More High-skilled Freelancers Earning Six Figure Incomes

by Nancy Ordman

Recent research revealed that a growing number of independent workers with in-demand skills earn six-figure incomes in a year. The most-often-requested skills are in IT, biotechnology and marketing.

The number of high earners jumped 70 percent between 2011 and 2018, from 1.95 million to 3.3 million. These workers are overwhelmingly happy with their earnings: 88 percent are highly satisfied and 9 percent are satisfied, totaling 97 percent overall.

MBO Partners, which provides back-office services to freelancers, and Emergent Research, a company that studies the independent workforce, conducted the research described in the report.

A trend that could affect the growth of freelance income is the increase in business use of freelance talent. This is true both for big corporations and for small businesses. Small business payments to contractors increased 73 percent between 2011 and 2016. And top earners work full-time, 45 hours a week on average, ensuring fatter paychecks.

Employers who turn to independent workers to fill their talent needs have to provide financial incentives to convince someone to choose one job offer over another. The pool of independent workers has contracted somewhat, in part due to freelancers taking permanent positions. For many freelancers, though, the freedom of being their own bosses is too attractive to turn in for a permanent full-time job.

High-earning independent contractors trend older (58) than all freelancers (38) and more male (63 percent) than all freelancers (58 percent). One explanation for these trends: the number of workers who lose their jobs at age 50 or older or whose prospects for significant compensation increases are dwindling. These workers offer deep and broad experience, which gives them credibility as high-level consultants or project employees.

Women tend to be less sanguine about taking the leap into freelancing, affected by the desire for security and access to benefits like health insurance. This is true even for female independents in the high-earner group.