There's lots of talk about how quiet things are on the client front currently - and it's safe to say that many people are feeling it, not just you. This is reassuring to know that its a systemic slowdown, rather than something you've done wrong, but what about the perspective from those who are hiring and placing freelancers?
We wanted to get a view from a number of recruiters - the individuals who have a unique view on the reality of how many roles are in the market, to understand what they're seeing, and their observations and recommendations. We spoke to Lisa Gills at Wild Squirrel - a specialist in planning & strategy hiring and Rob Furness a strategy recruiter at Amplify.
Rob and Lisa, thanks for talking to us. Lots of people in our community and beyond are feeling like things are slow at the moment, is that something that you're seeing too, and what might be behind it?
Rob: Things are definitely slower than we’ve seen in the last two years but there have still been the freelance assignments you would expect within agencies (pitches, freelancers to come in and assist with the workload after winning an account etc). Recruitment in general has been a lot slower, and we’re seeing an increase in FTC openings as opposed to Perm or Freelance (even short-term FTC (2 months), which naturally is not the most financially rewarding or motivating route for freelancers to take.
Lisa: There are many reasons behind things slowing down. Some brands may be holding back on spend to see what happens in the economy and may allocate budget to different channels, this ricochets to agency projects & resource. Some agencies may be operating more leanly because of this, and new business may be serviced by internal teams. Some brands may have moved certain business units in-house.
Rob: Whilst freelance is actually quite a cost-effective way of hiring in the short term, agencies are currently thinking long term (let’s just try and survive the year type attitude), so there could be a sense of just making do with their current workforce rather than bringing in specific freelance skill sets.
We also know that there have been many redundancies being made over the course of the year, which naturally results in freelance roles becoming more competitive, as you have more immediately available candidates looking to secure work who otherwise wouldn’t be in that market.
Should freelancers be holding their nerve at the moment, riding this out, or is it a sign of bigger and more worrying things to come?
Rob: The freelance market has always had peaks and troughs. The advice we’ve been giving to freelancers in our network is hold your nerve, in a month it’s entirely possible that there will be too many open roles to consider (and they always come at the same time!).
Lisa: Most seasoned freelancers have experienced dry spells and as such 'make hay while the sun shines'. Outstanding talent is always in demand and if you can diversify elsewhere, i.e. develop skills in a new channel then great, that means more strings to your bow and broader opportunities when the market is more fluid. it might mean taking a contract or even considering a permanent move. If holding your nerve means lowering rates, that all depends on personal financial circumstances. Some freelancers would rather earn something than nothing when things are quiet however, it must be made clear that the rate is temporary.
Do we expect things to pick up over the summer? Economists say that the UK should be perking up in the second half of the year, but will that flow through to the freelance market?
Lisa: I wish I had a crystal ball! Recruitment wise summer is generally quiet as decision makers jet off on their holidays. On the flipside that might create a need for holiday cover to service urgent client demands!
Rob: Agreed - it's very tricky to call this one. Generally speaking, Sep-Nov are extremely busy periods for both perm and freelance hires across the agency scene, but summer can be hit and miss.
Do you have any tips or suggestions for freelancers who are feeling concerned at the moment?
Lisa: Stay strong and believe in yourself, your ability, and talent. Use the time to upskill, perhaps explore projects with local businesses. Consider university lecturing & mentoring.
Rob: Try and partner with one or two recruiters who have a reputation for delivering on freelance briefs (not a perm recruiter who gets the odd freelance brief). It's worth connecting with other freelancers, they might have been contacted about a job but are unavailable.
Lisa: Absolutely - it is important to stay connected with other freelancers for morale, as well as referrals for gigs.
Things are quiet at there at the moment - it's not just you, but knowing that many people are feeling the slow-down doesn't really help pay the bills.
Check out our guide to dealing with periods of little or no work, for some tangible tips on how to deal with the feelings of concern, as well as how to mitigate against quiet periods as best as possible.