2024 has been billed as the year of the freelancer.

The rise in AI, widescale job losses and a move towards a flexible workforce have combined to create a perfect storm for the freelance industry.

Patrick Molyneux, partner and head of products and partnerships at KPMG Acceleris, said startups and scaleups are increasingly turning to freelancers or contractors when they need to flex.

He said: “I have seen true growth in the availability of high-quality freelance expertise which I believe is crucial for companies at my end of the market (startups and scaleups).

“A fast-paced startup must manage their cash burn and their fixed overhead – whilst continuing to produce high-quality output.

“An increased availability in flexible support is crucial in this current market and it is something I am really excited about.

“The trend, fuelled by 2023’s mass tech lay-offs, is pivoting towards long-term collaboration with top-tier freelancers – from associate through to C-suite expertise.

“Platforms like Fiverr, Upwork and Redwigwam are at the forefront, facilitating these connections.

“With 42 per cent of UK firms’ workforce being flexible freelancers, it’s clear: the era of freelancing is not just coming, it’s already here.”

Lorna Davidson is the founder and CEO of RedWigWam, which has enjoyed a record-breaking start to 2024.

She said: “2024 has started with a bang for RedWigWam – a record-breaking bang in fact. The first two days of the year have seen record numbers of people registering with us to find work.

“People want flexibility. They want the ability to pick and choose the roles they complete. But they also want to be treated fairly and paid appropriately for the job they are doing.

“Businesses need reliable staff who they can trust – and who can work when they are needed.

“It’s a perfect storm, we’re in the eye of it. And wow, it’s an exciting place to be! To me, there is no doubt the 9-5 is dead. Long live flexibility.”

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Freelance consultant and co-founder of Tech North Advocates, Naomi Timperley, said: “As a freelancer myself and having worked with hundreds to start and grow I would say the freelancer industry has experienced a remarkable boom in recent years.

“Businesses are increasingly turning to freelancers due to their adaptability, agility, and wealth of skills and experience.

“Freelancers offer a flexible workforce that can quickly adjust to changing project demands. They bring specialised expertise to the table, often honed through diverse projects with various clients.

“This not only saves businesses the cost of hiring full-time employees but also ensures they can access top talent for specific tasks.

“In today’s fast-paced business landscape, freelancers have become invaluable assets for achieving growth and innovation.”

Richard Weatherhead is a chief consultant at Agent Wolf and agreed that the growing redundancies had prompted a rise in freelancers.

“Whilst it’s purely anecdotal I have noticed an increasing number of people making themselves available for freelance work due to lay-offs,” he added.

“What remains to be seen here is whether these people continue to freelance or take a PAYE job once they find one, using freelancing as a stop gap.

“From a business perspective I see more employers being open to freelance resource, even if their preference is full-time employees.

“We have two trends which could either accelerate the freelance market, or simply be short term. Will the freelancers go back to full-time work for the right role? Will employers revert to full-time employees when they find the right candidates?”

Lucy Moore, associate director at award-winning Refresh PR said: “I think many companies are bringing on freelancers for additional insight and expertise without having to commit to a full-time salary in the current economy.

Lucy Moore, associate director and head of tech, Refresh

Lucy Moore, Refresh PR

“In the same vein, more companies seem to be considering contractors in this economy too, particularly those that can increase a firm’s digital capability and help with emerging skills such as AI.”

Applied futurist Tom Cheesewright said: “The percentage of the UK workforce that is solo self-employed grew fairly steadily from the turn of the century until the start of the pandemic.

“Then people understandably dived for shelter in employment – and lots of micro businesses shut down.

“Now a mixture of stick (redundancy) and carrot (economic optimism on the distant horizon) is seeing people re-evaluate their options.

“Long-term, I suspect we will get to over 30 per cent of the workforce being self-employed, which has huge implications for policy, practice and culture.”

Megan Codling is a director of Megafone Communications and said: “I’ve been freelancing for 19 years this year and it’s a lifestyle choice too. It’s not just driven by redundancy, job opportunities or the economy. It can be lonely and there are few who sustain it long-term.”

John Knott is a fractional CTO and has worked as a freelancer for 21 years and said recent tax changes have made it harder.

“Many of us pay through dividends and tax on those has risen, alongside corporation tax rates which is increasing the tax but without the protections in terms of sickness pay, etc,” he said.

Sam Royle, CEO of influencer marketing platform SoSquared, said: “The volume of content creators/influencers keeps rising year-on-year. From 2019-2022 being a social media content creator featured in the top five desired jobs for UK teens.

“We have worked with thousands of creators at SoSquared and watched them turn their side hustle into a full-time career and ditched their 9-5 job.”

Louise Anderson, head of the Northern Hub at Flex Legal, uses flexible work to support those entering the legal industry.

“Flexible work isn’t just about work/life balance for mums and dads,” she said. “We’ve also found it to be a great way to provide training for graduates, it forms new routes to qualification, it offers career diversification and can break down diversity barriers where nepotism exists.

“Last year, the government launched the first flexi-apprenticeship to support industries where project-based work is more common.

“Flex Legal seized this opportunity and we are now the only legal provider offering graduates a flexible way to qualify as a solicitor through the apprenticeship route.

“Flexible work is also perfect for the legal industry where firms need to scale up and down their teams at rapid pace.”

Redwigwam goes from strength to strength