Finance

25 Interesting UK Freelancer Stats & Trends (2021)

Ever considered being self-employed? Working as a self-employed freelancer has several benefits and is a unique take on the traditional workforce. Freelancers do all kinds of gigs, from writing and editing to graphic designer and dog walkers.

In this article, we take a look at a few insightful UK freelance stats over the past few years. These UK freelance statistics demonstrate the flexibility that freelance workers can have, and how lucrative working as a self-employed freelancer can be. Let’s dive in.

Love stats? Check out our post on UK savings statistics, habits and trends here.

There are over 2 million freelancers in the UK

First up, a lot of people have taken the freelancer pill. As of 2019, over 2 million people were working full time as freelance workers. The majority of that number were people who work full time as a freelancer (1.77 million).

Self-employment is becoming more viable in today’s highly mobile economy, so it makes sense that the number of freelancing individuals has risen in the past few years.

Freelancers in the UK produce more than £100 billion annually

It is a bit tough to figure this number out exactly because so many freelancers have unstructured pay systems, but the best estimates hold that the freelance sector produced approximately £125 billion in revenue in the past year alone. This number is up from the previous year, and it looks like it will be even larger for 2021. £125 billion is still a relatively small part of the nation’s GDP, but it is a significant chunk of change nonetheless. 

Nearly 1 out 5 freelancers work in business support

It also seems that most freelancers work for individual businesses doing variations of support tasks. Business support jobs can include supervision, customer service, consulting, management, and more. About 22% of freelancers have a job in the business support sector, while graphic design and writing/editing are the next two most popular spots coming in at 20% and 17% respectively

Freelance work has increased almost 50% in the past 15 years

According to the Office for National Statistics, the total number of freelance workers increased from around 3.3 million to almost 5 million from 2001 to 2017, representing almost 50% growth. These same freelancers managed to contribute nearly £300 billion to the economy in the same timeframe. 

The best place to freelance is Manchester

According to property data and internet rates, the best place to be a freelancer in the country is in Manchester, thanks to rock bottom property prices and dirt cheap internet costs. Manchester is quickly becoming a popular destination for a new generation of workers. Conversely, London is the worst place for freelancers due to sky-high rental costs and high internet/utility costs.

Graphic design is the most desired freelance position

Going off search volume over the last year, graphic designers are the freelance position that is in the highest demand. Web design is a close second, followed by web development, writing, photography, and copywriting. So, if you want to be competitive as a freelancer, then one of these skill sets would be the best to learn. Other popular searches include marketing, translating, and accountant work. Surprisingly, freelance photographers are very highly searched, so if you have a camera you could turn that into a source of income.

The average workweek for a freelancer in Europe is 27 hours

Freelancers also tend to have more relaxed work schedules. According to national surveys, the average workweek for a freelancer in Europe is approximately 27 hours, nearly 10 hours less than the average workwear for all jobs (37.1). Freelancers can afford to work less because they get more value out of the time that they do work. 

The average annual income for a UK freelancer is £63,797

Freelancers do not face shabby pay prospects either. According to cwjobs.com, the average freelancer salary in the UK comes out to about £63,797. Considering that the median UK income in 2020 was £31,460, freelancers seem to face decent salary prospects if they can find work. Freelancer skills are in high demand so it makes sense they would command a decent wage.

Graphic designers are the freelance position that is in the highest demand.

IT and telecoms freelance work is growing the fastest

Over the past year, demand for artistic and managerial freelance services stayed more or less consistent. However, demand for IT and telecoms-related freelance workers grew by almost 10%. This growth can be attributed to many things, chief among them being the digitisation and implementation of new technologies in businesses. IT and telecom freelancers represented 6% of the freelance pool in 2020. 

The ratio of male to female freelancers in Europe is about 1 to 1

In Europe, it does not seem like freelance work favours any particular gender. Freelancing is split 56-44 by gender with nearly one male freelancer for every female freelancer. Of course, there are gender differences when you narrow in on specific sectors. For example, men tend to be overrepresented in technical freelance positions like engineering and coding while women tend to be more common in managerial and service contexts. On a more general level, self-employment in the UK still leans male at a 62/38 split

52% of freelancers have a master’s degree or higher

Not only is the freelance workforce gender-equal, but it is also highly educated. Approximately 52% of freelancers have a master’s degree or a Ph.D. equivalent in their field, even though such degrees are not required. One could interpret this stat as a lack of jobs for those degrees but you could also interpret it as highly educated people knowing how to work flexibly and for themselves. 

Nearly half of all freelancers get into the business for more flexible scheduling

If you have ever felt like you were wasting away precious hours at work on the clock, then freelancing might be appealing to you. Nearly half of freelancers say that one of the main drivers for picking up freelance work is flexibility in scheduling. Freelancers can work as much or as little as they want to. Other main motivators include the ability to choose one’s own projects and the ability to work from any location. Still, others say that being their own boss is the biggest reason that they picked up freelancing. In other words, flexibility and independence are the two most attractive features.

Income fluctuation is the biggest worry among freelancers

With job flexibility comes a trade-off, most often in the form of stable income. Freelancers will often go through periods where they make great money, followed by periods of downturns in work. One of the biggest worries that freelancers have is fluctuations in income. Other common worries freelancers have include lack of unemployment insurance, lack of social support for non-traditional career choices, tax difficulties, and juggling multiple projects at once. Beginning freelancers also say they are most worried about actually being able to find work. 

The largest age group for freelancers is between 40-50

Surprisingly, freelancers as a profession in the UK tend to skew older in age ranges. Most freelancers are over the age of 40. This figure is the same for the more general self employed population. However, freelancers in the younger age groups have shown the fastest growth in the past few years, indicating that freelancing may soon be dominated by younger professionals in their late 20s and 30s. 

Freelancing is up, but overall self employment is down

In a slightly interesting turn of events, overall self-employment rates in the UK have actually decreased in the past year but freelancer rates have increased substantially. However, growth in freelancing productivity has not been shared equally between all freelancer groups. 

Most freelancers are highly satisfied with their jobs

Despite the difficulties finding work and inevitable income fluctuations, freelancers, in general, are very happy with their career choices Nearly 60% of freelancers say they are very satisfied with their job and nearly 87% of all freelancers in the UK say that they never want to work for an employer again. The most desired parts of freelancing are setting your own schedule and being accountable to yourself and not a boss. These two factors are among what make freelancing a highly attractive option for younger generations. 

Traditional employees value freelancer input

Freelancers are not only a good choice for business owners, but traditional employees report working with freelance very highly. Employees in businesses value having freelancer input for fresh ideas and a larger network for conducting business (44%). So freelancers bring a unique viewpoint to the workplace that can be beneficial for company ideas. 

UK freelancers work with small businesses

When it comes to clients, a large chunk of freelance work is specifically for small businesses. Nearly 40% of the clients that UK freelancers work with are businesses, and another large section is individuals. About 20% of freelancers say that large businesses are their main clients. So it seems that freelancers in the UK play an important role in the economy by supporting small businesses with their activity.

The average freelancer is more likely to work with an individual or for a small business than a large corporation. This relationship between freelancers and small business owners is only expected to increase as small business owner rates grow in the UK. 

Freelancer.com is the largest labor-sharing platform in the UK

Considering that most freelancers in the UK work online, the website Freelancer.com is the largest labor-sharing website in the country. More than 31 million people use the website to look for jobs and post gigs for freelancers.

Other popular freelancer platforms in the UK include Upwork, Toptotal, and Guru. In fact, nearly 75% of freelancers get either some or most of their work from freelancing platforms such as these websites. Freelancing platforms are very useful because they connect workers directly with clients and help facilitate communication, payments, etc. Some of the platforms are free to use and others might charge a transaction fee on any payments made through the platform. 

The main reason business use freelancers is to fill skill gaps

Freelancers are valued in the labour market primarily because of their skills. Approximately 67% of businesses who said they regularly hire freelancers say that the main reason that they do it is because freelancers have skills that their employees lack.

A smaller portion (42%) said that the main reason for hiring was to speed up projects with flexible talent to fill many roles. Only about 33% said the main reason that they hired freelancers was to save money over traditional employment. Because of COVID-19, almost 30% of businesses said that they increased their freelancer usage in order to move their businesses online quicker and more efficiently. 

Nearly half of freelancers have seen work increase in the past year 

COVID-19 has, interestingly enough, been pretty good for freelancers, economically speaking. Since the pandemic started in March 2020, UK freelancers report receiving nearly 50% more competition for work than previously and over one fifth of freelancers have said they found substantially more work in 2020 than in 2019. These trends make some believe that 2021 could be the best year for freelancers yet, as many employers are still looking for ways to take their business operations online. 

65% of freelancers think that their workload will increase this year

Given that we are still in the pandemic, prospects for freelancer work still remain good. Nearly 65% of freelancers said that they think they will have even more work this year than last year. This optimism is seen across freelance industries. The majority of freelance workers expect that 2021 will be an excellent year for finding work and making money. 

European freelancers make up nearly a third of the world’s freelancers

Europe is by many accounts the global hotspot for freelance work. According to data from 2020, nearly 35% of all freelancers in the world work primarily in Europe. Relative close distances and prevailing economic relationships between countries make it so there are several freelance opportunities on the continent. 

70% of freelancers are taking part in some kind of training

Freelancers as a group also seem keenly interested in improving their skill sets. Freelance statistics show that 7 out of 10 freelancers say they are currently taking some kind of course or training to improve their skills, or have taken such a course or training within the past 6 months. In contrast, only about 50% of 9-5 employees say that they are either currently or have recently taken part in a course or training for professional development. 

70% of freelancers work on multiple projects at once

The average freelancer tends to have multiple clients rather than working with just one client. The majority of freelancers (70%) say that they work on an average of 2-4 projects at a time. A very small amount reports working on up to 10 projects at once (6%) but only about 13% say they tend to work on one project at a time. 

60% of businesses say they plan to increase freelancer usage in 2021

2021 might very well be the year of the freelancer as almost two-thirds of all businesses say they plan to increase freelancer utilization in 2021. That is a 10% increase from last year’s numbers. So it seems that 2021 will only get better for freelancers in the meantime. 

Wrapping Up

Freelancers in the UK make a number of self employed entrepreneurs and the numbers for the job keep growing. Freelancing in any sector is a viable path in this economy and most people have some freelance skills they can put to use in the workforce. These freelance statistics are meant to show the general employment status of the freelancing occupation and how viable freelancing is as a side hustle. Whether your interests are in artistic literary and media, customer service occupations, or other career option, you can find some industries in which you can make a contribution. So if you are ready to apply your knowledge and join the freelance workforce, start today to get the best results.

Tom
About author

Fully qualified CISI Investment adviser for 5 year. Managed UK private client portfolios.
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