The uncertain freelancer - what Brexit means for you

Brexit, are you certain?

Orr-derrr! As we write, the sound of John Bercow’s voice reverberates from the TV as yet another series of Brexit votes takes place. A backbench amendment to a government motion has been defeated by just 2 votes out of 626. Had it passed, the government would have ceded much of its control of the Brexit process to parliament. Who could have known which way the vote would go? Right up to the moment the result left the teller’s lips, uncertainty reigned. And there we have Brexit in a nutshell. Uncertainty. Uncertainty holds up business investment, uncertainty stifles growth, uncertainty is even stopping people from selling their house! But, should the 2 million or so freelancers in the UK be worried about the future?


Freelancing on the rise

In the short term, working as a freelancer in the UK is the way to go. Freelance numbers have risen in recent years and estimates suggest they will continue to do so. For businesses, flexibility is key because, in times of uncertainty, you need to keep your options open. The implications of Brexit may not be clear for some time, so it makes sense to forego recruiting permanent staff and turn to freelancers. They are, after all, a tap that can be turned on and off. The trick is not to be the drip left in the tap when it all slows down.


What does Brexit mean for your clients?

One of the benefits of being a freelancer is flexibility. You've got the freedom to pursue whatever opportunities you choose, and now is the time to start being more selective about which ones to follow. Review your client list and think about what Brexit will mean for them. If your clients depend on frictionless trade with the EU, what are the chances they might choose to relocate, and should you follow them if they do? If they depend on imports, will tariffs have an impact on their business? Do they rely on skilled workers from the EU, and might an end to free movement cause them problems? When they need to cut costs, will your work dry up or will they stick with their freelancers and lay off full-time staff? Maybe they will put more work your way. Are there businesses out there you haven’t worked for before who might be a better long-term bet?


The freelancer in the EU

If your work involves travelling in the EU post-Brexit, you'll probably still be able to move around fairly easily but, if you want to work in an EU member country, you may need a visa. Any extra level of bureaucracy makes life harder for a freelancer. Whether it’s additional costs, time taken up form filling or missing out on short-notice contracts, there will be an impact. For those whose journey to work involves walking downstairs in their pyjamas, this won’t be a problem, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be affected at all.


Will international trade save the day?

Even if the UK leaves the EU this month, negotiations over our future trading relationship could go on for years. There's no way of knowing how they will end, nor can we predict how trade with the rest of the world will change. You may be excited about forthcoming trade deals with Fiji, Madagascar and the Faroe Islands, but there’s a long way to go before we’ll be able to assess the benefits of Brexit on international trade. In other words, more uncertainty.


What are your prospects?

Few businesses won’t be affected by Brexit in some way. Depending on what you do and who you work for, that may be good or bad - but, whatever the prospects for your sector, now’s the time to take a long hard look at your business. If prospects are bad, what choices do you have? Can you find new clients, develop new skills, team up with other freelancers to offer new services? If things are going well and likely to continue that way, can you increase your rates, be more selective about the work you do, plan more holidays?


As a group, freelancers should be aiming to increase awareness of the skills and benefits they can bring to businesses in uncertain times. Many employers still lean towards traditional methods of employment, but surveys suggest a large number have difficulties finding the right staff. The freelance pool is large and getting larger. It is filled with talented people and getting that message across should be a priority for everyone.

So, what of the future? If you ask us, it’s uncertain.