Perspectives from clients and freelancers on the state of teaming up to get on-demand work done in marketing.
The world of work always seems in flux, often due to demographic, generational, and technological changes. In the last two and a half years, however, a pandemic sent a wave of disruption across the business landscape, spurring more changes than anything in recent years.
- Organizations are increasingly offering hybrid and remote work options. Some are contemplating shorter work weeks.
- As part of what’s been called “The Great Resignation,” a higher-than-ever number of employees voluntarily left their jobs ─ some for good. Others departed for better opportunities and greater work/life balance.
- A worker shortage is opening up more freelance opportunities, and businesses now have greater access to a broader, deeper pool of skilled, self-sufficient freelancers.
So what does this all mean for independent contractor trends on the talent and client sides? There have always been challenges for freelancers and the companies that hire them, but are they different now? How satisfied are clients and independent contractors with the current state of freelance work? Do they see things changing much? How are they finding each other? How can they work better together? What’s most important for ensuring a successful project and experience for freelancers and clients?
Between the fourth quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022, Wripple conducted two surveys to get a read on the state of the post-pandemic freelance world focused on marketing, technology, and creative services. One targeted freelance talent. The other focused on companies that hire or could potentially hire freelancers. This blog provides some of the highlights.
While the surveys weren’t designed to assess how the pandemic affected the so-called “gig economy,” the results provide insights into how the freelance marketplace works for independent contractors and the companies working with them. They also provide a baseline for assessing the opportunities, challenges, and solutions that lie ahead.
About the Freelance Respondents
Freelancers can be categorized as full-time independent contractors, temp workers employed by staffing firms, gig workers, project-based workers, or self-employed business owners. On the talent side, 83% of the respondents were currently freelancing.
The largest percentage (25%) were working as copywriters, followed by 24% as creative directors. Content marketing strategists and business strategies were each noted by 19% of the respondents.
50% had been freelancing for six or more years, including 35% doing so for over 10 years. Only 6% had been freelancing for less than a year.
Most respondents have been busy, with 54% saying that they had freelanced for at least 10 months over the last year; only 9% had freelanced for less than a month.
Advertising and marketing were noted as the most prevalent industry in which freelancers were working (65%), followed by technology (50%) and healthcare and pharmaceuticals (39%).
About the Client-side Respondents
On the client side, the largest number of respondents were in the advertising, marketing, healthcare, and pharmaceutical industries, at 15% each. Insurance and nonprofits were next at 12% each.
33% of the clients surveyed were in organizations with 50 – 1000 employees; 58% had more than 1000. All said they had gone outside their organization at least once last year; 64% used outside help for four or more engagements. The majority (96%) currently go outside their organizations for help with projects.
Regarding the total mix of help received from outside, the respondents reported that 55% of their budgets go to freelancers/independent contractors as opposed to large advertising or digital agencies, boutique or midsize agencies, and consultancies.
The Dominance of Digital
Given the growing use of digital channels during and since the pandemic, it’s not surprising that survey respondents on the talent side reported that the majority of project types they’ve been involved in were in the digital arena. That included digital marketing at 73%, followed by digital media and digital strategy and planning at 57% each.
The results were similar on the client side. When asked what types of projects they use freelancers, agencies, or consultancies for, 76% said digital marketing projects. Digital media was cited by 48%, while digital strategy and planning were mentioned by 44%. As more companies accelerate their digital transformation, critical to success in today’s fast-changing world, the need for digital talent will increase.
Types of projects clients source in blue. Types of projects talent work on in red.
A PWC study reported digital transformation and hiring and retaining talent as critical growth drivers for 2022. Meanwhile, another study noted that digital transformation is stalling due to a lack of job-ready digital talent.
Nearly 60% of employers reported that not having enough skilled employees has a major or moderate impact on their business. Freelance talent offers a solution to the problem.
Where to Find Freelance Work and Talent
Regarding where they're getting their freelance work, the largest number of respondents on the talent side (47%) said they work directly with brands and companies. 21% cited large advertising/digital agencies. Only 2% cited freelance or consultancy marketplaces as their top source for freelance work.
On the client side, 81% of the respondents said they primarily work with existing freelancers or rely on personal connections and referrals to procure the necessary talent. Online talent marketplaces were noted by 48%. Human resources/internal recruiting and traditional staffing firms were each noted by 33%.
In a Harvard Business School podcast, co-authors of the report Building the On-Demand Workforce noted that digital talent platforms are creating a new marketplace for high-skill freelance work, and are well positioned to broker more strategic engagements for organizations that need highly skilled digital talent.
Few Changes Ahead
When asked if talent expected the time they freelance with agencies or brands to change over the next two years, most respondents (89%) expected to freelance about the same or more. That included 38% who expected no change, 19% who expected to freelance slightly more, 21% who expected to freelance a moderate amount more, and 11% who anticipated freelancing significantly more. However, with more workers entering the freelance workforce, current freelancers may need to start exploring new avenues of finding freelance work to maintain the work levels they expect.
On the client side, only 8% expect to hire freelancers moderately or significantly less than now. However, client-side respondents did note there were obstacles to hiring more freelance talent or independent contractors. Among them: were access to quality talent and availability of quality talent, which were each cited by 30% of the respondents.
Given increasing competition for talent, particularly in digital and worker shortages areas, access to and availability of talent could become much bigger issues. Companies and brands that previously relied on their existing network of independent contractors or referrals may need to look to other resources to procure the necessary talent and expertise.
Red represents how much talent expects to freelance, blue represents how much clients expect to use freelancers in the next 2 years.
Reasons for Freelancing and Outsourcing
Freelancers work on their own for a variety of reasons. Four were cited by more than half of the respondents:
· Work/life balance – 70%
· Ability to make more money – 68%
· Flexibility to choose when/where they work – 62%
· Generally more freedom – 55%
Given the pandemic and its impact on both the workplace and the workforce, it was surprising that only 19% cited it as a reason for freelancing. 21% noted they were freelancing because they were in between full-time jobs. Similarly, only 26% noted the cost savings, including commuting, as a reason.
For clients, the primary reason for outsourcing work to freelance talent was too much work for current staff (88%). Staff shortages could be behind this need for outside help and may become a more significant challenge in the future. Other points worth noting:
- A need for outside expertise was second, with 73% of client respondents mentioning it as a reason to hire freelancers. As digital gets more specialized, this need for niche expertise will rise.
- Somewhat contradictory, 42% said they hire outside freelancers to avoid excessive full-time hiring, but only 4% mentioned saving money as a reason to hire freelancers. This speaks to freelancing’s ability to address point-in-time needs that full-time team members can’t meet. It’s not necessarily about seeking budget-friendly options.
- 46% said they hire freelancers because they can get projects completed quicker. Freelancers can often get work done outside the constraints most internal teams face.
The Challenges of Freelancing and Outsourcing
Freelancing has challenges, and most talent-side respondents cited the lack of steady income as among the biggest (ranked in the top three by 73%). Rounding out the top three rank-ordered challenges are the ability to find meaningful/quality projects and managing the client.
Talent were asked to rank factors from 1-12. The darkest blue presents the most challenging factors (1). The darkest red represents the least challenging factors (12).
On the client side, 95% cited the time required to find and onboard talent as the top challenge of working with freelancers. A lack of easy access to freelancers, the talent shortage, and already-stretched client teams’ capacity to support effective onboarding contribute to this challenge.
Clients were asked to rank from 1-7. The darkest blue represents the most challenging factors of using freelance talent (1). The darkest red represents the least challenging factors (7).
A few other findings related to challenges are worth noting:
- On the client side, while freelancing is typically viewed as a less costly option, the budget was noted as the 2nd greatest challenge. This is primarily due to budgets slowly coming back amidst uncertainty and the talent shortage putting pressure on rates.
- The BD and admin tasks (proposal development, scope definition, onboarding) persist as challenges on the talent side. This points to a lack of more consistent and formalized processes shared between freelancers and clients when initiating and kicking off projects.
- Both clients and talent rated delivery issues (managing a live project) as the third-highest challenge.
When Projects Go Wrong
It’s no secret that projects aren’t always successful, whether conducted by internal teams or with the help of outside freelance expertise. The surveys from both the client and talent respondents revealed that many of the reasons projects hit troubled waters relate to client-side challenges.
On the talent side, 51% of respondents indicated that the top reason their projects experience issues is due to a lack of clarity on project needs from clients. Other top factors leading to troubled projects include not receiving adequate management oversight (left alone), not having adequate time to complete the job at hand, and poor onboarding.
Talent were asked to rank factors from 1-7. The darkest blue represents the most common issues when working with clients (1). The darkest red represents the least common issues (7).
On the client side, respondents identified not having enough time to manage freelance talent as the primary reason projects face challenges. This perspective was shared by talent, who noted that a lack of oversight was a significant gap. According to clients, other top reasons for troubled projects include freelancers ultimately not having the required capability/expertise to get the job done, a lack of clarity on project needs, and a poor onboarding process.
Clients were asked to rank from 1-7. The darkest blue represents the most common factors of using freelance talent (1). The darkest red represents the least common factors (7).
These last two factors were also noted by talent as pain points and ultimately are improvement opportunities for clients to address. Moving forward doing a better job at defining project needs as part of scoping and conducting more effective onboarding will improve the freelancing project experience for everyone and drive better project outcomes.
Satisfaction Runs High
While everything isn’t perfect when it comes to freelancing, overall satisfaction runs high.
On the talent side, 28% said they have been very satisfied with their projects in the last year, and 45% said they were satisfied. Only 5% said they were dissatisfied, and 0% said they were very dissatisfied. As another indication of freelancer satisfaction, 26% were very satisfied with their level of compensation over the past year, 37% of respondents were satisfied, and 16% were dissatisfied.
72% of client respondents indicated that they are satisfied with the freelance talent they’ve worked with over the past year, and 14% stated they were very satisfied. Only 5% said they were dissatisfied, and 0% claimed to be very dissatisfied. Furthermore, most clients, 68% of respondents, report getting good value for the work done by freelancers. 26% were neutral, and only 5% said they did not get good value for the work done by freelancers given the spend.
What the Results Mean
If our survey results are any indication, freelancing provides the marketing world a very strong proposition from both the client and freelancer perspective.
Both sides greatly value the flexibility freelancing offers and with the increased demand for specialized digital expertise, freelancing will continue to feel pressure to meet clients’ expanding digital needs.
Fulfilling those needs will require emerging talent solutions, such as innovative talent marketplaces, assembling full project teams rather than relying on individual freelancers and thinking differently about how effective modern teams are formed and managed.
Extending the typical rigor and discipline used with internal teams to freelancers will improve the freelancing project experience for everyone. Process improvement opportunities exist on both sides, with the most common pain points relating to project management fundamentals. Priority focus areas that must improve include project needs and scope alignment, comprehensive onboarding, adequate client involvement in projects, and effective communication.
While challenges do exist, freelancing in marketing has a substantial opportunity to create tremendous value for all stakeholders. Openness to new ways to get work done and the growing need for expertise in the continually expanding digital space will fuel significant change in the future of marketing work.
In Wripple’s upcoming video series, we will delve more deeply into how these dynamics may play out and how freelancers and clients can best manage them. Follow Wripple on LinkedIn to stay updated on future content.