Between established bills and shorter time to retirement, older freelancers (I’m talking early to mid-30s and older) have some challenges, but honestly, we’ve got a lot more opportunity.
That might be easy to forget with all the social and traditional media focus on teens and 20-somethings, but if you take a step back, you’ll see some serious advantages that freelancers-of-a-certain-age should be jumping on.
Figuring out where you fit and finding what’s profitable can be a huge roadblock to freelance success, but after 10+ years of work experience, you’ve seen a viable industry or two. This means you can skip a lot of the angsty niche searching that younger freelancers deal with and move straight into leveraging your work history in choosing your niche and pushing your earning.
Connection with Spending Power
Let the internet tell it, and you’d think that Boomers and Gen X had closed their wallets and stopped spending money altogether. In reality, the opposite’s true.
When it comes to generational spending power, they rank in spots one and two, meaning that especially for freelancers interested in work on the B2C side, you have insights into some very viable target markets.
Businesses and publications are actively targeting the buying habits of older people. Even life experiences like caring for an aging parent, planning retirement, or paying for a child’s college can translate into understanding of growing niches like home health and personal finance as Gen X maintains a strong financial presence and Boomers age through retirement.
Connection with Business Influence
Ageism is a real problem, sometimes even for freelancers and especially for those of us who’re ‘aging while Black’, but that doesn’t change who’s making most of the decisions. Every CEO isn’t a 20-something wunderkind — actually, most aren’t. Your average CEO is 53, and most middle managers are in their late 30s at the youngest.
I know that at 39 and working with mostly director level and higher, the vast majority of my clients have been older than me and all have a deep appreciation for the experience that age brings. Know that you’ll most likely be working with your temporal peers, especially if you target people making big decisions.
Knowledge of Self
I didn’t start freelancing full-time until my mid-30s, and by then, I had a pretty good understanding of what I wanted and needed.
I know that working weekends is off the table. I know I hate business travel. I know sleep is important and that I prefer a slower pace of work. Because of that, I was able to structure the core direction of my freelance business to support the life I want instead of going through a ton of trial and error. If I’d started any earlier, that path would have looked a lot different and been a lot longer.
Take advantage of what you know about yourself, your tastes, your ethics, your health, and your goals and build that knowledge into the DNA of your freelance business from the start.
In the last BlackFreelance newsletter, I talked about a term I picked up from Pat Flynn — JOMO, or the Joy of Missing Out.
At this age, I’m thankful for the things I don’t feel the need to try or experience — again or for the first time. I don’t actively wonder about every other niche or skill set because I know what works for me and how to put boundaries around what I’m willing to dabble in.
When I hear from other older freelancers, their stories are similar. They might still be learning some basics or kicking the tires on a few aspects of their business, but there isn’t near the confusion that pops up from younger folk.
Bigger Earning Potential
Being a six-figure freelancer while working part-time was a relatively early goal for me (I’ve pulled off the monthly equivalent for a while now, and I’m on track to make my first official year), but honestly, without 15 years’ experience in my industry? It probably would’ve been a lot harder.
I’ve been able to charge $150/hr and up (and average quite a bit more than that for production), unquestioned, pretty much from the jump, because I have age and experience on my side. When you listen to stories of freelancers who hit the ground running and almost immediately started out-earning their employed salaries, that experience is usually part of the equation.
Don’t sleep on the fact that all the years you’ve racked up as a teacher, lawyer, nurse, in customer service, or education can translate to real value for a group of freelance clients out there somewhere.
Considering the leg up that older freelancers have, I’d love to see more of us getting into freelancing to boost our retirement funds, pay off mortgages earlier, reduce stress and exposure to racism, and just live higher quality lives. If you’re ready to see what advantages you can find in your history, check out the Experienced Professionals page, and if you’re having issues knowing where to start, a couple of sections on this page might help…but as always, feel free to leave questions and thoughts in the comments!
As a woman in her late 40s in India, I am lucky to be in a job where my talent is the focus and not the age. I am still a little distant from JOMO, but I am sure to be getting there!