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To be a gig worker, you need to plan ahead

  • Following your passion takes commitment, patience and constant upskilling. The rewards, if you make it, are much higher
  • Breaks or downtime when you have no work and no income is a big challenge of working on your own

Vinushitha B. works as a design contractor for Srikanth Iyer of HomeLane.
Vinushitha B. works as a design contractor for Srikanth Iyer of HomeLane.

In April 2018, after a year of considering it, Bengaluru-based Sonali Dash finally took the plunge. She quit her 10-year-old corporate career of management consulting to become a yoga teacher. It was a big step in her life. “Quitting corporate was challenging as I was used to the financial security my 10-year-long career had offered me," says the 34-year-old. To push herself to give up her comfortable salary, she planned it all—she did a post graduate in yoga to upskill, saved for two years and took worst possible scenarios into account. The combination of financial and emotional support helped Dash till her new career became stable enough.

Brush up your skill sets

What helped Dash through the turmoil of the initial few months was that she had researched well. Before you jump off your existing career, you should understand opportunities in the new line of work you’re heading into, says Sanjay Lakhotia, co-founder, Noble House Consulting, a platform specializing in finding HR consultants for companies. “You need to assess the industry’s expected growth, trends and future possibilities for you as a freelancer," says Lakhotia. It’s also essential to understand if your clients are credible, what the work quality and ethics would be like and what’s the job security for you in case you fall sick.

Freelancing or gig economy in which people work flexibly and on contractual basis with a single or multiple companies, is a growing market in India. According to Truelancer, a global freelance marketplace, 85% freelancers in India are in their 20s and 30s and choose this life for better work and life balance, to earn more money and be their own boss.

Deal with financial falls

Working on your own is a financial risk however the rewards are higher if you can do it right and are willing to take the chance, says Ankish Surendra, a 29-year-old mobile developer. Two years after joining an MNC straight out of college, Surendra was bored of the projects he was offered and wanted to choose more challenging projects. He quit his full-time job in May 2013 and took up projects independently.

The going wasn’t easy. Other than the initial challenges of setting up a consultancy, which included a lot of administration work and a constant need to talk to a lawyer or an accountant, the major challenge was chasing payments. “Some clients didn’t pay, went bankrupt or ended contracts without due notice," says Surendra. He learnt to do a background check of a company before taking on a project, stayed away from part-time founders, made sure he communicated compensation talks over emails and changed his contracts to weekly payments.

Dash’s experience was the same. Clients defaulted on payments or disrespected her advice. She changed her pricing model, moving to subscription based from pay-per-class. “This ensured I got paid on time and attracted the people who took yoga seriously," she says, adding that having patience and adapting to your market is something that’s part of working on your own. So is confidence and owning up your choice. “I knew I was a good yoga teacher so making money was only a matter of time," she says. Within nine months, she found her comfort zone and is now ready to scale up.

Market yourself well

For 24-year-old Vinushitha B., an interior designer from Madurai, chasing payments was the reason she quit the freedom of freelancing and joined HomeLane, an interiors startup where designers work on a contractual basis and get paid per project. “There’s flexibility and full freedom on the projects I work on and I get paid on time," she says. However, she’s tied down to a single client, HomeLane and dreams of starting her own consultancy. “There’s a lot of competition out there with new designers budding everyday. I need to standout, else I won’t be able to cope," she says. In addition, the uncertainty of getting any projects or leads and the gap when she has no work is something that stops her.

Marketing your skill sets is an important part of the freelance life, agrees Karthik Sridharan, co-founder and CEO, Flexiple, a freelance marketplace for software developers based in Bangalore. “You might be an amazing developer or designer but if you’re not good at showcasing your skills to market and differentiate yourself from competition, you won’t be able to convince clients," he says. It’s this additional work of marketing, client relations, making contracts and accounts and financing that add in a lot of overhead on your regular work. “This can be detrimental as all of this needs additional time and doesn’t generate revenue for you," says Lakhotia.

Keep learning constantly

Breaks or downtime when you have no work and no income is a big challenge of working on your own. “You’ll always have time offs, gaps when you have no work and you need to prepare for them financially and mentally," says Surendra. That’s the best time to upgrade skills, network and build a profile in your community. “I am constantly challenging myself, improvising productivity, updating my skills and keeping myself up-to-date on the latest technology and trends," he explains. As a result Surendra has been able to open his own company and now manages a team, working for multiple clients.

Consider hybrid

To reach the rewards, you have to plan well, so you can sustain it for a year without revenue, feels Srikanth Iyer, co-founder and CEO, HomeLane, an interior design company that employs freelancers. “Gather the right skill set and knowledge before you venture on your own," he says. Experience and a good portfolio of your work are essential to attract the right opportunities when working on your own.

The best way to start is the hybrid model like 39-year-old Rahul Pophali, a full-time musician and tabla player from Bengaluru. For eight years, Pophali was a part-time musician with an engineering job. He quit his corporate job when he started to make enough income out of his concerts. “If you’re thinking of following your passion, research, introspect, decide and then do it," says Pophali, adding that it’s essential to be professional, punctual and build a reputation as you’ll not get a second chance.

Answer this

Are you skilled enough?

Gig economy works for specialized skills, where clients are willing to pay for your experience and skill.

What are your risk-taking abilities?

Clients might leave unexpectedly, leaving you in the lurch or you might not be able to find enough work to replace the salary you were getting. Are you mentally prepared for the risk?

Can you market yourself?

You might be good at doing something, but how good are you at convincing possible clients to hire your services? Can you differentiate yourself from competition? How are your client-servicing skills? How good a presenter or conversationalist are you? 

Think through

Choose your clients wisely: To make sure you get paid at the end of a project, do a background research on people you work with and be sure they are able to pay.

Be transparent: Always be upfront on the mistakes you make, never bloat up the hours you clock. You’re building relationships in the long term so transparency and honesty are important.

Learn to say no: You might be desperate for more clients, but don’t work with people who are paying you too little, don’t respect your work, or have impossible expectations.

Plan ahead financially: Freelancers see spurts of money. There would be a few months that you earn a lot and then a few months of no payments. Always have an extra cushion to make sure that all your regular expenses are paid for.

Manage the breaks: Every consultant or freelancer has a downtime when they don’t have clients and aren’t earning anything. Don’t stress yourself, instead, upgrade your sills, network, connect with your ecosystem and build a profile. 

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