Freelancing. Early 19th century in origin, as two words, denoting a mercenary.

In the US, gigging (freelancing) is a well-established phenomenon. An estimated 20–33% of the workforce consists of independent workers (Accenture).

The top 10 skills supplied by UK freelancers (listed below) are pretty much exclusively utilised in the service industries involved with the web and marketing.

Surprisingly, a fifth of UK grads with a first class degree have already freelanced. With flexibility and earning potential, not to mention the lack of a ‘real’ boss, being major attractions for some of the best and brightest, how can you work well with freelancers?

In this post I’m revealing findings from a new report from elance looking at trends in freelancing in the UK.

Top 10 Skills Supplied by UK Freelancers to Businesses in 2013

1. Article Writing

2. Content Writing

3. English translation

4. Blogs

5. Web Content

6. Graphic Design

7. PHP

8. Copywriting

9. Creative Writing

10. HTML 

Usage of the word ‘freelance’ over time.

Landscape for freelancers

In the UK, the Professional Contractors Group estimates there are already 1.4 million British freelancers working across all sectors.

In 2013, the number of businesses hiring freelancers online increased 46% and payments to freelancers increased 37% year on year.

Elance reports the average hourly rate for UK freelancers increased 6.7% in 2013.

IT & Programming (at 41% of all hires); Design & Multimedia (24%) and Writing & Translation (18%) still account for the lion’s share of freelance jobs awarded online, but demand from employers has increased across all categories.

Landscape for graduates

  • 87% of the UK’s top performing grads see freelancing as a highly attractive career option.
  • This compares to 77% of those with lower class degrees.
  • 21% of graduates with first class honours say they have already chosen to work as a freelancer.
  • Furthermore, 29% of all graduates say freelancing is part of their career strategy for the next five years.
  • 69% of all graduates say independent work offers them a better work-life balance.
  • 38% say variety is a draw of freelancing.
  • 38% say they feel they can earn as much, if not more than they could in a traditional job.

Five ways businesses should adapt

If businesses want access to the UK’s top graduates, they may need to think about working with freelancers.

Elance’s research makes the claim that:

For Gen Y, work is no longer a place, the office is obsolete and the concept of a traditional “job” feels increasingly anachronistic.

This does not mean that full time employment will disappear. We will see more and more organisations adopting a hybrid model, where their on-site employees regularly work alongside freelancers both locally and remotely.

Many businesses are already doing this recognising that freelancers can be a flexible, cost-effective way to import skills and fresh perspectives.

So how best to work with freelancers?

Properly consider the benefits of freelancers (hybrid models of working)

When hiring a full-time employee it often pays to hire generalists.

Freelancers can be used to bring niche skills for exactly as long as you need them.

This reduces permanent overheads and suits grads who want to use their skills but don’t want to commit.

Allow working from home

Gen Y workers, freelancing or permanent, want to work in a variety of locations.

In the words of elance:

Working from home or from a co-working space one or two days a week is as attractive to Gen Y as the corner office was to their parents. 

Flexible hours are also valued as Gen Y seeks the optimum work-life balance. Think about lifestyle benefits rather ‘perks’. 

Improve the office, even so

31% of Gen Yers say they associate freelancing with vibrant shared work spaces.

29% say they want to be able to meet and share ideas with people from different companies and ventures.

Coworking spaces are becoming more vibrant and used by more people. Offices should be made more vibrant, too.

Bright and comfortable furniture, food, coffee, beer, these are becoming rightly required by Gen Y.

Use technology to allow remote business

Skype, Dropbox, Google docs, Elance (the company that did the research).

These are used by businesses for collaborative working from disparate locations.

Allocate internal resources to manage freelancers:

Treat freelancers as an extension of your team. Although giggers are by nature independent, making the most of them requires answering questions, handling issues, and monitoring their work.

Make sure you have designated a manager who has the knowledge and time to oversee your freelancers.