diverse community we are expecting to find across more and more freelancing verticals. For many years, freelancers were seen as less able than full-time employees, but those days are quickly gone. One useful measure of emerging career “legitimacy” is the attraction of a wider population. According to 99Designs, one third of freelance designers now identify as minority based on ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, mental or physical impairment. While 27% of respondents have been in the graphic design field for over a decade; 12% were new this year. More than half were under 30. In this survey, 70% of individuals identified as male, and 28% as female, which is a bit surprising given that graphic design is a profession where people identifying as female are a global plurality.
In the main, these freelancers are optimistic about the future. Despite the significant emotional and economic strain of the pandemic, virtually two thirds (63%) of participating freelance graphic designers are optimistic about the future of freelancing in the design industry. This is important but also an expression of reality: industry pundits expect fewer full-time salaried positions and more freelancing and open competitions over time.
The shift away from full-time salaried roles is, in turn, creating more demand for freelancers, particularly when combined with the impact of Covid 19. More than half (53%) of respondents are full-time freelancers; the remainder are side gigging with a full-time job or as a full-time student. As the report points out, for many the shift from salaried to freelancer was unwelcome. However, a silver lining is that 60% of respondents overall are working more than 30 per week as a freelancer which is impressive.
Many are also doing as well or better financially than last year. Half of freelance designers expect to earn as much or more in 2020 than they did in 2019; a quarter (24%) believe that they will significantly increase their income this year vs last. However, it’s also the case that over a third of survey participants (36%) have had challenges finding steady work, 27% have experienced budget cuts in their client work, and a quarter (26%) had at least one project canceled or delayed.
A greater client openness to remote freelance work has increased freelance graphic designer flexibility and opportunity. More than three quarters (77%) of designers see client companies as more open to hiring remote talent, a finding that fits with other research I’ve reported. In turn, this has created lifestyle opportunities for freelancers. More than two fifths (41%) of freelance designers said they would consider moving to a smaller town or regional area if clients were willing to permanently embrace remote work arrangements. As I’ve written in other Forbes articles, this is good news for freelancers and also for legacy cities and rural communities, and enables a larger and more diverse talent pool.
Not surprisingly, many freelancers reported reasonable career satisfaction despite the pandemic. Two thirds (67%) described themselves as either satisfied or very satisfied.
But, the pandemic has taken its toll. Although two thirds were satisfied with their performance and prospects in 2020, it’s a drop from the 78% who reported satisfaction in 2019. And, let’s not forget that 31% were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied, and 33% describe themselves as working far longer hours.
Let’s remember that freelancing is a tale of many different experiences. While some excel at freelancing, others don’t or would prefer not to, whether or not they have the chops for a successful freelance career. In fact, the 99Design survey reports that 42% of respondents have been actively looking for employment; freelancing – the solo version of entrepreneurship – has all the highs, but also all the lows of running your own business. It’s not for everyone, and many design professionals obviously know that and would prefer the stability of a regular pay check.
Whether satisfied or dissatisfied, one of the benefits of thinking as a freelance, whether a side-gigger or a full-time freelancer – has been greater personal focus to development. We know from work at Upwork and other platforms that freelancers are more attentive to staying up to date technically and professionally. Unsurprisingly, four out of five (80%) design freelancers attended to their professional development by learning a new professional skill (e.g., 3D animation, UI design and motion graphics) and half (50%) worked on creative personal projects.
Finally, living through Covid 19 has led to a tsunami of personal reflection and changing personal and professional goals. About two thirds (65%) of designers have changed their plans. Over of third (36%) are now more focused on gaining full-time work (although most say they are interested in continuing to freelance on the side), 30% are interested in growing and running their own company, and half (49%) want to remain full-time freelancers.
And the future of graphic design careers? 99Design respondents opine that the future will be more freelance with 55% of design professionals describing their future as freelancing for one or more companies.
There’s an important message in the 99Design survey data that I hope readers won’t miss. Freelancing is on the upswing, demand is up, it is attractive to many professionals in a wide variety of careers, and companies are increasingly dependent on the ability to augment their professional workforce as need arises or as projects needs require. But the skills required to be successful as a freelancer – in design or elsewhere – encompass both technical expertise and commercial aptitude. As we’ve learned from the 99Designs survey, even when the stars are aligned for many, it’s not for everyone.
Viva la revolution!
Article Provided By: Forbes
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