The Return of the Freelance Economist

A few weeks back, we posted a query from a young economist who, before heading for the job market, was looking to pick up  freelance work. She (yes, she) promised to report back with her progress, and now she has:

Thank you for posting my email. I received a decent handful of responses, but was not flooded with emails. I did get one big project that I am very excited about and will carry me through to the job market, so it worked out very well for me, but is probably not a good career strategy. I had no idea what to charge, so started with the rate I would have received from the employer that didn’t work out, which was clearly too high. I tried to make it clear that it was negotiable, but fear I may have scared off a few people.

Many of the emails I received were from people who liked the idea of a freelance economist, but didn’t have anything specific in mind. Others expected I would have computer science skills I simply don’t have (C++ or Java). From the blog comments, there were suggestions that I needed more experience/expertise and some rebranding (as a small business consultant maybe) to actually make this work long-term. I completely agree. I hope that will not be necessary.

A couple other random observations:

I thought the mix of industries was interesting. I saw video games, consumer finance, real estate, a technology start up, landscaping, and veterinary medicine.

Unsurprisingly, given the gender ratio of economists, most people assumed I was male (I’m not).

The blog comments contained some links to other interesting things for economists to do with their free time: Pro Bono Economics and Kaggle (both of which I need to check out more).

Thanks Again,
Freelance Economist

Mike B

Most people don't need economists on a freelance basis. They need someone who can gather data and analyze it either by applying a model to forecast things or using it to answer some sort of question, like a study. What Economists are good for are developing new models, fitting new situations into existing models or applying new models to current situations. I don't see any of these tasks as the type that can be easily contracted out in the short term as they are research problems and research is notoriously hard to contract.

If you are looking for a way to brand yourself try analyst or economic analyst. You take data, crunch it and produce a report to answer a specific question. That is a job someone will hire you for on a freelance basis.

Dr. Constantinos Charalambous

It would be interesting to see people's perceptions with regards to gender of different professions. On another note, I found that through maintaining a blog such as I was able to be awarded many freelance project many of which I had to turn down because of lack of time. Problem is of course that I also did not know how much to charge for the service. A good place to start would be on an hourly wage.


That's the thing about economics degrees, whether Bachelors (which is what I have) or PhDs. They don't really offer a directly applicable skillset that is able to be formed to specific job. Many of the small company data-level jobs can be solved by managerial accountants, many marketing things are better left to marketing degrees. There are so many IT requirement jobs that I feel most schools should just require programming in C++ and SQL with economics degrees. Even though she has probably the most applicable schooling of any economics program (data analysis).

Economics degrees (to actually do hard economics) is the realm of big businesses and government.

Timmy D

I know of a number of people that do work as consultants in the field of Economics. Most do so under a certain specialty such as forecasting or benefit-cost analysis or a specific field such as health or environmental economics. To be successful you need to have an established network and a combination of skills (economics and programming / econmics and writting). In most cases it is better to start out in an organization and hone your skills, increase your network and then go freelance rather than the other way around.