The Best Places to Be Your Own Boss

2018 was supposed to be the year that job automation relegated us all to bit-part roles in the gig economy. In reality, record numbers of us are voluntarily quitting our jobs to start businesses and become freelancers. Goodbye rat race, hello cool coworking space…

But what’s driving all this?

Well, job satisfaction in the traditional workforce has been declining for decades. But it's the opposite among the self-employed; in fact, 74% of freelancers say it's their “ideal employment situation”. And we have to admit, flexible working arrangements, the freedom to pick and choose projects and clients, and unlimited earning potential sounds great. But are they really practical??

Where can freelancers actually find these kinds of opportunities?

If you already use #FreelanceLife in your Instagram Stories, you might think you know the answer. If you’re hiding under your desk so you can read this article away from the watchful eye of your manager, we bet you want to know the answer.

We were curious too. So, we examined 112 US cities to find out which ones offer the best shot at freelance/entrepreneurial success. Read on to find out how your city performs…

The Top Ten

Rank City State
1 Ann Arbor Michigan
2 Miami Florida
3 Salt Lake City Utah
4 Fort Lauderdale
5 Orlando Florida
6 Vancouver Washington
7 Berkeley California
8 Dallas Texas
9 Bellevue Washington
10 West Palm Beach Florida

Ann Arbor Cements Rising Star Status

Google and Expedia may have offices in this large college town, but it’s Ann Arbor’s stellar startup culture that vaults it to the top of our rankings. The city has a ton of homegrown success stories, including one unicorn tech firm. Meanwhile, five University of Michigan student-run venture capital funds funnel plenty of local investment into the area. Excellent citywide WiFi coverage and four ultra-modern coworking spaces make it a great landing spot for freelancers who like to switch up their scenery once in a while. It’s truly one of America’s most exciting innovation hubs.

Smooth Networking in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City is the perfect place for budding entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into IPOs. Just ask Alex Bean and Blake Murray, the founders of local software startup Divvy who raised $57 million in VC funding in less than two years and remain active in Salt Lake City’s thriving business Meetup community. The city’s top-rated coworking space, Salt Mine, also hosts regular networking events where you can rub shoulders with local business owners and Goldman Sachs fund managers. A high density of coffee shops and free WiFi hotspots round out the list of reasons why Salt Lake City takes a podium position in our rankings.

South Florida Shines for the Self-Employed

Thanks to zero state and local income taxes, freelancers in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando all benefit from the (joint) lowest tax bills in the country. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale area in particular is a nationally-recognised hub for startups, which must have something to do with the abundance of networking events and coworking spaces available for entrepreneurs.

The Bottom Ten

Rank City State
103 Shreveport
104 Fresno California
105 Memphis Tennessee
106 Louisville Kentucky
107 New York New York
108 Philadelphia Pennsylvania
109 Norfolk Virigina
110 Lexington-Fayette Kentucky
111 Eugene Oregon
112 Augusta Georgia

In New York, Being Your Own Boss Comes at a Cost…

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a city where [basically anything] costs more than [amount you can afford], New York isn’t the most freelancer-friendly city. For starters, the commercial capital ranks dead last for overall cost of living, and third from last in terms of the per person density of WiFi hotspots. There are several coworking spaces and Meetups happening in the city, but the numbers don’t translate favorably on a per person basis. Freelancers here are more in danger of being crowded out by the competition. If you live and work in the Big Apple, you also have to be prepared to pay big taxes. The city levies a local income tax that means freelancers earning the national average in New York would pay $1,453 more than their peers in neighboring Rochester, Syracuse or Buffalo. Naturally, those cities all rank considerably higher…

…and It’s Not Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s shockingly low density of free WiFi hotspots certainly has something to do with its poor ranking. But perhaps more concerning for freelancers are the high local income taxes the city levies on residents. At a whopping 3.8907%, a freelancer in Philly earning the national average for a self-employed person would pay nearly $2,000 per year to the city government via the Philadelphia Wage Tax! Guess it’s not always sunny in Philly after all…

Southeast is Least Favorable Towards Freelancers

Three cities in the Southeast place poorly for different reasons. Residents of Lexington shoulder the highest total income tax bill of any city in the study. Meanwhile, Norfolk in Virginia has just one coworking space serving a population of more than 240,000 – far too few for entrepreneurs with ambitious growth goals or hiring plans. Eugene in Oregon enters the rankings second from last due to a mixture of the above and a dire per capita distribution of coffee shops. And if you do manage to track down a cup of joe on your lunch break, you’ll pay dearly for it – $4.53, on average!

So, there you have it! If the phrase ‘job for life’ sounds like a death sentence with a dental plan, move to Florida, leave behind your employee ennui and become your own boss. Just remember to pack sun lotion – we hear it gets sunny down there.

You can find the complete city rankings below. For research methodology, head to the foot of the page.

The Complete City Rankings

Rank City State
1 Ann Arbor Michigan
2 Miami Florida
3 Salt Lake City Utah
4 Fort Lauderdale Florida
5 Orlando Florida
6 Vancouver Washington
7 Berkeley California
8 Dallas Texas
9 Bellevue Washington
10 West Palm Beach Florida
11 Chattanooga Tennessee
12 San Francisco California
13 Seattle Washington
14 Tampa Florida
15 Cincinnati Ohio
16 Austin Texas
17 Boulder Colorado
18 Irvine California
19 Jersey City New Jersey
20 Las Vegas Nevada
21 Atlanta Georgia
22 Oakland California
23 Charleston South Carolina
24 Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
25 Cleveland Ohio
26 Plano Texas
27 Newark New Jersey
28 Knoxville Tennessee
29 Reno Nevada
30 St Louis Missouri
31 Manchester New Hampshire
32 Durham North Carolina
33 Arlington Texas
34 Denver Colorado
35 Columbia South Carolina
36 Sacramento California
37 Spokane Washington
38 San Diego California
39 Grand Rapids Michigan
40 Nashville Tennessee
41 Boston Massachusetts
42 Madison Wisconsin
43 Richmond Virginia
44 New Haven Connecticut
45 Raleigh North Carolina
46 Minneapolis Minnesota
47 Phoenix Arizona
48 Rochester New York
49 Washington D.C. District of Columbia (DC)
50 New Orleans Louisiana
51 Tacoma Washington
52 Long Beach California
53 San Jose California
54 Dayton Ohio
55 Houston Texas
56 Portland Oregon
57 Oklahoma City Oklahoma
58 Tulsa Oklahoma
59 Tucson Arizona
60 Fort Collins Colorado
61 Hartford Connecticut
62 San Antonio Texas
63 Des Moines Iowa
64 Los Angeles California
65 Santa Rosa California
66 Fort Worth Texas
67 Albuquerque New Mexico
68 Syracuse New York
69 Omaha Nebraska
70 Charlotte North Carolina
71 St Petersburg Florida
72 Boise Idaho
73 Columbus Ohio
74 Springfield Missouri
75 Sioux Falls South Dakota
76 Buffalo New York
77 Little Rock Arkansas
78 Akron Ohio
79 Chicago Illinois
80 Wichita Kansas
81 El Paso Texas
82 Saint Paul Minnesota
83 Colorado Springs Colorado
84 Mobile Alabama
85 Kansas City Missouri
86 Jacksonville Florida
87 Athens Georgia
88 Honolulu Hawaii
89 Lubbock Texas
90 Salem Oregon
91 Lincoln Nebraska
92 Fort Wayne Indiana
93 Baltimore Maryland
94 Winston-Salem North Carolina
95 Bakersfield California
96 Greensboro North Carolina
97 Birmingham Alabama
98 Indianapoliis Indiana
99 Detroit Michigan
100 Virginia Beach Virginia
101 Anchorage Alaska
102 Milwaukee Wisconsin
103 Shreveport Louisiana
104 Fresno California
105 Memphis Tennessee
106 Louisville Kentucky
107 New York New York
108 Philadelphia Pennsylvania
109 Norfolk Virginia
110 Lexington-Fayette Kentucky
111 Eugene Oregon
112 Augusta Georgia

Research Methodology

We examined the freelancer-friendliness of 112 of America's cities with a population greater than 100,000* (Source: US Census Bureau population estimates, 2018).

We looked at their performance along seven dimensions that reflect important considerations for freelancers looking for career success in the city. These data points were weighted according to how much they would affect someone’s ability to do this:

  • Number of coworking spaces per 100,000 residents (Source: Coworker, 2018) (Weighting: high)
  • Number of Career & Business Meetups per 100,000 residents (Source: Meetup, 2018) (Weighting: high)
  • Total income tax payable (includes federal, state, local & self-employment tax) by a self-employed worker earning the national average income (Sources: Smart Asset, US Census Bureau, 2017) (Weighting: high)
  • Cost of living, as a function of rent and consumer goods prices (Source: Numbeo, 2018) (Weighting: normal)
  • Number of free WiFi hotspots per 100,000 residents (Source: Open WiFi Spots, 2018) (Weighting: low)
  • Number of coffee shops per 100,000 residents (Source: Yelp, 2018) (Weighting: low)
  • Average cost of a cappuccino coffee (Source: Numbeo, 2018) (Weighting: low)

*The rationale for excluding cities with populations below 100,000 is that a city needs to be a certain size in order to offer freelancers sufficient opportunities to meet potential clients and professional collaborators