Freelancing isn't second-best, insist creatives

A new report can be added to the pile of evidence showing freelancing is far from ‘second best’ in the eyes of its practitioners, who tend to be well-paid, content and not dreaming of a 9-to-5.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the report was set up amid concern that self-employment is second-class work that is unstable and done out of necessity.

But researchers behind the report found that almost all freelancers (94%) want to keep working on an independent basis, and prefer such a freelance career to being an employee.

Their wellbeing is in line with national averages, and they enjoy their mode of work, its autonomy and probably its attractive pay too -- £43,000 emerged as their median income

In return for that hefty annual pay pack, almost 40hrs a week must be put in, found the researchers, who quizzed 304 freelancers working in southern England for creative and digital clients.

“Self-employment is not a second-best mode of work for these creative-digital-IT freelancers,” reflected Dr Jonathan Sapsed of Brighton University’s business school, which ran the research.

“The overwhelming majority prefer this status and are looking to expand their self-employed activities. Forty per cent have registered companies and many go on to become employers”.

But expanding is not always the ambition. In particular, many freelancers just seek “greater and greater independence and choice in how they spend their working lives,” he said.

This focus may explain another of the report’s findings – that freelancers have a “high level of wellbeing” and tend to fuse professional working goals with other aspirations.

So says the report’s co-investigator Dr Roberto Camerani, a research fellow at the University of Sussex. He says: “Freelancing emerges as both a lifestyle and a working-style choice”.

According to the report, creative and digital freelancers have high levels of innovation, and are often contracted by clients to do the most “leading-edge” work in projects.

This is particularly true of those freelancers whose skill-sets are a fusion of creative-digital, as such 'hybrid' workers appeared to have higher incomes than their single-specialism counterparts.

Yet regardless of their skills, being confined geographically isn’t a problem for freelancers. In fact, almost a quarter said that as well London and local firms, international clients were "important" to their revenue.

This is the sort of finding, indicating that one-person businesses are willing to export, that suggests government policies should adapt in order to tap into freelancers’ growth potential.

The AHRC’s chief executive Prof Rick Rylance said: “We cannot dismiss the significant and growing contribution of self-employed workers in the creative-digital-IT sector

“There are important policy discussions that follow on from these findings on how to best support the work of these crucial and pioneering workers.”

Editor's Note: Related Reading -

Most newly self-employed say it's their choice

Youthful staff yearn to quit for freelancing

Self-employed people found in six different 'tribes'


5th February 2015

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