Two years ago, I decided to go freelance and start a freelance digital marketing agency, Manyminds, that uses only freelance, independent professionals. Since then, the agency has grown exponentially and we successfully run digital marketing campaigns for some of the biggest companies in the world, with a team of around thirty freelancers working across eleven clients. At the time, when making my decision to quit my job and set up alone, however, I didn’t really expect or envisage this to happen.
My reason for starting a freelance only agency was simply because I was getting increasingly bored in my day job and more and more disenchanted with the typical agency model. I have the tedious and often unmanageable character trait of being much better at getting ideas and projects off the ground, than staying focused whilst executing and seeing them through.
So a new working lifestyle, that would enable me to work on my own schedule, pick projects I wanted to work on and keep the work I am doing varied and dynamic, seemed like an obvious choice for me. Also, I’d been working for traditional marketing agencies for the most part of my career and I found that all of them, regardless of size, had the same issues of high staff turnover, a heavy reliance on junior resource and clunky hierarchical structures that often slowed projects down.
The reasons I initially became freelance ultimately concerned only me; though the longer I employ freelancers and grow my freelance business model, I can see that there is a much broader, positive societal implication of operating exclusively within the burgeoning freelance marketplace.
This is admittedly lofty, but, I believe that increasing the freelance workforce would have a significant positive societal benefit.
One of the reasons for this lofty belief is both simple, and well documented.
According to the World Happiness Report, (1) ‘Being self-employed tends to be associated with higher life evaluation and positive affect (as compared to being a full-time employee) across Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and East Asia.’ Ultimately, for most of the developed world, those who are self employed report being happier. Makes sense, freedom and self sufficiency are primarily what many of us strive for.
What is less well documented however, is the positive impact that, I believe, a freelance workforce can have on equalising the gender gap. For this, my evidence is anecdotal and to me, just seems kind of obvious. It is an unavoidable reality that currently, a lot of women find themselves hitting a glass ceiling due to, alongside other factors, (2) the pressures of balancing work and having a family.
It is neither a huge secret nor surprising that the pressures of being in an office five days a week, with long hours and long commutes can make managing parental responsibilities a huge feat. Nine to five jobs often mean parents either feel as though their career is stifling, or guilty about missing out on time with their families.
I am not a parent, however I am proud to say that nearly all of my team are, both men and women. There is no set work schedule you need to organise childcare around, you can work early in the mornings and late at nights – as many of the team do. Being freelance, and employing freelance teams, creates a fundamental shift in what it means to be at work.
In my previous office based jobs, I would go to work some days and simply show my face in a few meetings and that was that. I was a lot less productive because often, just showing up is all that matters. If you remove the need to be in a certain place, at a certain time, the focus becomes only on doing the work within the required timeframe. The time of day you chose to work doesn’t matter, and where you work from ceases to matter.
Creating more freelance opportunities means that being a parent and being successful requires less sacrifice on either part. Reducing the time pressures of work, and making the definitions of what a working day is, more flexible, means that managing work and parenting responsibilities no longer needs to be quite such a juggling act. Childcare is more easily managed if one, or both, parents can manage their own schedules.
In response, people who are freelance generally feel less bound by work and less like sacrifices are being made to family life in order to pay the bills, or that sacrifices are being made to work in order to have a family. It is worth noting that this isn’t applicable just to freelance teams, but also remote, or flexible working teams also. The benefit comes from being able to work from home, do your own hours and organising your own schedule, rather than necessarily being self employed.
If flexible working, and employing freelancers within businesses in senior positions, becomes more commonplace, then this can only have a positive impact on gender equality in the workforce.
For any business, particularly SMEs, who employ permanent, full time staff, I would advise looking at the option of incorporating more freelance resource within your business. For me, I have found relying on freelance resource to foster a culture of trust. As well as be an extremely cost effective way to access some of my industry’s best talent as well as avoiding costly overheads like office spaces which can save a business thousands, particularly if you are looking to scale.
Ultimately, I am proud that I have a business that facilitates people spending more time with their family, less time commuting and as a result, delivering incredible work for our clients and perhaps, somewhere along the line, helping to provide equal and flexible working opportunities for both men and women.
About the author: Kirsty Hulse is the Founder and MD of Manyminds.
After working for several agencies (some small, some part of large networks), Kirsty couldn’t help but notice that they all had the same problems; they were all a bit too rigid in their structures and as a result, often they charged too much because of the amount of staff assigned to projects, who weren’t actually working on them.
Kirsty knew a lot of people in the industry who included a lot of incredibly talented consultants and freelancers. Her idea was to usurp all the areas that traditional agency models typically suffer with and create an agency that was just senior resource, all of whom worked remotely from wherever they liked, on projects they enjoyed, managing their own time.
Kirsty has also spoken at conferences about SEO, PR, Business and more recently, inspirational and leadership talks. Kirsty’s key areas of expertise are developing client strategy and generating new business.