The message is getting through. The freelancer economy is on the rise and politicians and business leaders are slowly but surely acknowledging that the UK’s economic recovery is partly down to the UK’s flexible workforce, the self-employed, the freelancers and contractors, the hard working individuals who prime minister David Cameron is so vocal about.
Research carried out by The Freelancer & Contractor Services Association (FCSA), the independent trade body that is committed to setting standards for umbrella employers and contractor accountancy providers, shows that the UK’s flexible workforce constitutes 20 per cent of workers and it is a figure which is set to grow. These are the workers who are enabling businesses to be agile and successful and employing freelance staff can be a win-win for all parties concerned, the employers and the freelancers.
Freelance workers offer experience, expertise and knowledge and businesses of all sizes can glean the benefits without committing themselves to all the costs (and risks) that come with hiring a full time employee, such as NI contributions, holiday pay, sickness pay, maternity/paternity rights and so on.
However, deciding whether or not to hire a freelancer depends on a wide range of variables. Julia Kermode is CEO of the FCSA and she poses some questions for a business to consider before turning to a freelancer or contractor for support.
Is your business growing?
If you need to find staff quickly bringing in seasoned freelancers who can hit the ground running makes good sense. An organisation might need more staff in order to get the job done and grow the business but it needs more clients and more business to justify taking on more staff. Using freelancers gives you the flexibility to manage the peaks and troughs. It also gives you an opportunity to try before you buy and invest in a permanent employee and gives the freelancer the chance to work with a company before considering taking on a full time role should they be looking for a permanent position. It cuts both ways.
Do you need specialist skills or are you facing a skills shortage?
Taking on freelancers is a good way to keep your overheads down whilst you optimise access to expert skills and knowledge on an as and when basis. Hiring freelancers can offer a reliable and cost-effective route to specialist skills too. The Recruitment & Employment Confederation’s Jobs Outlook report published in May 2015 revealed that 84 per cent of employers cited access to key strategic skills as a main reason for using temporary staff, compared to 55 per cent stating the same in 2013 so clearly it is a growing trend that is working for UK plc.
Do you need long-term cover?
Businesses have to manage maternity leave, sick leave, sabbaticals and holidays and staffing levels can be reduced when permanent employees are absent from work. Some of those absences are more finite and can be planned for but even then conjuring up the right people with the right skills for the job at the right time can prove difficult and time-consuming. Building up relationships with freelancers you can call on really adds value to your organisation.
Do you need fresh ideas and approaches?
Freelancers can be a source of creative energy and new ideas and can inject refreshment into your business with their new approaches and fresh perspectives. They can invigorate your business and this can rub off on your employees.
Do you have a crisis that needs handling?
A crisis can strike any part of an organisation at any time and whatever the cause and their symptoms tackling the crisis demands a high level of specialist expertise, often at short notice. By turning to a freelancer, companies can resolve an issue quickly and efficiently and once the problem is solved those freelancers can be released.
Do you know what you need?
Sometimes you might not know what resource you might need for your business in the long term. An experienced freelancer could help a small business to scope out what the project needs and what the role might demand and advise the business accordingly. A freelancer can often think outside the box and help you to ascertain and understand what you might need from them.
If you can answer yes to some or all of the above questions then hiring a freelancer could be the best solution for your business.
Properly managed, freelancers can deliver the levels of speed, skills and flexibility that are vital to a company’s capacity to operate in a faster, more fragmented and less predictable environment. Taking on freelance consultants gives organisations a firmer control over their fixed permanent costs whilst reducing the exposure to increasing regulatory risks associated with permanent employees.
For many companies, the arguments in favour of the freelance option are becoming increasingly compelling – giving each the ability to flex the workforce in ways that permanent employment simply doesn’t allow for.
Julia Kermode is chief executive of the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA).
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