08/01/2015

By Alison Bond, Head of Vario


The world of work is transforming: the digital revolution and changing demographics mean hierarchies are flattening, and people are often embarking on multiple careers. Where individuals might have had just one profession in one sector with one employer, ‘portfolio careers’ are becoming more popular, as men and women of all ages and levels seek to gain greater control and flexibility over how, where and who they work for.

One result of this change has been the steady increase in the number of people working freelance. Recent data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) tells us that the army of the UK’s self-employed is continuing to grow and the freelancing community is becoming increasingly diverse. In fact, there’s been a 38% rise of under 30s turning to freelancing since 2008 and a 25% increase in mothers working as freelancers.

Yet, despite freelancers’ growing contribution to the UK economy, there are still many misconceptions of the freelancing life, which we aim to dismiss here.

Myth #1: Freelancers typically work in industries like IT, journalism or graphic design

The reality: While IT and management consultancy were arguably the first of the professions to take advantage of the freelance approach, other sectors are catching up, and fast. For example, the legal industry has changed in recent years, spurred on by changes in the market such as the Legal Services Act, and given lawyers the opportunity to work differently.

Myth #2: Freelancers are only those who’ve struggled to get a permanent role

The reality: People choose freelancing as they’re able to exercise a greater level of control over the assignments they pick and clients they work for. Many choose to go freelance because it gives them access to a wider pool of challenging assignments and more interesting positions than they may have perhaps otherwise been able to undertake.

Professionals have become increasingly open to following entirely freelance-led career paths, and certainly in our experience, many of the freelance lawyers, or “Varios” on our books, have worked freelance for several years.

Myth #3: Individuals choose freelancing to avoid hard work

The reality: People don’t go into freelancing for an ‘easy life’. Not only is it challenging to manage your own business and competing opportunities, but freelance assignments themselves require the individual to assimilate into an organisation quickly and deliver tangible value rapidly. By their very nature, freelance assignments exist to solve an issue and so freelancers often face pressure and challenges from day one. Successful freelancers are therefore calm under pressure, emotionally resilient and able to adapt both to the people around them and the environment they’re in.

Myth #4: Freelancers find it difficult to work in teams

The reality: Freelancers’ preferred working practices vary just as much as those of permanent staff members; the key is to match individuals with particular skill-sets and personal attributes to each role. Of course, some freelancers enjoy working independently and are ideal for assignments that require focused, technical analysis. Others will be more outgoing team players with strong communication skills and a consultative nature and these individuals are best suited to assignments that require them to fit in with an established team.

Successful freelancers have behaviours that suit the role they undertake and can fit into an organisation quickly and effectively, without ruffling any feathers. Cultural fit is vital and the cost of a "cultural misfit" – those who fail to fit in – can be high in terms of productivity, efficiency and team morale.

Myth #5: Millennials prefer freelancing

The reality: Freelancing does not apply to any one age group. Rather, any individual who’s looking for a greater variety in their work can become a freelancer, regardless of the stage they’re at in their career. Our Varios are of all ages – from newly qualified lawyers to more senior partner/GC-level lawyers who are looking for their next challenge.

Freelancing's impact on the UK economy is already significant and it’s clear it’s here to stay. Organisations that maximise the value of their freelance resource are those that understand the nature of freelancing and its strategic contribution.