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11th December 2014

Graduating from university can be a time of contrasting emotions – pride and happiness that you have successfully made it to the end of your studies, combined with uncertainty and a dose of trepidation about entering the world of work.

Many people will leave higher education with a clear career path in mind, usually focused on getting a full-time job as quickly as possible. However, many others might want to consider alternatives to diving straight into the familiar world of nine-to-five employment.

For graduates looking for a way of working that allows self-control, flexibility and the opportunity to build up a diverse range of experience, freelancing could be ideal.
Self-employment and independent working are becoming increasingly common in the UK, and the trend appears to extend to university leavers.

A lucrative and empowering option

A recent survey suggested that freelancing is becoming more popular among graduates, mainly because of the potential to make more money than in regular employment and the freedom it affords.

Elance, a website that specialises in freelance job listings and recruitment, questioned over 1,000 UK graduates and found that nearly nine out of ten (87 per cent) of those with first- or second-class degrees saw independent working as an attractive and lucrative career option. Over three-quarters, (77 per cent) of respondents with lower class degrees thought the same.

A fifth (21 per cent) of graduates with first-class honours said they had already decided to work as a freelancer, while 29 per cent of all university leavers saw this approach as part of their career strategy for the next five years. The research suggested that many young workers are attracted to the concept of ‘gigging’ – working independently for a number of different companies.

Nearly seven out of ten (69 per cent) respondents thought going freelance would give them a better work-life balance, while 38 per cent felt they could earn as much, if not more, than in a traditional job. The variety of work available (38 per cent) and the opportunity to be your own boss (28 per cent) were also cited as attractive aspects of working solo.

Kjetil Olsen, European vice president of Elance, pointed out that the current generation of graduates is seeing an increasing number of employers using online work platforms to plug skills gaps. This is giving them confidence that it is possible to build a lucrative career by operating independently.

He added: “The research has far-reaching implications for employers. It’s clear that if they want access to some of the UK’s top graduates, they will increasingly need to tap into the freelance talent pool.

“Many are doing this already, but those that aren’t should consider putting in place processes for complementing their permanent staff with additional skilled independent workers.”

Selling ‘what’s between the ears’

In November last year, John Brazier, director of corporate affairs at the Professional Contractors Group (PCG), joined the freelancer association’s events executive George Evans on a trip to Loughborough University. They attended a meeting that was arranged to show students there are alternatives to going into permanent employment once they graduate. The Investigating Careers in Freelancing event attracted a large crowd of students and postgraduates looking to find out more about independent working.

Among the people speaking on the day was Harry Cunningham, a 19-year-old studying at Loughborough and working as a freelance journalist at the same time. Mr Brazier cited this as an example of a young person working hard to sell “what’s between the ears”. It also shows that students can start building up experience and looking for work opportunities while they are still at university, which will increase their chances of securing contracts after they graduate.

The Loughborough University event also included an appearance by Mansoor Ismail, a freelance accountant who offered some insights into the financial side of working independently. He spoke about topics that might not be covered during academic studies, such as staying in compliance with tax legislation and registering a business.

Chris Calladine, from Enterprise Training Academy, spoke about some of the pros and cons of freelance work, pointing out that people planning to go down this route should give careful consideration to the various responsibilities and pressures involved.

Key considerations

Current students or recent graduates thinking about going into freelance work should start by asking themselves some key questions to decide if it is the right option for them.
Firstly, do you believe you have the drive, determination and discipline required to succeed as an independent professional? These qualities are essential to not only win work but to ensure you keep your clients happy by meeting their expectations and sticking to deadlines. This can be the difference between professional success and failure in competitive sectors.

You will also need to have excellent organisational, communication and time management skills, as well as an awareness of basic business concepts such as financial administration and marketing.

Will you feel comfortable being your own boss? Given the freedom to determine their own working times and methods, some people will thrive, while others might not be able to cope with the pressure that comes with independent working.

It is also worth thinking about how you would operate as a freelancer – would you prefer to work through a PAYE umbrella firm, or set up your own limited company through an accountancy firm like MyAccountant.co.uk? We would advise you to do your research, looking into both options, and take the right path for you. We would also recommend seeking professional guidance – we are always ready and willing to help. For people who feel they have what it takes to succeed on this career path, freelancing offers benefits that are difficult, if not impossible, to find in any other type of work.

Flexibility, agility and adaptability look set to become increasingly important concepts for businesses in the years to come, and working independently could be one of the best ways to ensure you stay on the cutting edge of the labour market.

If you are thinking about becoming a freelance contractor, feel free to call us on 0800 917 9100 or send us an e-mail at info@myaccountant.co.uk. For more news and blogs, remember to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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