How’s that going to change the business landscape?

ACCORDING TO A survey by the giant US financial services corporation MetLife, an increasing number millennials are being drawn to the freedom of freelancing rather than having a full-time permanent job. Although it varies, the loose definition of a millennial is somebody born somewhere between 1981 and 1996, making them 22–37 years old. It’s quite a span but, at the upper end of the age range, it’s reasonable to expect that they should be settled in their careers; statistically, they might already have a family; and in real terms they’re probably at the peak of their earning potential.

In Europe, the picture is decidedly different with  more than half (57%) of freelancers being over 35 years old. A report by Mett also makes this poignant point in its narrative: “Freelancers are perceived either as the “new precariat”, or as feckless millennials unable to hold a “real” job. And because salaried work remains overwhelmingly dominant, many people sometimes find it hard to realise freelancing can be a choice made knowingly and freely by actual professionals. Others don’t know how to become freelancers and what they could do.”

When surveyed, four in ten of a thousand random millennials said they were attracted to the freelance life because of the freedom it offers. And there are plenty of sites and social groups to give millennial marchers the support for their decision.

According to FreshBooks, a company that provides accounting software specifically for freelancers, millennials who’ve already jumped the good ship corporate work pretty damn hard, with 56% working more than 40 hours a week (is that it?—Ed), 70% work weekends, 63% when they would have ordinarily phoned in sick to a staff job, and 32% said they carry on working during a visit to the lavatory. Which rather brings an imaginative meaning to multitasking…

So that kind of kiboshes the ‘work when you want, where you want’ ideal for a start. But there’s more.

Career freelancer? Or really just ‘between jobs’?

If they do what they say they’re going to do, it looks like forty percent of Americans are about to find out that freelancing doesn’t necessarily mean freedom at all. There are things that the ‘Why Not Be A Freelancer!’ sites and groups don’t tell you. In fact, if they’re any good at it, they’re going to discover that instead of having one boss, they’re instead about to acquire a few more.

They’re called clients and the reality is, clients tend to be rather less forgiving than middle managers in companies because in civilised countries, it’s actually quite hard to get rid of people who are just grinding through fulfilling at least some of their job description. If not rendering themselves nigh-on indispensable, freelancers must constantly and consistently prove their worth and value.

Then there’s the bald patches. It’s going to happen. Of course they’ll be saving 25% of any fees earned to cover the work droughts… or will they be going from ‘Freelance Creative Director’ to ‘staff admin assistant’ as soon as the going gets tough?

It’s true that when freelancing is good, it’s very, very good. And if a freelancer is flush, they can turn down a project that they don’t want to do (probably for the best all round) or they can take a week or so off to be with the family.

What to look for in a freelancer

The most significant pointer is doubtless longevity. Unless a freelancer has rich and incredibly understanding parents, they’ve got to be good to survive outside the fluffy security blanket of corporatedom. If they do provide you with a résumé or CV, sure you want to be looking at past clients and projects to see if there’s a fit, but the magic bit is the length of contiguous time that they’ve been contracting. And you want to be looking at years, not months.

In fact, we’ll go further: it’s not actually such a bad ice-breaker to gambit with: ‘So how long have you been freelancing? How are you finding it?” Then you can get into the nitty-gritty of project specifics.

Anna Delves of UK business consultancy simplybusiness says: “The interview process may be slightly different to what you’d use for a permanent employee, though – you’re more likely to be finding out whether you could work well together, and checking if the type of work that freelancer does is appropriate for your project.”

It sounds as if she’s speaking from experience.

This is experience you can do without, and, at Digital Luminance, we already have. With Digital Luminance, you tell us about your project and we assemble the individuals or team you need specifically for that project. We manage it. Report to you. And we have the flexibility to adjust and change as your requirements manifest themselves.

You can read about the practicalities of how we work with our clients in our case studies

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What does this mean for business?

Your staff aren’t all going to up sticks and declare themselves free of your seemingly perpetual paycheck overnight. But, as we said above, there’s significant intent there and the question was framed thus: ‘would you go freelance and what timescale?’ Forty per cent said they would and it would be within the next five years.

So, if it’s true, it’s going to leave more than a bit of a hole in your safe talent pool. Worse, once they’re freelance, the emphasis is on free: free to work for whomever they wish, when they wish. That’s the whole point. That also means they can go and work for your competitors too. And it doesn’t matter how many NDAs and contracts they signed when they happily came on board, you can’t stop them taking their experience.

But it’s not all bad news — especially when it comes to business strategy, marketing and creative, the biggest industry arena users of freelancers.

Digital Luminance already has a tried, trusted, tested and vetted network of freelancers in place. So one of the biggest pain points of appointing freelance personnel is completely anaesthetised. We’ve done the work for you.

What’s more, we can also take care of the fit because we build and assign teams on a project basis. And while you’ll always have direct access to the senior people that are actually carrying out the work, you’ll benefit from a single point of contact with a thorough and intimate knowledge of how your project’s progressing.

Tim Hymans

Author Tim Hymans

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