The gig economy is here to stay. Whether delivering a pizza, a passenger, a press release or an IT project all these people are part of the growing gig economy and the traditional workplace is becoming a thing of the past. There has been much conjecture and debate around what constitutes a freelancer and over the last year Matthew Taylor has conducted a review into modern working practices.
He is keen to legislate against any exploitative working practices being carried out by some unscrupulous employers, aiming to help the gigger delivering a pizza or a passenger to secure benefits and rights as a worker, or to coin a new phrase a ‘dependent contractor’.
However, it is important that he doesn’t legislate against the numerous highly skilled knowledge professionals who have chosen to work independently as a freelancer or contractor and usually do not want any rights or benefits. There are 2 million knowledge professionals working in the UK today. They offer experience, expertise and knowledge and small businesses can glean the benefits of their skills 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.
These knowledge professionals are likely to be a cheaper option than a traditional large consultancy business, and they will deliver the same outcomes. What’s more once you find a freelancer to provide that extra resource you can tap into them whenever you want and they can become a tried and trusted source of help – employees can resign and move on. Freelancers do not usually move on permanently from their clients, repeat business is often a good option for both parties when new projects crop up.
Julia Kermode is chief executive of the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA), the largest independent trade body for umbrella employers and accountancy service providers who support the flexible workforce and here she points out the benefits of hiring a freelancer if you are a small business.
As your business grows
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 conversely it also needs more clients and more business to justify taking on permanent staff. Using freelancers gives you the flexibility to manage the peaks and troughs, and can give you an opportunity to road-test different options in developing a role before buying into a permanent employee. Freelancers are also much more cost-effective than large consultancies which, for most businesses, is always a consideration.
If you need specialist skills or 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. Businesses may need to bring in specialist skills in order to establish the viability of a new project, and be a source of advice in possible next steps and how to optimise results. Recent research 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.
If you need long term cover
Businesses face 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 a pool of freelancers (or human cloud) you can call on really adds value to your organisation.
If you need fresh ideas and approaches
Freelancers can be a source of creative energy and new ideas and be refreshing additions to your business with their new approaches and fresh perspectives. They can invigorate your business and this can rub off on your employees.
If you have a crisis that needs handling
Crises can strike any part of an organisation at any time and whatever the cause and their symptoms tackling a crisis demands a high level of specialist expertise at short notice. By turning to a freelancer companies have the flexibility to fulfil the requirements and those freelancers can be released once the problem is resolved and the lessons learned.
If you don’t 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.
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, and those that take a strategic approach have the ability to better plan and flex their workforce in ways that permanent employment simply doesn’t allow for.
Julia Kermode is chief executive of the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association