Full-time employment, independent contracting, or side hustle?

5 min read

Are you struggling to choose between full-time employment, becoming an independent contractor, or balancing a combination of both? The right fit will be unique to you: your personal goals, your risk-tolerance, and your current and future financial aspirations.

To help you make the best decision, we’ll explore the ups and downs of full-time employment, self-employment, and side hustles. What are the benefits and challenges that come with each? And what should you consider before making the leap?

Option 1: full-time employment

A traditional full-time job may not offer the freedom of self-employment, but it does have its perks. 

Benefits like health care, workers’ compensation, unemployment protection, and paid vacations can be hard to walk away from. And don’t forget the financial security of a steady paycheck, built-in career paths, professional development opportunities, and team camaraderie.

That said, relying on one employer can still be risky. No job is 100 percent secure. As an employee, you have very little visibility or control over the company’s management decisions. Layoffs can happen at any time, and most states allow “at-will” agreements that give employers the right to sever ties without cause. 

70 percent of employees believe traditional jobs are more secure than independent work.

What to consider before jumping in

Which do you value more: Stability or autonomy? Comfort or challenge? 

If you have a lower tolerance for risk and prefer a predictable, steady gig, full-time may be the way to go. 

Also, if you like to focus on your own niche role and let other team members handle things like back-office work and sales, traditional employment may be the better fit.

Option 2: self-employment

Self-employed independent contractors — freelancers, contract technicians, solopreneurs — provide specific services to client companies for a defined period of time. They choose their hours and projects and typically work with little or no supervision.

Self-employment can also be quite lucrative. The average income for full-time independents is $68,300 (compared to around $49,000 for full-time employees). And around 20 percent earn more than $100,000 per year.

Of course, there are challenges to consider. Hard barriers — reasons people can’t become self-employed — include:

  • Not enough cash to invest
  • Need to pay down debt
  • Need to complete training
  • Don’t want to give up health benefits

Soft barriers — why people have avoided becoming self-employed — include:

  • Worry about inconsistent income
  • Worry about earning less
  • Lack of a complete business plan
  • Don’t know what they want to do
  • Are loyal to their current company

Independent contractors also don’t get employer-provided vacation and sick leave, retirement, workers’ comp, unemployment, or health coverage. Cash flow can also be unpredictable. 

30 percent of full-time independents cite a lack of job security as a major concern.

Self-employment trends

  • In recent years, the high demand for skilled workers attracted many independent contractors back to traditional jobs. But with the recent steep rise in unemployment, it’s reasonable to expect a shift in the other direction. Similar to the 2008 recession, the scarcity of full-time jobs may push more many Americans into self-employment.
  • Many companies are moving from a traditional workforce to a blended mix of full-time and contingent talent. 97 percent of organizations consider independent talent to be critical to their success. As we adapt to a post-COVID world, those numbers are almost certain to grow as more companies shift to a remote work model.
  • It’s estimated that by 2024, the total number of U.S. independent workers will rise to 47.2 million. This is up from 41.1 million in 2019.
  • Mobile technologies and online talent marketplaces make it easier than ever for independent contractors to connect with clients and compete for new projects.

38 percent of full-time independent Millennials use online talent marketplaces, compared to just 15 percent of Gen Xers and 13 percent of Baby Boomers.

What to consider before jumping in

What’s most important to you — money, achievement, longevity? Do you want the freedom to choose when, how, and where you work? Are you willing to put in the time necessary to thrive as a full-time independent contractor? 

Would you miss the social interactions with your coworkers, or the sense of collaboration that comes with being part of a team?

What about your health? Are you prepared to learn everything you need to know about the challenges and complexities of providing your own health and business insurance? Do you have a plan for how you’ll receive care, or what you’ll do in a worst-case scenario?

Do you have the financial cushion needed to manage inconsistent cash flow? Traditional payment arrangements can range from net 30 to net 60 (or even longer). What about the “net nevers,” the clients who simply don’t pay you at all. And are you ready to keep track of individual 1099s, as well as the state and city tax requirements for each location in which you work?

58 percent of self-employed professionals say they work odd hours, 44 percent say that they perform a much wider variety of daily tasks, and 35 percent say that they take more risks.

Option 3: full-time + side hustle

Independent work and full-time employment can go hand-in-hand. For every full-time independent contractor, someone else is doing it on a part-time or occasional basis.

In the U.S., the number of “occasional independents” rose from 10.5 million in 2016 to 15 million in 2019

The side hustle lets you keep your steady paycheck while exploring self-employment or a new field. Part-time independents can also take on projects to supplement their income and help keep up with rising education, health care, and housing costs.

But in addition to the usual challenges that go along with self-employment, part-time independents have to coordinate side projects around their full-time jobs. This can mean working early mornings, evenings, and weekends.

What to consider before jumping in

Are you hoping to eventually transition to full-time self-employment, or are you simply looking to supplement your income? Either way, be honest with yourself about how many hours you’re willing to dedicate to your side business.

And don’t forget about all the extra paperwork at tax time. Unlike that one simple W2 you get from your employer, taking on side gigs means you’ll need to keep track of your tax liabilities from each job.

Conclusion

Whether you choose the self-employment route or take on a side gig in addition to your full-time job, Field Nation is here to help you reach your goals by tapping into our marketplace of over 7,000+ companies looking for high-quality, experienced technicians. 

Ready to sign up? Visit fieldnation.com/signup to start connecting with new clients and opportunities today.