Agencies are always looking for ways to outflank the competition and deliver more value for their clients. Being able to react quickly to changing client needs, and deliver the best possible result at a good price are vital to staying competitive – and there’s a simple way to achieve all that at once.
Wherever you look in the world freelancing is booming. Figures recently released by the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills showed that the number of freelancers and contractors has increased by 73% over the last 15 years, and one in six workers in the UK is now self-employed. By contrast small businesses grew by 21%, medium employer numbers increased by 18%, and large employers actually shrunk by 3%.
In the United States a study by Freelancers Union found that 53 million Americans are working freelance – over a third of the working population. A separate study by software firm Intuit predicted the USA freelance population will top 40% in the next five years.
The University of Wales found EU Member States had seen an average growth in freelancing of 45% between 2004 and 2013. The Netherlands led the way with a massive 93% growth. Professor Patricia Leighton, who led the research, explained the phenomenon:
“Traditional hierarchical organisations are struggling. People are increasingly rejecting traditional employment with its lack of personal control and repression of creativity. New ways of working are emerging, new forms of collaboration, new structures, new alliances and new opportunities”
There are more freelancers on the market than ever, and increasingly companies are replacing rigid employment structures with flexible or temporary workforces. If you think you should be among them, there are five convincing business cases for using freelancers.
There’s no escaping the fact that employees are expensive. It’s not just their salary that you’re paying for; it’s their equipment, their training, time off for illness and holidays and, depending on where your business is based, employment taxes and pension contributions.
Many employers make the mistake of equating a freelancer’s day rate with a comparable employee’s salary, forgetting that freelancers have no overheads. If you work out the total daily cost of having a full-time employee, a freelancer with the same skill set will work out cheaper every time.
If you work in an agency hired for project work – web development, marketing campaigns or other creative fare – you’ll be all-too-familiar with the feast and famine cycle.
This phenomenon is observable in much of the creative world, where a big contract eats up the time that would usually be used to source the next client, meaning when delivery day comes and goes the entire team is suddenly left with no work to occupy their time, while the agency higher-ups frantically search for that next gig. All the while bills need to be paid with no revenue coming through the door.
Many smart agencies realised long ago that the way to solve this problem is to employ a small core full-time staff, and grow or shrink the company’s team reactively using a pool of freelancers.
A big project arrives, and each department staffs up from their pool of trusted freelancers. The project is seen through to completion, the freelancers are paid and sent on their way, and costs are kept to a minimum until more work can be found.
This flexibility is used on a small scale by many businesses, but for agencies who deliver large projects without the certainty of more work after completion it is invaluable.
Freelancing is a competitive game (especially when it comes to highly-specialised disciplines like back-end development or financial consulting) so the best freelancers will always have bleeding-edge knowledge of the technologies, methodologies and best-practice needed to get the job done.
This knowledge is one of the real advantages of tapping into the freelance economy. Ridiculous levels of expertise, which in years past would have been locked up inside monolithic corporations, is now on the open market.
Internal teams no longer need to spend time and money getting staff up to speed with a technology they might only use once – find the right freelancer and you get can the job done quicker, and cheaper.
It’s only natural to want to tackle huge challenges in business, whether in-house or as an agency. Biting off more than you can chew can be a huge risk though. Problems will always crop up at the worst possible time, and if you’re working as an agency you can kiss more work from that client goodbye.
By using a freelance workforce you can quickly bulk out your team’s capacity, and make even the biggest contract achievable. This is especially advantageous for small agencies looking to make a name for themselves – bagging that first big-name client is a great way to get your foot in the door for other high-profile jobs, and a carefully managed freelance team can help you get your first six-figure contract over the line.
Hiring is a lengthy and often tedious process. Piles of resumes, multi-stage interviews, notice periods, induction processes and more mean the length of time from first advertising the job to the new employee starting actual work can be several months.
Agility and adaptability are increasingly valuable traits in any company. A Harvard Business Review report, Adaptability: The New Competitive Advantage found that:
“Sustainable competitive advantage no longer arises exclusively from position, scale, and first-order capabilities in producing or delivering an offering. […] Increasingly, managers are finding that it stems from the “second-order” organizational capabilities that foster rapid adaptation. Instead of being really good at doing some particular thing, companies must be really good at learning how to do new things.”
Adaptability as a corporate strategy has yet to infiltrate the business mainstream, but in modern, successful companies it is characterised by the ability to re-focus a workforce around new problems quickly and efficiently. Freelancers play a key part in that process, either as a long-term solution or as a stopgap until new permanent staff can be found.
What does this mean for you?
Forward-thinking agencies are already using freelancers to make their businesses more scalable, agile, and financially stable. The rise of freelancing and the gig economy is driving change in workplaces around the world – using the latest technology to source and manage a freelance workforce is vital if you need to stay one step ahead of the competition.
Want to read more about how a freelance strategy can help your agency? Download our ebook below!