The current labour market conditions in the UK have created a perfect storm for freelance digital marketing professionals, emboldening an increasing number to pursue the dream of work on their own terms, and providing an environment for existing freelancers to flourish.
But why is it happening and what are the things you should consider before hiring one?
Hiring challenges for marketing departments
The unemployment rate being at its lowest level since 1975 is undoubtedly a good thing for the UK economy, but the current climate also presents many businesses with a resourcing problem.
Those looking to expand their in-house marketing capabilities are finding that it’s taking too long to fill certain positions due to the lack of available talent. In addition, increased competition for marketing professionals is putting upward pressure on wages and taking many potential hires over budget.
This is forcing many marketing departments to re-think their resourcing strategy.
Agencies are no longer the automatic alternative to in-house
At one time, the traditional port of call under these circumstances would have been an agency. Unfortunately, however, agencies have their own problems in the current climate.
Rapidly changing consumer behaviour, caused by technology-driven shifts in the digital media environment, requires an agility and flexibility of marketing activity that the traditional agency business model doesn’t easily allow. As a result, a trend towards bringing certain marketing tasks in-house and increased demand for project work over retainers have been underway for some time, meaning that many agencies are entering a difficult transition stage while they adapt their business models to better suit clients’ emerging needs.
To compound agencies’ problems, they’re also facing the dual issue of losing talent to the in-house and freelance worlds as well as having the same problems replacing talent that many other businesses are having in the current labour market.
In short, many businesses can’t get the resource they want, at the price they want, quickly enough. At the same time, many agencies don’t provide the flexibility and agility that businesses need to attract as much retainer business as they used to and are struggling to secure or hold onto the people they need to service existing clients.
Into the vacuum, steps the freelancer
Freelance marketing professionals are thriving because they offer a cost-efficient and flexible solution to marketing resource problems in the current climate. As more freelancers of all shapes and sizes enter the market, they offer businesses a wider range of options than the traditional “in-house vs agency” choice.
Individual freelancers are often being hired by businesses to cover short-term gaps while they resource their in-house teams. As most freelancers work as flexibly as needed, they give businesses peace of mind that activity is happening while they find the right people for the roles they need to fill, and don’t have to rush into emergency hires - a big fear for businesses when talent is scarce.
Another common set-up is for businesses to hire a team of freelancers as a cost-effective alternative to hiring an agency. These would either be sourced and managed by an in-house marketing manager, or sometimes by a well-networked consultant who’s been hired by the company to help decide the most efficient blend of in-house, agency and freelance to service their marketing needs.
Many freelancers’ biggest customers are also agencies. As agencies struggle with resource, many are having to hire freelancers to cover the shortfall. The danger for agencies here is if they become too reliant on hiring freelancers to white-label, clients may get wise to it and decide to cut out the middleman.
How could freelancers benefit my business?
Given all of this, you may be curious as to whether your business might benefit from using freelancers. Here are a few reasons why you might consider them as an option:
They Can Provide Greater Value
Note the use the word “value” rather than “cost”. Yes, using freelancers can be cheaper than using an agency or getting someone in-house. However, if you’re only getting them in because they’re cheap it can be a false economy if your return on investment suffers.
That said, if you hire the right freelancers you can reduce cost, receive a better service and get a higher return. This is because a high percentage of the people with the confidence to go freelance in the first place tend to be the ones with the most talent and experience and a track record of achieving results. However, as with any type of hiring, it’s important to do your homework first to source the right people for the job.
They’ll work to suit your needs
A good freelancer understands that one of the main reasons they get hired is an expectation of flexibility from the client. They’re suited and used to working on a short-term basis, and should be flexible on working on-site, at least occasionally, if that suits you best.
They represent a lower financial risk
You only need to find and hire a freelancer when there’s work to be done and many freelancers won’t tie you into a long-term contract, making them a lower financial risk than hiring a permanent employee or an agency.
They’re easy to find and quick to hire
Freelancers are very easy to find, and you usually won’t have to wait long for them to start work. You can find a freelancer on LinkedIn, have them checked out and have them doing work for you within a few days.
They’re often best for very specific jobs
Being experienced experts in their fields, freelancers often provide the most efficient and cost-effective way to get a highly specialised job done that goes beyond the capabilities of your in-house team.
You can tap into their network
Freelancers that have been around for a while will usually have built up a good network and tend to hunt in packs. It’s likely that they have a network of people they know and trust that they can introduce you to if the need arises. And if they value their reputation, it’s unlikely that they’ll introduce you to a dud.
What are the potential issues with freelancers?
Hiring freelancers isn’t without cons, and they’re not suitable for every situation. If you’re working with a good freelancer, but it’s still worth being aware of the following:
They can go quiet for periods
Because freelancers are always looking to grow their own businesses, it’s common for them to take on more work than they have the capacity to do. This can lead to them going through periods of missing deadlines and being difficult to get hold of.
They aren’t as invested in your company
A freelancer will never be as invested in your company as a full-time employee. If your workforce is too freelancer-heavy it can have a detrimental effect on company culture as it’s often hard to motivate a group of independent workers to push towards company goals.
They may disrupt the internal harmony
Sometimes freelancers can come into a company with a fresh new perspective and shiny new ideas that are embraced at the higher echelons of the company. However, this can sometimes leave the internal team feeling threatened and resentful, and this will need to be anticipated and managed occasionally.
There can be a price to pay for flexibility
A freelancer’s flexibility can be great when it’s working in your favour, but all that time you’ve spent bedding them into your company can be wasted when they walk away from your project to be “flexible” for another company with more money to spend. A good freelancer won’t leave you in the lurch, but it’s always a good idea to have some kind of formal arrangement in place before work begins.
Final thought: a need for creativity
The nature of supply and demand for marketing resource is likely to continue to evolve beyond the current UK employment conditions.
Businesses’ marketing needs will emerge as technological advancement continues to drive changes in consumer behaviour.
The supply of marketing resource will continue to be disrupted by the rise of the freelance economy.
In short, things simply won’t fall into the neat little boxes that they used to. Under these circumstances, there will undoubtedly be a need for businesses to be increasingly creative with their marketing resource decisions.