Saturday Essay: How Can Freelancers Help To Revive Businesses?
Justin Small answers the question: How can freelancers help to revivie business.
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
The devastation brought to the business world by the Coronavirus pandemic has been well documented, with the second lockdown providing yet another hurdle for business owners to overcome. However, new reports show that one in seven businesses were already struggling before the November lockdown was enforced.
The two periods of lockdown in England have transformed the way firms do business at every level. The impact of the Coronavirus has challenged the business world in every possible way - from firms having to close their doors, to having to incorporate new procedures into everyday business to ensure workers and spaces are "COVID safe". Working from home, too, has been enforced through both national lockdowns and has challenged the very infrastructure of businesses as they had to adopt remote methods and tools.
Despite the announcement of a new vaccine and its implementation within society, fluctuating COVID restrictions demonstrate that a nimbler business approach and working from home are here to stay.
Firms need to recognise this now, adapt, and build a strategy that works with a new business environment that may not include a permanent office space. As long as work is completed and contracted hours fulfilled, having changeable working patterns is feasible, and may even boost productivity by keeping employees happy and allowing them to work when they feel most motivated.
Immediate changes to mass at-home working left many bewildered at a new way of remote working, and research from The Future Strategy Club has found that 29% of business leaders have already streamlined their teams as a result. Businesses, in many instances, are operating on skeletal staff and making use of the Government's flexible furlough scheme – now extended until March 2021 after the November lockdown was announced.
Alongside these schemes, thousands of businesses have relinquished their expensive overheads, such as office spaces and permanent consultants.
Now is the time when business leaders do not just need advice on how to see their firms through these unprecedented times but require a hands-on approach.
Photo by Luke Peters on Unsplash
An outside consultant can bring a fresh perspective to struggling businesses, and integrate a new, more flexible ethos to firms who are looking for the best way to accommodate new business models and a more flexible working approach after the lockdown period. With companies looking to strip back their overheads and create a future-facing offering, a fresh pair of eyes that oversees sometimes archaic and outdated processes can be a welcome asset after a disrupted year.
Moreover, it is common for businesses, after a recession or other economic shock, to pivot or revise their service offering. External, experienced talent will be required to help achieve this. Businesses of all sizes, but particularly SMEs, will need to embrace the gig economy quickly to adapt, retrain staff and rebuild their business model to help them survive and then thrive as the economy begins to bounce back. We saw this market grow in 2008 and there is every possibility that it could happen again in 2020/21.
While this year has been difficult, there are some benefits of it happening at the beginning of the 2020s. The first is that our technology is at such a point that working from home has never been so feasible and secure. Second is our economy. The rise of delivery services, online payments and ecommerce sites has meant that, for consumers and businesses alike, there have not been periods where people have struggled to get hold of supplies.
And finally, with 2008 in recent memory, there is a wealth of talent in the market that lived through and learned their lessons of the crash. Consultants talk to other consultants and these peer-to-peer conversations help to share the knowledge of those experts who have dealt with previous crises which now can be applied to help small firms weather this pandemic.
The time that has elapsed between the 2008 crash and the pandemic this year has created an opportunity for peer-to-peer learning across consultants to take place.
This is something that we at The Future Strategy Club are striving to achieve. This format will help give freelance workers the opportunity for strong learning and development practices, similar to those permanent workers employed by companies with development structures in place. Effectively, this form of learning is taking the best ideas from pre-COVID businesses and repurposing them for a post-pandemic environment, heavily favoured by consultants and high-level gig economy workers.
This format helps both the agency, client and consultant in turn. For the consultant, they keep developing and maintain their relevance in the market. For the agency, they are able to draw from experts in their field and form teams for their client base, using recent and relevant experience, ideas and knowledge.
And for the client, they can continue to draw on the latest professional and learning development literature and theories without having to maintain investment during difficult economic circumstances. This provides a means to maintain our independence. Taking investment changes your decision making.
Similarly, using freelancers helps to maintain a competitive edge, delivering continually high-impact results for our clients. Freelancers are only as good as their last job; they are motivated to do their best.
Additionally, the freelance and gig economy works the other way, too, in that it provides a chance for those who find themselves furloughed or perhaps made redundant to launch their own business, or at least the next stage in their careers. This is especially for those who felt the impact of the 2008 crash too; for whom starting over on the bottom rung of the career ladder is no longer an option with mortgages and children in tow.
I predict there will be significant growth in the number of 40+ entrepreneurs – of those belonging to Generation X, mainly - over the next few years or so, whether in a contractor, freelancing or product-focused SME capacity, because the PAYE paycheck may not be the most reliable constant in life planning any longer. Instead, the skills and the experience accrued over decades in professional environments will be invaluable to many businesses trying to adapt to the new normal.
The ability of these Gen Xers to monetise these skills will become ever more important.
At the Future Strategy Club, we work with a body of these experienced individuals who now have circa 15 years’ worth of skills to tap in to, having weathered the 2008 crisis and now COVID-19. For the majority of these entrepreneurial self-starters, they see the pandemic period as an opportunity to work for themselves, choose their own working environment and gain true security from their own knowledge and skillset.
Freelancing and running their own company enables growth and purpose, leading to the freedom of self-reliance. If COVID-19 has shown us anything, it is that this self-reliance is ultimately the only security we can rely on in the end. I believe Coronavirus will be the catalyst for a massive amount of 40+ talent to change careers, and finally put their business ideas into action.
Either way, the world of freelance talent is accessible and has a mutual beneficial to both individuals and firms alike as we navigate uncertainty in the wake of a pandemic.
As firms look to re-launch projects and resuscitate their business beyond COVID-19, the importance and value of freelancers as a critical requirement to retain skill at an affordable rate and as an essential for recovery is becoming clear, therefore. Historically, freelancers have not been included in the same employee benefit schemes, workplace culture, socialisation and support networks that permanent workers have traditionally enjoyed.
Moving forward, however, outside talent will more and more become a commodity that businesses will seek to make use of as part of their COVID recovery plan. Now, with the turbulence caused by the lockdown crisis, the private sector’s reliance on flexible workers will not only become apparent but crucial to its survival, delivering a positive step for the gig economy and its importance to the wider economy as we grow out of the COVID-19 period.
At this turbulent time, the importance of having on-demand creative business talent will be crucial to propel firms forward and out of the pandemic. Business leaders should be exploring every avenue of growth and innovation to survive the fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic.
By treating freelancers as true colleagues and fully embracing short-term contractors into the culture of the workplace, businesses can drive forward with purpose and overcome the challenges presented by lockdown.
Justin Small is the CEO of The Future Strategy Club; an agency born from drawing on the talent of freelancers to establish a new, "members club" for growing companies to cherry pick the best talent for them. The FSC has around 300 Members, containing some of the highest-calibre business minds in the UK, including the former Digital Director at The Times and the former Head of Intelligence at the Royal Marines.