Independent Professional Workforce Defined

By MBO Partners | April 12, 2023

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Key Points

Between 2020 and 2022, the number of people working as independents grew by more than 50%.

Independents are experts in their industry, openly market their services, and decide when, where, and how they work.

Clients must provide a superior engagement experience to attrac top indpendent talent.

What is the Independent Workforce?

Independents are the 64.6 million people in the US who work as contractors, consultants, freelancers, and entrepreneurs. This fast-growing population includes all age ranges, genders, skill sets, and income levels, and spans many different segments of our economy from app-based commodity service like on-demand drivers, to graphic designers, government consultants, and personal finance experts.

Between 2020 and 2022, the number of people working as independents grew by more than 50%. This shift towards independent work is due to many factors including the fact that the macroeconomic climate, infrastructure, and attitudes surrounding independent work are becoming more supportive—particularly since the beginning of the pandemic.

Independents are overall satisfied with their work. They say working independently is better for their physical and mental health than a traditional job, and most plan to continue working this way.

Check out our latest State of Independence research

What Does the Independent Workforce Care About?

Many independent workers seek out self-employment to pursue a passion—getting personal satisfaction from their work is something that is very important to them. They operate as their own business entity, are experts in their industry, openly market their services, and decide when, where, and how they work.

In comparison to traditional, W-2 employees, independent professionals are more confident in the value of their skills and prefer to be in charge. It therefore comes as no surprise that independent professionals look to work with clients who treat them like a member of their team, are respectful of their abilities, and allow them to have control over how they work.

Independents hold their work to a high standard, and they expect that their clients show the same dedication and respect. They want to work with clients who respond to their questions, offer fast payment terms, and provide an efficient onboarding process. But one of the biggest factors driving satisfaction is communication. It is incredibly important to independent professionals to work with a client who defines project goals and objectives, provides timely feedback, and delivers a clear project scope.

Learn more: Independent Contractor vs Employee: 10 Ways to Know the Difference 

How does the Independent Workforce Operate?

Independents tended to rely on word-of-mouth communication among peers and their community to find work in the past. But with the proliferation of digital platforms today, many independents are using online networks and platforms to find jobs. A shift to remote work during the pandemic encouraged and normalized this trend. In 2020, 41% of independents reported finding work on talent platforms, an increase from just 15% in 2015.

Independent professionals are also increasingly teaming up on projects. Working as a team allows independents to mimic a bigger service firm, providing clients with a wider range of skills and expertise while dividing heavier workloads ad a bigger paycheck among themselves.

One of the fastest growing groups of independent workers are part-time independents who take on independent work as a side gig or side hustle. People find occasional independent work is a helpful way to supplement income in a flexible manner. The number of occasional independents grew 51% in 2021 and 34% in 2022.

How do Companies Attract Top Independent Talent?

Because independent professionals are experts in their industry, they can afford to be selective when it comes to choosing the clients they work with. According to our research, 93% of independents say they have some or a lot of choice when it comes to picking the clients they work with. Because they have such control over how they work, most independent professionals say they are very satisfied with their client relationships

Today, more and more workers are pursuing the independent route and it is becoming increasingly beneficial for businesses to engage independent talent to fulfill project needs that require in-demand, specialized skills. This also means that the competition for this talent is quickly increasing.

To become a Client of Choice—independent professionals’ first choice in client partnership—clients must provide a superior engagement experience that accounts for the diverse needs of independent talent. This involves strategies such as offering competitive pay and providing and meaningful and enriching work environment.

Independent professionals provide great benefits to businesses including staffing flexibility, better control over employment costs, and access to in-demand skills without adding to company payroll. This population is only going to continue to grow, and it will become increasingly advantageous for businesses to make use of this valuable pool of talent.

Up next: 5 Strategic Characteristics of a Scalable Independent Workforce Program

What Does the Future of Independent Work Look Like?

Over half of the independent workforce plans to continue working as independents. One of the fastest growing segments of the independent workforce area independent digital content creators. Independent creators are a diverse group of full and part-time solopreneurs and micro-business owners who monetize their knowledge and skills by creating online digital content.

In 2022, 8.1 million independent creators earned money in the creator economy. Independent creators tend to be younger, well-educated, and tech-savvy. Most work part-time as content creators and have other sources of income such as a full-time or part-time job. This group looks like it will only grow bigger in the future as 41% of creators with traditional jobs say they definitely or probably will become an independent worker or start a business over the next 24 months. And among Americans who aren’t currently independent creators, 3.6 million said yes, they plan to become independent creators over the next two years, and 7.4 million said maybe.

Don’t miss our 2023 Creator Economy Trends report

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