All about the freelancers

“We are like hunters and gatherers” – Pam Liou


Last week we received a lot of good feedback, particularly on what group of users we should focus on first. It came down to freelancers. There are a lot of opportunities in this market because of various reasons:

  • lack of financial management tools that support specific needs of freelancers (personal + business accounts and multiple companies/clients/projects)
  • lack of standards on rates and best practices
  • growing market (more recent graduates are doing independent work)
  • I have understanding of everyday challenges of freelancers (freelance experience, and hiring freelancers/contract workers)

These opportunities also present challenges, namely the fragmentation of the market and lack of consistent documentation/census (not to mention international workers). Luckily, there is the Freelancers Union, which provides data on their members and have a lot of useful content in one centralized place.

53MM freelancers in the US

Based on a 2014 survey commissioned by FU and Elance-oDesk there were 53MM freelancers in the US.

“Gone are the days of the traditional 9-to-5. We’re entering a new era of work — project-based, independent, exciting, potentially risky, and rich with opportunities.”

“There are more avenues available to find work, to make contacts, to connect with others, etc. thanks to technology and its ability to network.”

  • 40% independent contractors: don’t have employer, work on a project by project basis
  • 27% moonlighters: have employer, moonlight on the side
  • 18% diversified workers: combination of different work types (full time secretary + uber driving + freelance writing project)
  • 10% temporary workers: single employer/client that is temporary (1-2 months)
  • 5% freelance business owners: 1-5 employees, also considers freelancers

Here’s a great tree of the interview questions they used to categorize the workers.

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 12.27.59 PM.png

FU also provides a report on their members. Here are some useful summaries from the post.

Key takeaways

  • For Millennials, freelancing is the new normal.
  • Concentration in the following fields
    • artists & creatives (38%)
    • services & sales (25%) — Lawyers, nannies, accountants, chefs, yoga instructors (kind of all over the place)
    • writers & editors
    • tech & web dev
  • Cities: New York still has the majority of FU membership (over 60%), other cities are (from highest growth to lowest)
    • LA, SF, Portland, Detroit, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Denver, Austin


Biggest challenges for freelancers: nonpayments and late payments

  • “One in every two freelancers had trouble collecting payment in 2014”
  • The average unpaid freelance worker loses almost $6000 annually – which accounts for 13% of their total income

It would be helpful to have a Glassdoor for freelancers with features such as report nonpaying companies and ratings, and help with written contracts.

There needs a way for freelancers to assess the risk of not getting paid by a company, and weigh the importance of experience/portfolio showcase piece vs. financial earning.   

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 12.08.41 PM.png

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 12.12.11 PM

Frequent offenders:

  • 43% of respondents had trouble collecting payment from microbusinesses (1-5 employees)
  • 40% had trouble collecting payment from small businesses (5-49 employees)
  • 36% had trouble collecting payment from medium (50-149 employees) and large (150+ employees) businesses

Most freelance engagements aren’t protected by clear, written contracts.

  • Only about one-quarter of freelancers (28%) say they always use a contract
  • 33% say they always put the terms of agreement in an email
  • 42% always use a verbal agreement
  • 21% of freelancers have worked with clients who have refused to sign a contract

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 12.20.04 PM.png




personas (?)

  • graduating student
    • Anxieties about graduation
    • Job hunt
    • Student loans
    • Credit card debts
    • Rent/food/coffee
    • Socializing: restaurants, bars, events, etc.
  • freelancers: creative, tech, etc.
    • Multiple accounts: personal and business
    • Bidding multiple projects: negotiating, contracts, budget
    • Getting paid on time!
    • Paying collaborators
    • Materials/equipment
    • Paying taxes: W4 + 1099 for different projects
  • small business owner 
    • a lot of similarities to freelancers
    • More people have business accounts: personal + business kind of blurry


2 long interviews:

  • late 20s
  • installation student/artist/performer/freelancer (2-3 projects at a time, 3 mo each)
  • a lot of uncertainties: just planning next 1-2 months (want to plan long term)
  • has multiple accounts: personal (multiple credit cards), business
  • worries about debts
  • 30 something
  • graduated 2 yrs ago
  • have startup experience
  • has multiple accounts: personal (multiple credit cards), business, stocks


Insights from interviews


  • Cut down cost, but spend on nice things (travel, big item, expensive restaurant)
  • Need to trust judgement, want to feel protected
  • Just want an indicator (total net worth) to make decisions (don’t need too specific)
  • Want all accounts in one place (personal and all projects/clients)
  • “Cannot fuck up budget” (rent, electricity, pet) vs. “do whatever budget” or “want vs. need”
  • International students have specific questions





Market research

total market

  • personal financial management app users:  12,816,140 users
  • Mobile Banking, Personal Finance, Personal Investing and Wealth Management. Your request fits under the Personal Finance category which includes: “Digital capabilities for tracking spend and income, along with budgeting.” 
target market
  • critical mass of freelancers
  • graduating students
There is also a broader market of daily money managers, CPAs, bookkeepers, private banks and others (several thousand professionals) that will manage your finances for you if you are so inclined.  The state of Massachusetts will even provide personal bookkeeping services to you if you are elderly and physically are unable on your own.
1. 87% of U.S. adults have a mobile phone.
2. 39% of adults with both mobile phones and bank accounts reported using mobile banking.
3. 22% of all mobile phone owners reported having made a mobile payment in the 12 months prior to the survey


  • mint/intuit
  • 1-2 million active users
  • people complain about bad categorization
  • troops (for Salesforce)
  • robinhood
  • expensify
  • quickbooks
  • freshbooks
  • level
  • acorn
  • goodbudget
  • wally
  • learnvest
  • quicken
  • CashPath Financial
  • Debitize 
  • Milestone
  • YNAB
Best for Individuals:
  • Mint (Lirong, Jia)
Best for Small Businesses: