Justin Small: Why the future of scaling rests with freelancers, not investors

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The past four months of lockdown in the UK have transformed the way firms do business at every level. Immediate changes to mass at-home working left many bewildered at a new way of remote working, and 29% of business leaders have already streamlined their teams as a result. Business, in many instances, are operating on skeletal staff and making use of the Government's furlough scheme. As this scheme draws to an end, however, thousands of businesses have relinquished their expensive overheads, such as office spaces and permanent consultants.

Many businesses have had to or will need to pivot quickly and effectively to remain competitive in the market post-lockdown, so experienced talent will be required to help achieve these. Businesses of all sizes, but particularly SMEs, will need to embrace the gig economy quickly to adapt, retrain staff and rebuild their business model to help them survive and then thrive as the economy begins to bounce back.

A more economic solution to the talent-loss that has affected UK firms, as business begins to resume some normality, is the introduction of contracted talent. An outside consultant can bring a fresh perspective to struggling businesses, and integrate a new, more flexible ethos to firms who are looking for the best way to accommodate new business models and a more flexible working approach after the lockdown period. Consultants talk to other consultants and these peer-to-peer conversations help to share the knowledge of those experts who have dealt with previous crises, such as the 2008 crash, that now can be applied to help small firms weather this pandemic.

What this has created is a space for peer-to-peer learning across consultants to take place. In such an ever changing post-COVID world, even experienced high-attaining professionals need spaces in which to develop, share their experiences, and pass on this knowledge to their next client. In addition, with more people looking to enter the freelance consultancy space post-COVID in a similar move to the one seen after the financial crash of 2008, these spaces can help newer or less experienced consultants develop and learn professional skills from their peers, allowing them to give top level advice to clients at every price point. This is something that we at The Future Strategy Club are striving to achieve. This format will help give freelance workers the opportunity for strong learning and development practices, similar to those permanent workers employed by companies with development structures in place. Effectively, this form of learning is taking the best ideas from pre-COVID businesses and repurposing them for a post-pandemic environment, heavily favoured by consultants and high level gig economy workers. 

From a business perspective, by using this freelancer model, we have been able to grow as a business without the need for investment. This provides a means to maintain our independence. Taking investment changes your decision making. 

Similarly, using freelancers helps to maintain a competitive edge, delivering continually high-impact results for our clients. Freelancers are only as good as their last job. They are motivated to do their best.

As firms look to re-launch projects and resuscitate their business beyond COVID-19, the importance and value of freelancers as a critical requirement to retain skill at an affordable rate is essential for recovery is becoming clear, therefore. Historically, freelancers have not been included in the same employee benefit schemes, workplace inclusion, socialisation and support networks that permanent workers have traditionally enjoyed. Moving forward however, outside talent will more and more become a commodity that businesses will seek to make use of as part of their COVID recovery plan. Now, with the turbulence caused by the lockdown crisis, the private sector's reliance on flexible workers will not only become apparent but crucial to its survival, delivering a positive step for the gig economy and its importance to the wider economy as we grow out of the COVID-19 period.

At this turbulent time, the importance of having on-demand creative business talent will be crucial to propel firms forward and out of the pandemic. Business leaders should be exploring every avenue of growth and innovation to survive the fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic. By treating freelancers as true colleagues and fully embracing short-term contractors into the culture of the workplace, businesses can drive forward with purpose and overcome the challenges presented by lockdown.

Justin Small is the CEO of The Future Strategy Club; an agency born from drawing on the talent of freelancers to establish a new, "members club" for growing companies to cherry pick the best talent for them. The FSC has around 300 Members, containing some of the highest-calibre business minds in the UK, including the former Digital Director at The Times and the former Head of Intelligence at the Royal Marines.