Declaration of Independents

Are you an “independent worker?” Maybe you call yourself a freelancer, independent contractor, solopreneur or self-employed. Recently, MBO Partners surveyed workers from this growing group, which they define as people who work at least 15 hours per week in nontraditional, nonpermanent full- or part-time employment. The resulting report, Independent Workforce Index: The State of Independence in America, has some fascinating findings about who America’s independent workers are, why they decided to strike out on their own, and what their futures hold.

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Who Are the Independents?

Independents are a varied group. Twelve percent are Millennials, 49 percent are Gen X, 30 percent are baby boomers and 10 percent are seniors (65-plus). Women account for 53 percent of independents.

Overall, independents tend to be knowledge workers. Nearly half have a college degree; seven in 10 say their work requires specialized training, skills or education; and 50 percent say it requires industry expertise or experience.

Why Go Independent?

The three biggest motivators for becoming independent are a desire for greater work/life flexibility (47 percent), the desire to earn more money (36 percent), and a conscious decision to start a business (29 percent). Although the conventional wisdom holds that most independents are on their own because they’ve been laid off from “real jobs,” just 24 percent said that was a reason for going independent.

Independents cherish flexibility, time and autonomy. Seventy-five percent say that doing something they love is more important than making money; 74 percent say that flexibility is more important than making money; and 48 percent say they didn’t like having a boss.

When they actually strike out on their own, independents find that it’s just as satisfying as they expected. In fact, the study found that independent work leads to greater professional satisfaction for workers in all generations—perhaps because it delivers rewards employees rarely find in the workplace today, such as flexibility, control and the freedom to grow and learn.

What’s the Downside?

Overall, independents are highly satisfied, with 40 percent saying they’d never go back to a traditional job. Only 19 percent would prefer to have a traditional job again. Still, the high level of satisfaction isn’t without some worries, as most of us reading this can attest. The top three worries independents faced are not having a predictable income (56 percent), keeping enough business in the pipeline (46 percent) and planning for retirement (46 percent).

Independent workers aren’t wearing rose-colored glasses: 81 percent say being independent is riskier than traditional jobs, and 66 percent say it’s less secure. But 33 percent say that despite the risks, they actually feel more secure being independent than they would with a traditional job.

The Future of Independents

The report projects that by 2013 the number of independent workers will grow from 16 million today to over 20 million. Already, the study found 28 million American workers are considering becoming independent workers. Of those, 60 percent have already taken some type of action toward that goal, including:

  • Conducting research (33 percent)
  • Writing a business plan (23 percent)
  • Talking to prospective clients or getting advice on business issues (20 percent)
  • Building a business website (20 percent)
  • Opening a business bank account (14 percent)

The future of the independent workers in the survey looks bright, too. Just 19 percent would consider going back to life as an employee; a whopping 63 percent plan to stay independent, and 12 percent want to expand even further and become employer businesses.

Do these results jibe with your feelings about being independent?

Image from EDHAR/Shutterstock

Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.