Nearly one in five freelancers (19%) are now self-employed as a side-hustle alongside an employee position. Nearly two fifths of these (37%) said they started freelancing in the last 12 months, suggesting a spike in the number of side-hustlers during the pandemic. Nearly a quarter (24%) of those freelancers surveyed also said they had gone into self-employment to add to their main income.

The research also suggests this trend will continue, with 98% of side-hustlers saying they plan to continue freelancing in some form. Of these, 13% said they planned to take their side-gig full-time, 22% said they planned to work part-time as a freelancer and 33% said they would continue freelancing alongside a full-time employee position.  

People's motivations for taking up freelancing are overwhelmingly positive, with over half (55%) citing desiring greater flexibility and over two fifths (44%) saying they wanted to increase their income.

The rise in the number of side-hustles and other freelance work is reflected in the PeoplePerHour platform. During the pandemic, PeoplePerHour has seen its biggest rise in registrations for more than a decade. Almost a quarter of a million (227,000) people applied to use the platform in 2020, up from 136,000 in 2019. Globally, it was a similar story with a 61% jump in freelancer registrations on the platform.

Of those people who signed up to the platform in 2020, over a third said they did so because they lost their job or were furloughed due to Covid 19, 40% wanted to increase their income, and 20% wanted to switch to freelancing full-time.

PeoplePerHour surveyed over 1000 freelancers nationwide across a range of industries including, writing and translation, digital marketing, design, technology and programming, and social media.

Andy Chamberlain, Director of Policy at IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed), said: “There has been a remarkable increase in the number of people working a freelance side-hustle. This seems to be a function of the additional time many employees have got out of the pandemic – whether because they have been furloughed, unable to work their normal jobs, or simply because they are no longer losing time to the daily commute.

“For some, of course, this trend reflects the need for additional income because of the financial hit of the pandemic. For others, it seems likely this is a positive trend: that they have been able to use their extra time – and the flexibility of freelancing – to explore hobbies and passions and turn them into added income.

“The key is for the government to ensure there remains a welcome and supportive business environment for these new freelancers once the country opens up again: to support this new enterprise whether people are fully self-employed, or part-time freelancing alongside other work.”  

Xenios Thrasyvoulou, founder of PeoplePerHour, commented: "Just like the bank crisis before it, the pandemic has proven to be a powerful catalyst for people to reassess their work lives. Whether this is through freelancing full-time or supplementing their employment with a side-hustle, British workers are exploring the best way to take control of what they earn."
Case studies:

Holly Walker, 27 from Windsor, was furloughed last year and started her side hustle of becoming a print & graphics designer specialising in clothing. Holly: “I started freelancing as a back-up for losing my job as a Fashion Print Designer for a high-street clothing supplier during the pandemic, and to keep doing what I loved every day (designing). I wanted to expand on my portfolio & client base. Furlough created the perfect time to start. It has had its­­ ups and downs, but I would say I have been pretty successful with landing projects as a new freelancer.”

Holly continued: “I love the flexibility in choosing your own hours and I enjoy having more control in choosing what jobs I work on. It has allowed me to work on a great range of different briefs, which has taught me a lot about my skills and has made me a lot more confident as a designer. I would love to do this full-time post the pandemic, if I could make it so the income was more stable, by working with more regular clients then I would definitely consider taking up the side hustle as my main form of income.”

Rachel Howlett, 44 from Biggleswade, started her side hustle of writing when she was on furlough from her West End theatre job as she had a lot of spare time. Rachel commented: “ I wanted to do something that would keep me busy and my brain active as well as earn me a bit of extra cash. When I found out I was being furloughed, I was lucky enough to get a job in a care home but it was only a few hours a week. I had written articles for a local magazine, helped friends and family write complaint letters, eulogies and dating profiles so it was something I was interested in but I didn't have time to pursue it as a way to make extra money until I was on furlough.”

Rachel continued: “I have realised that I have more creative and practical writing skills than I thought I had, which has given me the benefit of knowing I can achieve whatever I set out to do when I take on a project and I can be flexible in the type of projects I work on. I have done everything from helping someone increase their credit score to writing a complaint to a housing management company and from researching and compiling a report on the future of the UK property market to creating marketing emails for an IT company - all things I didn't know I was good at until I tried and got very positive feedback from buyers. I won’t take up my side hustle full time as I enjoy my work in the care home, as well as freelance gardening but they are both physically demanding so maybe in the future, when I am less physically able, I may decide to write full time.”