The PR industry has for some time incorporated many self-employed consultants, but the pressures on budgets of recent years combined with developments in technology and the growing allure of entrepreneurship have all contributed to a growing interest in independent consultants.
Rather than being forced into freelancing by changes in circumstances, high-performing consultants with confidence in their skills are increasingly going independent in search of a higher income. This has opened up new opportunities for businesses requiring specialists’ skills and experience.
2. Clients and agencies are gravitating towards smaller teams.
As well as cutting the cost of meetings and calls, many businesses are seeing value from having a smaller team that can be more focused on their client and develop greater expertise in their particular industry. Independent consultants quickly become the logical next step.
3. Independent consultants can be more nimble than agencies.
Whereas an agency team might take anything up to a week to create a press release, an experienced independent consultant can pump one out in a couple of hours which barely needs changing. Speed of delivery can be a significant factor, particularly for high-growth, fast-paced businesses.
4. Sites such as LinkedIn have matured, making it far easier for businesses to track down independent consultants.
Now that they're able to identify a handful of candidates from a quick search, they no longer need to go through agencies to find talent. These sites also make it much easier for consultants to develop relationships and find business.
5. Without the overheads of large offices and teams of staff, freelance consultants can provide much more flexible terms.
Many are happy to work on short projects and operate without contracts.
6. Agencies are increasingly using large numbers of freelancers.
Agencies have long known that freelancers provide an effective route to accessing talent without the risk of making permanent hires. Some agencies are taking this a step further, building large networks of freelancers to cover a wide range of niche skills or cover new territories. Indeed, there are now mid-size agencies in the U.S. with freelancers making up half their headcount. Though this trend gives agencies an advantage, it also makes clients more comfortable with independent consultants.
7. The budget pressures on agencies have meant agency teams have less time to put into execution.
More and more journalists complain that PR people are rushed, but independent consultants are still able to take a considered approach as well as reflect on their work, as they’re typically under less pressure.
8. Independent consultants are highly committed.
They put more value on smaller retainers, and their flexibility makes them more accountable for their work. They really are only as good as their last month.
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9. Overheads for freelance consultants continue to fall.
I work between an office at home, client offices, workspaces, and cafes. I use Google Apps for Business, MS Word, Skype, Google Hangout, a Wordpress blog, my laptop, and my mobile phone. I have a more effective IT set up than most agencies, and I pay virtually nothing. This makes it easier for consultants to go freelance and helps them avoid charging office services—a bugbear for many.
The biggest benefit of using freelancers is, of course, cost reduction. The majority of freelancers bill at rates far below the equivalent agency consultant. Clients are effectively getting a highly skilled and experienced consultant for the cost of someone with much less experience in an agency. This helps clients get more bang for their buck and achieve better results.
Toby Walsh is an independent consultant for high-growth tech companies. He has worked both as a freelancer and as an employee for award-winning agencies. You can follow him on his blog at twpr.co or on Twitter @tobyjwalsh.