Work

Freelancers refreshed

Chandrika Pasricha | Updated on August 14, 2014 Published on February 14, 2014

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Mapping the many positive changes in the independent working sector

Manuraj Jain, an MBA graduate from INSEAD, did not think twice before setting up Vinculum Capital Partners, after passing on a strategy consulting job in London. He currently runs a successful practice focused on finance and high-end strategic advisory to small and medium enterprises based out of Delhi. Sucharita Narsimhan, mother of two young children, devotes her time researching for a digital media company, defining product and sales materials, creating white papers for an operations technology firm and handling communications for an NGO. She not only loves what she is doing but also appreciates the many hidden rewards that come with her work, such as the absence of a long daily commute.

Jain and Narsimhan represent the bold new face of today’s freelance community. Not only has freelancing become a thriving industry by itself, but it has also transformed in terms of what it stands for and the people it represents. While the trigger to enter this space varies — stagnation, desire to pursue a passion, negative culture at the workplace, hunger to achieve more or the need to strike a better balance between one’s personal and professional life — the end result is the same.

Globally, growth in independent professionals or freelancers is expected to be one of the most significant employment-related trends over the next couple of decades. In India the signs of freelancing becoming increasingly relevant and attracting professionals from a host of functions are everywhere.

Contrary to what you might expect, Indians engaged as freelancers are not only women managing young families who can’t or don’t want to get into full-time jobs. While that segment exists, today, professionals offering advisory and consulting services or those opting for project-based work are equally likely to be men or women. This is true not just in the creative domain, but also in technical sectors as well as for professionals going independent post a long stint in the corporate world.

In the past, the bulk of freelancers were attracted to creative, design and information technology sectors. While these domains continue to flourish even today, we are simultaneously witnessing a huge surge in individuals from mainstream professions taking up consulting or part-time assignments. Together professionals from core functions like strategy and business development, general management, marketing, sales, research, academia, human resource and finance account for close to 70 per cent of the independent talent pool today according to a survey undertaken by flexingit.com.

New professionals

In addition to the mainstreaming of freelancing, another fascinating development is the arrival of new kinds of professionals on the landscape, who hardly existed a few years ago. Take for instance, corporate freelancers. These are professionals who have transitioned into freelancing after an extended stint in the corporate world. Like Salone Mithal, who turned a consultant after spending over 20 years with several MNC banks because she wanted to better manage job content and time. Mithal and other corporate freelancers constitute the largest segment (close to 40 percent) within the Indian freelance network today. Over two-thirds have work experience of 10 years or more, indicating that professionals at the middle-management stage, or beyond are taking the maximum risk of leaving cushy jobs.

Then there is Dhruv Swamini, a former McKinsey consultant who turned entrepreneur recently. Swamini takes up independent assignments to generate cash for her new sports venture. She represents the segment of entrepreneurial freelancers. As the name suggests, these are entrepreneurs who have started their ventures and are offering part-time services to keep their cash flows going till the time their own businesses start yielding fruit.

Next up are professional moonlighters. These are people in full-time roles, looking to leverage their skills post regular nine to five working hours.

One such example is Uday Lakkar. He is a PE investor on weekdays and takes up assignments as faculty and consulting for new ventures on weekends. He moonlights to expand his network and to challenge himself.

Tailored for one’s needs

So what’s attracting these new segments, professionals from mainstream functions, men and women alike, into the freelance marketplace? The biggest motivation is the desire to have more control over one’s schedule and time. The need to be one’s own boss, the freedom to pick assignments, the flexibility to choose working hours as long as timelines are met and the opportunity to take on work that is more fulfilling, are strong levers driving many individuals towards this way of working.

On the other side, companies too are finding it lucrative to outsource assignments to specialists. They get an enviable mix of talent and skills, an individual or team committed to their project, at a cost far lower and with greater flexibility and often more expertise than they would get from full-time hires. As Raghu Kolli, VP and head of innovation labs at IMRB says “We need specialists for some projects and freelancers are the obvious choice as they are agile, flexible and affordable.”

Also, with more and more unpredictability in business cycles, companies across many sectors are finding it advantageous to engage professionals on an as-needed basis when the demand for a particular skill or role is unusually high, rather than get weighed down with underleveraged employees on permanent rolls.

It seems like a win-win situation for both organisations and freelancers. Though the picture is not completely rosy yet… at least for the freelancers. There is currently no organised industry body to take care of their unique needs. Having said that, there is no doubt that independent working is here to stay.

( The writer is a former consultant, and has recently launched Flexing It, an online marketplace for flexible skills in India)

Published on February 14, 2014
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