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Survey reveals sad truths of being a freelance designer in 2020

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Freelancing comes with pros and cons but 2020 has made it more challenging for freelance workers to make ends meet.

Over the shoulder view of freelance Black man working on laptop on the couch.

The Australia-based platform 99designs recently conducted a survey of 11,000 freelance designers from around the word. Here’s what they found:

  • One third had difficulty finding steady work in 2020
  • A quarter had at least one project cancelled or put on hold
  • 27% of the freelance clients have cut their budgets

This one is really sad:

  • 22% of the freelancers said a client had ghosted them, presumably when it was payment time

We know for a fact that freelancers and gig workers have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, as the government benefits do little to support them. So, it comes as no surprise that:

  • 42% of respondents answered that they were actively looking for work and;
  • 32% are considering leaving the design field all together after their negative COVID-era experience

Another factor to note is that these statistics are not unique to freelance designers. Freelancers in all creative sectors – from writers to videographers – are facing similar troubles.

The problem isn’t that there is no work; it’s that many agencies and companies are laying off full-time employees to hire short-term freelancers, which is naturally the cheaper alternative.

Freelancers don’t have access to company benefits and can be paid lower. Additionally, since the job market is now flooded with freelancers, many employers are demanding more work for less pay – and the market saturation gives freelancers little room for negotiation.

Something else to note: 70% of these respondents identified as male. We know that women, especially women with children, have been far more negatively impacted by COVID, so these statistics are at best a little skewed.

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At the end of the day, this is not good news for freelancers – many companies have gotten a taste of the extra cash they could be saving by hiring freelancers and will likely not be hiring full time staff again. Now, there are more freelancers than ever. This means that work will be difficult to secure and, once it is secured, it will be near-impossible to negotiate an appropriate wage, as there is a line of freelancers who’d be willing to take the gig if you decline.

I won’t be surprised if freelancers start to form unions and demand proper benefits and wages from clients post-pandemic. For their sake, I hope they do.

Anaïs DerSimonian is a writer, filmmaker, and educator interested in media, culture and the arts. She is Clark University Alumni with a degree in Culture Studies and Screen Studies. She has produced various documentary and narrative projects, including a profile on an NGO in Yerevan, Armenia that provides micro-loans to cottage industries and entrepreneurs based in rural regions to help create jobs, self-sufficiency, and to stimulate the post-Soviet economy. She is currently based in Boston. Besides filmmaking, Anaïs enjoys reading good fiction and watching sketch and stand-up comedy.

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