What do the new self-employed actually do?

The jobs that didn't exist when you were young

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Self-employment is at a 40-year high: four and a half million people now work for themselves, more than one in seven workers. The sector has accounted for more than two-thirds of all new jobs since 2008.

Not so long ago, self-employment was largely the territory of tradespeople: builders, plumbers, electricians and the like. More recently, numbers have been swelled by an army of low-paid workers such as drivers and care workers, who would until recently have had full employment status.

But what about the rest?

Changes in technology and society mean that whole new areas of work have opened up, and companies often test the waters by using freelancers rather than permanent staff.

As Xenios Thrasyvoulou, founder of PeoplePerHour, comments: "The way we work – and live – has changed dramatically since the creation of the internet, so it's little wonder that the freelance market has also transformed."

According to PeoplePerHour, Instagram is currently leading the way in freelance job creation.

Having gained more than 300 million users in the five years since it started in 2010, it's one of the most successful social media platforms of the moment - and businesses are starting to use their Instagram pages as a marketing tool.

And this is where Instagram marketers come in, creating visual advertising tailored for the platform - and charging as much as £30 per hour.

But it's not the only social media site where companies need specialist marketers and designers. LinkedIn marketers can pull in £30 an hour, says PeoplePerHour, while Facebook or Twitter consultants can make £28.

Pinterest consultants do almost as well at £27 per hour, while Twitter consultants or social media managers make £21.

And there's plenty of other freelance work around that wouldn't have been dreamt of a few years ago. 2015 has seen the advent of the Apple iWatch app developer, for example, making around £45 per hour - £10 an hour more than the average mobile app developer.

Meanwhile, at £23 per hour, eBook cover designers are still in demand as more and more people take advantage of self-publishing opportunities.

Other popular freelance positions include image retouchers, on an average of £37 per hour, professional bloggers on £22, and online security consultants - an increasingly lucrative job, says PeoplePerHour, which has evolved from focusing purely on avoiding cyber-attacks to include helping clients remove unflattering data from search engines such as Google. They're making an average of £40 per hour.

"The internet, and freelance marketing platforms like PeoplePerHour, give a home to those with the ingenuity and flexibility to take advantage of emerging trends," says Thrasyvoulou.

In a separate survey, PeoplePerHour found that the main motivations for becoming self-employed are the desire for independence and the need for a greater challenge, more creativity and greater job satisfaction.

And setting up on your own as a sole trader is actually pretty simple. You'll first need to contact HMRC and register for self-assessment. You can trade under a business name without needing to register it with Companies House, though you still need to follow certain rules, such as avoiding confusion with existing businesses, or with official authorities.

Filling out a self-assessment tax return means you'll need to keep records of your sales, expenses and bills; you'll also have to pay National Insurance. If you earn less than £82,000 a year, you won't need to worry about VAT.

Accountancy firm Boox recently found that the average self-employed worker makes £50,820 - not far off double the national average of £26,093. And four in ten are confident that their business is improving, with only a quarter thinking it's set to get worse.

"As the Boox report reveals, becoming self-employed can enable workers to earn more money than they might in permanent employment," comments Dr John Glen, senior lecturer in Economics at Cranfield School of Management.

"Employers value the skills and expertise this diverse group of workers bring to an organisation. The rise in the number of self-employed workers is also beneficial for government because it is a key driver of wealth creation, employment and diversity."

Growth in new jobs in the last 6 months and hourly rates charged:
Instagram marketer: 450% - £32
Security consultant (help securing websites, executing removal from Google search etc): 382% - £40
Apple iWatch app development: 372% - £45
Pinterest consultant: 299% - £27
Image retoucher: 254% - £37
Twitter consultant/social media manager: 215% - £21
Facebook/Twitter designers: 207% - £28
LinkedIn Marketing: 177% - £30
eBook cover designer: 169% - £23
Mobile App Developer: 150% - £35
Professional Blogger: 146% - £22
Dating profile writer: 134% - £18
Google analytics consultant: 129% - £32
Online tutor (via Skype): 120% - £18
User experience designer: 119% - £17

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