March 8, 2022 – A new report from Business Talent Group (BTG) shows that 70 percent of high-end independent talent want to pick their own projects and 63 percent seek freedom to work from anywhere, as massive changes to the workplace and how and where people work continues. BTG’s 2022 Talent Lens—based on a survey of more than 1,900 high-end independent talent—provides insights about the mindset of highly skilled independent professionals as companies increasingly rely on them for fast, flexible expertise and capacity to fuel growth and capture fast-moving opportunities. Amid widespread labor shortages and the Great Resignation, the independent talent segment is growing quickly—increasing 34 percent year over year in the U.S.—a trend that’s expected to continue, with 56 percent of non-freelancing professionals saying they’re likely to freelance in the future.
“Top talent—including talent that you can’t find anywhere else—are flocking to the independent market for professional control: They want to choose whom they work with and what they work on,” said Jody Greenstone Miller, BTG co-founder and co-CEO. “As business leaders feel the pinch of the tightening labor supply, they increasingly see the benefits of harnessing innovative talent solutions and tapping into the growing independent talent economy for proven skills and capabilities that are invaluable to companies of all sizes.”
“Across the board, there is more demand for talent right now than any of us has ever seen, and talent have enormous leverage because of that,” said Ms. Greenstone Miller. “They are taking the lessons of the pandemic—where they were able to work remotely and more flexibly—and looking at their professional futures differently. Top talent—including talent that you can’t find anywhere else—are flocking to the independent market for professional control: They want to choose whom they work with and what they work on.”
According to respondents, the top reasons to go independent include picking their own projects (70 percent), the freedom to work from anywhere (63 percent), and the variety of work available in the independent market (62 percent).
Talent Satisfaction has Rebounded
After a dip in satisfaction during the height of the pandemic, an overwhelming majority of talent (83 percent) now say they are satisfied with fulltime independence—besting pre-pandemic satisfaction levels. In fact, satisfaction is running so high that 88 percent of talent would recommend the independent route to their professional colleagues. Respondents indicate that dissatisfaction is most often correlated with shorter duration projects, smaller clients, and uneven project flow. Tenured talent are most satisfied (88 percent), and new talent are more likely to have neutral sentiments expressing neither satisfaction nor dissatisfaction (22 percent) as they navigate the waters of creating an independent consulting practice.
Rates on the Rise
Nearly four in 10 talent report higher daily rates in 2021—a significant increase over rates during the 2020 pandemic-induced economic uncertainty and a key contributor to rising talent satisfaction. While approximately half (48 percent) of high-end independent talent have seen no material change to their daily rates, only 13 percent have experienced lower daily rates. What’s more, 35 percent of independent talent enjoyed an increase in overall compensation in 2021 compared to 2020. Talent engaged on longer projects (six+ months) and for larger companies ($1 billion+ in revenue) commanded higher daily rates and an overall increase in compensation than those on shorter duration projects for small- and medium-sized businesses.
Overall, the self-reported median daily rate was $1,200 in 2021 with the top 20 percent of talent seeking $2,000+ per day and the top one percent commanding $3,500+ per day (nearly three times the median rate).
Extended Stay of Independence
With a steady flow of interesting projects, an increase in total compensation, and rising satisfaction, it’s no surprise that less than half (42 percent) of independent talent would consider returning to the traditional full-time workforce. For elite independent talent engaged on longer-term projects for large enterprise clients ($1 billion + in revenue), the pull to return to traditional employment diminishes even further.
As the Great Resignation has extended worldwide, compensation experts have reminded organizations that there are numerous ways to attract and retain employees besides paying them higher wages. But there’s overwhelming evidence that the go-to move for most companies continues to be paying more, according to the latest findings from Korn Ferry, which found a record a number of pay raises over the past quarter.
In fact, 61 percent of talent with four or more years of independent experience say that they are unlikely to return to full-time employment in the next 12 months, compared to only 43 percent of new independents. The same is true for 62 percent of talent who typically work on projects longer than six months and 56 percent of those who say they primarily serve large enterprise clients.
So what would it take to lure these in-demand thinkers and doers into a permanent role? According to talent, the biggest motivating factors for re-entering traditional employment include compensation (59 percent), a dream job (38 percent), or a flexible work arrangement (37 percent).
Serving Companies of All Sizes and Segments
While independent talent are an essential resource for every industry, talent report that companies in the healthcare, technology, consumer goods, and financial services industries disproportionately called upon their services in 2021. In terms of company size, a vast majority of talent (71 percent) report that they primarily work with small- ($0-50 million) and medium-sized ($51 million-1 billion) clients.
Though BTG has seen that large enterprises frequently tap independent consultants for in-demand skills and expertise, there are only so many companies that lay claim to more than $1 billion in annual revenue. As might be expected, these coveted, high-value projects tend to go to the most tenured consultants. In fact, 41 percent of talent who say they primarily serve large enterprises possess seven or more years of independent experience.
A Great Time for Independent Talent
“Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of the workplace is as uncertain as ever,” the BTG report said. “As companies think about how to retain and attract talent in one of the tightest labor markets to date, high-end independent talent can be a game-changer—providing a nearly limitless source of in-demand skills and expertise to fill resourcing gaps, lead critical projects, and develop strategies to seize unforeseen opportunities.”
“As more and more skilled talent discover that independent arrangements suit their preferences for professional control, flexibility, and fulfillment in their work, leading companies are also realizing how valuable flexible projects and consultants can be,” the report said. “With so much uncertainty and potential for change remaining on the horizon, there’s no time like the present to take advantage of the booming independent talent market.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media