Freelancers – there are many around. According to data published in 2018 by the Association of Self-Employed Professionals and Self-Employed (IPSE), the UK was home to around two million self-employed workers at the time, many of whom did so full time. And the survey showed an increasing trend, with numbers growing by 46 percent compared to 2008.
One possible reason for the increase was the decline in traditional employment triggered, in part, by the great financial crisis, with people who until then had not considered the freelancer discovering that work on their own was the only way to earning a time when not many organizations were hiring. As the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis becomes increasingly evident, I am willing to bet that the numbers of freelancers will increase again.
This is not the whole story of course. Economic recessions have certainly played a role in inflating the numbers of freelancers, but also in the increasingly widespread entrepreneurial culture that has taken hold all over the world. Maybe you don’t want to start a business with staff and offices, but you can work for yourself and enjoy the kind of freedom and independence that is usually denied to employees.
Throwing The Coin
But let’s turn the coin over for a minute. As the pool of freelancers has grown, the number of companies that are ready to outsource much of their work to freelancers has also increased. Instead of hiring staff, a company can theoretically grow by bringing together a distributed and highly flexible workforce of skilled people. Freelancers are often employed in back-room processes, such as text writing or web design, but they are also employed in customer-oriented roles and do what is essentially a basic job for organizations.
Which raises the question. Is a freelance workforce really reliable enough to form a substantial company? By their nature, freelancers take work where they can find it. A company could use two or three trusted people on a given project. Next time, the customer asks again for the same team, but the people in question are no longer available.
It is a possibility that Justin Small, founder and CEO of Future Strategy Club is well aware of. A student of a number of creative agencies, he has decided to create a business capable of providing a full range of agency services, using freelancers rather than full-time employees.
He likes this on several levels. It is certainly a cheaper option, not only for the Future Strategy club, but also, says Small, for customers. But there is also a philosophical appeal.
“When you think back to the original agencies – not necessarily to the advertising agencies, it’s a different world – but to the wider range of agencies. They were created by people who were essentially misfits. They didn’t want to work in offices and wear clothes. ”
Today, he says, the world of agencies has become much more corporate. “The freelancer is today’s geek who doesn’t want to wear a suit.”
Investment on the break
Using a freelancer model, Small claims to have been able to grow a business that requires no investment. This, he says, provides a means of maintaining the independence of the Future Strategy Club. “Taking investments changes your decisions,” he says. “The idea behind FSC was to keep the purpose of the business and to be able to say” no “to the job we don’t want to do.”
Prepare the ground
But the challenge has been to attract and maintain a pool of suitably qualified freelancers in an area where talent is a reward and the best people are often driven out by rivals. So since launch, the FSC has done everything to present itself as a club.
“We have a small space in Peckham (South London) where we organize events. We worked hard to build the brand, “says Small.
What does this mean in practice? Well, there is perhaps a tension here. On the one hand, FSC is itself a brand, which offers a constant level of service to customers. This requires some degree of continuity. On the other hand, the life of the freelancer is notoriously insecure. As mentioned above, the freelancer who has done a great job for you today may not be available next week or even out of business if there is no regular flow of commissions.
“We aim to create structures that allow freelancers to remain freelancers,” says Small. With this in mind, the FSC seeks to add value with a proposal that includes coaching and mentoring offerings. “We have a voice. We represent our community, “adds Small.
The extensive use of freelancers has been, rather grandly, dubbed the Hollywood model – a term that FSC likes to use. As in Hollywood, teams get together, work on projects and split again. What if team members get together so much that they form their own agencies. “We would support him. But we hope they continue to work with us.”
Piccolo says that FSC’s structure has opened the door to a certain amount of innovation, such as a section of the market on the company’s website where smaller companies can purchase advisory advice in areas such as public relations and planning. strategic. Bigger customers get a tailored service. The model seems to be working. This year, the company is on track for around £ 1 million in revenue.
There is a bigger problem here. An independent workforce is tempting for organizations that see an opportunity to cut costs and become more flexible. The potential problem is that many freelancers would probably prefer to be on the payroll – especially if their work as solo professionals tends to be somewhat sporadic. Many of those who are happy with freelancing will not feel a particular loyalty to their customers. If the future is truly self-employed, organizations may need to learn to take care of their freelancers just as they do with their permanent staff.