The days of getting a ‘good job’ and settling down in an office or factory for 40 years are all but over. Freelancers now make up 35% of the US workforce, with numbers following the same upward trend here in Australia. Amongst these independent workers the flexibility and control afforded by freelancing are seen as more valuable than the security and consistency that a traditional permanent role offers.
With the advent of the ‘gig economy’ – an environment in which temporary and contract work is common, and independent workers engage in short term work – more and more professionals are finding themselves faced with a choice: do they join the freelancing movement, or should they aim to find a more permanent position?
Having experienced life on both sides of the freelancing equation, both as an employer of freelancers and a freelancer himself, Peter Novotny, Senior Graphic Designer at payment processing start-up Bambora, has seen this shift first hand. “Freelance work certainly seems on the rise”, he admits. But he doesn’t subscribe to the view that freelancing will eventually make permanent roles redundant. “It’s very likely that companies will turn to a hybrid workforce management model, with a small core of permanent employees supplemented by freelancers.”
So if the availability of both freelance and permanent roles is assured into the future, what should a professional make of the aforementioned choice? Which is better for your career – freelancing or permanency?
Identifying What Is Important to You
‘Good for your career’ will mean different things to different people. Some will see a good career as a fulfilling one – one which allows them to do exactly what they want, when they want. Others will see the markers of a good career as stability, loyalty and perhaps the opportunity to give a little back at the end. Others still will be incredibly ambitious, and will see a good career as finishing at the top of their chosen profession.
Your personal definition of a good career will steer your choice of professional direction. If you appreciate flexibility and control, then freelancing is a wise career move. If you’d rather have consistency and stability, then you’re better off finding something more permanent. If you’re motivated and ambitious then either of the two may work – freelancing allows you to build your own business, while a permanent role lets you enter into corporate life and begin to move upwards.
Choosing Whether to Choose
But for many there isn’t really a need to decide. Novotny finds himself somewhere in the middle of these three mindsets, and is very comfortable changing from freelance to permanent or permanent to freelance as the need arises.
“I enjoy working as freelancer just as much as I enjoy sticking with a company for the long run”, he says. “Freelancing allows me to work on projects where specific skills are required, while permanent roles let me work on ‘big picture’ stuff and put all my skills and commitment into practice.”
While keeping your professional options open and switching between freelancing and permanency is obviously desirable, it’s not necessarily easy. It needs to be remembered that freelancing and working in a permanent role can require two different sets of skills, or at the very least two different approaches. The differentiation, Novotny says, comes from what businesses generally require from their freelancers compared to their permanent staff.
“Freelance professionals are usually hired as specialists within their field, helping companies in very specific ways and bringing in fresh ideas. Permanent workers, on the other hand, improve and advance within their role and develop a wide variety of skills”, he notes. Novotny puts real work into maintaining both his freelancer and permanent worker skillsets. On the freelancing side he focusses on “building my reputation and broadening my network”, while simultaneously concentrating on “maintaining a broad skillset, as it may lead to a permanent role.”
There Are No Wrong Decisions
At the end of the day your choice of freelance or permanent work is an entirely personal one. From a cultural and economic perspective they are both perfectly commendable professional directions in which to move, so it’s up to you to weigh up the pros and cons of each.
Freelancing? Permanency? A mixture of the two? Neither is truly better or worse for your career. And while the burden of choice is entirely yours, you can at least feel comfort in the fact that you’re not expected to clock on and clock off at the same factory every day for the next 40 years.
The gig economy is here, and like Novotny, you can be as big or small a part of it as you wish.