Talk to graduates, new mothers, or young creatives about work today, and the one word you’re likely to hear more than any other is freelance.
The term itself certainly isn’t new. In Walter Scott’s 1819 novel Ivanhoe, paid mercenaries described as “free lances” are offered from one feudal lord to another. Fast-forward 200 years, and freelance has taken on a whole new vigour, spurred on by a more modern army, looking to earn a living flexibly and be their own lord – or rather, boss.
There are now an estimated 2.1m freelancers working in the UK, contributing up to £145bn to the economy. For many employers, hiring them has become the norm, with a recent study finding that two in five business owners predict their use of freelancers will grow faster than their number of permanent hires in the next five years.
So why should employers be caught up in the freelance phenomenon, just because more people are choosing this kind of lifestyle? Well, along with offering an extra pair of hands when permanent staff are stretched, freelancers bring a number of financial and cultural benefits to a company which pay off in the long term.
Diversity of thought
Hiring someone who has worked at several different organisations can bring valuable new insights, perspectives, and practices to a company. This diversity of thought will help with problem solving and encourage permanent staff to consider new ways of approaching old tasks.
A freelancer’s experience can also help a company to keep in touch with different parts of the market, ensuring that the business is not missing a trick against the competition.
Save on the costs of one-off projects
Occasionally, a new project will arise which requires a specific skill set, and the options available are to either train a member of staff to meet this need, or to hire a freelancer for the project.
With the latter option, the freelancer – already skilled in this area – is going to hit the ground running and should finish the job sooner and to a higher standard. This will make it a cheaper option in the long run, while impressing the client with better work.
Securing the best talent
According to the self-employed professionals association IPSE, the number of UK freelancers has risen by 46 per cent since 2008, partly driven by the surge in skilled women going it alone.
With such a vast and growing talent pool, employers who ignore this section of the workforce will miss out on some of the best people, especially in the creative industries where a third of workers are self-employed.
On the other hand, those businesses which consider freelancers when filling gaps in their workforce may elevate the company’s performance, while also inspiring permanent members of staff to raise their game.
Freelancers have come a long way since the days of Scott’s mercenaries, yet the unique skills, experience, and know-how that they can inject into a business may still be the difference between winning and losing battles.
In a world where the concept of work is fast evolving, I would encourage all employers to evolve their philosophies too, by embracing the freelance phenomenon and reaping its rewards.
Main image credit: OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images