Open Thread: Should you work for an employer prior to freelancing?
Last week’s open thread talked about the usefulness of formal education for freelancers. We got some interesting responses and had a great discussion! This week, I thought we’d look at another surprise statistic from the Global Freelancer’s Survey. We asked freelancers how many years they’d worked as a full-time employee before beginning their freelance career.
Of 3,285 responses, 543 had never worked for an employer before freelancing. That’s a large number of “native” freelancers!
We focus so much on readers who are “making the switch” to freelancing from the corporate environment–escaping the cubicle, becoming your own boss, etc. We are, after all, FreelanceSwitch. I had expected “I didn’t work as an employee before” to be a minor response. I thought the results were interesting so I dug a little deeper into it for the chapter in Freelance Confidential.
I compared the way survey responses differed between those who were former employees and those who began freelancing from the start of their career. Freelancers who started their career freelancing shared some interesting characteristics:
- They tended to be younger on average, which might indicate jumping directly to freelancing is a newer trend.
- The numbers were split evently in America, but freelancers in Europe and Asia were much more likely to have never worked for an employer.
- Far more likely to be “self taught” when asked about education.
- Slightly more likely to report new job leads from participation in competitions or contests.
- Reported lower hourly rates and earned income.
- Native freelancers more frequently reported plans to expand and open a small business with employees/freelancers.
Meanwhile, freelancers who had former employee-employer experience were more likely to have the following characteristics:
- More likely to have university or college education.
- Report “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their income.
- Be “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their freelance project opportunities.
- More likely to report less free time since they began freelancing.
- Paradoxically, they also more frequently cited “more time with family” as a reason for freelancing.
- Report higher net income and more likely have access to health insurance, retirement plans.
It seems like skipping the experience of working for an employer is a growing trend with freelancers. Blogs like Students That Freelance even help student freelancers build up their business before graduating. On the other hand, the survey statistics show a mixed bag when it comes to how that influences your business. What do you think? Is foregoing the employee experience a reflection of changes in the workforce? Is it beneficial to work for a traditional employer before striking out on your own, or should you work for yourself from the start?