Freelance model: disruptive influence or good business sense?

Freelance model: disruptive influence or good business sense?

At a recent industry event, it was suggested that the growing number of senior people in this sector choosing to go freelance or setting up on their own is a disruptive influence for businesses.

Freelancers have long played an essential part in the events industry. Large one-off events often require huge teams for a limited period, so agencies upscale their teams with freelance support as and when they need to. But while the freelance market does appear to be thriving and expanding, can this trend really be described as disruptive?

The rise of freelancers is not just prevalent in the events market – its been a growing trend in many sectors across the EU for more than a decade. The Centre for Research on Self-Employment (CRSE) found a 45% increase in the number of iPros (independent professionals or freelancers) between 2004 and 2013 to 8.9 million, making them the fastest growing group in the EU labour market.

Much has been said and written about Millennials and the fact that they have different wants and needs from employers – that they value flexibility and work-life balance more than their predecessors. While that may be true, it’s not just the younger generation that are adapting their expectations of the workplace and rejecting traditional working practices, but also experienced professionals.

In the events sector, it certainly appears that more senior people are choosing the autonomy, flexibility and the freedom to pick and choose projects that freelance life offers over permanent positions than before.

Let’s face it – event management can be a demanding career. It can be incredibly rewarding, providing the opportunity to work with some exciting brands and travel the world. But at times it’s gruelling, stressful, the hours are long and the risk of burn out high. As with any career, the higher you move up the management chain, the less time you end up spending with clients and actually delivering events, particularly in larger agencies.

So it’s understandable why more experienced people are choosing the freelance life. The prospect of choosing only to work on the projects that suit and interest you and leave behind the headaches of people management and workplace politics is a tempting one.

Some have suggested that freelancers are less committed but in reality it’s quite the opposite. Freelancers can be just as good, if not better than permanent staff because they have their own personal reputation to consider. If they don’t do a good job, they won’t be booked again – it’s simple as that.

Another viewpoint about the “disruptive influence” of the freelance trend is that it becomes more difficult to build your agency’s brand and culture if you have less full time staff and more freelancers. But there’s no reason why that should be the case.

In the same way that agencies are (or at least should be) an extension of their client’s team, so freelancers can be an extension of the agency and contribute to team camaraderie and culture just as much as the full-timers – just not 100% of the time.

The future workplace is predicted change dramatically over the next few years, with a third of business leaders surveyed at the Global Leadership Summit in 2014 predicting more than half their company’s full-time workforce would be working remotely by 2020.

And as part of this flexible working trend, the growth in the freelance market shows no signs of abating. Research predicts that anywhere between one in five (PwC) and half of us (PeoplePerHour, the online freelance platform) will be contractors or freelancers by 2020.

Rather than seeing this trend as a threat, the events industry should be working out how best to embrace it, adapt to it, and use it to their benefit. Far from being a disruptive influence, the growing number of experienced event industry freelancers gives agencies access to a rich vein of talented individuals minus the liability of keeping them on the payroll full time. It also means they can hire professionals with the exact required skill-sets for client projects, as opposed to being limited by the pool of permanent staff. Surely that just makes good business sense?