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How to Succeed at Freelancing in India – Your Essential Guide

The concept of Freelancing has been fast to catch on in India, and can be just the thing for people aspiring for more freedom and flexibility in their work. At Oorja Biz Ops, some of us have been there and done that, and thought it would be useful to compile some market data and our experiences into a quick and essential guide on how to succeed at Freelancing in India. This is for those of you who are considering or are walking on this road of freelancing. If you are looking to quit your full-time job to work as a freelancer and perhaps set out to achieve your entrepreneurial ambitions, here are some things you need to know.

How to Succeed at Freelancing in India – What is Freelancing?

Simply put, freelancing is working for yourself. You are a “free agent” and choose your own clients. You are self-employed and hired to work for different companies on particular assignments. There are multiple interpretations now of the freelancing term.  You could be one of the following types of freelancers:

Independent contractors: Their work is project based, however they do not have an employer.

Moonlighters: They do freelance work in addition to their day job – after work and/or weekends

Diversified workers: They have various sources of employment, mixing traditional jobs with freelance.

Temporary workers: Their work is project based, but they have a single temporary employer.

Freelance business owners: They could be sole proprietors or have hired a small team, but are essentially freelancers .

Note: When we say, freelancing is working for yourself – the key word here is WORKING. Many people enter into freelancing thinking it is an easy way to be your own boss, or perhaps sit at home earning money doing nothing. Nothing could be farther from the reality. It is very hard being a freelancer, perhaps harder than being in a regular job. According to a study cited in The Economist, freelancers work an average of 6% more hours per week compared to those in employment. If you want a fulfilling freelancing career, YOU HAVE TO WORK very very hard for it. But then nothing good ever came easy, right? Our Essential Guide on How to Succeed at Freelancing in India  is intended to make you aware of some of these challenges and help you get prepared so that you can enter into the “Fun” stage of freelancing.

How to Succeed at Freelancing in India – What Can You Do?

The right question to ask here is – what are the in-demand skills in the freelancing market that match my skills and area of expertise? If you want to have a long term and successful freelance career, offer a service that you know people want. Choosing something you love doing without checking whether there is a market for that is a folly. As Kelly James-Enger, author of Six Figure Freelancing says:

“‘Follow your heart and do what you love’ is just a slogan. You need to get real. If you’re not offering a service people are willing to spend money on, you’re not going to be in business [for long].”

Here are some of the skill categories that are popular in India and an approximate wage range for each of them (Source – Economic Times):

How to Succeed at Freelancing in India – How to Price Yourself?

Setting and negotiating rates often feels like one of the most complicated and intimidating parts of freelancing. In order to set a rate that is appropriate for your skills, education and experience a freelancer must first understand the freelance market. Payoneer surveyed over 23,000 freelancers worldwide in order to determine the average hourly rates charged by freelancers. Here are some key findings:

  • The worldwide average hourly rate charged by freelancers is $21
  • Over three quarters of respondents are male (78%)
  • Freelance professionals work an average of 36 hours per week (7 hours per day for a 5-day work week)
  • The worldwide income satisfaction level of freelancers is 46%
  • Over 80% of the professionals surveyed work on 1 to 3 jobs at a time
  • Almost half of freelancers find projects via online marketplaces
  • The preferred social media channel to promote freelancing skills is Facebook

Now the India specific data (Read the full report here) :

  • The average hourly rate charged by freelancers in India is $19
  • Almost half of the clients that Indian freelancers work with are based in Asia, The Americas are also an important region, with over a quarter of the professionals’ clients residing there.
  • On average, freelancers with a higher level of education are charging more. This suggests that hiring companies and professionals do take education into account when selecting their freelancers, in addition to their experience, portfolio, and skills.
  • Professionals in Sales & Marketing are not only the most hard working, but also hold the highest level of income satisfaction in India (followed closely by freelancers in Finance & Management, and IT & Programming), while those in Writing & Translation are at the lowest level of satisfaction as well as working the fewest hours per week. It appears that there is a direct correlation between hours of work and income satisfaction, suggesting that many freelancers would ideally like to find more work.
  • The worldwide satisfaction level of Indian freelancers is at 36%.

The table below from Upwork (Previously Elance-Odesk) will give an indicative idea on the average rate per hour that you could earn on the skills that are in demand internationally. These wage numbers come from the combined databases of Elance and Upwork, and are based on the average hourly rate for each skill between January 1 and May 31, 2015.

How to Succeed at Freelancing in India – Where Do I Find Work?

Want to break a leg in the world of freelancing? Start networking! The first and the best gigs that you get will most likely be through your own network. Meet up regularly with people who you think would be open to outsourcing or can recommend you to someone who would.  Shamelessly tap your friends/relatives and into their networks. Use social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to spread the word. The biggest challenge in Freelancing is finding enough clients on a regular basis to give you the income you need sustainably. And for that, branding yourself and marketing your skills and expertise effectively becomes critical. You have to keep putting yourself out there till you build a reputation – then people start coming to you !

Sign up/register with Freelance communities and marketplaces to get a steady flow of work and more choice.  The most popular international freelance sites are Upwork.com and Freelancer.com. Fiverr.com too is popular Indian websites, too, are gaining popularity with some niche sites as well. However, do conduct a background check before you engage with these websites.
(Source – Economic Times – note that Elance is now Upwork)

How to Succeed at Freelancing in India – Mind-Shifts that You Need to Make:

Freelancing definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Things change. And things change rapidly. Your success or failure completely depends on You.  Most of the changes would have to be in your mindset – your thoughts and approach to situations and your ability to plan and decide. Here are five things you need to know before making the big shift from quitting your full time job to becoming a freelancer:

  1. Finance: The comfort and assurance of a pay check at the end of the month will no longer exist. Along with all the joys of being a freelancer also comes the risk of financial insecurity. Start with calculating the minimum income you need (be realistic!) to sustain your lifestyle, then work out the income you need to cover the “bare essentials”. Before you ditch your full-time job to commit to full-time freelancing, be certain that you can earn atleast enough to meet the minimum initially. We recommend having a nest egg to cover your expenses for the first three months atleast (more if you are the sole income earner in the household). Incomes from freelancing go from feast to famine and back again pretty much as a norm. Be prepared. There is a lot of cost cutting and budget planning you will have to meticulously do to be able to spend and save responsibly. And for sure, it has to be more saving (including investments for the future like insurance, etc.) than spending.
  2. Time: How you use your time is paramount and the sole condition to your success. You will realize that “time is money”, and the method in which you time and plan your work will be directly proportional to how much you are able to earn. It is easy to get into the schedule of a workaholic, which is something you should ideally be careful of. Remember, it is only when you enjoy your work that you will be able to sustain yourself and your business.
  3. Abilities and Skills: Once a freelancer, you are solely responsible for your growth. Your learning and skill development could either come to a grinding halt, because you would have no direct motivation to invest time in it anymore, or you could, once in every few months, look back, re-assess and re-plan. Stay abreast to stay competitive.
  4. Resources aka Technology and Tools: It will be solely your responsibility to set up your own support framework in terms of technology and tools, and ensure that it does not let you down. You know, as well as we do, that when this one thing goes wrong, you will lose out on money, time and since time is money, both. Capitalize on your strengths, and do not be afraid to delegate what you are not good at, because trying to micromanage everything never quite works.
  5. Staying Afloat: When you took, or take, the decision to become a freelancer, it was solely yours. It is essential that you do so, keeping all the pros and cons in mind. It is quite a daunting task to be able to go out there all on your own and pursue your aspirations. Every time you feel the pressure getting to you, keep reminding yourself why you ended up there in the first place, so that you stay afloat.

To work for yourself, be your own boss AND have a steadily increasing income is a dream for most. Only very few have the courage and the attitude to transform this into reality. There is no better time than today to be a freelancer in this new open-work, skill driven economy. And as our mentor, Seth Godin says (Check out his course for freelancers) – Each of us gets to choose the sort of freelance work we will do. This is a profound freedom, and one that we often ignore, wasting the opportunity…….When you move up the ladder, step by step, the work gets more rewarding. We each start as a replaceable cog, open to taking whatever is offered. With focus and effort, though, you can go all the way to becoming a remarkable creator with few substitutes. Along the way, you will gain respect, income and freedom.

What did you think of our Essential Guide for Freelancing in India – we would love to hear back from you. If you are a freelancer, we welcome you to share your feedback on this post and/or your experiences as a freelancer for our readers. If you want to become a freelancer and have a question that we have not answered, ask away here or email us at contact@oorjabizops.com if you want to keep your aspirations confidential.

Happy Freelancing Journey!

Header Pic courtesy : http://khalidfarhan.com/

The Journey from Employee to  – Five Mind Shifts that I need to work on

The Journey from Employee to – Five Mind Shifts that I need to work on

Thomas Carlyle said – Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see farther. 

It has been a few months now since I handed over my employee badge and stepped on to the road less travelled of entrepreneurship. Still surviving and never been happier !

My last blog on this topic elicited a lot of interest and questions and I thought it would be a good idea to take stock of what I have seen so far and share what I have learnt on this journey. While I did know when I started out that my life is going to change in a BIG way, what I probably had not realized as much was that most of the change would have to be in my mindset – my thoughts and approach to situations. HBS professor Howard Stevenson in his book – Breakthrough Entrepreneurship – defined Entrepreneurship as “Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” And that certainly is a great definition in my case. As a micro-entrepreneur, my access to resources is certainly limited and I am learning how to be resourceful, identify the resources that I do have and find access to the resources that I don’t have.

So here are the five mind-shifts that I have realized I need to make and work on:

Resource #1 Time – Time is more valuable than Money:  It took me around a month to realize that  “time is money” is an advice best ignored as it is a definite trap. I had broken up my working hours into slots that I planned to sell. Then I realized the only way to make more money from my work is to make more time to work. And then days and nights, weekends and weekdays all started blurring into each other pretty soon till I was at a point where I lost track of all time. There are just not enough hours in the day for the work that I want to do and the kind of success that I want to achieve. Lesson learned – I need to learn the art of saying “NO” and also need to systemize my work to achieve scalability. Think about the outcome I want and then work backwards breaking it up into tasks and checklists and documenting all of it so that I create repeatable processes that clients and my team can use to deliver identical results every time–especially when I am not there. This is about moving from the “no one can do it better than me” mindset to “enabling and creating capabilities outside of me” so that I can free up my time and attention for the next level of challenges and opportunities.

Resource #2 Finances – I am my safety blanket: The luxury of a pay cheque at the end of the month is gone – so also is all the benefits and savings towards a pension that got automatically taken care of by my employer. So now the responsibility lies solely with me to ensure that I plan my finances in such a way that I am keeping aside some of the money for the future. Never being very good with personal finances, I have had to give considerable thought to this especially when one of the golden rules of entrepreneurship is to have a nest egg for living expenses and emergencies for at least one year before expanding the business or your lifestyle. This will need a lot of juggling and some level of discipline in me to achieve.

Resource #3 Ability and Skills – I am solely responsible for MY performance and growth: No more annual performance appraisals and goal setting by managers (that’s actually a relief as I have never believed in them anyway). And there is no option of learning on the job as you are expected to deliver from day one as a consultant. So, if I have to grow, it is unto me to take charge of my learning curve while balancing the two points above – time and finances.  I am reading up on goal setting – 30, 60, 90 days plans that will work well for me and my business. I have also created a goal poster for myself to help me visualize my success and urge me forward. I had never imagined that I would end up spending so much time on this area ultimately considering that this was an area I never gave much attention to as an employee.

Resource #4 Technology and Tools – I am my support function: The life-lines of calling up the IT department or admin to take care of my IT or admin needs is over. I have to build up my own support structure so that I don’t waste my precious time on tasks such as creating invoices, backing up data, setting up a LAN, etc. – all business critical functions but not my core competency. I need to concentrate on my strengths and take help on or delegate my weaknesses. Hence the need to investigate the right set of tools and technology to improve my productivity. I also have to look at functions that can be delegated or outsourced with ease so I am keeping a checklist of things and documenting the processes that I need to outsource in the near future instead of trying to do it all myself. That’s another change in thought process that is important in making a smooth transition from employee to entrepreneur.

Resource #5 Being Visible I am my marketing and sales engine – and that means that I have to move from being an introvert to someone who doesn’t shy away from marketing and legitimately promoting myself – the biggest mind shift that I have to make. This is probably something that I should have been doing as an employee too but I always thought that my work would speak for itself (and it did to some extent). Recognizing my value myself and ensuring that others know it too, never under-selling and pushing back or forward as needed is critical for my business growth. Confidence comes from action is something that I now realize too well – so my to-do list is now almost full of actions that I need to take to make me and my business visible. Sacha Chua – a fellow entrepreneur sums up it up very well in her sketch note here.

So are you in the same boat? What shifts did you have to make in your entrepreneurship journey? What else do I need to re-learn? I would love to hear back and learn from your experiences.

Pic courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uggboy/5383116954