Hip hooray, it’s Freelancers Day!Freelancers have tended to go under the radar in today’s economy, despite more and more Britons choosing to become their own bosses. That’s why PCG, the organisation representing freelancers, has declared today to be National Freelancers Day.

Self-employment is at a 20-year high – the number of self-employed people rose by 52,000 between May and July this year, according to the Office of National Statistics. There are now 4.2 million of them in Britain – 14% of the nation’s workforce.

Freelancers have become an economic force to be reckoned with: they contribute £202 billion to UK Plc, government figures suggest. They play a critical role in today’s economy, helping firms expand their talent base on an ad hoc basis and so further innovation and enterprise, according to a recent report by Cranfield School of Management.

Perhaps one reason behind their anonymity is that quite a few didn’t choose to become self-employed. One in four people were forced into it through being made redundant, the PCG says.

But having made the leap (whether because of the recession or not), most never look back. Over three quarters of freelancers said their job was more satisfying than being an employee, said a survey of more than 1,000 contractors conducted by accountancy firm SJD. Fewer than 10% said they would go back to permanent employment if they were offered the chance.

Going freelance takes courage and hard work, but most love the challenge of using their skills, experience and network of contacts to find work. They also do pretty well for themselves. Freelancers earn on average over £50,000, according to a study by Boox, an accounting service for freelancers. That’s nearly double the average wage – though it probably isn’t as much as they earned in their old jobs. But earnings vary across industries. The average annual salary for freelancers in the IT sector is £63,000; in PR and marketing it’s £57,000; in design it’s £50,000.

Freelancing also has other benefits. The freedom and flexibility it offers (both in how long you work and who for) is attractive. When you’re self-employed you’re not chained to your desk, so a 9 to 5 routine goes out of the window. You get to see more of your family and can fit work around your home life.

Freelancers also genuinely enjoy what they do. But then if you’re going to give up the security that comes with being employed then that helps. They’re also a pretty optimistic bunch, as in most surveys of their attitudes they say they expect to prosper.

So today give a silent cheer to the growing ranks of the freelancers, who are proving that in today’s economy there’s never a bad time to start a business if you’ve got a good idea, a lot of expertise and plenty of passion.