Currently, 20 percent of the U.S. workforce is employed as free agents, an increase of 10 percent in the past 10 years. The number is expected to increase to 40 percent by 2012, according to a poll by EPIC/MRA, a Lansing, Michigan, market research firm. Why the new interest in independent worker bees?
“The opportunity now exists for companies to hire on a ‘per-project’ basis and avoid the costs associated with full-time permanent employees,” explain Enelow and Kursmark. Companies hire the staff they need just when they need them—and when they no longer need them, they’re gone.
Even the online job search industry has acknowledged the growing trend by offering job-auction sites. On these auction sites, individuals are able to post their resumes and qualifications for review by prospective employers. The employers then competitively bid to hire or contract the candidate who best suits their project. Also, the employers post projects that they want to outsource, and prospective employees can in turn bid on them as well.
Before jumping the corporate ship and becoming a free agent, however, consider that the most successful free agents are those with an area of expertise.
“Those job seekers with experience in new product development, business turnaround, corporate relocation, ad campaign design, or project [oversight] will encounter great opportunities serving as a free agent,” state Enelow and Kursmark. “However, this is not a viable career opportunity for those without specific expertise and experience.”
With the freedom allowed by becoming a free agent, there is also some reality to consider. In his article, “Becoming an Independent Consultant,” Austin K. Pryor, CMC, examines the steps involved in becoming a successful free agent. According to Pryor, to succeed on your own, you will need to:
- Become phone savvy as a substitute for developing face-to-face office relationships
- Learn about office administration and financial management
- Develop and maintain patience in closing new clients—and the financial resources to be able to afford such patience
- Create a sharply focused marketing strategy that differentiates your skills and abilities from your competitors
Once you have thought about your skill set and motivation to work on your own, you should learn about the downside of being a free agent. Unfortunately, the free agent world may not be perfect. According to Michelle Conlin of Business Week, many feel crushed by the pressure of searching for their next project and maintaining their own business. Finding affordable health insurance and marketing oneself can also create headaches. “Late paychecks, costly health insurance, the distractions of a home office—it's not all cushy,” remarks Conlin.
In making your final decision about becoming a free agent, consider the numbers. In a survey conducted by Harris Interactive and Opus 360, out of those individuals who define themselves as free agents:
- 55% say their quality of life has improved
- 60% say they earn more money
- 81% say a major benefit is their ability to make their personal and family lives a higher priority
If the free agent avenue is the right route for you, join a professional organization. According to www.freeagentnation.com, free agent clubs are popping up all over the nation. The benefits of the interaction with other free agents are two-fold: you will be able to exchange business advice while overcoming the isolation sometimes associated with working for yourself.
A free agent future holds many possibilities. The idea of working for yourself and having plenty of time with family provides a strong draw to this type of profession. With marketable expertise and the business savvy to be successful, it may be the perfect fit for you.