Going it alone proves to be lucrative business option

A burgeoning self-employed sector has 'opened up a bright future of greater pay and flexibility' according to a study.

The Contractor Report 2015, commissioned by accountants Nixon Williams, surveyed 1,000 UK contractors working in a variety of sectors and reveals that 4.6 million people are now self-employed in the UK, with the number rising every year.

The study asked its freelance audience questions about what industry they worked in, age, gender, location of contract work, rates of pay and contract length and what they enjoyed most about the contractor lifestyle.

Opportunity to earn more money is top of the list for 79 per cent of those surveyed with more than 60 per cent saying leaving office politics behind was the best move they ever made.

Flexibility (62 per cent) and a sense of freedom (55 per cent) also come high up the agenda of benefits with one in two saying they have improved work/life balance.

Nixon Williams CEO Simon Curry says, ‘Our clients told us there was more recognition of their expertise once they became contractors and there was more opportunity to develop skills, because additional work came as a result.’

According to the report the majority of daily earnings range between £400 and £490 with a small minority of people (1.3 per cent) getting more than £1,000 a day and a few commanding over £2,500 daily. Only 2.6 per cent say they earn less than £199 per day.

One in four contractors say rates of pay have increased in the last 12 months and nearly 50 per cent say there had been no change to rates of pay in the last year with contracts lasting four to six months for one in three. A lucky few (6 per cent) enjoy three-year deals.

Curry says that IT has always been a popular contractor field with expertise being brought in to specialist developer projects.

‘The rise in cloud computing, development of more complex IT-based infrastructure in big organisations and the growth of online retailing is providing lucrative careers for certain individuals with the right skills.’

Contracting is still dominated by men, with 85 per cent of respondents male with 15 per cent female, although Simon expects this gap to close in future years.

Some 77.5 per cent say going self-employed has been a positive choice, not something they had been forced into, and most had moved into self-employment (80 per cent) between the ages of 31 and 50, slightly more between 31 and 40.

Hitting a glass ceiling in terms of progression, scope of work and earning potential, and lack recognition are common experiences in this age group, factors which prompt a move into self-employment. Only 5 per cent of contractors in the survey are under 30.

Birmingham-based Andy Stokes, 53, works as a contractor providing corporate finance in the legal sector. Andy’s decision to move to contractor status has put him in control of his career and his future, but he sounds a note of caution.

‘I’d recommend becoming a contractor if you have the skills businesses want. However, if you want an easy life at work, then it’s probably not a good thing,’ he says. Being a contractor is about providing a really excellent service to your clients.’

Further reading on being self-employed

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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