With an ever increasing number of people freelancing to earn extra money, start their own micro-businesses, have a more flexible work/life balance, or simply as a stepping stone back into full time employment, the freelance workforce is now a vital contributor to the UK economy. But where are UK's freelancers based? And what does Freelance Britain look like as 2013 ends?
At PeoplePerHour we have looked at the locations of more than 525,000 freelancers registered on the website, and the results of the research revealed a clear north-south divide in Freelancer Britain 2013- with a booming freelance marketplace in the North, and eight out of the top 10 freelancer hot spots situated in the North of England and Scotland.
Head of the top 10 table is Manchester, which has a population of over 500,000, and used to have a thriving textile industry. Over the past 12 months, Manchester has seen its freelancer population nearly treble, rising by 175% in the past 12 months.
Similarly, Stoke-on-Trent (139%), Leeds (123%) and Norwich (115%), have seen their freelancer population swell in the past year. Other cities featuring in the top 10 list, are Leicester (121%), Glasgow (121%) and Coventry (117%) all experiencing a boom in people working for themselves, and selling their specialist skills and services online.
Although freelancers are selling a range of skills and services online, from design to book-keeping, it is the creative economy that is growing faster than any other sector. In the list of most popular services offered by freelancers, web development and design, copy editing and writing, graphic design, and SEO fill four of the five top spots.
Interestingly, when you look at the skills and services being offered by location, freelancers based in the north are generally offering more creative services, such as writing, design and illustration. While in the south, the services being offered tend to be more professional such as legal support, accounts and book-keeping and general administration.
The surge in people selling and buying freelance services is not a coincidence - Britain's labour market is going through a fundamental change. Traditional employment is unlikely to return to pre-recession levels, as increasingly businesses want a more flexible workforce. They prefer to be able to hire on an as-needed basis, rather than having the cost not just of employing full-time staff but the additional cost of having employees on-site.
A growing freelance marketplace is the best hope of creating a more flexible workforce, tapping into the wasted resource of tens of thousands of skilled people whose potential is not being realized. The north of England has been particularly badly hit during the recession, but these figures suggest that the north has a pool of highly skilled workers who are not realizing their potential, and have decided that the flexibility of working as a freelancer will provide them with more opportunities. Certainly with advancements in technology, freelancers have a global marketplace at their disposal.
For those people who make the decision to freelance, it may simply be to make some extra money to top up their main salary. For others though, what starts out as a few hours of extra work here and there, can quickly turn into a fully-fledged business. With the right platform, the freelancer of today, is the budding entrepreneur of the future. That's good for businesses and the UK economy as a whole.