The Future of Work: The Freelancer Report 2009

freelancerreportThis week I’ve been speculating on the Future of Work and the types of skills that might be required. However, hindsight can provide useful clues to the future, so it’s important to reflect on existing behavior in order to determine where we’re headed.

Between April and June of this year, online accounting service FreeAgent surveyed its users. The result is “The Freelancer Report,” an in-depth study of 535 freelancers and small businesses. Though the respondents were mainly based in the UK and the Netherlands, and the survey was primarily intended to understand the impact of the global recession, it provides some indications of trending behaviors and make for interesting reading.

  • More than half of responders describe themselves as freelancers, with a minority using terms such as “consultant” and “contractor,” while “small business” is the smallest category. Does this represent the triumph of personal branding for freelancers?
  • Unsurprisingly, the bulk of surveyed freelancers are working in technology — from IT and consultancy to design and development. Curiously, journalism is also quite prominent, suggesting that the implosion of the newspaper industry is perhaps encouraging talent to go it alone.
  • Most respondents have been self-employed for under three years, suggesting that the recession isn’t hurting independent workers.
  • Freelancers seem to be servicing large and small clients quite evenly, indicating that it’s a mode of work with which that most clients are comfortable.
  • It’s heartening to know most freelancers are paying a lot of attention to actually running their businesses — from accounting to invoicing — suggesting most aren’t surprised by the overheads of operation, and are not just simply delivering the work.
  • Surprisingly, most don’t seem to have felt the full effects of the recession, and although cautiously optimistic, many anticipate lower earnings in the immediate future.

The report goes on to rank “indices of optimism,” “expected earnings” and the degree to which various industries are feeling the downturn.

Overall, it seems freelancing is particularly a robust and optimistic mode of work, even in a meltdown. This is perhaps a reflection on the agility of small businesses in a turbulent marketplace and being able to maintain a portfolio of opportunities.

Has the recession impacted your freelancing business to the extent that you thought it might?

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