Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Freelancers Now Fitting the Bill for Many Firms; as Companies Cut Back, More People Than Ever Are Going Freelance. and They Offer More Companies a Chance to Get a Fresh Injection of Ideas and Save Money, Writes JOHN HILL

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Freelancers Now Fitting the Bill for Many Firms; as Companies Cut Back, More People Than Ever Are Going Freelance. and They Offer More Companies a Chance to Get a Fresh Injection of Ideas and Save Money, Writes JOHN HILL

Article excerpt

Byline: JOHN HILL

YOUR business needs to change. It needs to react to an rapidly-advancing world, to explore new markets and continents, and to come up with new ideas to set it apart. We all know this. The question is how are you going to make the time to do it? The answer may lie outside your company. In a world in which dwindling workforces are buried under an avalanche of work, firms are increasingly coming to the realisation that they may be able to get the help they need from a freelancer.

"The way things have been going over the last few years, a lot of companies have had to downsize," says John Brazier, managing director of freelancing association PCG. "They're finding it very hard to keep some of their projects on the boil. However, there's a whole range of freelance talent out there, from IT contractors to marketing people and even interim managers. It's a real value-formoney approach, particularly in these difficult times."

To mark National Freelancers Day today, PCG commissioned research from Kingston University that shows an increase in the sector in the UK. The freelance community domestically now makes up one in 20 of the workforce, or 1.56 million people from 1.4 million in 2008. The figures are gathered from a mix of government and Office for National Statistics data.

According to the survey, 265,000 of these hail from the arts, literary and media fields. That's the most popular field, followed by 161,000 people offering management skills. Then there's the 110,000 people in education and the 93,000 in IT and telecommunications.

Brazier notes that, more than ever, companies have the opportunity to use talent in a totally flexible way and on a task-by-task basis.

The flexibility of the arrangement has also attracted working mothers, who have turned to freelancing in growing numbers over the past few years. From 2008-11, there has been a 25% rise from 167,000 to 210,000.

Brazier says: "There's a vast array of talent in the marketplace, which is a bit of an unsung force. In the last three or so years, there's been a huge increase in availability of technology which allows people to complete projects from a distance. It helps people communicate better, which cuts down on travelling."

The availability, quality and flexibility of freelancers has benefited companies such as Gateshead business information publisher Cobweb, which maintains a bank of freelancers to deal with roles such as proofreading, web design and researching.

Commercial director Marianne Whitfield says: "We've probably got about 12 to 15 people we can use at any one time. Nowadays, when we look to do anything, whether it's development or a new project, my first thought is around who is best suited to work on it.

"In the past, when we had a headcount of around 35, we might look at whoever had idle time and put them on the project, but they might not have had the most relevant skills for that particular task. Now the core team can still do some project work, but we can also pick and choose and get someone in with the right skills to do it."

Cobweb currently has about 12 staff on the payroll, and hopes to add more full-time staff in the next few months. However, the business has also drafted in flexible talent when appropriate. It's sadly no coincidence that the rise in the freelance pool has coincided with a jump in unemployment nationally. It continued to rise in the three months to September, growing by 129,000 to 2.62m.

Whitfield says: "Previously, it was quite difficult to find experienced people to work in small businesses. Now, with more and more people being made redundant or looking at portfolio careers, there's a lot more flexibility. We get a lot more speculative inquiries than we did before. We use some people on an ad-hoc basis, while others are on retainer contracts."

While many companies are enticed by the quality of freelancers, the question of tax is an issue. …

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