The proliferation of the freelance workforce leads to a boom in smaller, more nimble firms

“Freelancing is pervasive. People work 20 hours or less in any given week,” says David Pitofsky, president of the American Freelancers Union. “It may not be the same job, or the same location. But its structure’s the same.” The agency, founded in 2009, claims more than 2 million members. (ACLU is affiliated with the parent organization.) “The law is now in a position where it encourages freelance workers to have a place to participate in the labor market. It’s designed that way,” he continues. “We’re in a really good place.”

Freelancers in various fields have joined the ranks of those who freelanced in the past, but the market is now changing. “As more people try freelance work and are successful at it,” Pitofsky says, “demand grows for more technology to help out.” The network, for example, provides “routines,” that allow freelancers to share recommendations and best practices — advice on holding signs, printing out business cards or devising new marketing strategies. It’s an especially valuable resource for an industry — and economy — that values experience and empathy.

Freelancing has thus become a prized commodity. “You’re always perceived as someone with experience,” he says. “You have relationships. You have areas where you’ve done well in certain circumstances.”

Although the direction of this industry has grown, so has the stigma surrounding freelancing. “We’re working against the stigma,” Pitofsky says. “The message is, ‘It’s not the worst thing in the world.’” (Read excerpts from conversations with the organization’s leaders.)

Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

D: Entrepreneurs who had been sitting at one job for years decided to start up their own business because they felt the benefits — like the ability to work from anywhere — were non-existent in the office. In that sense, your industry is a way of staving off the general sense that you need a 9-to-5 to keep your job.

G: Freelancers are even showing up at work at odd hours. It sounds kind of crazy, but that’s happened to me. I didn’t know how it was going to work. I didn’t know if it was even possible. You wouldn’t think you can turn around and become a fireman on the side of the road, but that’s what I did.

L: With many small businesses, wages aren’t really the issue. It’s the tension between the private and public sector — the government working against entrepreneurs.

N: There’s also this tension about the level of flexibility I’m willing to pursue. I work freelance six days a week; I work five days a week. I’m in that zone where you don’t need to be tied to a number. I like being able to work wherever I want, when I want.

To read more of our conversations with executives from Intuit, Lifelock, Western Union, New Balance, and Stanford Univ., pick up the May issue of New York magazine.

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