Freelancers are a key part of workforce

Rebecca Mileham, 01.01.2014
If you’re self-employed in the museum and heritage sector, you’re part of a thriving community, according to a survey I ran in preparation for a session at the Museums Association conference in November.

The results gave a snapshot of a group of professionals pursuing diverse and successful careers outside institutions, from community consultation to strategy development, arts marketing to landscape interpretation, digital project management to curatorship.

Positive attitudes permeated the results and countered many views about the world of freelancing – mainly that the market is flooded with people who would rather work in-house.

Indeed, more than half of the 100-plus respondents said their motivation to go freelance was for flexibility, outnumbering those who said it was because of a lack of in-house posts.

Few ruled out in-house working in the future, but even fewer were actively looking for an institutional job. And most said business was at least as good as last year.

The survey defied the view that consultants and freelancers live in a cut-throat world. Nearly half said the recommendation of fellow freelancers had won them projects, while 60% said collaboration was a fruitful source of work.

The survey dispelled the idea that freelancers are pricing themselves out of the market. Four-fifths said new projects from repeat clients was a good source of work, while three-quarters said existing clients had recommended them to new ones.

There are challenges to being self-employed, and the survey showed freelancing is no soft option. The amount of paperwork involved in applying even for small jobs is time consuming, as is dealing with pensions and tax, and chasing invoices.

But for many, going freelance is a great choice. The survey showed freelancers and consultants to be committed, enthusiastic and self-motivated. They offer skills and services that are available on a flexible timescale (and often at short notice), an adaptable complement to in-house roles.

Yet the views of freelancers and consultants are often unheard. Is this because an institutional affiliation carries more weight than personal skill and experience? Or is it because some of the myths dispelled by the survey – oversupplied, overprotective and overpriced – prevail?

It is time to recognise that a community of freelancers and consultants forms a crucial part of the workforce. Through a better understanding of those who choose this career path, we can use their skills and flexibility to strengthen the sector.

Rebecca Mileham is a freelance writer and interpretation consultant and blogs about freelancing at http://rebecca.mileham.net/blog-posts


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