What kind of people actually make a living as freelancers?

What do you think the average freelancer looks like?
What do you think the average freelancer looks like? –Flickr Creative Commons/Markus Spiske

With freelancers making up roughly 34 percent of the U.S. labor force, you might be wondering just who these people are – what kinds of jobs they have, how many projects they work on at once, and how good they are at their gigs. Thanks to a new report from LinkedIn, a little more light has been shed on the life of the average professional freelancer, or at least the ones who use the business-oriented social network.

LinkedIn analyst Lucy Chen dove into the freelance economy by looking for LinkedIn members who used the word “freelance’’ in their job title, then aggregated the most common industries and skill sets found. While industries ranged from media and communication, to business consulting, engineering, and education, those in the arts and design field vastly outweighed other fields at 46 percent of LinkedIn freelancers.

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But if you were solely imagining these freelancers working in fine arts or graphic design, you’d be wrong. Graphic designers made up 20 percent of the field, and photographers comprised another 19 percent, but there were also illustrators, web designers, makeup artists, and musicians.

Many freelancers in arts and design are photographers and graphic designers. —Courtesy of Voce Communication

Chen figured out roughly how many gigs freelancers were juggling at once by finding members with more than one current role listed on their LinkedIn profile without an end date. On average, she found that most freelancers work on about two gigs at once, though Chen did not determine how many of these people were working full-time jobs concurrently, or working entirely on multiple freelance gigs – but there were clearly both types of freelancers.

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Chen also discovered that in general, more women on LinkedIn freelance than men. Men make up a larger percentage of LinkedIn users, but women make up more of the social network’s freelance labor force, she writes.

Just how good are freelancers at their jobs? If you judge them by their LinkedIn profiles, they’re pretty darn skilled. Chen reported that when comparing freelancers to non-freelancers with the same job title, freelancers on average had more recommendations, skills listed, endorsements, group memberships, and connections than their counterparts.

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However, it’s worth noting that the preponderance of freelancers with “better’’ profiles might have more to do with the nature of their job than the quality of their work. If you’re trying to land gigs based on your name alone, you’ll probably have to put more of yourself out there on networks like LinkedIn since you don’t have the reputation of a company to rely on.

If you’re on the fence about whether you want to leave your stable job to freelance (or even just freelance on the side), you might be interested to find that a recent survey by independent research firm Edelman Berland, and commissioned by Upwork, a freelance talent marketplace, and the Freelancers Union, a nonprofit freelancer advocacy group, reported that 60 percent of freelancers who left traditional employment and have been freelancing for at least the past year now earn more than they did as a traditional employee.

And if higher pay doesn’t make you optimistic about freelancing, workers interviewed in the survey also reported freedom and a flexible lifestyle as the best benefits of the job.

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