Freelancer or nine-to-fiver? Weigh your options before you decide

As freelance becomes an increasingly lucrative option to students, it may have a flip-side to it. Could it be made for you?
Updated on Sep 28, 2016 04:49 PM IST
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Hindustan times | ByLavina Mulchandani & Alifya Poonawala

Computer engineering student Sumesh Dhar was still in his final year at Pune’s Sinhagad College when he was offered a Rs 4 lakh annual package at campus placement. He rejected it. The reason he turned down what many consider a dream offer? It just wasn’t good enough. Dhar believed he could do far better as a freelancer.

Dhar started freelancing early. He was in his first year of college when he took up side projects offering web solutions for Indian companies, and while he initially worked for free, those projects gave him enough experience to land bigger jobs and command a fee. “The small projects paid me around Rs 2,000,” says Dhar. “I now earn Rs one lakh a month for close to nine months in the year.”

A regular job, with lower pay and only one client, then, seemed neither an opportunity nor a challenge for the freelancer.


Across cities, more professionals are considering opting out of the security of a permanent position to take up freelance projects for different companies of their own choosing. “Students and under-graduates freelance to gauge their interests to start with,” says Richa Dwivedi Saklani, founder of Inomi, a career counselling firm from Mulund. “Some continue it so they can do multiple things at the same time and have flexible work hours,”

It can also work out to be a better deal for those already in the workforce. Hourly wages for events, deadline-based projects or time-bound campaigns often work out better than a monthly salary.

According to a study by PwC titled Work-life 3.0: Understanding How We’ll Work Next, 41% of non-independent American workers say they expect to become independent workers in the next year. About 53% say they expect to work on their own in the next five years.

“In India too, several companies are looking to hire students as freelancers so the employees spend less time commuting to work and employers can hire more staff without investing in more infrastructure,” says Sarvesh Agarwal, CEO and founder of InternShala, an online portal that helps students get internships in their field of choice. “With the compulsory 75 percent attendance rule at many universities and colleges, students prefer to freelance as it lets them attend classes and build their resumes, so it’s a win-win for both.”

Read: Thanks to the internet, India has the most freelance professionals after the US


Today, freelancing is no longer restricted to creative fields or media jobs. “We now see freelancers in marketing, sales and HR too,” says Agarwal.

Gagan Mahajan, 21, a Bachelor’s of Computer Science graduate from Delhi University used the 21-day period between graduation and his first day at a permanent job with a software development company to freelance. He worked as a webprogrammer for SHEROES, a Mumbai-based career counselling company for women. “It was my best chance to prove myself ” he says. “I worked aggressively to build the first on-web helpline system for working women to register their grievances; I was promoted as a product manager soon after.” Mahajan is currently the youngest manager at SHEROES.

For employers, freelancing solves the space problem too. “Expansion is essential to keep up with competition, but lack of space, especially in a city like Mumbai, makes accommodation of newer employees a hard task to achieve,” says Anubhuti Sehgal, senior career counsellor and director of MapMyTalent, an online portal for career counselling.

  • Get on Twitter: A Twitter profile is essential. Even if you donft know what to tweet, just following the right people will give you opportunities and have prospective employers find you.

  • Pitch what you know: Try to find an area of work that you know about, perhaps something you studied, or something that you love doing.

  • Market through e-mail: Compose messages to multiple companies, telling them what you are looking for. It is the fastest way to communicate to them.

  • Start small: Target smaller companies because they offer better work opportunities to freshers.

  • Diversify: Apply for multiple projects, especially if you are in a creative field.

Sources: Kavitha Rao, a freelance journalist and the co-authorof Everything You Wanted to Write About Freelance Journalism(but didn’t know whom to ask); Anubhuti Sehgal,senior career counsellor and director of MapMyTalent,an online portal for career counselling


Could freelancing be your best bet? It all depends on what you do, how good you are at it and how much you’re willing to work differently, experts say.

“For a career in the arts, such as music, design or writing, you need to build up a bank of work, a portfolio, early in your career,” says Anuj Jain, chief career counsellor at Edugroomer, Malabar Hill. “For this, freelancing before is a good option”. He recommends taking up projects by the second year of graduation for a good head start. “On the other hand, if you are from a technical background, employers depend heavily on grades for fresh graduates, not the work experience you built afterwards.”

Freelancing sounds glamorous. But it’s risky. Timely payments are the biggest issue. “Many companies did pay me on time and in advance too,” says Dhar. “But some had to be pursued and reminded, while some others didn’t pay me at all in spite of promising to do so. You have to set a rate card and read your contract carefully to ensure you’re not cheated.”

The bane of most freelancers is that payments are delayed due to conflicts during work or because the quality of their work ends up not meeting the employer’s standards. “There is a notion that if you freelance, you have complete autonomy over your work, which needs to change,” says Sehgal. “Deadlines are often stricter for outside agents because it is assumed that you have picked a task that is most convenient for you, so employers expect it to be done faster,” she says. “Secondly, since you aren’t physically present, you are judged solely on the basis of the quality of the work, rather than your levels of loyalty or ethics. It is also important for you to not indulge in any blame games if you make a mistake; be accountable for whatever you have done because there is no peer support which may come to your rescue.”

Don’t be under the impression that after freelancing for a certain period of time, the company will offer employment. “Students often keep waiting for the chance that never comes,” Sehgal warns. “Freelance also means giving up on benefits and incentives such as conveyance, and in most cases, insurance benefits too. Students must take into account all these drawbacks before choosing this mode of employment.”

Read: The new high-end freelancer

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