Is freelance for you?

Contracts which pay as per milestones achieved are better than those which pay at the end of the project.



A tough job market these days is nudging many to go the freelance way. But even in better times, going independent and taking up freelance assignments has had an innate appeal. The benefits of freelancing are clear – you are your own boss, do work you are really cut out for, you have flexibility in timings and possibly better earnings too.

Many people including experienced professionals seem to be looking at freelancing as a full-fledged career option. “There is a myth that freelancing is a choice made by people not serious about their career. Our data shows that the largest segment of freelancers have spent a long stint in the corporate sector and have now opted to go solo to have more control on the quality and content of their work and their schedules,” says Chandrika Pasricha, Founder and CEO of Flexing It, an Internet-based platform which connects freelancers with clients.

Assess the option

Before you decide to join the freelance bandwagon, consider the pitfalls and assess whether you are cut out for it. You will have to work on your own – without the support system of a regular workplace.

As a freelancer, you will have to compete with people with similar skill sets from around the world. Therefore you have to be quite competent in the skill you plan to capitalise on. You must also be ready to make the necessary investments in equipment and infrastructure at home. For instance, it makes sense to get a high-speed Internet connection. Also, if there are frequent power cuts in the area you live in, investing in an uninterrupted power supply system is a good idea.

The competition is fierce. So, first you may have to be patient for work to come your way. And when it does, you must strive to deliver high quality, on time. As Bharati V., a Chennai-based freelance content writer puts it, “You have to establish a reputation and live up to it.” Unfavourable client reviews can cost you assignments and income. There may be lull periods when project flow may be down to a trickle.

You must have the emotional and financial muscle to see this through. Then, there is the bugbear of multiple revisions and changes in project scope due to which you may have to work extra without additional pay. Many freelance writers state upfront the number of revisions (say two or three) they are willing to do without charging extra. But for multiple revisions and changes in scope, you must be ready to negotiate hard to get your dues. Chandrika Pasricha of Flexing It advises having complete clarity on what the client expects before you sign up. Finally, some clients may delay or default on payments. Getting an advance before commencing work could hedge this risk. But this may need good negotiating skills and a solid track record.



Online platform

Freelancing, traditionally, meant leveraging your contacts in the real world and using positive word-of-mouth to bag client assignments. But over the last few years, the online model is gaining ground. Web-based intermediaries such as oDesk and Elance provide a meeting spot (a marketplace of sorts) for clients with jobseekers. This has expanded the market significantly, providing freelancers the opportunity to work on projects from across the globe. There is a wide range of jobs available in categories such as writing and translation, web development, design and multimedia, sales and marketing, and administrative support.

Bids and payment for work on many of these portals is in dollars. Jobs could be paid for at an hourly rate or on a fixed price basis, depending on the scope and complexity of the work. Client budgets vary widely. For example, writing assignments on Elance have budgets from $3-4 an hour to $40-50 an hour, and some have fixed price budgets of more than $10,000. Sometimes, clients may not have specified a budget. To be eligible to bid for work, freelancers are required to post their profile on these Web sites detailing their skills, education and experience. If a freelancer clears certain skill based tests on these Web sites, it adds to the profile strength.

This along with factors such as the bid price and track record (ranking based on client feedback) on previous jobs influence the chances of winning a bid. As you gain reputation, you may be in a position to bid at higher rates (and win). To ensure quality, the number of assignments a freelancer can take up at a time could be restricted. Payment is usually routed through an escrow account maintained by the website that takes its commission (could be up to 10 per cent of the bid amount) when the client gives the go-ahead to release the amount to the freelancer.

How to make your mark

Whether you take up assignments online or offline, success as a freelancer calls for a high degree of discipline. Being focussed and adhering to timelines and quality standards is paramount. Enter into a contract which is comprehensive regarding scope, timelines, payment terms and expectations from both sides. It is wise to enter into contracts which pay you as per milestones achieved or on a regular basis, rather than at the end of the project. This can avoid unwanted surprises. It is important to keep yourself constantly updated. When you freelance, you are essentially starting your own business.

Think like an entrepreneur. Expect the lean seasons and plan your finances well. And yes, remember to pay your taxes. There is no escaping that.

> anand.k@thehindu.co.in

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