Freelancing: a flexible option

If you are looking for a way of working which is flexible and you are a professional, whether that be an IT worker, engineer, writer or editor, freelancing might be an option. You would not be alone – a growing number of people are choosing a freelance career.

If you are looking for a way of working which is flexible and you are a professional, whether that be an IT worker, engineer, writer or editor, freelancing might be an option. You would not be alone – a growing number of people are choosing a freelance career.

A recent survey by PCG, which describes itself as the voice of freelancing, shows nearly three-quarters (73%) of the 1,624 people it polled had actively chosen to become freelancers as a long-term career option and many were happier for it.

Businesses are also reaping the benefits. Of the 668 businesses taking part in the poll, 60% of business leaders said it would be difficult for their business to operate without freelancers and 55% said freelancers were essential to growing the UK economy.

The flexibility of the freelance community was underlined with 64% of businesses approached saying the concept of a traditional 9 to 5 day was old hat and didn’t apply to those who worked for them. Despite economic doubts 73% of businesses envisaged opportunities for freelancers within their organisations to increase or at least stay the same in the next 12 months.

The survey was published on the second National Freelancers Day, which included a talk by futurologist Dr James Bellini. He said the world of work was becoming more flexible with increasing numbers of people working remotely. He predicted business would become less structured and bring people in as and when they were needed.

National Freelancers Day
The first National Freelancers Day was held in 2009 to celebrate PCG’s 10th anniversary. PCG, originally the Professional Contractors Group, was formed in 1999 as a protest group by around 20 IT contractors to lobby against IR35 legislation, under which freelancers are treated in the same way as employees for tax purposes. Previously workers who owned their own companies were allowed to receive payments direct to the company. The legislation is still top of its lobbying tree, but it hopes to see progress over the next year. “We need to free individual workers up to be enterprising and get us out of the mess we are in unhindered by regulatory and tax affairs,” says John Brazier, managing director of the PCG. Other priority areas, such as security clearance for Government workers and intra-company transfers also reflect its IT bias, but it is hoping this will change.

Last year it was rebranded as PCG, the voice of freelancing, to show that it now embraces freelances whatever their skillset. It has 19,500 members. Half are in jobs linked to IT and half work in other disciplines, including web design, PR, marketing, graphic art and nutrition. Some are sole traders, others are limited companies. Some work from home and others work in a client’s office. Brazier says it is looking to increase the number of members it has outside the IT sector.

Our purpose is to support freelance workers and to provide added value, including advice on contracts and tax,” he says. “We want to promote the value of working independently as well as the flexibility and commitment of freelance workers.”

The organisation hosts regular get-togethers, often in particular skill sets.

It is keen to hear from members about what issues they would like raised, particularly women, as Brazier admits that its origins in IT mean that it has been male-dominated.

While IT freelance workers tend to be limited companies, to work on contracts through agencies and prefer to avoid the tax problems associated with having employment rights, he says sole traders who work directly with clients might want some basic employment rights. “Our model will adapt more and more as we take on more workers from different backgrounds,” he says.

All-Party Parliamentary Group
The PCG anticipates some progress on the freelance front in this Parliament as the business benefits of using freelancers become more apparent. It is providing support to the new All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Freelance Sector which has just started up, chaired by Brian Binley, MP. “He is very committed to the freelance workforce,” says Brazier, “and knows that it is a growing sector.”

Most people go freelance from their regular job, having spent a number of years building up contacts, but it can still be precarious in the current climate. One drawback can be that freelancers suffer from feast or famine and feel the need to accept work when it is offered, even if that means cancelling holidays.

Brazier says many people are now doing freelance work on the side of their regular work to avoid the potential risks of going freelance.

Some are freelancing a couple of days a week and working part time in a regular job the rest of the time. Portfolio work is increasing, says Brazier, where people do a number of different jobs in a week. “The number of people working in different ways will only grow,” he adds. “I can’t see us going back to a nation of employees.”

He adds that the UK is a particularly good place for freelancers to work, compared with other European countries. The PCG has an office in Brussels and Brazier mentions a French rapporteur trying to pass legislation to protect vulnerable workers earlier this year which he says would have rebounded on freelancers. Since freelancers have few employment rights, which in turn allows them to work more flexibly, they could have been deemed vulnerable, he says. “Our members are happy to work on their own in exchange for the freedom to work flexibly.”

He wants to see more research conducted on the different types of jobs freelancers are doing and the numbers of people working freelance [the PCG estimate 1.4m are working freelance on a business to business basis; if that number embraced business to consumer workers, such as plumbers, it could rise to 3.6m]. “With that kind of information we can promote the value of freelancing better, what it brings individuals and what it brings the economy,” says Brazier.

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