At the start of 2020, there were over two million freelancers working in the UK, the majority (1.77m) of whom work freelance as their main occupation.
The last 15 years has seen a boom in freelancers and freelance opportunities. According to a recent IPSE report, there has been significant growth in highly skilled freelancers, with the number of freelancers in the UK alone increasing by 46% from 2008 to 2017. In 2018, the UK saw a 31% annual increase in freelancers, according to Simply Business data.
The Work Crowd currently boasts 3164 registered and vetted freelancers on our platform. In the last two years, we have seen the number of PR freelancers almost double from 1236 to 2246. We have also seen a significant increase in active PR projects on the platform, from 386 in 2019 to 508 in 2020 and a 40% rise in new projects posted in the last month, compared to the month before during lockdown.
With Covid-19 impacting both how we work, as well as the global economy, we may see employers start to shift their thinking in terms of their hiring models, now that remote working has become the new normal for many businesses. And as the economy picks back up post COVID-19, I feel it's worth considering the value of freelancers to not only provide support more broadly to your business but to also bridge the gap between uncertainty and growth.
Most freelancers that are on The Work Crowd are experienced professionals who’ve had careers in agencies or in-house teams and decided the time was right to develop a portfolio career. The most frequent story I hear (other than the need for more flexibility) is about climbing the agency ladder, perhaps moving in-house, getting great experience, and then increasingly taking on a more managerial focused role, which is less hands-on. The reason they move into freelance is a desire to do the work they love. Freelancing provides them with the real 360 - strategy and delivery too. These individuals are easy to spot. Their CVs and portfolios speak for themselves, not to mention their networks. You can trust that they will quickly understand your business and goals so that your projects will be safe in their hands, thanks to their experience and the quality of their work.
We may find that some talented PR professionals sadly lose their jobs as furloughing eases off and businesses have to make hard decisions based on what the economy looks like post the impact of Covid-19. These people may seize the moment to try a career in freelancing, offering their expertise and skills to the open market.
For many of the businesses that we talk to, the feedback we receive is that freelancers often become an extension of their business. There is a misconception that a freelancer is there to just fill a month or so gap. Many freelancers work with businesses on a long term basis, they get to understand the strategy and direction that a company is going in and can present new ideas along the way.
They can also offer flexibility and subject to their own workload, can be ‘dialled up or down’ as required. Whilst an agency solution can also offer that flexibility if you’re concerned you’re not getting the continuity and consistency that you need or might get from a one to one working relationship, then a freelancer might be a great alternative. For ongoing work, working with freelancers often provides a more consistent level of work and less effort on your part over the long term. (Related: working with a freelancer versus an agency)
Perhaps one of the most valuable strengths that a freelancer can bring to the table is fresh thinking and diversity of ideas. Freelancers often work with many businesses across various projects and audiences, allowing you to tap into their experience and innovate your own business.
For instance, if you’re looking to reach new markets or audiences, freelancers can be a great way to tap into a more diverse talent pool since you are not restricted to any location. You can easily reach talented freelancers around the world with vastly different backgrounds and experiences to help you see things differently and get your message out in new ways to new audiences.
Or if you’re expanding into a new market or service area and not quite ready to commit to a permanent hire, freelancers are a flexible solution. They’ll give you the experience that you need to do the job and test the waters. This is relevant to agencies too, not just brands or in-house teams. We are seeing several agencies looking to pivot and add additional revenue streams and freelancers have enabled them to do this quickly and effectively.
Freelancers on paper often have a higher “day rate” than a permanent member of the team – but there are no additional costs. Most freelancers are self-employed, meaning they have fewer overheads than agencies or permanent employees. (Related: choosing between freelancers and permanent employees.) Particularly when times are uncertain, freelancers can reduce some risks in hiring and enable you to just pay for their time or for the project that you need them for.
For the rest of 2020 and beyond, I believe we will see an increase in businesses opting for more flexibility in their talent solutions and we will see a greater mix of permanent and freelance talent.
Alice Weightman is the Chairman of the PRCA’s Independent Consultant Group. She is also the CEO and Founder of two award-winning talent businesses: The Work Crowd, an online talent marketplace for the marketing and communications industry; and Hanson Search, an international marketing and communications headhunting consultancy.