How Freelancers Spend Time — Statistics for 2023 (and Beyond)
We’ll just go ahead and assume around half of your friends and acquaintances are so-called freelancers. The popularity rate of freelance work has been on the rise for almost a decade, and there are no signs of it slowing down.
After conducting thorough research, we’ve dissected the topic — so you won’t have to.
Now read on and check out our comprehensive list of all the relevant, interesting, and great-for-trivia-nights stats and facts about the freelance part of the workforce:
- Their preferences,
- Common skills and habits,
- Common challenges they face, and much more.
What does a freelancer do?
Before diving into more details, let’s first determine what it means to be a freelancer.
Well, without a 9-to-5 steady schedule, employers, and hierarchy, freelancers are basically self-employed workers.
Here is a brief description of what it is like to be a freelance worker:
- Freelancers earn wages on a per-job, per-hour, or per-task basis,
- There's no long-term commitment to a particular employer or a company, and
- They get hired to do specific assignments and tasks.
So, for freelancers, being able to create a unique and tailored work schedule and collaborate with clients from all over the world make all the difference.
By using this work model, freelancers have more freedom in choosing projects, clients, strategies, and the scope of their daily workload.
As you can see, there’s an abundance of benefits to being your own boss.
On the other hand, during their typical working hours, for freelancers, there are no other supervisors but themselves. This can be a double-edged sword, especially for people who have a tendency to procrastinate or be easily distracted from deep work.
After all, things aren’t always black and white, are they?
We can conclude that being a freelancer is not everyone’s cup of tea, and some people simply can’t thrive in such a working environment.
However, it turns out that most people who do thrive as freelancers have something in common — they share a similar set of skills. Let’s check out which skills are most in-demand when it comes to the freelance work model.
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Some of the most in-demand freelance skills
The first thing to mention is the demand for specific freelance skills on the market — some skills are more in-demand than others.
According to Upwork, one of the biggest platforms for freelancers, more than half of their users provide either programming or marketing services.
The same report points out there are 3 most in-demand categories of skills and services:
- Marketing (Social Media Marketing, Lead Generation, Facebook, SEO, B2B Marketing, Instagram, Marketing Strategy, Social Media Management, Email Marketing, and Marketing Research), and
- Customer Service (Customer Service, Customer Support, Email Communication, Phone Support, Email Support, Communication Etiquette, Online Chat Support, Answering Product Questions, and Data Entry).
As you can see from the list above, the freelance workforce is there to fill a talent gap for a broad range of professional skills. Now let’s go into more detail about the freelance workforce and platforms they prefer to find work.
Freelance workforce statistics
We’ll start by mentioning the most important stats and facts about the freelancing industry and its workforce.
Currently, it is estimated that there are 1.2 billion freelancers in the world — which translates to roughly 34% of the global workforce.
Most of them are using some of the following platforms to find clients:
- Freelancer (30 million registered users),
- Upwork (7 million registered users), and
- Fiverr (3.4 million registered users).
Each platform is valued at hundreds of billions of dollars and is estimated to generate several billion per year in revenue.
Countries with the most freelancers in 2023
Let’s check out the fastest-growing freelancing markets in the world — here’s the Payooner's latest report, based on over 300,000 freelancers’ responses.
- United States – 78%
- United Kingdom – 59%
- Brazil – 48%
- Pakistan – 47%
- Ukraine – 36%
- Philippines – 35%
- India – 29%
- Bangladesh – 27%
- Russia – 20%
- Serbia – 19%
Now let’s focus on the US, as the area is the largest market for freelance work, and check out the most relevant statistics.
Freelancers in the US
As of September 2022, the latest data indicates the number of freelancers in the US is approximately 70.4 million.
Now, when it comes to gender distribution among the group, even though 67.8% of the US workforce are men, there are more female freelancers than their male counterparts — 56.8% vs. 52.3%, respectively.
It is forecasted that the number of freelancers will keep growing and that in 2028, there will be a whopping 90.1 million freelance workers in the US.
According to these projections, by reaching the number of 86.5 million freelancers in 2027, more than half of the US workforce will fit into the category — 50.9%.
Common occupations for US freelancers
When you think of freelancers in general, you think of the gig economy, and certain occupations naturally come to mind, such as:
- Software developers,
- UX/UI designers,
- Content and copywriters,
- Foreign language teachers, and, of course,
- Artists (creative writers, musicians, dancers, painters, etc.).
As you can see, different industries and sectors inherently determine some aspects of freelancing.
Here’s an example from a Statista Research Department, to illustrate — while around 77% of arts and design workers were freelancers in 2021, the percentage is only 20% for the production and manufacturing industry, at least when it comes to the US.
US freelancers and education
To support the claim above, we’ll share results from another analysis, published in late November 2022 — more than half of freelancers in the US (51%) have a postgraduate degree.
The following 2 academic levels were tied for the second place:
- Bachelor’s degree (35%), and
- Some college or associate degree (35%).
Less than one-third — 31% of survey respondents reported their education level is high school graduate or lower.
US freelancers and age groups
Now let’s see if there is any difference between different generations and freelancing in the US.
The latest Upwork report presented in a Business Insider article indicates that freelancing in the US is most popular among millennials, with 46% of workers in the age group having performed freelance work in 2022.
Now, what about other generations? The data shows that:
- Gen Z is also a fan of freelancing, with the percentage for 2022 being 43%,
- Gen X is at 35%, and
- Working Boomers ended up the last, with only 27% of them reporting ever freelancing in 2022.
Why US workers opt for freelance work model
Insights from November 2022 survey indicate the main reasons US workers turn to freelancing:
- To support basic family needs — 25.7%,
- For autonomy and flexibility — 24.9%,
- Really enjoy their work — 24.7%,
- Additional income — 19.5%, and
- Other — 5.2%.
Being an autonomous entity comes hand in hand with another important benefit — work location independence. That’s what over 70% of freelancers report being fully remote workers.
And, regardless of trivial choices such as — a local cafe or a home office, business casual dress code or PJs, music or no music, early birds and night owls schedules — one thing’s for sure — freelancers are becoming an integral part of the US and global economy.
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5 Common challenges freelancers face
While risking to sound cliche — the truth is — with great power comes great responsibility.
Being your own boss comes with a myriad of its own issues and drawbacks, so let’s check out the most common challenges freelance workers come across with.
Issue #1 — Late paying clients
According to the 2022 Independent Economy Council report, a whopping 74% of freelance respondents claim not to be paid on time.
Only 20% reported getting paid within a day, while worrying 16% of freelancers don’t get paid for 2 months or more.
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Issue #2 — The lack of adequate invoicing software
When it comes to the accounting and legal part of freelancing, there are 2 options:
- Hire a professional, or
- Keep track of invoices, taxes, and payments yourself.
For hassle-free monitoring, the report above indicates that 40% of freelancers choose to leverage the power of technology and use software for this purpose.
Software usage significantly reduces the margin for human error and time spent on repetitive tasks.
Here’s an example of what invoicing looks like in Clockify.
The invoicing feature in Clockify allows users to:
- Easily invoice their tracked time,
- Calculate expenses, and
- Deduct taxes.
Moreover, over 65% of freelancers who are paying for invoicing software would agree to pay more to get specific features, such as the processing of online payments.
Issue #3 — The lack of insurance and benefits
Traditional workers have traditional benefits — health insurance coverage, paid time off, overtime pay, and a 401(k) account, to name a few examples.
On the other hand, when it comes to freelancing, the lack of common benefits is definitely a drawback, and around 17% of freelancers report not having any insurance or other benefits that traditional employees do. Ouch!
Issue #4 — Spending their personal money on business-related expenses
A stunning 63% of freelancers admit they will, more often than not, end up spending personal money on some business-related expenses — on a monthly basis. As we’ve mentioned earlier, they often have to deal with late paying clients, and spending their personal savings comes in handy to bridge the gaps.
Here are several examples of where their money usually goes to:
- The cost of stable broadband internet access,
- Various necessary monthly subscriptions, services, and accounts,
- Computer hardware upgrades,
- Data retention tools,
- Computer security,
- Communication tools,
- Website hosting and maintenance,
- Paid addons, etc.
Issue #5 — The lack of stable income
For most freelancers, income uncertainty is closely tied to stress and anxiety, and can lead to burnouts and depression.
Living on a month-to-month basis is not only frustrating, but it can rather have a long-term deteriorating effect on our physical and mental health.
This income volatility and the lack of financial stability make the gig economy completely unappealing to many, even with all its perks.
How much time do freelancers spend working
Did you know that more than half of freelancers work less than 30 hours per week, but only half of it is spent on billable activities?
That’s why, even though they work less, freelancers need to charge more than traditional employees. After all, half of their work time is non-billable.
Freelancers spend most of their time on the following activities:
- Billable work (coding, content writing, project revisions, and any other work directly related to client’s project),
- Non-billable work (promoting and managing their business),
- Following up on client payments, and
- Considering various improvements to their work routine.
According to one survey, freelancers spend the following amount of time on their freelance work per week:
- 30+ hours — 28.60%,
- 21–30 hours — 19.50%,
- 10–20 hours — 36.10%, and
- Less than 10 hours — 15.90%.
These figures indicate that the billable weekly norm of a freelancer is shorter than the weekly norm of a traditional full-time employee.
However, a larger portion of the surveyed freelancers only freelance part-time, while also pursuing a regular job (66%, compared to the 44% who freelance full-time).
How much time do freelancers spend on billable work
As we already mentioned, the time you spend freelancing includes both billable and non-billable work, as is the case with full-time employees.
Yet, freelancers may spend more time on this non-billable work, because they run their entire business themselves, and have to address a number of additional points.
For example, if we look at the figures from a recent survey that covered over 1,300 freelance writers (either full-time, or part-time), we get the following data for the time they spend on pure, billable writing:
- Less than 8 hours — 30%,
- 8–14 hours — 23%,
- 15–20 hours — 22%,
- 21–30 hours — 15%,
- 31–40 hours — 8%,
- 41–50 hours — 5%, and
- More than 50 hours — 1%.
The largest amount of freelance writers (30%) spend less than 8 hours per week on billable writing — these figures may seem small, but also include writers who only freelance part-time.
The percentage of freelance writers gradually decreases as the number of hours increases — only about 8% manage to draw out 31-40 hours of billable writing time per week.
How much time freelancers spend on finding work
Full-time employees get assigned with work by their immediate superiors, but freelancers often have to look for work themselves.
Unless they find work on a regular basis, they aren't able to sustain their business, so they put in dedicated time and effort in this activity.
According to the data from the Payoneer research, the following industries spend the following number of hours on finding work:
As we can see in the bar above, freelancers in the IT & Programming industry spend the least amount of time looking for new work, and data shows:
- 54% spend up to 2 hours,
- 30% spend 3-6 hours, while
- 17% spend 7+ hours searching for work.
Interestingly, although freelancers in the Legal industry command the highest global average hourly rates (28$), they also spend the most time looking for new work:
- 33% of them spend 7+ hours,
- 40% spend 3-6 hours, and
- 27% manage to find new work in 2 hours or under.
The explanation is rather simple — IT experts are more likely to land long-term clients, while legal experts are mostly needed on singular projects, or for one-off legal advice.
How much time do freelancers spend on business management
Appealing to the target market is the best way to secure yourself a steady stream of work, so marketing is an important part of freelancer life, so you should devote enough time to it.
When it comes to managing your freelance business, it often includes the following activities:
- Creating contracts,
- Generating invoices,
- Following up on late payments,
- Traveling to attend meetings, when in-person meetings are required,
- Various tax preparation,
- Reporting and considering expenses,
- Purchasing supplies vital to your work, and
- Networking with prospective associates on relevant events.
In addition, marketing and promoting your expertise and skills can include:
- Obtaining testimonials and referrals from satisfied clients,
- Displaying results from your successfully finished projects,
- Handling a business website, or blog where you'll constantly include new content,
- Guest blogging on relevant websites,
- Sending out cold emails and pitches to prospective clients,
- Being active on social media and answering questions on forums related to your field of work, and
- Procuring Social Media advertisements.
Managing and promoting your business are both non-billable types of activities, but are both vital to keep your business operating — without them, you'd most likely find yourself out of business in a short time.
When it comes to freelance writers, here's how much time they spend on promoting and managing their business, according to the survey we’ve mentioned above:
- Less than 2 hours — 38%,
- 2–4 hours — 23%,
- 4–6 hours — 15%,
- 6–8 hours — 13%,
- 1–2 days a week — 10%, and
- 2 or more days a week — 5%.
According to this data, freelance writers don't spend too much time on promotion and business management — most of them (38%) spend less than 2 hours on this type of activity.
In total, only about 10% spend 1-2 full days, and only 5% spend 2 days or more.
A typical day in the life of a freelancer
Each freelancer has a different everyday routine — what they all have in common is their difference from traditional full-time employees, who typically have a more structured, less flexible day.
Of course, this doesn't mean freelancers' days aren't structured, they're just prone to more changes, dictated by personal needs, biological prime time, or client requests.
Freelancers during the first part of their workday
The early morning part of the day can significantly vary for freelancers, depending on their specific client and necessary tasks for the day. However, in order to grasp the concept in a better way, here’s an example of a freelancer’s early morning routine.
- 7–8 am: Wake up time. Freelancers don't have a 9-to-5 routine, so they don't have to perform serious work in the morning, if such practice doesn't really suit them.
If they have to finish a project, or perform some other important activities before a deadline, they typically get up around 7 am, but on other days, they can allow themselves to sleep in until 8 am, or even longer.
As freelancers sometimes work for clients they don't share a time zone with, they may have to start working at a later time, even at night. When this is the case, they sometimes forgo the morning routine and get up later, to be better rested for the time they'll have to perform meaningful work.
- 9–9:30 am: Breakfast, coupled with checking the email inbox. Freelancers often communicate with clients via email, so they may check their inbox more frequently, to see whether they have received some updates. This is also the typical time to check the social media feed, as well as the news and articles freelancers missed while sleeping.
- 9:30–10:30 am: Active communication with clients via email or phone. This is the time to go over project details, address potential issues, as well as send a progress report.
Freelancers and the deep work mode
Now, what usually happens after the morning tasks is the so-called deep work mode. It’s basically the part of the day when freelancers focus on their highest-priority tasks. Here’s an example:
- 10:30 am–1 pm: Working on projects, with occasional short breaks.
This is the time freelancers typically do their most meaningful work — writers work on their content, developers code, and graphic designers work on their visual concepts.
- 1–1:30 pm: Lunch break. Time to unwind over a nice meal, before going back to work.
- 1:30–4:30 pm: More meaningful work. This may be the time to finish up some projects, address additional issues, go over some details, as well as make adjustments and improvements.
As the end of the official workday approaches, freelancers check their email inbox again, and follow up on some client concerns and questions.
Freelancers during the final part of their workday
After they’ve successfully dealt with the highest-priority tasks, freelancers tend to switch their focus to other, often more administrative and marketing-related tasks. So here’s how that may look like:
- 4:30–5 pm: This is the time to look for new clients and jobs, and otherwise promote the freelancing business. This may include activities like:
- Scrolling job boards to look for new potential projects,
- Finishing up a guest post for a website whose audience typically needs the services provided by the freelancer,
- Formulating email pitches and outreaching to potential new clients, and
- Other promotional activities.
- 5–6 pm: Time to address administration. This includes tax preparation, generating and sending invoices, and other similar administrative paperwork. This is also the time to follow up on late payments, and keep track of expenses.
- 6 pm–onwards: Official time for non-work activities — this includes unwinding with friends and family, having dinner, focusing on a hobby, or going out.
However, freelancers often have to be on call, as some client communication and additional work is possible in the evening, depending on the type of freelancer work, and the time zone of the clients.
How can freelancers improve their time scheduling
Freelancers decide everything about their time, so they also have the sole privilege to decide how to work on mastering their time management skills.
This includes every change and tweak that will lead to finalizing projects earlier, taking care of miscellaneous work faster, and everything they can do to perform quality work, but still enjoy enough personal time with family and friends.
All the statistics we’ve mentioned in the article are a great starting point, but all freelancers have their own, unique time results.
To fully understand your freelancing business, you can use Clockify to track freelance hours:
- Billable vs non billable work,
- Promoting and managing your business,
- The time you spend invoicing and waiting for payments to finalize, and
- Various other important activities.
How to calculate billable hours
Once you have these time results, you'll be able to organize your day in a better way.
Moreover, accurate insights into how you allocate your time will help you pinpoint the room for improvement.
For example, you’ll figure out you need to reduce the amount of time you spend on trivial and less important activities and dedicate more time to the ones that are of high priority.
Perhaps you'll find that you have room to spend more time on your business promotion, which will in turn up your job prospects.
By tracking time on projects and tasks, you’ll maybe realize which ones are more profitable, or notice you spend too much time dealing with taxes (in which case you'll consider turning to a professional agency).
Once you’re fully aware of how you spend your time, you'll be able to improve your time management, as well as ensure you are doing your best to advance your freelance career.
Fun facts about freelancing
Before we wrap the article up, let’s check out several interesting facts about the freelancing world.
The etymology of the term “freelance”
Did you know that “freelance” comes from the early 1800s in the British Empire? Well, it’s said that the term “freelance” dates back to 1819 when it was used as a reference to soldiers who worked for payment (instead of their loyalty to the king).
The not-hyphenated, modern version of the word “freelance” emerged in the 1970s, before which it had adopted a couple of other layers and interpretations — such as a common term for independent politicians.
Google has more freelancers than traditional employees
Freelancing is usually associated with startups, small businesses, and single clients, but even the biggest corporations exploit the wider talent pool and employ freelancers.
So, for example, according to a Bloomberg report, Google has had more freelancers than permanent employees since 2018.
Freelancers are more likely to pursue training, education, and credentials than permanent workers
Freelance workers are 1.4 times more likely to work on improving their skills and ensuring their knowledge doesn’t stagnate than traditional employees.
Moreover, the same McKinsey's article reveals another similar tendency among freelance workers — they are 1.5 times more likely to pursue career advancement opportunities than permanent workers.
Final thoughts: The future of freelance work looks bright
All in all, the number of workers embracing the trend of freelancing for their lifestyle keeps on growing at unprecedented rates.
Some of the reasons for the skyrocketing popularity rates of freelancing are:
- More flexibility and independence in terms of one’s time management,
- Increased motivation and productivity levels, and
- A better work-life balance.
So, the final verdict is — no matter if the freelance work model is your cup of tea or not, there’s no doubt the trend is here to stay.
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