For some, freelance gigs trump full-time jobs
Designers, videographers and other workers in the creative economy are embracing the flexibility of contract work, even though they have to sacrifice stability.
Freelancer Brianna Klemm divides up her Brooklyn apartment up by workplace potential. Her living room is her go-to sitting spot. Then there's the dining area. “If I really need to concentrate, I make myself sit at the table,” she says. There's also the back deck. “That always sounds like a good idea, but then the glare on your computer screen kind of ruins it,” she adds.
Klemm clearly likes having choices. But she didn't really get to choose to become a freelancer. She's a video game producer, a job she had held full-time for a number of years. Then in 2010, she got a job offer from LEGO toys. They wanted her 40 hours a week, but just for a contract gig.
“So I did that for a year,” Klemm says. “And then it became clear that they didn't really need me 40 hours a week anymore, but they could use me 30.”
For extra hours, Klemm picked up a production contract with another company. Then she took another one on. And soon enough, those gigs producing video games became her thing.
“What I kind of specialize in,” Klemm explains, “is helping companies who don't necessarily have any need for full-time tech staff that does that. They're just kind of making a one off.”
She now balances up to four clients at a time. And on paper, she's actually making more money than she did in a regular job. And she only has to work about 30 hours a week.
“But I am also paying a bunch more for health insurance,” Klemm says. “I don't have a company matching a 401(k), which I had before. I'm sure if you added up all those benefits I would not be making more money. Because the companies I was working for full time before were paying for those things.”
But overall she's happy with how freelancing worked out.
“It was by necessity that I moved to it,” she says. “But I also now highly highly prefer it. And have been asked a number of times if I'd be interested in a full-time job by the places that I've worked and have turned that down.”
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Across the East River, in lower Manhattan, Joe Sabia also works from home. But for him, freelancing was more of a destiny than a necessity. He's an online video editor, and he's always liked doing things a little creatively. Take for example how he let me into his apartment building.
I call him on my cell phone from the street, and he tells me to look up. He's hanging out a third floor window, holding a fishing pole. He slowly lowers me the door key in a little cloth packet.
Sabia graduated college in 2006. He started outworking for companies like HBO and MySpace. By 2008 he had a few viral videos under his belt, and felt ready to go it alone.
“I was only doing the thing I knew I was good at at the time,” Sabia explains, “and that was just creating videos and hopefully finding people that would discover the videos and then say 'Hey, can you do that for me?'”
Since then he's worked with AT&T, Toms Shoes, and the Obama presidential campaign. But he does keep one contract. He spends about three-quarters of his time on a musical video series for YouTube's NextLab.
“For freelancers it is, for your own sanity, a great situation if you can have one client that you know you're always working with,” Sabia says. “Build on that, become friends with those people, show really good work, and you’ll always have that in the can.”
Sabia also does speaking gigs and brand consulting. He says it's helped to have as many skills as possible.
“Try your best to diversify your talents,” he tells other freelancers. “It's not enough in today's world to only be good at one thing. Have different talents, wear different hats, because that will completely just exponentially create a wider pool of people that can call you for services, and that's really important.”
To hear about why more companies are calling on freelancers, I talk to Chris Benskey. He works in headhunting.
Benskey himself is joining the ranks of independent workers. His new startup helps people use social media to apply for jobs. He says there are a few trends driving the people to freelance work.
“One is that the jobs engine in economy hasn't recovered from what happened in 2008," he says. So there are more college grads without full-time jobs.
“The other thing that we're seeing,” he says, “is that people are less inclined to take full-time employment, less inclined to take jobs with big Fortune 500 corporations, and more interested in working with small and medium businesses and working independently.”
Benskey predicts the business environment will soon become better suited for freelancers.
“I think it has to,” he adds. “I think it's inevitable. I just don't see a traditional employment relationship sustaining for the next thirty years.”
He says those big issues -- things like health care and retirement benefits -- they'll soon be dealt with as more people become freelancers.