How firms use creative freelancers

A blueprint showing how and why UK businesses increasingly use creative freelancers for their staffing or commercial needs emerged yesterday.

Micro creative firms, typically with no or few employees, know the freelance is the only hassle-free way to cost-effectively gain expert skills for their business.

One creative recruiter said the most obvious example is the small budget-conscious firm that hires a freelance marketer to launch their brand or promotions.

Similarly, the pre-stage entrepreneur who wants a logo or website with a professional-look, without ongoing expense, before they go to market will have to use a freelance.

Small to medium-sized firms, in contrast, typically hire self-employed creatives for a service intended to give them an edge in the marketplace, rather than for initial business tasks.

Online recruiter said a mid-sized firm in need of technical photography, say for a branding revamp, will hire a freelance instead of bearing the cost of a full-time employee.

For these larger type of firms, typically with between five and 50 members of staff , the lure of freelancers is about being able to access specialist skills ‘as and when’ the need arises.

Less restricted by costs, these firms can also hire freelancers in pairs; meaning the hiring of a technical photographer for a branding revamp may follow with the hiring of a marketer.

John Brazier, managing director of the Professional Contractors Group, the freelance trade body, says small or mid-sized firms are ‘ideally placed’ to use the services of freelancers.

Firms that do so can leverage freelancers’ extensive industry contacts, while “allowing their business to be agile and versatile in an increasingly competitive world,” he said.

But like big organisations, shrewd mid-sized firms tend to tap into the freelancer’s specialist knowledge, effectively learning as much as they can from their self-employed visitor.

“By definition, a freelancer is likely to have worked for more clients than an 'equivalent' employee,” Mr Brazier said, referring to each worker’s years of industry experience.

“Permanent staff within an organisation can benefit enormously from the knowledge transfer and best practice that freelancers bring with them.”

Emma Brierley, chief executive of Xchangeteam, a creative recruitment agency, agrees.

She told FreelanceUK elite freelancers are those with a “gift for building strategic working relationships with key people at short notice.”

"This demands a combination of sharp intuition and strong communication skills - two more strengths that characterise successful freelance consultants," she said.

“Their other strengths typically include strong analytical skills and a personality driven by results. After all they are only as good as their last job.”

For Brierley, author of Talent of Tap: getting the best from freelancers, interims and consultants, this drive is vital, as firms know their hiring someone uninterested in promotion.

Meanwhile the mindset of the freelance often “incorporates a creative streak that can sometimes border on the maverick.”

She added: “Freed from corporate conventions, freelance consultants are frequently the people who ask awkward questions, demand smarter answers - and inspire breakthrough solutions.”

Given these qualities, it is little wonder that big business is increasingly choosing to populate their workforce with freelance consultants, in addition to full-time employees.

The PCG, which has a membership of 15,000 freelance consultants, says successful freelancers are seen as “trusted advisors” with sought-after, and up-to-date, knowledge.

In a statement, the group said top freelancers are “capable of moving quickly between assignments, transferring ideas, skills and positive attitudes - after all freelancers live or die by their reputations.”

It added: “Increasingly, businesses are recognising the value of today's highly skilled, highly mobile and highly flexible twenty-first century freelance workforce.

“Using freelancers to complement the permanent workforce allows flexibility, so that businesses can manage fluctuating demand and take advantage of rapid, low-cost hiring or obligation-free downsizing, as appropriate.”

And Lisette Howlett, managing director of, said these larger businesses should nurture their freelancers, if, that is, they want to yield the most value for their money.

She said: “When [organisations] have the need for only one person in a particular specialism and want them to be at the top of their game, [they] are essentially recruiting someone with the skills…and then losing them when they feel it is time to add more challenges to their role.

“This is both costly and disruptive for an organisation. A more robust strategy can therefore be to follow a strategy of building long term relationships with freelancers who will maintain variety and stretch in their jobs through their whole work portfolio.”

Bigger companies, in contrast to micro and small firms, also use freelancers “to augment either their skill base or their resource level to manage the ebb and flow of business demand,” Ms Howlett said.

Yet regardless of their size, all businesses that use freelancers are attracted by one core motivation.

Ms Brierley explained: “Hiring freelance consultants is arguably the most effective way of accessing specialist skills at short notice for a finite period.

“The business case for freelance consultants is founded on flexibility and control; value for money, creativity, organisational change and specialist skills.”


3rd October 2007

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