Consulting among top paid freelance roles in UK

07 March 2019 5 min. read

A new study of the UK’s gig economy has revealed that consulting work is among the most lucrative in the market. However, while freelancers in the professional services sector command the highest average salaries, their roles are far from being the most desirable to workers mulling a career change.

With the national unemployment rate already sitting at a four decade low, UK employment has hit new heights in 2019, with the rate of those without jobs now sitting at 3.8% across all ages. The percentage of those officially jobless in 2019 is its lowest since 1975, but it would be wrong to assume that it is the same kind of employment as seen then. In fact, the number of those in work has been significantly supplemented by Britain’s sprawling and often inequitable gig economy.

Since the financial crisis, engaging freelancers has become an increasingly popular option for risk-averse employers. Unlike self-employed individuals, freelancers usually provide pieces of work for other people, who then sell on their labour – essentially replicating regular employment but without the security of a permanent contract. According to analysis last year, the industry currently contains a record labour pool of around 5 million people (or around 15% of the labour force), having increased from 3.3 million (12% of the labour force) in 2001.

While there are undoubtedly pitfalls related to freelance work, there are also huge benefits associated with some lines of work in the gig-economy. With the freelance arena set to grow further in 2019, as further economic uncertainty relating to Brexit means companies are unlikely to favour increasing levels of permanent hiring any time soon, specialist insurance firm Protectivity has analysed over 50 freelance careers to find the most desirable and financially secure jobs in the UK for those mooting a potential career change in 2019.

Freelance consulting work pays well, but is still not the most attractive career

The survey of more than 1,000 people calculated the lines of freelance work which the public finds most desirable, and which pays best. Interestingly, the two do not seem to correlate all that thoroughly. While professional services lines dominate the best paid roles in the UK freelance sector, they rank comparatively low in terms of their desirability.

The highest paid type of freelance work was found to belong to lawyers, who see an average annual salary of more than £57,000. The only other line of work to see a yearly wage over the £50,000 mark was investment consulting, but business consulting also made an appearance in the top 10 best paid gig careers. Just outside the leading 10, freelance consulting also brings in an average salary far higher than many of the roles seen as more desirable by respondents.

While lawyers and architects both performed strongly in both categories, then, the professional services sector as a rule is less attractive as a career choice than it is a lucrative one. This may be because in terms of freelance work, workers are more willing to consider a ‘side-hustle’, and pursue more than one line of work. With a better paid sector of employment paying the bills, a larger number of freelancers may be free to pursue their heart’s desire.

Consulting less ‘desirable’

Indeed, while freelance photography only brings in an average annual salary of £26,000, 68% of those polled by Protectivity said they found it a desirable line of work. Musicians also pick up a pay-cheque less than half the size of some those in the professional services sector, but it is the next most desirable career for freelancers, at 64%.

In stark contrast, with the second highest average pay of any freelance career, investment consulting was viewed as attractive by only 44% of respondents, and business consulting did not do much better. Marketing consulting performed worst out of the consulting sector in terms of both wages and desirability in the research.

Commenting on the findings, Sean Walsh, Marketing Manager from Protectivity, said, “Joining the world of ‘freelancing’ can be a scary prospect at first to some… There is often a negative connotation associated with freelancers when it comes to both job security and a regular income, but it’s great to see such a variation of careers making it into the most profitable and desirable… This research shows some interesting results that prove you can get out there on your own and make the jump into the freelancing world.”

While more fashionable careers might top the wish-lists of freelancers, however, it by no means suggests that independent consulting is a bad line of work. A recent study from Comatch polled 430 independent consultants from 22 different countries – the largest such study in Europe – to assess their satisfaction. Of the 430 respondents, 15% were laid off by their last employer, while two-thirds of the sample, or 67%, quit their last job to better realise their individual ambitions. Across the board, the study found the majority of freelance consultants not only enjoy independent work more than with firms, but actually earn a larger wage.