One of the few positives from the last few tumultuous years has been the growth in support for small local businesses. Whether it’s buying food from your local farm shop or bakery, or campaigns like Small Business Saturday or Record Store Day, a lot of people have become more conscious about how they spend their money. And that also covers some areas of the service sector, such as pubs and cafes which have been struggling. But it does leave me asking, where’s the ‘Buy Local’ movement for freelancers?
Without wanting to criticise any of my friends or online contacts, it does feel strange to see someone proudly sharing their latest purchase from a neighbourhood craft brewery or restaurant to support their area. And then talking in a separate post about how they’re saving money by using agencies and freelancers abroad to get marketing, copyright or design support, for example.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of digital connectivity and remote work allowing companies to find the best people to help them from around the world. I’ve loved being able to work with clients and other freelancers across the UK, Europe and America from the comfort of my home office. But there’s a difference between looking for the right people, or just picking the cheapest option. And often there are potential benefits to investing in local freelancers which get completely overlooked.
Maybe it feels easier to justify spending a little more of your own money to support the local economy than when it’s coming from your business budget. But given that services industries as a whole make up 80% of the total UK economic output, and 82% of employment, (House of Commons research, August 2022), it seems weird that freelancers are often being left out. Especially when many retailers and businesses have needed to move more of their operations online. Is there really a difference between baking a loaf of bread to sell, or creating a website to allow someone to order it for a local delivery?
The benefits of buying local for freelance services
Unless you’re investing in the top talent from around the world, it might cost a business slightly more to hire a local freelancer in the UK versus offshoring the work. But I suspect many companies don’t even think about looking in their own neighbourhood. I’m based on the edge of a fairly typical town, and yet there are enormously talented designers, developers, artists and more within a literal stone’s throw of my front door.
You might pay a small premium for my help versus someone based in a lower-cost country. But if I’m recommending your business to friends, family, neighbours, and in online groups for the local area, it’s likely to bring you more customers and revenue than your original investment. Especially when I’ve often become a paying customer for former clients, having seen the knowledge and passion they have for their businesses.
And it’s not just about the direct purchases that stay in the local economy. If you’re able to support local freelancers, it starts to build a community and ecosystem of people working to lift each other up. You’ll often see the Government and press talk about UK tech clusters in Manchester, Liverpool or the Silicon Fen around Cambridge, due to the large companies and funding involved in those areas. But there are groups and individuals across the country who can have a big impact on local cities, towns or villages with a little bit of organic, bottom-up support. And that encourages public and private investment in facilities, infrastructure and more.
Hiring or working with local freelancers also encourages everyone to break down some of the barriers between different specialisms. The majority of my online contacts tend to be writers, or working in marketing. But the people I’ve met through meetups and connections in my area cover pretty much every area of self-employment, from gardeners and mechanics, to Hackspace founders or experts in artificial intelligence. I’ve learned from them, worked for them, hired them, and collaborated on ways we could all contribute to the local economy and community.
It’s why I’m always slightly irritated to see a specialist in SEO or PPC marketing complain when they’ve lost a client to a cheaper competitor abroad, before doing the same for their own business when it comes to copywriting or design. And I’ve seen the same happen in groups dedicated to pretty much every area of self-employment. If we’re not setting a good example, then why should our clients behave any differently?
We’d all like to see more support for freelancers and the self-employed being offered by the Government and other organisations, which is where groups like IPSE are so important. But at the same time, I’m probably not the only person who could admit they could be a bit more proactive in supporting their local area, and growing the freelance economy from the ground up. So along with proudly sharing a photo of an artisan focaccia to show your support for a local bakery, why not also buy local when you need the services of a freelancer?
Read more of Dan’s previous opinion columns on freelancing here, including bad briefs, living with another freelancer, and why everyone should be self-employed at least once in their careers.