Land of the Free, Home of the Independents

Last week President Obama outlined a new job creation plan. There was a continued focus on small business and their role in the economy. Yet, long before the economic crisis there was a quiet revolution transforming the workplace. Daniel Pink called it the “freelance nation” and it has now become a steady march of the independents. These bold professionals were already creating jobs by choosing to work with multiple employers on multiple projects.

There is a common perception that many people become “consultants” only when they fail to find work after a job loss. MBO Partners debunks that myth in a first of its kind study that shows a mere 24% of independent consultants chose to become independent because of loss of a job due to lay-off, termination or closure.

As someone who became self-employed at the start of Michigan’s economic slide I am in the 76 percent that chose my fate with eyes wide open.  I wanted to choose the type of work I did and the clients I served and only focus on the things that I was not only good at but truly enjoyed. Following your bliss drives 75% of independents who stated that doing something they love is more important than making money.

Up until this time we have only had bits and pieces of information about the growing “freelance nation.” This study is the first to offer a breadth of facts and data about a growing work trend. It can also provide valuable insight to those who may be considering an independent career.

Technology has made it much easier to create an independent career. You can communicate and deliver work to clients near and far. An independent career however, is not the 1970s version of the “artiste” with a casual and often undisciplined approach to work. In addition to your specialized skills, you must have excellent communication skills and an ability to remain focused on project deliverables.

Working with different clients, often in different geographies is stimulating but also has unique challenges. It is essential to be able to clearly articulate project deliverables up front, have an organized schedule for billable hours and a disciplined structure for managing multiple clients and responsibilities.

Being independent has its challenges but like the 40% of independents in the study, I will never go back to traditional employment.

You can obtain the full MBO report here, and be sure to like their Facebook page to keep up with upcoming reports and studies.

Share your own thoughts on independence in the comments. Are you an independent? What has been your experience? Thinking of going solo? What is your motivation?

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  • I am glad someone finally conducted this research. My first full-time stint as an independent consultant came as the result of me getting a certificate in project management. At the time, one of my uncles felt that I left my job because I did not want to work. He did not understand that I wanted to earn what I was worth. When my contract ended, I went to work another job where I ended up being “let go” after a year because I had accomplished everything the employer wanted: better processes which resulted in less waste and a better bottom-line. He really didn’t want to pay me when he could pay someone else to follow the processes for less than half of what he was paying me. I am thankful for it though. It taught me that I was of more value to companies as a contractor–a win/win for both of us.

  • Karen Swim

    Makasha, I love your story! One of the things I love about consulting is the ability to really use my talents to make a tangible difference, as you said it is a win-win. I am so glad that MBO is taking leadership on this issue. It validates a trend that is joining mainstream employment as a viable and rewarding career choice. It is my hope that their research will also make it easier for big business to do hire contractors.