Freelancing or Free Labour?

I woke up to this personal and honest post by one of my favourite economics and finance writers, Frances Coppola. It is a story which is becoming all too popular – a person who creates great value does not earn nearly as much she should be.

I remember hearing, as a young graduate, about the benefits of freelancing. The freedom to decide your own working hours, working from home, having lots of free time while somehow making ends meet just like your colleagues working eight to five.

But the reality is different. My experience as a former freelancer (not by choice) is that work is hard to come by. And by the time you find work you will have racked up quite a few expenses that will eat up your cheque if you get payment. If – because customers are more likely than not to default on payment. Even worse, this type of employment comes with no health benefits, no employee loans and no social security contributions so no pension to look forward to.

And there are few things more annoying than being asked to work for exposure. In my line of work in between jobs there was little chance of being asked to work for exposure. But many of my friends, especially artists, have been asked to work for nothing. It’s gotten so bad that platforms which are just getting started think they are doing you a favour by you writing or performing for them.

One may ask if the freelancing environment is so bad, why are more and more people getting into it? It appears that there is far less choice in this decision than most people assume. I was privileged not to have to stay a freelancer for more than a few months. But others are less so. It is a global problem. Read this piece by Neil Irwin about the gig economy and you will see how many businesses are relying on freelancers who they use as much as full-time employees for a fraction of the pay and no benefits. Even universities are relying on more and more adjunct staff.

Are there freelancers doing great? Yes of course. I even know a few. And there are more who could do better if their clients did not keep ducking payments. But if you have plans of freelancing (as opposed to having to freelance) you should try to reach out to freelancers to find out how they do it. As far as I’m concerned, when people create value, they deserve to be adequately compensated whether they are full-time staff or freelancers.

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Jerome Kuseh

Accountant | Economist-in-Training | Finance Blogger

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