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The Rise of The Freelancer

A few years ago, you only needed to walk into a coffee shop in any major city to see that the freelancer economy has been booming. Armed with laptops and flat whites, this creative elite seamlessly move from job to job, responding to the ebb and flow of the industry’s needs. This has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, with many companies now burdened with a massive backlog of work. Advertising agencies, production studios and many other media-based companies who had always done their work in-house are now looking for freelancers regularly. 

As technology and methods of work have evolved during the pandemic, individuals can connect and share faster than ever before, it’s clear that the way in which ideas are bought and sold by brands and agencies is transforming.

How has the industry grown? 

As of 2019, over 2 million people were working full time as freelance workers in the UK.

In the EU, the rate of full-time freelance workers is 16.1% (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and in Singapore, its 14% (Singapore government). These figures demonstrate the same global trend: from entrepreneurs to those who are part of the so-called gig economy, freelancing constitutes a significant chunk of the economy – and particularly in marketing, advertising and media-based roles. 

The C.I.F has reported that in the UK nearly half of all workers in the creative industries are freelance, compared with 15% across the workforce as a whole. In 2019, the IPA reported that whilst the number of employees in media agencies continued to grow, increasing by nearly 400 year-on-year to 11,357, the number of employees at creative and non-media agencies fell by over 600 to 13,509. The decline in overall staff numbers appears to have been mostly caused by a decrease in the use of employees on a fixed-term contract, from 2,127 in 2018 to 969 in 2019. Scratching below the surface, the root of this? An industry grappling to find sustainable business models means a higher demand for creative freelancers to fill the resource void. 

So who makes up the UK freelance industry? 

  • Female Growth: The number of female freelancers has grown by 55% since 2008. New mothers choosing to take up freelance work rather than return to full-time office employment post-baby has shot up by 79%. Comparatively, the number of men freelancing has grown by 36% in the same time frame.
  • Millennials Are Driving Growth: Young adults born in the 80s and 90s have driven significant growth in the freelance sector. The number of freelancers aged 26-29 has risen by 66% since 2008.
  • Baby Boomers and Generation X Make Up Almost Half of the Freelance Industry: The average age of UK freelancers are still a good deal older than millennials. Most freelancers, 48% in fact, currently fall in the 40-49 or 50-59 age brackets.

Freelancers and the Economy

The IPSE reports that in 2016 freelancers contributed an impressive £119 billion to the national economy. This was up from £109 billion in 2015 and experts are predicting that this number will only continue to grow in the years to come.

The freelance sector produced approximately £125 billion in revenue in 2020 alone. This number is up from 2019, and it looks like it will be even larger for 2021. £125 billion is still a relatively small part of the nation’s GDP, but it is a significant chunk of change nonetheless. 

Amid the economic uncertainty of the Pandemic era, freelancers are positioned to play a critical role in the British workforce. Freelancers make it possible for businesses to hire the most skilled and suitable talent, with far less financial risk attached. Thanks to the rise of mobile technology, video conferencing platforms, ubiquitous internet access and flexible workspaces, businesses are also free to hire people from any location around the country (or beyond).

Peter Johnson, Lystable founder and CEO, told Forbes that top companies like Google and ASOS are currently sourcing a full 50% of their UK-based workforce from the freelance population.

The Future of Freelancing

Agencies are deriving economic and strategic advantages from the skills in the freelance market, and Shib Mathew, CEO of YunoJuno, cant see this trend abating any time soon. “The global shift towards producing work via a freelance model has not only delivered economic and strategic gains for our industry,” says Mathew, “it has also built an incredible eco-system driven by the opportunity to create innovative, truly responsive work”.

The impact of the pandemic had noticeable and shocking consequences, for the media industry and those who work within it. With production having been shut down in many cases, and a great deal of work coming to a halt. However, with the pandemic hopefully subsiding, the backlog of work that has been created has provided a high demand for skilled workers in the media industry. 

One thing is clear, it looks like this UK workforce trend will continue to go from strength to strength as media companies struggle to recruit and more workers realise the benefits of setting out on their own.   

The Crewing Company:

Here at TCC we can only see things getting busier and busier for freelancers! We are almost back to our usual level of job requests, and are still continuing to be contacted by new clients every week, which is a brilliant sign of things to come. With the rise of remote work, we have also been able to continue booking freelancers even if they have moved out of the bigger cities, contributing to a better work/life balance for them too.

Our MD, Laura Davis, says “this is a really interesting and exciting time for freelancers. There seems to be more freedom than ever when it comes to where they work, and with it being so busy, they can also be more selective about the content they are working on. So many of our freelancers are getting inundated with requests, and many I have spoken to have said this has been an incredibly successful year for them so far, which is so great to hear, especially after the uncertainty of 2020!” 

We continuously seek work for our freelancers and actively market their skills to our extensive network of clients. We are always looking for talented, dedicated and passionate individuals to join our freelance family.

Get in touch today on +44 (0)20 8525 4844, to find out what we could do for you.