There’s a lot of stats out there about freelancing. There’s stats about freelancer failure rates that raise concern. According to the IFS, 20% of sole traders don’t make it past their first year, 60% will fail to make it past 5 years, rising to 80% by 12 years. On the flipside, there’s stats about new freelancers quitting their day jobs and earning more money than they could ever possibly imagine over their previous full-time employed salaries. There’s stats aplenty covering every nook and cranny about the ‘plunge into the freelance life.’
Some of it exciting…many of it downright depressing.
There’s a lot of stats out there about freelancing.
There’s stats about freelancer failure rates that raise concern. According to the IFS, 20% of sole traders don’t make it past their first year, 60% will fail to make it past 5 years, rising to 80% by 12 years.
On the flipside, there’s stats about new freelancers quitting their day jobs and earning more money than they could ever possibly imagine over their previous full-time employed salaries.
There’s stats aplenty covering every nook and cranny about the ‘plunge into the freelance life.’
The scourge of confirmation bias
In the exact same way somebody wants to confirm that their political opinion is the “correct” one, these stats about freelancing are no different. People just search for the answers that they want…without one moment of critical thinking and perspective.
In my own experience, the amount of times I’ve heard people say in conversation…“I tried freelancing once, it never worked out for me,” I must say I find a little disingenuous. For them, that’s it. Game over. Roll credits. Good night Vienna. They’ll never try it again. They become a part of the statistics.
I’m a little confused as to why this lifestyle choice of freelancing appears to be perceived as a one-time, go-big or go-home concept.
Whatever happened to a little nuance? A little variety? Resilience! Failing fast and learning from mistakes? A little spice of life? Sure, statistics can be enlightening and all, but also very binary and the life of a freelancer is so much more than a set of numbers on a balance sheet associated with freelancers “failing” at their first attempt.
So, who made the rule that freelancers only get one shot at this? And who gets to define what success and failure actually looks like? This isn't a game of sport where you either win or lose, or a maths exam where your answer is either right or wrong…freelancing is a whole other world entirely — where we simply cannot (and should not) be compared to startup businesses and profit-driven capitalism measured by quarterly bottom lines — which are just arbitrary numbers on a screen.
There are many non-financial reasons people choose to go freelance too, be it a better work-life balance, more family time, or mental health.
It’s perfectly valid and natural for an independent professional to have a complex relationship with freelancing…where if it doesn't work out the first time round, they make a success of it a second time later down the line. Or even beyond that.
In my last piece, I made the robust claim that freelancing is not a stopgap, it’s a perfectly acceptable career choice. Now, while I still vehemently standby that proposition, I do feel, upon reflection, that it's also perfectly reasonable for someone to flirt with freelancing from time to time, legitimately treat it as a stopgap, earn some extra cash, scratch that creative itch, dip a toe into the world so to speak…and then eventually take it seriously (or not) as and when they are ready to at another time.
During the pandemic, as a good example, there was a spike in the number of furloughed people applying for freelance work (off the books) — be it for extra income, a new challenge, to cure boredom, or just because they were interested in the idea. When the working world reopened, some had caught the bug and continued to build their freelance businesses, others fell back into their 9 to 5.
They got a taste of our world — love it or hate it.
An on-again, off-again love affair with freelancing
Who said first-time freelancing needs an all guns blazing, full-time approach? Why can’t you simply try it once, then have second thoughts? — but again, ONLY for this first attempt. Perhaps the timing just wasn’t right, or you just weren’t ready.
But, you don’t see it as “giving up” and “quitting” because things didn't work out. You simply pivot in another direction or commit back to your old job, knowing full well you might return to freelancing again in the future.
In some ways…instead of freelancing representing some scary or brave risk someone takes, it simply remains a lifelong option that is always there for you no matter what.
You can choose to commit to it, get serious with it, marry and have a kid with it…or keep it casual, not give it a label, and just go with the flow.
Who wants a job for life these days anyway?
If you want stats that actually do tell an accurate story of where the future might be headed — look no further than Gen Z.
It’s pretty conclusive — the new generation just don't seem that keen on a ‘job for life,’ and would much rather earn a living in a culture of flexibility and choice. They may opt for that traditional full-time 9-5 office job, they may have 2 part time roles, they may wanna be remote, or of course they may wanna go freelance.
Gen Z wants to create a working world where options rule supreme, not customary blind loyalty to one employer who will not show any loyalty back the second times get tough and they need to start ‘making some cuts.’
Freelancing offers this flexibility. It offers this choice and these options where work is subservient to their lives, not the other way around.
Honestly, I feel that freelancing is the best relationship I have in life — because I know exactly where I stand with it. And that’s healthy!
The internet is a big place…don’t be deterred by statistics
Remember…don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
Yes, you may come across a link that doesn’t particularly champion the freelance life, and will make you quickly rethink your aspirations to become your own boss in the “current market.” It’s what brings all us freelancers together — we’ve all been there.
However, all it takes is a change of mentality and a quick rewording in the Google search bar…and you’ll be met with dozens of search results giving you the answers and depiction of freelancing that you want. They call this confirmation bias.
But either way, who cares? It's irrelevant. Because whether you are just another statistic or the exception to the rule, when you dive into freelancing for the first time — at the end of the day — success or failure is in the eye of the beholder.
There is only your personal relationship with freelancing — and you can make it as simple or as complicated as you like.