There are 1.4 million freelancers in the UK and this is set to grow, according to research by the Small Business Research Centre at Kingston University, released to coincide with National Freelancers Day - 23 November.
Tips and advice for inhabitants of the freelance jungle
The study commissioned by PCG, the professional association that represents the UK’s freelancers and based on statistics from the Department of Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, concluded that the current number of freelancers in the UK represents a 14% growth over 10 years.
“It's a sector that is expanding year-on-year,” said Natasha Tobin of Perfect Pitch Communications, as even more experienced people are moving from senior or highly skilled jobs to set-up on their own. However, as belts have tightened across the UK economy in 2009, freelancers are under pressure to become more entrepreneurial to compete with established businesses and consultancies.
“Perfect Pitch Communications has identified seven UK 'animal' caricatures that symbolize the inhabitants of the freelance jungle. In our experience, the majority of freelancers approach contracts by bringing methods and corporate values from their former employers with them - this influences how they manage their clients, network or develop strategies for business retention,” Natasha added.
The survey, with tips and advice from PPC for each freelance caricature, is based on Elizabeth Conley and Natasha Tobin's direct experience of coaching freelancers and observing how they set out to win new business. If you've commissioned work or been a freelancer yourself, you're likely to have met one of the inhabitants of the freelance jungle at a networking event or meeting:
Profile: Bears are used to being in charge, are confident about their expertise and their supreme network of heavy hitters in their field. They would have previously worked at director level, or be confidants to board members. They may now be working as interim managers or senior advisers. Bears can be easily recognised at events: their incisive questions dominate seminars and they're the first to volunteer to chair conferences or prestigious events. This is a boon to professional associations.
Weakness: As freelancers they miss the loss of the power they enjoyed when they held coveted senior in-house roles. But they still apply the same behaviours to their new work environment. Bears are charming, but can become easily irate if they feel the client is prescribing a different approach that doesn't measure up to their expectations. Generally Bears feel more comfortable working within their peer group. Much of their contract work is through former CEOs or directors they have already forged bonds with. However, this reduces the number of contracts they can conceivably win.
How to fix it: The Bear is a good at networking, but needs to show clients a more flexible and open approach to their work. This might mean changing their personal behaviours when advising less powerful clients or staff. Bears should also structure their offer to provide a service as well as advice element, so clients can see where the Bear is adding value to their company.
Profile: The Cat is fussy and likes to pick and choose from the cream of their industry's contracts. They don't waste time competing for small fry business. Their reputation is very important to them, though they are most attracted to creative roles and are drawn to luxury, excitement or flexible working hours. They can be uncompromising, but charming. Cats can be identified at meetings: they're the ones with beautiful stationery, designer briefcases or diaries. Even when business is thin, they give the impression of success.
Weakness: Cats' fussiness and preference for independence may reduce the number or value of the contracts they win. Their reputation for style and quality serves them well, but sometimes they fall down when trying to deliver most elements of the brief and can become overwhelmed, eating into their quality of life.
How to fix it: Cats would do well forming associations with other like-minded cats to win more of those lucrative contracts. They are naturally charming with clients, but need to clarify how they will meet the client brief and agree a schedule for delivery. This will protect their coveted reputation. As Cats can give the illusion of success, even in hard times, they need to compete more and be prepared to go the extra mile for clients.
Profile: Dogs offer quick solutions for tenders, are good problem-solvers and reliable team workers. Dogs get a high turnover of business but generally get typecast into the average-end of the market. They work on projects where they can offer ready built solutions. They may hire other freelancers with complementary talents to achieve the conditions of the contract. They are expansive in nature and like the idea of running a business empire.
Weakness: Dogs need to take more care to read the client brief carefully and ensure that the freelancers they outsource work to our vetted and able to deliver the service quality they promise. They can get obsessed with quick fixes and may not take the time to listen to what the client is saying. Dogs are very sociable, but need to ensure that they achieve a profit from the many short contracts they win - focusing on quality rather than quantity.
How to fix it: Dogs need to target their market more discriminately and charge a realistic fee in order to expand. Dogs would benefit from taking time to develop a business plan and marketing strategy so their offer is differentiated and clear to customers. They should try not to overstate the size of their business (e.g. 'I have offices in New York') if these services are provided by individual freelancers. They should try to structure their team, service quality and standards. Clients will resent it if the Dog's associates do not match up to expectations.
Profile: The Eagle observes the market; they watch other successful freelancers closely, emulate their good qualities and make a pre-emptive strike when an existing agency looks shaky. Eagles frequently lurk on client and competitor websites, and use social media like Twitter effectively to swoop and offer advice where it will make the greatest impression. They are creative, quick and have an eye for detail.
Weakness: Eagles operate under the radar, but their predatory style is easily identifiable by other freelancers, so they tend to work in isolation. Clients may be impressed by the Eagle's insight, but feel preyed upon if they are targeted only because of their optimum timing, such as during a crisis.
How to fix it: Eagles offer highly strategic ideas and solutions, but would do well to expand their offer by building a small team of freelancers who can deliver the day-to-day services of a contract. They need to work on their interpersonal communication and team building skills, so that clients will trust them more and want to work with them for the long-term. This may involve becoming more visible and relaxed at industry events, or using their strategic strengths to build a stronger offer to clients.
Profile: Foxes are shockingly bright and extremely charming. They are quick thinkers are highly creative, and enjoy both the competitive cut and thrust and people elements of the job. They tend not to be too discriminate in targeting their market. A tactic for winning business is to seize part of another agency's account by persuading the client they can offer a bet