Over the past year, I’ve talked with several individuals who gave up full-time job searches to focus on freelance opportunities. Some are doing this until the job market improves, while others are committed to becoming full-time “career contractors”.
Several PR veteran friends have staked claims in this new career business model. However, for entry-level and early-stage careers, I urge finding internships and full-time positions to gain experience before considering this career option.
Online work marketplace oDesk is betting on continued growth of freelancing, especially with small to mid-size businesses that can’t afford to hire full-time PR talent. According to an oDesk report, contractors with management experience have grown by 489% since 2008, and the number of “highly-paid” contracting assignments paying at least $20 an hour has grown 162%. (As someone who has a lot of freelancing friends, I’m thrilled by the volume of work headed their way, but I expect most assignments are considerably more than $20 an hour).
I asked two friends for their points of view — pro and con — regarding the rapid growth of freelance careers.
“The benefits of a freelancer work-style are flexible schedule along with a choice of clients,” states career mentor Tim Conway, who operates Ignite Young Adults. “However, the downsides are lack of stability as well as periodic isolation.”
“Today mid-sized companies continue to control expenses, so freelancers are an ideal solution,” Tim claims. “In fact, independent contractors offer quick access to project experts without a commitment to full-time labor.”
Veteran freelancer Sylvie Sadarnac observes that freelance assignments have shifted from retainers to projects for businesses of all sizes, and there might be more volume as a result. But, she says this is a bittersweet accomplishment, because the work tends to be tactical.
“There are many career contractors these days, and more and more we are massively underpaid, Sylvie warns. “Since when does making $20/hour puts someone in the highly paid category, as the oDesk study claims. What we do has lost value for a number of reasons; but the main one is that clients tend to buy based on cost control rather than quality.”
Criticizing the American Idolization of PR and related communication services, Sylvie warns: “The ability to think strategically, to develop messaging before launching into social media, and to know how to write, has been cheapened by the proliferation of Internet-based content farms who will do the work, or so they say, for next to nothing.”
Bottom line: Before switching gears to a freelance career, talk to those who have done so for a few years. They’ll provide a realistic view of the benefits and challenges you’ll face.