Why The Best Creatives Are Freelancing in 2021

  • The pandemic has accelerated the trend towards flexible working
  • Software and networking platforms are making it easier to connect and collaborate with creatives
  • There are unique benefits for businesses who have the foresight to work with creative freelancers

It’s not particularly revelatory to say that the pandemic changed work structures for the pretty much everybody. From those awkward early Zoom meetings to completely online events and networking, you do have to sit back and appreciate the endeavour to retain some form of normality, as well as applaud the technology that enabled it.

With the UK recently celebrating ‘freedom day’ we’re tentatively taking steps back towards socialising as we once did. What is perhaps now more interesting than looking back at how we adapted, is to now consider how our working lives may have been permanently altered. Especially for design professionals.

Self-Employment and the Work From Home Revolution

Genie from Aladdin being set free GIF

At the turn of the new year, I decided to leave my job as Lead Designer at an agency in Birmingham. I’d been there for a couple of years and had really enjoyed my time working in-house. But when a global pandemic stops you from making future plans – that holiday you’ve been waiting to book, the friends’ wedding that suddenly gets thrown into contention – you can’t help but ask, what am I actually working for?

Unsurprisingly, pandemic or no pandemic, people have been asking themselves that question for ages, but has this turn of events finally forced us into action?

In the months prior to handing in my notice, I took to reading some books on the topic (‘What Should I Do With My Life’ by Po Bronson and ‘How to Find Fulfilling Work’ by Roman Krznaric get special mentions) to get some outside influence on my query.

I began to write out the key elements of a job that would keep me happy and engaged over the long term, and the one that ranked most highly on my list was: AUTONOMY.

Craving more freedom in your role a very first-world dilemma, I’ll give you that, but a culture as information-rich and interconnected as ours should be able to approach it pragmatically.

Our very own University of Birmingham conducted a study back in 2017 which revealed informal flexibility and working at home offers further support to the suggestion that schedule control is highly valued and important to “enjoying” work.

With that said, it’s of no surprise to me that so many of my creative friends have found themselves either working freelance or starting their own companies. I spoke to all of them during this period to get an insight into their working lives.

None of them made it out to be an easy thing to do. All of them said they couldn’t imagine working any other way.

But will any of us work the same as we used to? A white paper co-produced by The Drum and Adobe found that two-thirds of creatives expect to be working from home in the future, with only occasional days in the office and almost a further quarter (23%) expect to spend an equal amount of time at home and in the office.

Animation by Traphic

Further Apart But Closer Than Ever

A good friend and collaborator of mine moved to Spain some years ago after the opportunity came up to work for Adidas.

After several years at the sportswear giant, he found himself in a familiar predicament. He spoke of the fatigue that sets in when you’re a small cog in a much larger machine. The projects that binned half way through, the lack of connection to the work you do and the impact (or lack thereof) it goes on to have.

This year he decided to leave Adidas to go freelance. Rather than return home to the Midlands though, he decided to stay put in Spain.

Why? Well, if the weather and great food wasn’t enough of a reason, it also happens that the cost of living is cheaper there compared to the UK. An active professional network combined with modern tech means that he can work with worldwide businesses and be competitive on price, without having to compromise on his lifestyle.

What does this mean for businesses?

Some may their have concerns about the proposed decline of in-house staff, but it’s worth acknowledging the opportunities it creates for businesses, not just the creatives. Three positives to consider are:

1. A creative team tailored to you

Popular portfolio and networking sites like Dribbble, Behance and The Dots make it easier than ever to scour the globe for the best creative talent. Why settle for hiring a long-term team member when you can work with a vast array of styles and specialisms? Every project deserves a specialist team.

2. Software geared towards connection and collaboration

Video calling apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have enjoyed unprecedented user growth. With tech being such a booming industry, there’s plenty healthy competition ensuring that our evolving business needs are met. Much of our software is updated over the internet regularly, or entirely web-based such as the design tool Figma.

Since the start of the Covid outbreak in 2019, there has been even more emphasis put on collaboration. This has helped creatives combine their skills remotely, but the developments have also made it easier to plan, present and project manage with clients too.

3. Mutual exposure

A lot of creatives are essentially their own marketing managers. To get seen and to be appreciated they need to get their work out – and they’re getting really good at it. Some talented few even reach influencer-level status due to their dedicated following and desireability.

With that in mind, utilising the right creative and having your project as part of their portfolio can be the brand exposure boost that you never knew that you needed.

As luck would have it, Instagram have recently started trialing a ‘collab’ feature in the UK and India which will make this kind of thing even easier.

So what you gonna do about it?

With all this talk of going freelance, perhaps co-founding an agency seems counterintuitive.

Whilst being a gun for hire would have been nice, it became clear to me that it would be silly not to make use of the extremely talented friends that I have. As someone who’s biggest self-criticism is trying to do everything all at once, I’ll be both humbled and excited to work on a collaborative vision for our clients – whether I execute the final product or not is not important. Results are.

At Traphic, our mission is to embrace our creative network, and put our core team’s multidisciplinary skillset to use as knowledgeable project leads.

As Fine Art graduates, co-founder Steve and I both at one time envisaged ourselves becoming curators. It just happens that we’re not curating exhibitions – we’re curating teams to create solutions.


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