Dictionary definition for 'freelance':

  1. free-lance or free-lancer - a self-employed person working, or available to work, for a number of businesses, rather than be committed to one, and usually hired for a limited period.
  2. free lance or free lancer - a mercenary soldier in medieval Europe.

When Sir Walter Scott penned his romantic adventure it told the story of Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe a mercenary knight whom Scott referred to as a ‘free-lancer'. Since the term was coined, the definition of freelancer has evolved and freelancing now represents a significant and growing part of the UK workforce and has grown in significance within the UK economy: in 1998 there were an estimated 1.25 million freelance workers in the UK; this has increased by 14 percent in a decade to 1.4 million.

Freelancing as it works on the ground in the UK is relatively uncommon within Europe, the competitive advantage afforded the UK by its highly skilled, highly mobile and highly flexible freelance workforce must be nurtured and protected.

There is no such thing as “a typical freelancer”, “freelancers” are an extremely diverse group, working across the business world for startup companies, large corporations and SMEs, Common roles include, IT consultants, engineers, oil & gas contractors, project managers, business and management consultants, interim managers, journalists, copywriters, translators, medical professionals and media/marketing professionals, among other disciplines; basically, anyone who is working independently in a knowledge–based industry.

The unifying factors are that freelancers can be said to:

  • Be neither employers nor employees
  • Be skilled professional workers
  • Supply services to a range or succession of clients
  • Have commercial (“self-employed”) relationships with their clients
  • Work for a fee

Many different terms are used to describe the freelance workforce , including “freelancer”, “independent worker”. “contractor”, “interim”, “portfolio worker”, “consultant”, “own account worker” and many more Freelancer businesses use a range of legal forms, including limited companies, sole traderships, partnerships, umbrella companies and others. Some work through agencies, others direct for clients.

(Statistics are drawn from the report ‘Defining and Estimating the Size of the UK Freelance Workforce’ produced for IPSE by John Kitching and David Smallbone of the Small Business Research Centre, Kingston University - the full report is downloadable here)

IPSE's Guide to Freelancing provides a useful source of information to new and established freelancers and small business owners, and offers a wealth of helpful advice about running and nurturing a successful business. It covers:

  • setting up your business, choosing the right structure
  • accounting, banking and insurance
  • tax matters
  • getting paid
  • running your business
  • securing work
  • your personal finances
  • closing a company

Download IPSE's Guide to Freelancing

Starting Out