What I learnt about being a Freelancer
India’s gig economy is set to triple over the next 3-4 years to 24 million jobs in the non-firm sector from the existing 8 million. Gig workers deliver on-demand work with little to no formal contracting. Here are things I learned over the last five years of freelancing.
The alternative workforce, on-demand workforce, gig workers, freelancers, independent workers, moonlighters, side-hustlers, liquid workforce... there are many shades of the workforce that is growing fast. Freelancers also do on-demand work but have no platform or agency to market them. Some freelancers work alone as "solopreneurs" while some have loose collaborations that come up from project to project.
Who is a freelancer?
- Freelancers: Freelancers cut across the spectrum. The dentist who runs his/her own clinic is a freelancer. So is the YouTuber who makes money making videos. Their professional practice grows by word-of-mouth. They manage their own marketing, support staff and professional accreditations. Creators are often freelancers. The Creator Economy is booming and is a great employer of freelancers. Opportunities for creators have increased 489,000% since 2016. (Read more)
- Gig workers: A freelancer who is listed on a platform is a gig worker. This is a vital difference. Noble House Consulting that lists almost 13,500 professionals across multiple functions is a platform for white collar gig workers. The graphic below shows the range of jobs that are attracting gig workers. Professionals in fields like Data Analytics, Content Writing and Design, find gig work as a convenient way to build their skills. In many of these fields, working as a full time employee limits the hands-on opportunities to stay at the cutting edge.
Graphic courtesy: ThinkNoblehouse.com
Awign is a platform for gig work that just completed five years. Awign gets projects from its clients and assigns them to gig workers. These are often pin-code based jobs. They are trained on the specific task and then Gig workers get paid on completion of the task and Awign bills the enterprise for the completed task after thorough quality control measures. Their client list shows that the opportunities for gig workers cuts across sectors and roles from baristas to sales and audit. (Read: What are pin-code based jobs)
(Graphics Source: Awign.com)
Temporary farm workers, daily-wage construction labourers and household help are also part of the informal economy that gets clubbed under the heading of gig workers. (Read more)
Why personal brand matters to freelancers
There are five problems any talent marketplace will face: How to get discovered. The credentials and skill level of the person. Keeping a customer delighted. Getting paid on completion of the work. Continuous skilling, upskilling and reskilling. In case of gig workers, the platform solves all these problems. For a freelancer, all five have to be solved and that in turn forms the reputation or freelancer's personal brand.
You may be an expert, but if people can't find you and trust you to do the job, it is a non-starter. As a freelancer, you have to find the project/ task; negotiate the payment terms and deliver the project to the buyer. Freelancers have to invest in their own skill development.
Four lessons learned the hard way
- The clients care about their OWN problem - not your description: The buyers have problems that they want solved. The buyer is not looking for your business card. I offer services as a Career Transition Coach. When buyers contact me, they do not say that they are looking for a coach. They talk about wanting to change their career trajectory. Whether I say that I offer Executive Coaching or Talent Strategist, the client shrugs and mumbles, "Whateverrrrr". As long as I can help them, the client does not care if I call myself a "Career Surgeon". As an employee the employer already has a job description that tells you what problems you will be expected to solve.
- Getting discovered needs a strong personal brand: As a freelancer, the client is reaching out specifically to you and not to a company/ platform that will assign the job to the next available agent. Hence being discoverable is a vital part of success as a freelancer. The doctor who is recommended by the people you trust is the one you choose when you are new to the neighbourhood. When people tell you that the doctor is great at solving this exact problem, you are reassured that you found the perfect dentist. The signboard may say your doctor is a Maxillofacial Prosthodontist. Your trust is built by what your friends and neighbours said - that is the personal brand of the dentist!
- Keep your skills sharp: According to Deloitte, "The alternative workforce tends to update their skills more frequently and can typically ramp up within days rather than weeks. Their long-term success is dependent on staying up-to-date and minimising time to delivery. In 2019, 60 percent of the alternative workforce reportedly participated in skills or education-related training in the past six months, compared with 40 percent of the traditional workforce."
The only one is a lonely one: Being a freelancer is a lonely choice. Strong introverts are more comfortable with lack of opportunities to share their work problems. Having a network of freelancers that connect periodically can be useful. Comparing notes with them can be powerful. Freelancers need to keep their social skills sharp through regular interactions, else the skills fade away.
Three mindsets to build
The most successful freelancers have made a conscious attempt to train themselves while they were still employees. Here are the three elements that you train yourself in
- Autonomous working: Freedom is a wild animal that needs taming. I had a routine that I followed when I was an employee. I maintained most of it when I started as a freelancer. I wear work clothes even when I have no client meetings. It keeps me focused. There are no off days when you are a freelancer. I find ways to stay connected enough to respond to any unscheduled queries that may crop up. I make it a point to take enough vacation days. Having a structure gives me the freedom to be unstructured. Read more: How you can leverage enclothed cognition
- Skill building: Just like my vacation days, I also plan the days when I will attend seminars or workshops and set up conversations that I will learn from. I build in time to read books and use social media to connect and learn. I listen to lots of podcasts to stay energised. My weekly LinkedIn Live gives me a chance to meet futurists, Hollywood stars, entrepreneurs, thinkers and artists. The conversations on the audio platform Mentza have given me creative outlets and builds my skills.
- Ask yourself the tough question:If you have not prepared yourself to be a freelancer, you may be simply running away from a bad boss. Preparing yourself mentally can be the hardest thing to do in your transition to be a freelancer. Ask why you want to be a freelancer. Your purpose becomes the reason why you get up in the morning every day. Talk to people who are doing the kind of work you intend to. I found that to be really helpful. Don't forget to ask them what they find to be the downside of being a freelancer and how they handle those problems.
"Freelance work offers flexibility. Several professionals do not want to work 15 hour days any more. During the pandemic, many women lost their jobs or had to quit because they had to look after school-going children or ageing parents at home. They want to get back to the workforce as freelancers. Employers are using freelancers to build more diversity in their teams."
Sanjay Lakhotia, co-founder Noble House Consulting
Employers are trying to make full time employees work like freelancers. Remote work is the new sign on bonus. I think it is the perfect training program to become a freelancer.
Do you think remote work is a good training program to prepare for life as a freelancer? Leave your comments below. If you like the post, do share it with your network. Thanks