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Is the Freelancing Winter Coming?

Because I work as a professional writer, and have done so for the last 18 years at least, I've seen a few seasons of ups and downs. In our business the term "feast or famine" is extremely appropriate. There are times when we have more work than we know what to do with, passing up jobs for better paying ones because we have the luxury of being selective. Then there are times when nothing is coming through the pipeline, and we're scratching the bottom of barrels to make things happen. This is when people's skill, reputation and, most importantly, ability to swallow our ego matters the most to maintain cash flow and income.

Prior to COVID, I had seen a significant drop in orders and work, and then things picked up in 2019 to a medium level. However, once people went remote, the demand for freelance work skyrocketed. I would have to say 2020 and 2021 were probably my best income years ever, doubling my freelance income. That story was repeated again and again, even despite scares that would have affected freelancing platforms with legislative pushes to make them limited means for independent contracting.

Despite the fact that even today, some 25 years into the full-blown Internet environment, there is still a sentiment that freelancing is something shady, involves unapproved moonlighting, and an activity well-employed people shouldn't engage in. I can't count the number of people who get a weird look on their face even now when they ask what I do and then disapprove because it's not associated with a traditional employer. Yet, the reality is, some 4 out of 10 people are freelancing to some extent now. The other 6 are out to lunch. Upwork put out some interesting stats for 2022 to reinforce that fact:

Upwork freelancing metrics for 2022

Source:, 12/13/22.

However, 2022 has also been a transition year, despite the metrics above indicating rosy expectations for 2023. While many businesses and content consumers have been definitely utilizing far more in the way of digital tools, which has easily translated into maintaining a high level of demand, less than the COVID years, but still substantial, I'm not oblivious to the nature of our business. What goes up comes down, and I keep looking for signs to buckle down and prepare for the next freelancing famine that is well overdue.

I use a couple of metrics and flags to watch the industry for signs of widespread change. Particularly now, the impact of the tech layoffs is a key factor in my world. While I'm not directly impacted by tech jobs, I know darn well a good number of tech folks are quite savvy about alternative digital income, and will start flipping on tools they have or are signed up for to make gap income while looking for their next employment. That starts to flood my world with extra hands available and increased competition. Additionally, a good number of retirees are finding themselves pinched now due to inflation and price increases for daily living. Many retired early and are realizing they might have been premature. They too have been making a presence again in my world, adding to the number of writers and freelancers available for work.

The most telling indicator for me tends to be the volume of daily work coming and being assigned. Where before there was plenty of work available no matter when I looked, now I'm having to hunt for it, watch for postings coming up and beating out others for the work, whether good or bad, to maintain cash flow. It's become particularly apparent in the last two months in all my channels.

Of course, one of the best defenses to any kind of market change is to be diversified, and I've been working on that while times have been good, developing additional skills to break into other markets I previously didn't operate in. Hopefully, that will help add additional income streams and pay off now.

Will 2023 be that miserable year when the bottom falls out of freelancing? I hope not. I have a vested interested in it being just as successful. However, I'm not an optimistic idealist either. Having been through a few rough patches, I'm preparing for alternatives to maintain income flow, including having to try new things I've never done before if needed. If it does crash, many will be surprised, having become very comfortable to the high demand that's been enjoyed since mid 2020. But all good things come to an end, even in freelancing.


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A professional freelance writer for the last 20 years and a budding photographer by hobby.

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