Today’s tight talent market spells opportunity for freelance workers, who are cashing in as corporations turn to contractors to fill millions of open positions. 

“This is a fantastic time to be looking for work,” says Kim Garstein, senior vice president of Robert Half International. “I’ve been doing this for two decades and this is the best market for candidates I’ve ever seen.”

Tight talent market

More than half of the nation’s employers are seeking workers. And there simply aren’t enough skilled workers to fill all of the open slots, says Garstein.

Further, as companies return to their offices, an increasing number of employees are jumping ship. Some 75% of workers say they want the flexibility to work from home at least part of the time. A third of workers say they’ll quit if forced to go back into the office, according to Robert Half’s just-completed 2022 salary guide.

This tight talent market has created a perfect environment for freelancers — particularly skilled freelancers with multiple years of experience. Hiring simply takes too long to leave jobs idle, so 38% of surveyed companies said they’re hiring more independent contractors; and 45% said that freelancers already make up more than half of their workforce. Notably, too, 39% of workers see contract work as the next step in their career path.

Zoe Rem, a freelance product designer, says her career trajectory underscores how much demand has soared. Two years ago, she was still bartending part-time to make ends meet. Now she’s a full-time freelancer earning six-figures.

“There are so many jobs out there, and everything is a contract position,” she says. 

Highest-demand jobs

Many of the highest-demand jobs are in tech, according to Robert Half. These include front-end developers, user-experience and digital marketing experts, as well as system security managers.

There’s also strong demand for finance and administrative experts, ranging from administrative assistants to accounting managers.

Higher pay

What all that leads to is better wages. Where overall pay levels have increased by just under 4%, wages in some high-demand fields are rising twice as much, according to Half. And a whopping 48% of companies say they’re paying signing bonuses to new hires.

Setting your rates

This provides freelancers with a good opportunity to boost their rates, Rem notes. However, since few freelancers want to risk pricing themselves out of jobs, she suggests you do it in a thoughtful manner. Research average pay for the job or jobs you do. (You can start by using Half’s pay calculator here.)

But also add in the cost of benefits, such as paid time off and health insurance, she suggests. After all, companies pay these costs for their employees. If you’re swooping in to cover for a full-time worker, you should get the equivalent of that pay — if not more.

Rem plugs the numbers into an Excel spreadsheet to figure out how much she should charge by the hour or project.

Don’t be afraid to ask for more than you think you can get, adds Lorenzo Parks, a St. Louis-based web developer.

“The worst that can happen is that the client says ‘no,'” he says. “But most of the time, it just starts a negotiation.”

Where to find jobs

Notably, as Covid drove the workforce home, it also fueled rapid growth at online freelance platforms that connect vetted workers with clients. Both Parks and Rem list their services on Braintrust, where you can set your own rates, paying the platform a small fee for the connection. 

Braintrust specializes in tech jobs, ranging from User Experience and design to site engineering and cyber security. Other sites geared to tech workers include FreeUp, Catalant and Toptal. 

Robert Half finds work for accountants, human resources experts, administrative workers, marketing, legal and health care professionals. Business is so brisk that the site’s added a smart-phone app so it can alert potential contractors to jobs on the go. In just the past year, the app has alerted workers to more than 1 million job opportunities.

Other sites that connect skilled workers with clients include FlexProfessionals (legal, accounting); WAHVE (insurance, human resources); Creatively and WorkingNotWorking (design, marketing, film); and SMA-Inc. (engineering, project management).

There are also copious consulting firms — such as GLG, Zintro and Maven — that connect experts in everything from logistics and accounting to clients who need advice or temporary help.