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Like a Silicon Valley fairy-tale, Apple recently hit the $1 trillion mark - a massive leap from what was once a shared project between a few friends who would hang out in a garage building computers. 

The buzzwords and media coverage that abound in the world of entrepreneurship mirror and glorify this one goal above all others: growth. But perhaps not everyone wants to be the next big thing (or have a trillion dollar enterprise…but maybe that would be nice). In fact, a recent report published by the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) and the Involvement and Participation Association (IPA) tells a very different story.

The report, Working well for yourself, addresses the question ‘what makes for good self-employment’? Building on the wider debate about good work – sparked by the publication of the 2017 Taylor Review of Modern Employment Practices – they set out to uncover what exactly makes for good work for the UK’s 4.8 million self-employed.

Based on a survey and focus groups around the UK, IPSE and the IPA found that being able to employ other people is not how the majority of self-employed people gauge their success. Instead, most self-employed people (63%) see developing skills and knowledge as a vital measure of career progression – even more than rising earnings. In fact, “only 16% of respondents to our survey listed ‘being able to employ/hire other people to work for me’ as one of their desired areas of career progression; the lowest of any responses to the question.”

Many self-employed people do not fit the classic example of a start-up, but rather enjoy practising their chosen profession- be it as an artist, writer, therapist, director, tutor or consultant. The report takes an optimistic outlook on this, saying that:

It is encouraging that many self-employed workers found themselves doing work which they enjoyed and were passionate about, rather than simply something they did in order to get paid. A wealth of recent research points to finding a sense of meaning and purpose in one’s work as a key component of overall wellbeing.

-Working Well for Yourself

So, statistics say the self-employed don’t necessarily get that feeling of success through growth, but then how do they analyse progression?

For many, the key indicator of progression was ‘increasing skills and knowledge’ - the top answer in the survey. This was listed by 64% as one of their key ways to gauge their progress and demonstrates the importance of a greater focus on the availability of training for the self-employed. 

A further high scoring measurement of career progression among the self-employed is having a sense of achievement and purpose through the impact their work was having (49%). As quoted in the report, an IT consultant in Manchester summed up this style of thinking, saying “I don’t need to have a grandiose role; what I want to do is make a difference. So for me it’s the ability to work on projects that are interesting to me but also will leave a legacy”. 

Included in the report are several recommendations surrounding financial incentives and support that the Government could offer to the self-employed that mirror these progression indicators, rather than assuming everyone wants to be the next disruptive start-up.

In addition to skills, progression and a sense of purpose, IPSE and the IPA identified three other key factors that determine the quality of work for the self-employed: pay, client relationships and work-life balance.

To read the full report and learn more about these findings, visit


IPSE, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, is the voice of the UK’s self-employed population who make up one in seven people working today. Join 74,000 of your fellow independent contractors, freelancers, consultants and interims and gain access to a huge range of membership benefits, knowledge, experience and, of course, our award-winning policy work with Government. Learn more about IPSE Membership here.