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

RankCityState
1Ann ArborMichigan
2MiamiFlorida
3Salt Lake CityUtah
4Fort Lauderdale
Florida
5OrlandoFlorida
6VancouverWashington
7BerkeleyCalifornia
8DallasTexas
9BellevueWashington
10West Palm BeachFlorida

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

RankCityState
103Shreveport
Louisiana
104FresnoCalifornia
105MemphisTennessee
106LouisvilleKentucky
107New YorkNew York
108PhiladelphiaPennsylvania
109NorfolkVirigina
110Lexington-FayetteKentucky
111EugeneOregon
112AugustaGeorgia

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

RankCityState
1Ann ArborMichigan
2MiamiFlorida
3Salt Lake CityUtah
4Fort LauderdaleFlorida
5OrlandoFlorida
6VancouverWashington
7BerkeleyCalifornia
8DallasTexas
9BellevueWashington
10West Palm BeachFlorida
11ChattanoogaTennessee
12San FranciscoCalifornia
13SeattleWashington
14TampaFlorida
15CincinnatiOhio
16AustinTexas
17BoulderColorado
18IrvineCalifornia
19Jersey CityNew Jersey
20Las VegasNevada
21AtlantaGeorgia
22OaklandCalifornia
23CharlestonSouth Carolina
24PittsburghPennsylvania
25ClevelandOhio
26PlanoTexas
27NewarkNew Jersey
28KnoxvilleTennessee
29RenoNevada
30St LouisMissouri
31ManchesterNew Hampshire
32DurhamNorth Carolina
33ArlingtonTexas
34DenverColorado
35ColumbiaSouth Carolina
36SacramentoCalifornia
37SpokaneWashington
38San DiegoCalifornia
39Grand RapidsMichigan
40NashvilleTennessee
41BostonMassachusetts
42MadisonWisconsin
43RichmondVirginia
44New HavenConnecticut
45RaleighNorth Carolina
46MinneapolisMinnesota
47PhoenixArizona
48RochesterNew York
49Washington D.C.District of Columbia (DC)
50New OrleansLouisiana
51TacomaWashington
52Long BeachCalifornia
53San JoseCalifornia
54DaytonOhio
55HoustonTexas
56PortlandOregon
57Oklahoma CityOklahoma
58TulsaOklahoma
59TucsonArizona
60Fort CollinsColorado
61HartfordConnecticut
62San AntonioTexas
63Des MoinesIowa
64Los AngelesCalifornia
65Santa RosaCalifornia
66Fort WorthTexas
67AlbuquerqueNew Mexico
68SyracuseNew York
69OmahaNebraska
70CharlotteNorth Carolina
71St PetersburgFlorida
72BoiseIdaho
73ColumbusOhio
74SpringfieldMissouri
75Sioux FallsSouth Dakota
76BuffaloNew York
77Little RockArkansas
78AkronOhio
79ChicagoIllinois
80WichitaKansas
81El PasoTexas
82Saint PaulMinnesota
83Colorado SpringsColorado
84MobileAlabama
85Kansas CityMissouri
86JacksonvilleFlorida
87AthensGeorgia
88HonoluluHawaii
89LubbockTexas
90SalemOregon
91LincolnNebraska
92Fort WayneIndiana
93BaltimoreMaryland
94Winston-SalemNorth Carolina
95BakersfieldCalifornia
96GreensboroNorth Carolina
97BirminghamAlabama
98IndianapoliisIndiana
99DetroitMichigan
100Virginia BeachVirginia
101AnchorageAlaska
102MilwaukeeWisconsin
103ShreveportLouisiana
104FresnoCalifornia
105MemphisTennessee
106LouisvilleKentucky
107New YorkNew York
108PhiladelphiaPennsylvania
109NorfolkVirginia
110Lexington-FayetteKentucky
111EugeneOregon
112AugustaGeorgia

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

Facebook comments