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Marketing Operations

The Great Resignation? More Like the Freelance Revolution [Report]

September 6, 2022
December 7, 2021
Mae Rice

Many marketers have quit their jobs this year, and according to our survey of 600+ marketing decision-makers, organizations are adapting — and thriving! — by hiring freelance marketers.

Table of Contents

U.S. workers are fed up. 

This summer, they quit their jobs in record numbers. Every month from April to August of 2021, at least 2.5% of the U.S. workforce quit, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In August, 2.9% of workers quit — the biggest fraction of the American workforce to quit in a month in at least 20 years.

In August 2021, 2.9% of workers quit — the biggest fraction of the American workforce to quit in a month in at least 20 years.

Many of them are going freelance. 

The freelance economy was growing even before the pandemic. Self-employment was the primary source of income for 14% of U.S. workers in 2019, according to a Gallup report.

That was no accident. The percentage of independent contractors self-employed by choice grew from 2012 to 2019, according to MBO Partners — from 66% to 81%.

The pandemic only accelerated the shift away from full-time employment. Today, The Great Resignation has hit every workplace, from hospitals to Hot Topics.

Marketers aren’t immune. In July, 48% of marketers planned to quit their full-time jobs, according to a MarketerHire survey

That sounds like bad news for marketing teams. But here at MarketerHire, we wondered: How do business leaders really feel about all this?

To find out, we surveyed 600+ marketing decision-makers across the country — and found that The Great Resignation may be more aptly called The Freelance Revolution.

The vast majority of respondents — 80% — had worked with a freelance marketer recently, and 63% of respondents had worked with one in the past six months.

Marketing leaders who had worked with freelancers recently estimated that they outsource nearly half — 46%, on average — of all marketing work to them. 

Marketing leaders who had worked with freelancers recently estimated that they outsource nearly half — 46% — of all marketing work to them. 

In North Carolina, Texas and Ohio, they outsource the majority of marketing work to freelancers. 

Companies are embracing the increased agility (and decreased operating expenses) of a freelance workforce enthusiastically: 72% of respondents who had worked with a freelance marketer recently described the experience as “great.”

Let’s dive into the data. 

Free MarketerHire Resource:

Marketing's Freelance Revolution, By the Numbers

An executive summary of MarketerHire's original research on the role of freelance talent in modern marketing.

The labor shortage is in full swing. 

If your team wants to hire a full-time marketer right now — good luck. 

In the past year, 68% of business leaders said they’d struggled to hire an in-house marketer — and 67% think hiring will only get harder with time.

In the past year, 68% of business leaders said they’d struggled to hire an in-house marketer — and 67% think hiring will only get harder with time.

Two states have particularly challenging markets for marketing talent, according to our data:

  • North Carolina: Business leaders here were 25% more likely than average to have trouble hiring for in-house marketing roles.
  • Texas: Respondents here were 18% more likely than average to report difficulty finding in-house marketing talent.

It’s not just the Great Resignation gumming up hiring. It’s also…

Take paid search marketers: They saw a demand surge this fall. 

Recent iOS changes have made tracking paid search’s performance much easier than tracking paid social’s — and from September to October, paid search marketers jumped from MarketerHire’s sixth to second most popular role. 

In November, they dominated even more of the hiring pie. It’s getting tougher and tougher to bring them in house.

Blend role-specific hiring obstacles like this with market-wide ones, and you’ve got a seriously uphill battle for full-time talent.

Marketing teams need to stay agile.

Marketing decision-makers are also struggling to pinpoint their team’s long-term needs. 

The uncertainty of the pandemic and the labor shortages we covered above made 95% of respondents’ employers more interested in hiring freelance marketers. 

The uncertainty of the pandemic and labor shortage made 95% of respondents’ employers more interested in hiring freelance marketers. 

They’re acting on it, too. Eight in 10 business leaders have hired a freelance marketer recently — and another 10% plan to try freelance talent out in 2022.

​​​​“Freelancers with specialized skills can help you solve short-term problems quickly,” Clorox's VP and general manager of DTC, Jackson Jeyanayagam, told MarketerHire

They make marketing teams more adaptable — key in today’s environment — especially if they can roll with the punches.

Respondents who had worked with freelancers recently ranked adaptability more important for freelancers than full-time hires. It was the only big difference in their priorities for the two role types.

When they expect the unexpected, it seems that business leaders turn to freelancers — and they boost agility. 

Of the leaders who’d worked with freelancers recently, 83% said they helped marketing departments pivot more quickly, and 78% said they offered a competitive edge in a shifting market environment.

83% of leaders who’d worked with freelancers recently said freelancers helped their marketing teams pivot more quickly.

Freelancers disprove hiring managers’ concerns.

Your first time hiring a freelancer can be nerve-wracking. Of the survey respondents who had worked with freelance marketers, 83% said they were hesitant at first. 

However, most of them changed their tune as they gained experience with freelancers. Nearly all — 97% — of those initially hesitant leaders agreed that the risk paid off. 

Of respondents who were hesitant to hire freelancers but did it anyway, 97% said the risk paid off. 

Out of all the business leaders who had hired freelancers recently, 98% said that the freelancers’ work either met (69%) or exceeded (29%) the company’s standards. 

Freelancers benefit marketing teams as a whole, too. Of respondents who’d hired freelancers recently, 81% said that freelance support made the marketing team more effective.

“Some great work comes from freelance talent,” Delivering Value founder Andrew Capland told MarketerHire. “They're able to think freely and without the constraints that can come from working at the same company for long periods.” 

Freelancers can “think freely and without the constraints that can come from working at the same company for long periods.” 

Freelancers save companies money and time. 

Freelancers make marketing campaigns more cost-efficient. Like, way more cost-efficient. 

Leaders at SMBs who had hired a freelancer recently estimated that they save just over $71K per campaign, on average — and leaders at enterprises who had hired a freelancer recently estimated that contract hires save them an average of $124K per campaign.

Freelance hires are lower stakes, too. Employers don’t have to pay for their benefits or unemployment insurance.

That means that when it comes to freelance hires, companies can move a little more quickly and decisively.

Of the survey respondents who had worked with freelancers recently, a whopping 91% agreed that it made hiring easier overall, and even more — 94% — agreed hiring freelancers shortened time-to-hire.

At Podia, for example, director of growth marketing Benyamin Elias posts full-time roles to Podia’s career site, and puts candidates through a “full interview process,” including a test project, “because going in-house is a relatively large and less specialized commitment.”

For freelance marketers, he leans more on referrals from his networks, plus a light interview. But “the referral does a lot of the heavy lifting,” he said. 

“The referral does a lot of the heavy lifting [when hiring freelancers].”

John-Henry Scherck, principal and owner at Growth Plays, agrees that hiring freelancers is “much quicker” and lower-lift.

“I'm less concerned about culture fit or long term opportunities with freelancers, and really just focus on hard skills, attention to detail, and reliability," he told MarketerHire.

At MarketerHire, we see this firsthand: Clients often hire a freelancer match within days, if not hours, of meeting them. 

Compare that to the 40 days one client expected to spend sourcing a full-time hire!

Freelancers have rare expertise and do high-quality work.

The top-tier marketers in many specialties are too expensive to hire in-house — but hiring them on a freelance basis can help companies prioritize quality. 

Take paid social and paid search marketers. “The very best technical marketers, from a Facebook and Google standpoint — they don’t like being stuck with one company,” former ZipRecruiter CMO and Happy Masks co-founder Edward Fu said in a MarketerLive webinar.

The best paid social and search campaigns come from freelancers. 

Freelancers can also build high-performing organic TikTok communities…

… and full-fledged digital marketing plans for product launches. 

That’s what one freelance growth marketer did for Whole30’s DTC salad dressing launch in 2021. “We definitely blew our forecast sales away,” Whole30 CEO and co-founder Melissa Urban told MarketerHire.

In fact, Fu said the quality of work he’s seen from freelance marketers has been “amazing.”

“They specialize in a channel and work with multiple clients, [so] the insights they are able to gather across the board helps us with our business,” he explained.

Ironically, people often hesitate to hire freelance marketers due to quality concerns — and it’s true that hiring your first freelancer can be a “dice roll,” as Browed 2 Perfection Agency’s CEO and founder Junae Brown told MarketerHire.

But “over time, we've learned…. what qualities we are looking for in a candidate,” Brown said. “We've also set up better systems so that the experience is better for both parties. Doing so has helped us attract some really amazing folks!”

The top 3 roles for freelancers hold across business sizes. 

The three most popular marketing roles for freelancers hold constant across enterprises and SMBs: social media marketer, brand marketer and Amazon marketer

Why these three? Businesses that have historically focused on performance marketing are realizing, amid iOS changes, that they have to diversify and invest more in brand and organic social, MarketerHire CEO Chris Toy has noticed. Hiring freelancers is a great way to start. 

As for Amazon: Its ad product is still relatively new, and it’s grown 20%+ YoY for the past three years. This year, Group M forecasts Amazon’s ad sales will exceed $16 billion. 

Source: Group M

Slower Amazon adopters are realizing they need to get in on the action, Toy suspects — and freelance hires are a great way to test out new channels, no matter your business size. 

But enterprises hire freelancers for more roles.

When it comes to breadth of freelance hiring, enterprises have an edge. They were more likely than SMBs to have hired freelancers in roles beyond the top three — from email marketer to CMO.

Why? Leaders at SMBs tend to have smaller budgets and smaller teams. 

That means that recruiting and onboarding one new freelancer can chew up a lot of SMB bandwidth. They tend to hire sparingly as a result, and look for marketing generalists — who feel like cost-effective hires, though they often create more problems than they solve

So going into 2022, enterprises have an edge when it comes to managing, hiring and onboarding freelancers — all essential for building a strong freelancer network, as Nigel Stevens of Organic Growth Marketing learned from experience. 

“I used to think it was easy to plug in a freelancer,” Stevens told MarketerHire. “Now I have more respect for the overall process requirements to hand someone a project and put them in a position to deliver what you want.”

Want to streamline your freelancer onboarding? Check out MarketerHire's Marketer Onboarding Workbook.

Still — not every business is open to freelance talent. 

Some business leaders still steer clear of freelance marketers. About 1 in 10 survey respondents said they had not outsourced any marketing work to freelancers, and had no plans to do so.

Those leaders skewed older. Respondents in their 50s were 50% more likely than average to avoid freelancers entirely, and respondents in their 60s were 70% more likely — suggesting a generational bias towards full-time teams. 

There are other factors making holdouts wary, too — like negative news items, word of mouth and past experiences.

However, 94% of business leaders still hesitant to work with freelance marketers said they’d be more likely to hire a freelancer vetted by a recruiter or a talent platform like MarketerHire

94% of business leaders still hesitant to work with freelance marketers said they’d be more likely to hire a freelancer vetted by a recruiter or a talent platform.

46 more statistics show how the freelance market works.

We learned a lot about the market for freelance marketers from our survey — so much that we couldn’t fit all of it in the above report. Here’s everything else we learned from our data, including more role-specific and state-specific stats. 

The types of freelance marketers businesses have hired recently

Out of the respondents who had recently hired freelancers… 

  • 50% hired a freelance social media marketer
  • 43% hired a freelance brand marketer
  • 40% hired a freelance Amazon marketer
  • 30% hired a freelance growth marketer
  • 30% hired a freelance email marketer
  • 29% hired a freelance content marketer
  • 26% hired a freelance paid search marketer
  • 26% hired a freelance SEO marketer
  • 26% hired a freelance marketing analyst 
  • 24% hired a freelance paid social marketer 
  • 12% hired a fractional CMO 

The types of marketing freelancers businesses were open to hiring

Out of all respondents…

  • 54% were open to hiring freelance social media marketers 
  • 45% were open to hiring freelance brand marketers 
  • 42% were open to hiring freelance Amazon marketers 
  • 33% were open to hiring freelance content marketers 
  • 32% were open to hiring freelance email marketers 
  • 30% were open to hiring freelance growth marketers 
  • 29% were open to hiring freelance marketing analysts
  • 28% were open to hiring freelance paid social marketers
  • 26% were open to hiring freelance paid search marketers
  • 26% were open to hiring freelance SEO marketers
  • 9% were open to hiring fractional CMOs

The business benefits of using freelance marketers

Of the respondents who had worked with freelancers recently… 

  • 81% said it was easier to find freelancer marketers than in-house marketers
  • 98% said the quality of work provided by freelancers met or exceeded expectations
  • 91% said it was easier to match freelancer skills to specific jobs than it was to find an in-house role with all these skills

What freelancers bring to the table

Of the respondents who had worked with freelancers recently…

  • 83% said freelancer marketers tend to bring innovative ideas to the table
  • 83% said freelance marketers tend to provide a high quality of work
  • 76% said freelance marketers come with a wider breadth of experience than in-house marketers
  • 85% said their company has benefited from the flexibility that freelancer marketers provide
  • 79% said freelance marketers tend to be above average when it comes to speed 

How freelance marketers help marketing teams

Of the respondents who had worked with freelancers recently… 

  • 77% said their marketing departments are more prolific when using freelance marketers
  • 81% said using freelance marketers empowers them to scale more quickly 
  • 85% said they experienced growth since hiring a freelance marketer

How freelance marketers affect hiring 

Of the respondents who had worked with freelancers recently… 

  • 91% said hiring freelance marketers made hiring easier
  • 58% planned to increase their budget for hiring freelancers in 2022 
  • 21% planned to keep their current budget for hiring freelancers in 2022

The top 10 states outsourcing work to freelance marketers 

For companies that had worked with freelancers recently, the fraction of total marketing work outsourced was, on average…

  • 57% in North Carolina 
  • 53% in Texas
  • 53% in Ohio
  • 46% in California 
  • 46% in New York 
  • 44% in Georgia 
  • 42% in Florida
  • 41% in Illinois
  • 35% in Michigan
  • 34% in Pennsylvania

In 2022, freelance budgets will grow.

Companies have already adapted to marketing’s Great Resignation by hiring freelance marketers, and the trend is accelerating. 

The majority of respondents who worked with freelancers recently — 58% — planned to increase their freelance budget next year.

The majority of respondents who worked with freelancers recently — 58% — planned to increase their freelance budget next year.

Jennifer Vande Zande, editor in chief of SAP’s Future of Commerce, is one of the many decision-makers increasing her freelance budget in 2022. She appreciates her current freelancers’ “reliability, professionalism, passion, and [that] they get sh*t done.”

The biggest challenge she and other experts noted with scaling up freelance operations: picking out the freelancers that can deliver timely, quality work. 

Working with freelancers can be a “professional – and emotional – rollercoaster,” Zande said. 

MarketerHire is here to help. We carefully vet the freelancers in our network, only accepting the top 5% of candidates. See for yourself and try MarketerHire today

Our methodology 

This survey was conducted from October 23 - 24, 2021, at 95% confidence, +/- 4% margin of error.

Respondent breakdown 

  • Total respondents: 606 
  • Gender: 60% male, 40% female 
  • Average age: 39 years old
  • Geography: 46 of 50 states represented (excluding RI, SD, VT, and WY)

Respondent qualifiers

  • Location: living and working in United States 
  • Age: 18 years or older
  • Employment status: employed full-time for a company that has a marketing department and/or engages in marketing activities
  • Title: manager, director, C-suite/executive, and/or owner

Respondent job title breakdown

  • Manager: 76%
  • C-Suite/Executive: 11%
  • Director: 9%
  • Owner: 4%


Mae Rice
about the author

Mae Rice is editor in chief at MarketerHire. A long-time content marketer, she loves learning about the weird and wonderful feedback loops that connect marketing and culture.

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