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At some point in their professional career, almost every developer has asked themselves the same question – corporate or freelance? Does it make more sense to work a salaried full time position, or to strike off by oneself into the world of clients and being your own boss? We were wondering the same thing – so we took a dive into the Skill Up 2016 data to find out.

Go Freelance, or work for the Man?

To keep things simple, our analysis focused on results from the Anglosphere – in particular, the United Kingdom and the USA. We ran a comparison of the salaries of full time workers versus freelancers, which is charted below.

This chart shows the cumulative distribution of stated salaries in the UK and the US – which shows an interesting trend. Below the $100,000 mark it pays much better to work in a full time position. However, when we get into the upper range of salaries, the top 40% of freelancers and contractors get paid significantly more than their peers ‘on payroll’.

Where’s best to work freelance?

What industries are these highly paid freelancers working in to get such great salaries? If you’re just looking at the mean average salary, then the usual ‘top three’ industries of Insurance, Healthcare and Banking come out on top. But what do we see if we look at median income?

Banking, Healthcare and Insurance are all still ranked – but it’s Cyber Security that comes out on top by a fair margin. This is no doubt reflective of the massive demand and much greater importance industries are giving to Cyber Security in the last few years. If you’re looking for a lucrative career in tech whilst still being your own boss, it looks like you might want to learn pentesting.

We also took a comparison of UK freelancers and full time workers against the same in the US, to find out which country was more rewarding of freelance work. In the UK, it generally pays to work full time for a company – but in the US, higher salaries can be earned by taking the leap and going freelance.

How to find freelance and contracting work

So, how do successful freelancers and contractors find themselves new clients and new jobs? We asked our respondents how they came across their contract work – and picked out the common themes.

About 50% of Freelancers find their work through their personal networking (it always pays to have friends) which the other half make use of popular freelancing sites. When analysed by age, younger freelancers overwhelmingly favored finding their work by utilizing online services such as Freelancer.com and Upwork. These services are a good way to develop the personal network which they can then rely on later in their careers, like their more experienced peers do.


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