Blog Post

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?

8 Responses to “The Future of Work: The Freelancer Report 2009”

  1. I’m a recent college graduate. Right now to find work in software development is tough, I know cause I’m looking right now. Most place either have requirements that are just plain ridiculous and the years of experience that these places want is the reason I freelance my skills. It is a nice thing though, at least there are companies that outsource to American workers instead of foreign workers.

  2. Another big upside for me is that I (often) have the luxury of choosing what kind of projects I take – and can therefore align my work much more closely with my own research interests. That creates a win-win situation where my client is getting a motivated developer who shares the enthusiasm for their product.

    Freelancing allows me to keep my day-to-day work varied, challenging and interesting – I really don’t see how I could have achieved this level of job satisfaction working in a larger company as part of a team.

    And yes, the travel and the meetings aren’t something I miss – I save at least the equivalent of two working days a week that I can spend doing something far more productive!

  3. @Imran,

    As you know, I’ve been freelancing for several years, until I landed a job with a game dev outfit here in NZ.

    Within 6 months I was made redundant as the company shut its doors, citing a downturn in profits. Until this point, I’ve never felt the affects of recession!

    I believe freelancers are relatively immune from it, due to their low overheads and adaptability. Outsourcing to freelancers by companies is also a cheaper proposition (less overheads in terms of salaried personnel, etc), so the work is more forthcoming too.

    In answer to your question above, (from my point of view of course!)…

    Prior to freelancing, I was also a Director of a company (or 2!), which had their own issues in terms of running a business – with overheads, answering to fellow directors, dealing with investors, etc All this involved meetings and endless discussions on how to move the company forward. Freelancing removes all this. It’s just you and your client(s). You are free to run the business as you see fit. Although there are downsides of course, the main benefit is the freedom to choose your own path.

    Of course, you know this too, being in the same boat. :)

  4. Actually, Freelancing is always a brighter way of doing business. We do not have any losses involved & whatever we get remains the profit. If you take me as an example, I was better as a freelancer than being a director of a company (rgt now) & am hoping to get back to freelancing again which is very hard thing with people involved & wanting to criticize you.