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Current Landscape for Freelancers

9th June 2023

What is the current landscape for Freelancers in the UK creative industries?

As recruitment and training experts, we work with lots of freelancers and people considering self-employment. But with the impact of an unstable economy, Covid-19, and more economic uncertainty to come – what is the current landscape for freelancers in the UK creative industries?

How many freelancers are currently working in the UK creative industries?

Freelancers currently make up around a third of creative industries (32%), according to The Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS). Film, TV, and Theatre production have always heavily relied on freelancers.

But the creative industries are growing and include everything from marketing and social media to podcasting and client services and project management. In fact, the UK now has the second-fastest growing freelance market. However, it’s important to remember that some people do freelance work part-time, alongside staff jobs.

What are the core disciplines for freelancers in the creative sectors?

A large portion of the freelance workforce in the creative sector work in entertainment and the arts in TV, film, and theatre roles. But the creative industries extend beyond entertainment into PR, branding and social media, digital, editorial, and tech. And within those sub-sectors, there are plenty of technical, support and non-creative freelance roles too.

According to the research by Hiscox, the top 5 most searched for freelance roles within the UK are:

  • Graphic designer
  • Writer
  • Copywriter
  • Photographer
  • Web developer.
  • Social media manager, SEO and journalist are also frequently searched.

What are the day rates for different freelance jobs?

Day rates are usually determined by experience level, specialism, and discipline. Some creatives are hired as a team, most commonly a copywriter and graphic designer or copywriter and art director. This is usually the case in advertising and creative agencies. Agencies tend to be hierarchical and will advertise for junior, mid-weight or senior positions or teams. It’s less common with non-agency clients.

If you’re looking for a particular job role or discipline, professional organisations like The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), and Pro Copywriters are good resources for average day rates.

But let’s look at the bigger picture. Data from the 2022 YunoJuno Freelancer Rates Report gives a good overview of day rates across different disciplines. YunoJuno is a platform and community for freelance contracts across 16 disciplines including client services, UX, digital, content and photography.

The good news is that day rates began to increase across the board in 2021, after taking a hit in 2020 due to the biggest impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the report, these are the average day rates for freelance by discipline and category:

Creatives (including copywriters, directors, strategists, and creative directors):

  • Min day rate: £200
  • Max day rate: £613
  • Average day rate: £377

Client Services (including account directors, business directors, account managers and client services directors

  • Min day rate: £200
  • Max day rate: £340
  • Average day rate: £650

Designers (including 3D artists, storyboard artists, graphic designer, illustrators, and branding designers)

  • Min day rate: £290
  • Max day rate: £500
  • Average day rate: £336

Data (including business analysts, data scientists, and data architects)

  • Min day rate: £250
  • Max day rate: £750
  • Average day rate: £486

What are the current day rates across Marketing, PR, and Social:

The Major Players Salary Survey 2022 shows current data for marketing, PR, and social day rates. Overall, there are fewer freelancers in these disciplines than in content, editorial or creative roles. According to the report, most of the marketing, PR & comms (89%) and social (89%) respondents were also permanent staff.

Rates in Marketing:

Marketing Assistant

  • Min day rate: £160
  • Max day rate: £200
  • Average day rate: £175

Marketing Manager/Campaign Manager:

  • Min day rate: £230
  • Max day rate: £260
  • Average day rate: £250

Head of Marketing:

  • Min day rate: £300
  • Max day rate: £350
  • Average day rate: £325

PR & Comms:

Press Officer / Comms Executive:

  • Min day rate: £130
  • Max day rate: £150
  • Average day rate: £140

Senior PR / Comms Manager

  • Min day rate: £250
  • Max day rate: £300
  • Average day rate: £275

Head of PR / Head of Media Relations

  • Min day rate: £250
  • Max day rate: £350
  • Average day rate: £300

Rates in Social Media:

Social Media Manager

  • Min day rate: £225
  • Max day rate: £325
  • Average day rate: £275

Social Media Strategist

  • Min day rate: £300
  • Max day rate: £400
  • Average day rate: £350

Head of Social

  • Min day rate: £350
  • Max day rate: £400
  • Average day rate: £375

Why are so many people going freelance vs working in house?

People go freelance for all sorts of reasons. But agency culture and production work often mean long hours. That’s not to say you won’t ever work longer hours on any given freelance project in other disciplines. And chances are you’ll have more autonomy over what you take on.

But it’s not just agency workers who have made the switch to self-employment. According to recent figures from IPSE, people currently employed in media, marketing, PR, and sales are likely to consider going freelance.

According to research by IPSE and The Work Crowd some of the most common reasons why more people are choosing freelancing over salaried positions include:

  • Flexibility and Freedom: As a freelancer, you often have more autonomy over where and when you work, depending on the role and client arrangement
  • Better choice over work: Unlike working for an agency, PR firm or any in-house role, you can choose which clients you want to work with
  • Variety and Opportunities: You can decide whether to grow your business in one niche, build a portfolio career with different income streams, and pursue passion projects.

As well as:

For many, the rewards outweigh the risks. And it’s worth remembering that freelancing itself comes in different forms. You’re no less of a freelancer if you take an interim job covering sick leave or maternity leave at a PR firm or have a bill-paying admin job one or two days a week, especially in the early days.

Clients also benefit from working with good freelancers, with 66% of respondents to the IPSE freelance landscape report stating that freelancers bring specialised talent to their business. Many also reported that freelancers provide fresh ideas and perspectives and help take the pressure off their in-house talent during busy periods.

What kind of protections are there for freelancers? 

Even if you work mostly solo, you never have to go it alone. In fact, succeeding as a freelancer relies on building up contacts and having a supportive network. As part of Career Academy, we run an opportunities and networking Facebook group for creative and marketing professionals, many of whom are freelance.

But who do you turn to for advice over late payment, contractual disputes, or other workplaces issues when you don’t have an HR department to ask? Well, on a practical level unless you’re freelancing via PAYE, you’ll need to have professional indemnity insurance and potentially public liability too (if you’re working on site or with the public).

It’s not just about making sure you have adequate cover, there are plenty of organisations including unions and professional membership organisations who are advocating for better support for freelancers including ISPE (quick definition here) and BECTU, a union that represents over 40,000 staff, contract and freelance workers in media and entertainment.

What does the future of freelancing in the creative sectors look like?

For all the flexibility that freelancing brings, it also comes with challenges including a lack of security and protections against discrimination, unfair treatment, and late payment. We can’t make any big predictions for the next few years. But one thing is clear – collective action and collaboration will drive better conditions for freelancers in the creative industries.

In summer 2022, a freelance-led network including Freelancers Make Theatre Word, Inc Arts, and Migrants in Culture came together to launch the FREELANCE: FUTURES event aimed at building more equitable conditions for freelancers in the culture sector. Larger organisations are doing work in this area too. At the time of writing, independent network Creative UK is commissioning the UK’s largest freelance survey to drive change, the survey results of Redesigning Freelancing should be published in 2023.

At Career Academy, we know that access to training, coaching and careers advice are also essential to freelancers, whether you’re a PR interested in adding copywriting to your skill set, an associate creative director looking to move up, or you want help finding new clients. Which is part of why we set up Career Academy, to help keep freelancers and staff candidates’ skills up to date. And most importantly, to keep their careers flourishing.

Career Academy offers resources, advice, and support in your creative career – click here for more information.

Career Academy is brought to you by the founders of Moxie and Mettle  – [email protected] – 0117 301 8223.

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About Career Academy

Career Academy is a free resource for candidates working in the creative sector in the UK, or those wishing to enter the creative industries so that’s roles in marketing, PR, creative, design, production, digital, communications, and social media.

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