Healing the relationship between businesses and freelancers

George Olver, co-founder of Movidiam, explores why poor practices regarding freelancers could be stifling the global creative industry.

The gig economy and its Uber drivers and Deliveroo cyclists are much talked about, but these blue collar issues are not the only significant shift in our economy; there is a white collar evolution also taking place. A growing number of UK workers are turning to freelance work for flexibility, and small business owners are likely to use the services of freelancers for the same reason. While the freelance setup may seem straightforward, there are considerations to be aware of which can improve your experience, as well as that of the freelancer.

The flexibility provided by both being and employing a freelancer means this style of working has dramatically increased in popularity in recent years. As a business owner, working with a freelancer means you can complete a task, such as content production or marketing, without needing to commit an annual budget. From the freelancer’s perspective, it allows them greater time management choice than a traditional nine-to-five job would, and means they can set their own work-life balance.

Current landscape

With already 6 per cent of the UK population working in a freelance capacity in 2016, according to The Association of Independent Professional and the Self Employed, we saw a need to develop a deeper understanding of the relationship between freelancers and the companies hiring them. We took to our platform, Movidiam, to ask our network of freelance creatives about their experiences before becoming freelancers.

To our dismay, 99 per cent of respondents said that they had not been paid on time for a job at least once. Similarly, as many as 15 per cent said they had not been paid at all for a job at least once. The longest time one of our users had ever waited to collect a payment was 16 months, and cited typical payment lengths as varying between 60-120 days after the completion of a project. That is just wrong.

The UK freelance economy grew by 25 per cent between 2009 and 2016, and has had a significant impact on the UK economy and this trend is not isolated to the UK. In fact, the US is much further ahead in this trend, with Forbes reporting that 50 per cent of the workforce will be freelance in some capacity by 2020. This is a trend that has been debated by major political parties in the UK, with both Labour and the Conservatives investigating reforming the freelance economy, and offering more security to freelancers. Despite this, businesses still seem to fail them by not paying them when they say they will, causing stress and bitterness on both sides: the notorious ‘feast and famine’ cycle.

Healing the chasm of trust

While the sad reality is that many businesses still fail freelancers, it is not too late to repair this relationship, especially in light of recent gig economy inquiries. Trust is the most important aspect of any interaction and this needs rebuilding between both freelancers and businesses.

In a conversation I had with my co-founder Alex, he pointed out that trust is the world’s currency, be that in a business or social context. Online networks are a great way to create transparency and bridge the trust gap between buyers and providers. By being able to view a freelancer’s previous work or portfolio, a sense of trust is created from the start. This also opens up new opportunities for everyone, levelling the playing field and moving away from the old boys’ club culture.

Moving online also bridges the payments issue. By centralising the process, both parties are clear on the rules, hence removing a huge source of friction.

In industries that don’t yet have such an online platform, people need to take the leap of faith and foster relationships through common sense: both when it comes to delivering work on time and paying when promised.

Here are some tips on ensuring your work with freelancers is smooth for both sides:

  • Ensure the brief is clear with set deadlines
  • Keep in touch regularly and discussing the progress of the project
  • Liaise on the final product and offering clear and consistent feedback
  • Establish a clear payment protocol

Related: Seven common mistakes to watch out for when hiring freelancers

Why does this matter to your business?

With more and more people enjoying the benefits of freelance work, it is our duty as business owners to ensure we protect their rights and ensure they are able to work in the best conditions possible.

In fact, in the creative industries, poor practices towards freelancers are already damaging the wider industry, which is why this needs to be addressed. If we fail to address the problem, London and the UK more generally risks seeing its position as the crown jewel of the creative industry tarnished.

It’s great that better processes are already being implemented in one industry, but now it’s up to others to follow suit. In the words of Charles Healey, a director of photography on Movidiam: ‘Allowing freelancers to focus on actual work is the most liberating feeling ever.” Call me optimistic, but I’m hoping all freelancers will be able to say the same as Charles in the near future.’

George Olver is co-founder of Movidiam.

Further reading on freelance work

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.

Related Topics

The Gig Economy

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