Hi Dave and Ana,
I have not done freelancing but I can share my experiences and views from my side of pharma.
To Dave's Observation about experience, all freelancers/indpendent Consultants I've worked with have been well-experienced. They have an established record as former full-time employees, that is they had a career in the industry before freelancing.
In General they tend to be of a certain Age, usually in the mid 40s and beyond and tend to have over 20 years experience in the industry before freelancing out. An exception here can be Medical Writers where they've had a few years in an agency or in-house that allowed them to build their skills, sufficient to effectively freelance. In other words, they are experts.
Alot of the freelancers took that step in Response to either a reduction in force or some other external influencing factor that necessitated that they pursue Independent work. As noted some of this can be Age related, it can be hard for mid 40 and beyond to find employement depite experience.
EDITED this Sentance: So this is is related to the key Driver of the trend in my opinion, a conslidating industry that is impacting some seasoned veterans of the industry. I have quiet a few buddies that have been axes and found a new life as freelancers/indepedent Consultant as you do These days. Less driven by entrepreneural or quality of life reasons.
A few Points of note. The freelancers/indepedent Consultants have worked with do have that entrepreneural flare. They have to. Its not easy work. In Addition to delivering quality work to their Clients, they must also find new or continued Business. Yes, there is a Level of freedom they have in Terms of Controlling workload but they still have to deliver and mitigate lack of Business, they Need to plan when and where their next "contract" is coming from. So it may not be a Job where one sips coffee and casually taps way at a lap top. Networking is also key here and most freelancers I know have a very active travel life for work.
Most state that the freedom Comes from being able to choose Projects (once established), get a diverse experience, and get away from corporate politics, they get to bring that indpendent and objective view with out facing political ramifications if they do it right. They still carry workload but they can control it once established in waves, i.e. they may be ape crazy for 8 months but have a 4 months of off-time to Play with during the year.
A few pit falls of freelancers, some have broken way from their employer as full time employees, and use their former employers as their exclusive Client. The bad here is that they only depend on one source of Business and can be at risk for new Business. The bad here is also they may still try to Play the political games as well.
As for mitigating being reduced in force (let go, pink slipped etc), as one gets older its viable Option, the risk is mitigated by continued Networking to secure Business from a diverse set and number of Clients. This is work and can bring a Level of stress especially when one is starting off. Like any Business, it will take time, Investment and hard work until the wheels are somewhat greased. A good part is that one, if an opportunity exists, can always go back in house.
So take home message, to be a good freelancer with sustained Business, one Needs a Network (which is a continuous process), a credibility factor based on Prior work delivered and experience, and an entrepreneural Spirit. One has to be very confident and must be ready to put themselves out there. There is a common personality - that is they tend be very out going Folks, pretty much alpha's, because, they do Need to sell themselves and their work.
Hope this helps, but freelancing..no easy Job but there can be rewards.