If you work for yourself in the UK today you are not alone. OK, strike that - you may work alone; but you’re not the only one. The number of people choosing self-employment over a regular salary is rising fast. Estimates suggest that one in seven workers in the UK now work for themselves.
There are plenty of stats to back this up but it’s hard to get a complete picture because the world of self-employment is so diverse, including as it does everyone from a part-time freelancer to a company director with a staff of one.
So what do you call yourself? Are you a freelancer, a contractor or a consultant? An entrepreneur, sole trader or one-man-band? And does it matter?
A report published by the Association of Independent Professional and the Self-Employed (IPSE) in April this year describes freelancers as "important but hidden".
Focusing on professional freelancers in sectors such as media, education, IT and sport, the IPSE report says there are an estimated 1.91 million freelance workers in the UK. By this measure, 6% of all UK workers in employment are freelance.
But this is not the whole story.
Figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) released in May report that the number of self-employed people in the UK increased by 182,000 to 4.69 million between Q4 2015 and Q1 2016.
The ONS uses the Labour Force Survey (LFS) to gather its data and its definition of self-employment is based on the respondent's view - in other words those surveyed are simply asked if they are an employee or self-employed.
Allowing workers to define themselves is a sensible approach. No matter what type of business you are in, if you work for yourself, then you identify as self-employed - whether you happen to be a freelancer or the director of a limited company.
Meanwhile the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) reports that of the 5.4 million SMEs in the UK, 4.1 million are "non-employing businesses". In other words, 76% of small businesses do not employ anyone apart from the owner.
And FSB statistics show that these "non-employing businesses" account for 90% of the 1.9m increase in SMEs since 2000. What's more, the number of sole proprietorships has increased by 50,000 in the past year alone.
So the one-man-band, for want of a better description, is becoming more and more popular. But the jury is still out on the reasons for this.
Clearly the recession has played its part and necessity has been a factor for some; but there's also evidence that self-employment is a key part of the changing world of work. The proliferation of freelance jobs sites is certainly testament to an evolving labour economy.
What's clear is that there is no single type of freelancer. Some may fall into self-employment; for others, it’s part of a specific career plan or lifestyle choice.
Then there are entrepreneurs who start small but have no plans to stay that way. But not every freelancer wants a growing business. Indeed, what attracts many to self-employment is the autonomy and flexibility not just of having no boss but having no staff either.
And that's where all sole traders have something in common. They are both employer and employee in one and that brings its own challenges as well as rewards.
The Government-commissioned Self-Employment review published by Julie Deane in February picked up on many of the challenges facing sole traders and made these recommendations:
It's high time the Government focused on this important group of workers and came up with policies to make their lives a little easier. Julie Deane's recommendations are a good place to start.
Copyright © 2016 Rachel Miller, editor of Marketing Donut.
Exactly a year ago, I took the plunge and decided to become an internet freelancer, helping people grow their business online. Going out into the big wide world was daunting at first and there were some ups and downs.
But now I've got to a point where I am an established freelancer, working with reputable companies such as Groupon, Xexec and Call Wiser. Here are my top tips based on what I have learned so far:
It's important that the people closest to you such as friends and family know what you do, because they are going to be the ones most likely to recommend you to potential clients.
Start by posting regularly about your expertise on Linkedin and Facebook. Share posts about your industry, write blog posts or get an interview with the local press and share it. Soon, people will start associating you with that particular skill, such as PPC or SEO, and they will recommend you to others looking for that service.
As a freelancer, you need to ensure that you are constantly getting work. Without a regular monthly salary, you need to keep busy. Making connections with others in your industry is key.
Initially, I got in touch with dozens of agencies and freelancers and arranged meetings with a few who were interested. Eventually, I had a strong relationship with a few companies who regularly referred me work and continue to do so.
Clients come in all shapes and sizes. Some will squeeze every penny out of you, have huge expectations and expect you to overwork. Other clients will treat you respectfully and value your expertise and these are the clients you want to keep.
There is nothing wrong with turning down work from demanding clients even though it pays the bills. It is better to focus on those clients that treat you well and pay you on time. Overall, you will be more motivated and happier with your work.
There is really no need to pay too much for office space as a freelancer. By avoiding commuting and office costs, you can simply keep more money for yourself.
If you don't have space at home, it's likely that friends or family have a spare room where you can work. Or perhaps someone you know has a spare desk in their office that you can use one day a week. And of course, every high street has cafes such as Starbucks that offer a place to work and free wi-fi.
Having a back-up plan as a freelancer is important because you never know if the work could dry up for a while. This is common during the summer months or the Christmas break where people take more time off work or don't want to commit until the busier season.
So having a plan B is essential, whether it's a side project that you are working on and can devote more time to during slower periods, or giving lessons to people on your expertise, either in person or through online portals like Udemy.
There are also freelancing platforms like Elance where you can potentially pick up work at short notice. Above all, being busy is key to being a successful freelancer.
Copyright © 2015 Daniel Tannenbaum. Daniel works in London as a freelancer in SEO, PPC and digital marketing under Tudor Lodge Consultants.
There are only so many hours in a day and there’s only so much you can charge for your products or services. Once your start-up hits these inherent ceilings, you’re at full capacity in terms of financial return. You’re probably near the end of your tether, too. But there is a way to expand your business beyond this point, without the responsibility of employing staff.
Gone is the need for an endless list of “Stuff I need to do” (aka everything). Instead, have two lists:
Write down what you’re best at. You will be far more productive, with better results, if you only do the stuff that interests you, the things you are best at, the jobs your skills are best suited to – in short, the reasons you started the business in the first place.
Deep down you probably know that while you love analysing customer feedback (List One) or coming up with new product ideas (ditto), you usually put off writing your blog or doing your accounts. Or maybe there is something you put off because you just don’t know how to do it (that new e-commerce part of the site maybe or the wireframes for your new mobile app). Those are the jobs that belong squarely in List Two.
This includes everything else. Whether it’s not the best use of your time or you don’t have the right expertise, be honest with yourself about what would be done better or more quickly by somebody else. As a business owner, knowing when to delegate work can be one of the most difficult decisions. Remember that your time is finite – and probably your most precious resource. Here are five suggestions for jobs you could hand to someone else and get some valuable hours back in the process.
Faffing around with fonts, colours, symbols and swooshes is a) fun and b) a gaping black hole of productivity. Twiddling with our logo or letterhead is what we do when we’re avoiding doing something more difficult and more useful. Better to browse designer’s portfolios to find a design pro who matches your requirements and let them get on with it.
Good businesses communicate – regularly. But when you’re short on time, generating engaging, fresh, on-brand, unique, SEO-rich content for that weekly blog, e-shot or customer newsletter can feel like a millstone round your neck. Hiring a freelance writer to create your copy is easy: just give them a few topics to work from and enough information to help them capture your voice. Bingo! A 500-word blog post. No more trying to be pithy and punchy in your kitchen at 2am.
If your website is your main customer-facing platform, you need web analytics to make sure it’s doing the best job possible. But it’s way too easy to get sucked in. Nicotine, alcohol, Candy Crush… compared to the addictive and hypnotic glow of the Google Analytics dashboard, they got nothing. Outsource it, read the top-line report and free yourself from this time-zapping peril. Similarly, buying and optimising keywords on Google, Bing and Yahoo has become a complicated science with ever-morphing algorithms. Get an SEO expert to keep an eye on your clicks and conversion rates for you.
Managing a social media campaign is a 24-hour, rapid-response activity, and as the leader of your business, you just don’t have the availability. By all means, check in on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn every now and then, but delegate the day-to-day campaign stuff to a freelancer who can dedicate himself or herself to making your business a social media success.
How many hours a week do you spend on basic admin tasks such as data entry, research, database management, transcribing, planning events or organising travel? It’s blatant misuse of your most valuable business resource (yes, that’s you!). You’ll find thousands of freelance virtual assistants online with a good broadband connection and a typing speed way faster than yours. Get one.
• Blog supplied by Hayley Conick, Country Manager for Elance UK & Ireland, which enables small businesses to find freelances.
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It’s a familiar criticism and one with which I have more than a measure of sympathy. Those nasty, greedy banks, eh? After all we’ve done for them, letting them off scot-free for the mess we’ve all ended up in, even bailing out some of the worst offenders with obscene amounts of taxpayers’ money.
And how do they repay our generosity? By not lending money to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), that’s how. Well, there’s gratitude for you.
With many of the banks recently announcing huge profits, it could become difficult for some of them to continue to justify their ongoing reluctance to make credit more available to businesses – especially with mounting government criticism from Vince Cable and others. And then there are the bankers’ bonuses, of course. God forbid the day when these aren’t being paid.
Better access to credit at affordable prices could seriously ease the cashflow crises many SMEs regularly face, yet despite having direct experience of the serious strain lack of cash creates, why are so many SMEs so bad when it comes to paying their own suppliers on time?
As a freelance editor and writer, unfortunately, I speak with a lot of experience. And it’s not just the knock-on effects of having to wait for cash, as bad as these can be. It’s also the additional unpaid effort that must go into chasing money.
Not all of my customers are ‘bad payers’. There are a couple who realise that one-man-band freelances simply cannot afford to wait for their invoices to be paid. We must pay our bills and operating expenses and try to put food on the table like anyone else. Understanding customers are worth their weight in gold. These are the people you want to work for, the ones for whom you don’t mind going above and beyond the call of a purchase order form or commissioning note.
However, no matter how great the work you do or how much flexibility you show, there are other customers who use every delaying tactic in the book to get out of paying their bills on time, from pretending ‘X from accounts is on holiday at the moment’ and ‘Oh, I don’t remember receiving your invoice…’ to simply ignoring polite email reminders.
They know they can exploit the situation by ignoring timid ‘please pay within 30 days’ requests at the bottom of invoices, because – what are you going to do – charge them interest? What, at current rates? Good luck. Even if you are prepared to ask for interest (providing you’ve made this apparent in your terms and conditions), they’ll probably stop using you. After all, it’s a buyer’s market in most sectors at the moment and always has been.
In recent years, things seem to have become much worse. The ranks of the brass-neck late-payers – the sworn enemies of cash-strapped sole traders and micro businesses throughout the land – seem to be swelling. Delaying paying invoices, often to everyday self-employed people who need the money to survive and who themselves cannot get bank credit, seems to have gradually become ‘the way things are done’, a kind of malevolent current business convention.
In the post-Credit Crunch world, were it not for the millions of sole traders and micro-firms who have no choice but to bite their tongues and wait patiently for their money, the situation for many larger businesses would be much more bleak... You’re welcome.
Mark Williams, Start Up Donut editor