In the United States, 57 million people freelanced in 2019. According to the Upwork and Freelancers Union study “Freelancing in America 2019” this number represents 35% to the total workforce. Despite the current robust U.S. economy these figures promise to grow as governmental and corporate restructuring, developments in technology and artificial intelligence, as well as individual attitudes and work preferences promise to change the composition of the workforce.
Freelancing is the option of choice for many Americans. The “Freelancing in America 2019” study found that top professionals are increasingly choosing to work independently. Also, 46% of freelancers choose the related flexibility because of personal circumstances, caring for family members, etc.
While in the government sector we often think of retirees as logical candidates for independent work, there are many other important categories of freelancers including returning veterans, military or Foreign Service spouses and part-time employees seeking supplemental income among many others.
Becoming a successful consultant or independent expert is not always easy. There’s a lot to learn. However at some point, if you choose this route there are some things you can do to make the transition from traditional employment to freelancer easier. Here are a few key steps to help you get started:
Keep it Simple – Avoid over-thinking your options and extraordinary preparations. If you plan to operate as a sole proprietor there’s likely no need for a detailed business plan or expensive office space away from home.
Consider a Freelancing Gig While Still Working – If you’re not sure independent work will be your “cup of tea,” then give it a try without quitting your “day job.” As appropriate you may want to consult with your agency ethics counselor or corporate legal counsel to avoid any possible conflict or appearance issue.
Understand Your Value to Your Clients – Typically freelancers focus on their experience and skillsets to deliver value to their clients. Individuals with current security clearances may choose to work with clients who can “hold” the clearance in an active status. Also, don’t underestimate the value of your specific agency or program experience and insight.
Leverage Your Community of Practice – Maintain your membership in professional organizations and seek the advice of friends and colleagues. Mentoring and networking are commonplace. Also, freelancers increasingly participate in online marketplaces to seek opportunities and obtain the knowledge and market insight they need.
Take Care of Your Business – Research options for sole proprietorship, Limited Liability Company (LLC) or other legal entity. Check with state and/or local authorities about related requirements for registration, permits, local business taxes, etc.
Meet Federal and State Tax Requirements – If necessary obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from IRS. This is easy to do online or by mail. Also, remember quarterly filings as appropriate. You’ll often hear the term or even be identified as a “1099” after the number of the annual IRS tax form.
Enjoy the Experience and Freedom – Freelancers work when, where and how they want. For many this experience becomes liberating and many say they will never return to a traditional office setting.
Increasingly government agencies and contractors rely upon freelancers to accomplish their important work. If you are ready to join the growing numbers of freelancers in the government sector taking the seven steps outlined above will help you get started.