Why the future is freelance and contracting is the new career choice

We’re often asked if freelancing and contracting is a sustainable option for the future. It’s an interesting question and one that we’d whole-heartedly answer with a resounding ‘yes’. 

Some may have suffered a dip in rates through the recession but the majority of our clients still had plenty of contracts and projects throughout the lean times. In fact, recessions and uncertain economic climates tend to increase the use of contractors and freelancers as companies seek to increase the flexibility in their workforce. Looking to the US, 26% of the workforce was freelance or contracting in 2010 according to the think tank The Iowa Policy Project, and this was as a direct result of the protracted recession. Figures are set to continue to increase, so is the UK following suit?

We think that the number of opportunities for contractors and freelancers can only increase, but it’s not all about job uncertainty and ensuring that you can continue to bring home a wage, we want to share the immense positives that hopping off the employee track can bring.

Recent research by oDesk (an online contract and project workshare site) and consulting firm Millennial Branding polled 3,000 freelance professionals across the globe about their work and aspirations. Over 70% of respondents that were current employees said they wanted to quit and contract or freelance full time; 60% were planning to make this a reality within the next two years. So what’s the big pull towards working for yourself?


It’s simple, flexibility is the greatest driver for the majority of freelancers and contractors.  It’s a bit of an urban myth that contracting is all about making as much money as possible – yes, the rates are higher, but after factoring in holiday and sickness pay, pension provision etc. it’s not just about the cold hard cash – it’s about funding a lifestyle.

More than 90% of the oDesk and Millennial Branding survey respondents said that the flexibility to work when, how and where they wanted was the biggest driver to work for themselves.  When talking to new clients, we hear the same thing.  Working for yourself means you can work on the things that you find most interesting, be flexible with your time and work where you want (within the confines of your contract!).

Flexibility in the hours

Javier, an IT Specialist working in the City is a prime example;

“I work hard, sometimes with long hours during the week so that I can leave on Thursday night to fly to Barcelona to spend long weekends with my wife and build my business there. It’s hard work, but I get to pursue my passion because I have the flexibility.”

Freelancing is especially flexible in terms of hours worked. As a freelance copywriter Julia works part-time to fit around her family.

“I didn’t want to go back to a full or part-time job after my children were born; the thought of rigid workdays filled me with dread.  I wanted to be able to work when I wanted, so now it’s mornings, late evenings and nights. I get to spend lots of time with my family, and have ultimate flexibility with my hours. If the kids are off school I just take on less projects! It’s hard work and takes quite a bit of juggling but I feel lucky to have so much flexibility.”

It’s a common theme we hear over and over again; reduced working weeks, part-time hours, working at the times of day (or night) to suit, working flat out to then taker long sabbaticals. The freedom to be able to work to suit your lifestyle is a powerful motivator for most contractors and freelancers.

Yes, careful planning is needed to ensure that you have enough money coming in to fund time off, but it can be the best way to fit in all the life-enhancing pursuits you dream of doing.

Flexibility in the work

69% of the respondents to the survey cited ‘more interesting projects’ as one of the main drivers to making the change to contracting. This isn’t surprising given that the majority of workplace gripes come from having to do tasks we don’t like; working on projects we don’t want to or simply have large chunks of our roles we don’t want to do. Life as a freelancer or contractor is a sure-fire way of reducing and sometimes removing this altogether. By going after the right contract or pitching for the right business, contractors and freelancers can work on the most interesting projects and keep ahead of their permanent employee counterparts. This is particularly pertinent for the likes of IT contractors. Nobody wants to be left babysitting legacy systems while a replacement is built. Some companies will bring contractors in to try and plug the gap, but as a contractor you have the choice to say no – a luxury a permanent employee rarely has. Javier makes a great point; “I try to ensure that each new contract I move to is utilising new technology, if you specialise in one particular piece of software, you’ll become out of date and left behind.”

For Julia it’s about concentrating on the elements of her role she enjoys.

“My old corporate role was great at the time, but it was heading in a direction I didn’t want to go. More management of projects and people rather than getting my sleeves rolled up and delivering things. I wanted to concentrate on the tasks that had me jumping out of bed in the morning. Now I pitch for work that I love to do without getting bogged down in the office politics or admin and the variety of pieces I work on is something I’d never get in an employee role.”

Flexibility in the workplace

Life as a contractor or freelancer means that to some extent you can work wherever you want.  In the main, freelancers have more flexibility due to the types of role they fulfil and can work from home or their own offices.  Contractors tend to be required to work onsite with the client but with the diversity of contracts and jobs available, there is the freedom to actively seek work wherever you choose.  You have the ability to actively globe-trot as you move from contract to contract if that’s on your wish list.

James, a co-founder of inniAccounts spent many years working overseas.

“Working in Asia had always been a personal ambition of mine. During my time working for a large corporate a suitable opportunity never came up, so I took matters into my own hands. I resigned from my permanent role, took a short career break then headed to Beijing. The experience was incredible – I spent a number of years working as a freelance consultant in China where I was able to apply my existing skills to support clients whilst also learning first hand about working with different cultures.”

Think, plan, do

If you’re reading this you’re probably already thinking of making the leap to freelancing or contracting.  Yes, it can be daunting, but there are so many helpful resources available that it’s much easier than you might think to shape your career around you and your life, rather than the corporate ladder.

Now start by making a plan: it doesn’t need to be complicated, but it’s always best to plan ahead so that you can be successful in turning your dreams into a reality.

Here’s five things you can do straight away to get the ball rolling:

  1. Indulge yourself by daydreaming about your ideal lifestyle
  2. Make a list of all of your skills and areas of work that interest you the most
  3. Arrange to go for a coffee with someone you know who’s made the leap
  4. Find a job website which specialises in freelance / contract roles in your industry
  5. Visit our knowledge hub and discover how to start your own company

Take the first step, do some research and start ticking some things off the to-do list. A lot of the things you can do to get started take minutes rather than hours, so why not get cracking? Get started after work and finish a couple of tasks a week if not more. You’ll be up and running in no time and wondering why you didn’t take the plunge sooner.

Thinking of setting up your own business? Give us a call on 0800 033 7827 for a chat. We can help you through the whole process and you’ll be up and running in no time.