Shaky Economy be Damned, Say Independent Workers

independent workers infographicMany of our readers are independent workers. That includes freelancers, solopreneurs, consultants and contractors. If you don’t get paid an annual salary by someone else, we’re talking to you. MBO Partners released its report entitled “The State of Independence in America” today. The research took a look at the American independent worker, her motivation for going independent, and what she thought about the future.

As an independent myself, I fell squarely into the demographic the study found as the average independent:

  • Evenly split between males and females
  • Majority in Generation X (ages 30-49)

I was surprised that 10% of independent workers are aged 65+! I’m willing to bet they’ve been independent for a while, and like so many entrepreneurs, found it hard to retire after a lifetime of fun work.

Motivation for Going Independent

If you’re an independent worker, why did you jump out of the corporate world? Did you want better work/life flexibility? To make more money? Or start your own business? Did you lose your job, like 24% of the workers surveyed? Or were you just unhappy working for The Man? These were the reasons given by those surveyed, and every freelancer or solopreneur I know would answer at least one of these.

The survey shows that independents continue to work on their own because they are doing what they love,  enjoy the flexibility and love being their own bosses.

It’s Not All About the Benjamins

Another surprising fact is how many independent workers surveyed said that money was not their top motivator for doing what they do. A whopping 75% said they would rather do something they liked doing than make more money. Me too! And 74% said they liked having an occupation where they could tell they were making a difference to someone.

“One of the more interesting findings is almost 20% of independent workers said one of their motivations for becoming independent is that their industry is moving to independent workers,” said Steve King, an analyst from Emergent Research who worked on the report, “This is a subtle point, but it really surprised me. This illustrates the broader shift towards independent work.”

Worries About the Future

Independents have less financial stability than full-time employees (at least that was the case until this recession). They worry about making enough money, where their next job will come from, their plans for retirement, and where they’ll get benefits. Worries aside, 63% of those surveyed said they plan to continue as independent workers. Go indies!

And finally, a good portion (33%) of those surveyed said they feel more stable working on their own rather than for someone else. King surmises the reason:

“First, because they’re their own boss many independent workers feel in control of their destiny instead of being subject to random corporate actions.  Second, many independent workers have multiple clients and feel more secure because they aren’t tied to fortunes of a single company.  The third reason is many independent workers feel that while their income may go down, they are unlikely to see their income go away entirely as it would if they were laid off from a job.”


Susan Payton Susan Payton is the Communications Manager for the Small Business Trends Awards programs. She is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, an Internet marketing firm specializing in content marketing, social media management and press releases. She is also the Founder of How to Create a Press Release, a free resource for business owners who want to generate their own PR.

9 Reactions
  1. I am now an independent worker and I love what I do!

  2. @Kelsey–
    That’s fantastic! What got you into becoming an independent?

  3. For me, controlling my own destiny was a big pull toward independence. And it definitely wasn’t about the money, so I feel they captured my sentiments quite well.

  4. I think it was entrepreneur magazine that asked “what is risk?” Is it being an entrepreneur, on your own, with hundreds of customers, and each customer being a source of income? Or is it being a salaried employee working for one company that is your only source of income? If you ask me, I think I have less risk being an entrepreneur 🙂

  5. @Robert–Controlling your own destiny. I like that.

    @Lionel–You’ve given me another topic to write about!!

  6. We spent a lot of survey and interview time on the attitudes of independent workers around risk and security. As Susan points out in the article, 1/3rd of the survey respondents felt like @Lionel that being on their was more secure.

    We don’t have historical quantitative data on this, but based on our past interview work I think we can confidently say this is substantially higher than 4-5 years ago.

  7. Julie Newton Sloane

    Brilliant! Thank you for writing about this important topic (one that I relate to very strongly.) It wasn’t about the money; it was about doing what I loved and having the freedom to run with an idea, right or wrong. I’ve never been much of a risk taker, but starting this business felt different. I guess when you really believe in something, the possibility that it could fail seems ludicrous.

  8. @Steve–
    Thanks for sharing this with us!

    I’m with you. Money’s great, but you can make it in a dead end job. I’d rather do something I love.