The Blog

Freelancing? What's the Point?

I'll hold my hands up. I'm 100% unemployable. When I say "unemployable" I don't mean unprofessional; I just mean I am not cut out to do the same role for the same organisation for two years at a time before I can do something new. As a result, I've been freelance since 1995.

I did have one permanent job back in 1994, working as an IT support bod. I did it for 11 months then left, disillusioned, stifled by the acute lack of "challenge" and opportunities that seemed to accompany a permanent position.

The highlight for me during those long dark months was the annual appraisal. I only had one, but I had high hopes for that session.

I hoped my employer would recognise all that unpaid overtime, the lunches worked through, going the extra mile in a crisis, coming in on a Saturday to do some sys admin work on the Unix system.

Life would be rosy and my reward for my hard work would be that I could attend a two-day training course on network administration I'd spotted. I reasoned with myself that I'd done enough free overtime to cover the cost of the course, so it seemed like a fair swap. (...ahh the naivety of youth...)

The appraisal came and went. The glimmer of hope I got when the appraiser said "we'll see what we can do about the training" fizzled out and became a "no" about 3 months later. So did my enthusiasm for being a "permie".

Shortly after I went freelance and I never looked back.

I needed the instability. The unpredictability. The variety. The constant stream of opportunities. Something that was sorely lacking plodding in a permanent job for a few years at a time before jumping ship to repeat the whole sorry business again.

As a freelancer, I was doing something new every few months - picking up new knowledge and skills each time that I could take to the next assignment. I was there for as long as the assignment and then it was perfectly OK to move on with no stigma!

With my increased fees I could invest in myself. I could pay for any course I wanted to do, buy any text book, or pick up a key piece of equipment or software I wanted to to keep my skills sharp - and constantly evolve new ones. For me it is the perfect lifestyle.

That's why I was pleased to see the arrival of "National Freelancers Day" (Did you know 23 November is National Freelancers day? If you didn't know about it don't worry there's always next year. Pop it in your diary.)

For me, freelancing was the perfect escape route from the rat race. But for the UK economy, are

freelancers so important they need a "day"? Let's have a look at the evidence.

Figures released by Kingston University and The Professional Contractors Group (PCG) for National Freelancers Day show that the number of freelancers in the UK now totals 1.56 million or 1 in 20 in the UK workforce. This is up from the previous figure of 1.4 million, revealed by the University's initial study in 2008 - this is a 12% increase.

In a recent press release, PCG's Managing Director John Brazier welcomed the research figures, commenting:

"The figures underline the steady growth in the sector in turbulent times, and confirm a widely held belief that more and more skilled and talented individuals are opting for freelancing as a work/lifestyle choice. Freelancers are offering industry and commerce a flexible talent stream when and where it is needed."

Even the Prime Minister thinks freelancing is a "good thing" when it was given a ringing endorsement by David Cameron who said:

"I have a huge respect for all those who make the brave decision to branch out on their own and take control over the way they work."

Government has not always shared this view, small business red tape, problems getting finance, and the dreaded IR35 legislation have made running a freelance business onerous at times. Many of my IT friends have given up and trained to be electricians or plumbers for an easier life.

Let's hope this renewed respect from Westminster turns into action and the freelance sector is encouraged to flourish even more quickly, and give the UK economy the boost it so desperately needs.