Rob Etmanski was fed up with how many hours he was working. His commute alone ate up more than two hours each day and he was missing out on time with his children.
At the time a project manager and computer programmer at a marketing agency, Mr. Etmanski realized he could just as easily work for himself from home. So he took the leap.
In 2007, Mr. Etmanski started Digital Ink from his home in Burlington, Ont. He is a freelance developer focused on marketing initiatives including e-mail, websites and banner ads.
"That first year was the most challenging and the most rewarding. It confirmed that I made the right decision. That year, I earned double my previous salary," he said. "I might put in just as many hours as I did before, but now I get paid for those hours.
"My time is my own. This morning, I went for a bike ride. I was able to go out and then come back and finish my work."
Mr. Etmanski, 42, is one of a growing number of workers choosing to be their own boss. A January, 2015, report from Statistics Canada showed that 15.6 per cent of all working Canadians are self-employed. The CIBC Canadian Employment Quality index released in March showed that between January, 2014, and January, 2015, the number of self-employed workers rose four times faster than the number of paid employees.
But while working from home may seem like the answer to greater work-life balance, it has its own challenges.
"There is always a level of stress. You don't have enough work or have too much work. Sometimes you are chasing money if clients are late in paying," Mr. Etmanski said. "It's easy to slack off. You have to be strict with yourself."
While many workers are attracted to having more control over what they do and when they do it, Wayne Lewchuk, a professor in labour studies and economics at McMaster University in Hamilton, said that many people freelance because full-time work is just not available.
While Dr. Lewchuk said there are no comprehensive statistics on the demographics of freelancers, self-employed workers, which include freelancers, tend to be more established and have the connections to go it alone. Some had jobs that came to an end and are now giving freelancing a try, he said.
Dr. Lewchuk's surveys found that workers between 45 and 54 led the charge, with 29 per cent identifying as self-employed, followed by 28 per cent of those 35 to 44. Twenty-five per cent of workers 55 to 65 are self-employed, while 18 per cent of 25-to-34-year-olds identified themselves as such.
"People value flexibility. People have to marry their work lives with their home lives. But the self-employed often make very little money and are exposed to risks in terms of not having health coverage," he said. "There is a growing number of Canadians working outside of labour market regulations, minimum wage, harassment policies and employment standards. They don't contribute to employment insurance and are not eligible for it. There are no benefits or pension plans.
"There is a whole set of things one would expect as a citizen of a wealthy, advanced economy that these workers are not party to. We have to figure out how to deliver these things."
The Ontario government, in fact, is in the midst of an 18-month review of the Labour Relations and Employment Standards Act, with a mandate to consider reforms that reflect the rise of non-standard employment.
Megan Blanchard, owner of Workroom Strategic Design Services, knows all too well about the precarious nature of freelancing. The Halifax-based branding and marketing specialist has been freelancing since 2004. Three years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I lost clients because I had to refer them to other people and then I didn't get them back," she said.
But after some time off, Ms. Blanchard, 49, chose to come back to freelancing. "I have chosen jobs based on quality over quantity since having cancer. My husband works, so it is not 100 per cent on me. That really helps."
This means Ms. Blanchard has more time to spend with her 10-year-old son. She also coaches two basketball teams and volunteers in her community.
This is what drew Ms. Blanchard, who was a creative director at a multimedia company, to self-employment in the first place. While on maternity leave, she explored working from home and picked up a stable client base.
Not just attractive to workers, freelancing is also becoming more appealing for businesses. Technology is making it easier to hire freelancers for one-off projects or to handle continuing responsibilities such as information technology. It also helps employers to reduce costs associated with taxes and benefits.
Cenera Inc., a human resource and business consulting firm in Calgary, uses independent contractors for career transition coaching and executive coaching.
"Independent contractors help us manage the workload when it's erratic and inconsistent. We use independent contractors for the peaks and staff for the valleys," partner Jim Fries said.
Mr. Fries said the company ensures their freelancers share their values and are a good fit with Cenera's culture. These workers are included in the company's summer and Christmas parties and their photos appear on the Cenera website.
"We have been burned. We help people get started and then they change their minds or go elsewhere. But not very often. It is worth the risk. It allows us to bring in specific technical expertise and give our clients more choice in the coaches they can work with."
For Mr. Etmanski, freelancing was also worth the risk, giving him more time with his wife and his children, who are now 13 and 16 years old.
"I would find it near impossible to go back to a regular job. I can be working at any time and be there for my family at a moment's notice," he said. "There have been some exceptional years financially and some not as good. But the biggest gain has been to my home life."