Be Your Own Boss: Tracking the Freelance Economy with LinkedIn Data

October 21, 2015

I’ve always admired professional freelancers and wondered what it takes to make this transition. For example, my roommate has experience working inside Yale's admissions office. Could he counsel and coach high school seniors? Or my friend who knows exactly how to do my makeup for any occasion. Could she take side gigs as a makeup artist? Even my dad, who has taken some of my most viral social media photos (thanks, dad!) could, potentially, freelance as a photographer. While these are my own personal observations, there's obviously a much bigger economic and political discussion underway right now about freelancing. With this in mind, we began to examine the freelance economy from a LinkedIn perspective and surfaced some interesting initial insights:

What are the top industries for freelancing?

We began by focusing on LinkedIn members with the word “freelance” in their job title, and then we aggregated the most common industries and skill sets found (chart follows). The top results range from media and communications, to engineering and software development.

Of the most popular industries, "Arts & Design" clearly comes out on top with roughly 46% of total freelancers on LinkedIn. And these freelancers don’t just work in traditional fine arts and graphic arts industries. They're also illustrators, makeup artists, and musicians. If you’re considering freelancing in any of these fields, you will be in good company. And if you’re looking to hire in this area, you will have access to a broad range of skill sets on LinkedIn.

What makes freelancers unique?

Our next step was to look at the unique characteristics of freelancers on LinkedIn. On average, our data shows that freelancers juggle roughly 2.1 gigs at once (indicated by members having more than one current role listed on their LinkedIn profile without an end date). With the flexible nature of freelance careers, people can work a full-time job concurrently or juggle multiple freelance gigs at a time—even for different skill sets. Looking at gender, there are also slightly more females than males freelancing which indicates that more women tend to freelance as there are slightly more males on LinkedIn overall.

Most importantly, our data shows that freelancers are LinkedIn power users. When we compare them to non-freelancing members across the same job functions, freelancers take the lead across the board — they have more recommendations, group memberships, skills listed, endorsements, and connections than average.

What does this data mean for you?

Looking at this data can help both sides of the gig economy. On one hand, we recommend that people looking to hire leverage their network and their connections’ profile data—from specific skills and endorsements, past experiences, and client recommendations—to find the best match for their projects.

On the other hand, the data also shows that regardless of current employment status, many people have relevant skills that are valuable to others. The vision of LinkedIn’s Economic Graph is to be able to digitally map all aspects of economic activity around the world—people, skills, jobs, companies, schools, and professional knowledge. And data shows that the gig economy is going to have a huge macroeconomic effect on the economy and unemployment—according to the 2015 McKinsey Global Institute Report, up to “200 million who are inactive or employed part time could gain additional hours through freelance platforms.”

LinkedIn is also starting to explore how we can help connect our members with the right freelance professionals by leveraging the power of our network. This week, LinkedIn began the pilot phase of a new platform, LinkedIn ProFinder, focused on design, writing/editing, and accounting services in the San Francisco Bay Area. We plan to learn from this test before expanding the experience to other categories and geographies.

Ultimately, we hope this data inspires you to think about your marketable skills or perhaps identify areas for ongoing skills development. And who knows, you might turn what feel like small interests today — like coaching, photography, maybe even blogging — into much bigger career changes tomorrow.

Be the first to get all of our latest news and original research by visiting: LinkedIn Economic Graph.

Methodological details: The results of this analysis represent the world as seen through the lens of LinkedIn data. As such, it’s influenced by how members choose to use the site, which can vary based on professional, social, and regional culture, as well as overall site availability and accessibility. These variances weren’t accounted for in the analysis.

We first determined the population of freelancers as members who included the word “freelance” in their job titles and mapped them to different job functions. We then took the population of non-freelancers as members with the same job functions who didn’t include “freelance” in their job title (i.e. “graphic designer at Apple” vs “freelance graphic designer”). For both populations, we looked at the average number of skills, endorsements, groups, recommendations, and connections per member. Finally, we looked at the average number of gigs the members had once as the number of current positions listed on a member’s LinkedIn profile without an end date.