Mana Santhanam, 28, is usually busy custom painting shoes for her brand, Mana Custom Art, in the mornings. She adds finishing touches to a few, and packs her bags to head to a popular brewpub, where she is helping to write the content and supplement it with food photography for their website. Often, this is followed by music practice with the choir, The Choral Riff, where she is a vocalist. In between, she handles the content and online presence of Bryden-Parth Productions.

Too many things on her plate? According to Bengaluru-based Santhanam, that is exactly what she loves about her “jobs"—the ability to do all the things she is passionate about.

Santhanam is a gig worker.

This might be the buzz “phrase" for the millennial generation but being a part of the gig economy—where an individual can pick up multiple projects or clients— is not free from faults. For one, the benefits—paid leaves, gratuity, provident fund (PF), health insurance—that a company gives its employees are missing from a gig worker’s life.

“They might like the unpredictability part of it but for some being the creator of their work and not answering to a boss is a big benefit. This independent way of working is more attractive to them than benefits that a salaried employee may enjoy," says Neha Pant, senior knowledge adviser at SHRM India, an HR professional society. She believes a gig worker chooses that path and is fully aware of the “regular benefits" not being there.

An internal survey at JobsForHer, an online job portal for women, revealed that nearly 50% of the women on the platform are looking at part-time, freelance or work-from-home jobs because this gives them flexible schedules, earning potential and the freedom to choose who to work for. “Women returnees stand to benefit as well, as project-based options give them the flexibility and opportunity to explore their options before getting back into full-time positions," says Neha Bagaria, CEO and founder, JobsForHer.

Choose the gig life

For 27-year-old Amshula Prakash, quitting her job in the in-house legal team of Walt Disney was a well-thought-out decision. Prakash was bored of the desk job, but loved the world of law and decided to branch out as an independent media and entertainment lawyer, three years ago. She admits that she did not have to face too many obstacles because she already had contacts in the business. “In my previous job, I would be in office for 12 hours, spend time on travel, waste time making small talk with colleagues, and maybe actually be productive only for four hours in a day. Now, I work for lesser hours if needed, but I know I am much more productive," she explains.

Prakash admits that she misses knowing what exactly her income will be each month and planning accordingly. “I miss some of the perks — medical insurance, social events with workmates at the office and having an institutionalized support system," she adds.

Upasana Iyer, a 27-year old virtual assistant, works with four clients currently through Wishup, a website that provides virtual assistance service. “I have multiple skill sets—from being a mental health professional to a journalist, to working in the post production industry. I seek out new industries and keep experimenting. For me, working in one company in one profile becomes very stagnant," explains Iyer.

Iyer has worked in 9-to-5 jobs and had moved to the freelance industry, before finally joining Wishup. The problem with the gig economy is that the payments would often get held up, or she would end up not getting paid at all. But Wishup, she explains, pays a fixed sum per assignment instead of having to follow up with the clients individually asking to be paid.

Unlike in a regular 9-to-5 job, Iyer explains, in the gig economy she can choose to not take up a task, or discontinue a project if it is not interesting. Wishup, in this case, finds someone to replace her and she is free to explore other projects.

Manish Jain, 38, started looking for jobs after his last organization shut down abruptly. He took up design assignments as freelance projects for seven-eight months until he recently joined WeCash India as a lead design. Jain believes that people like him with a design background get exposure to different types of projects in a gig economy. “It is true that employment benefits like PF or gratuity doesn’t come along while being a gig worker, but returns are much more rewarding. You get so much exposure," he adds. Jain believes that those who want to switch between regular jobs and gig economy stints, must keep themselves up to date. “And yes, it gets a little time to adjust yourself. When you work as freelancer you can work any time of the day that suits you (as per deadline), but in a job you are bound by time," adds Jain.

Plan for the future

Prakash has been managing her finances by herself since she became a gig worker. “I think, planning and investment has a lot to do with your earning capacity and you must pay attention to these when you become a gig worker," she says.

Swati V. Gumbeti, 31, agrees that proper planning is the only way forward when you are a gig worker. Gumbeti moved from a software engineering job to the gig economy to meet the demands of her home. “I have worked as a freelancer for some time before joining Wishup. The uncertainty in that economy has taught me to plan for the future better. I, therefore, save up smartly and invest. For example, a part of my earnings goes into paying for insurance," she explains.

An organization obviously gives more benefits than what a freelancer enjoys. While gig workers can plan their financials with help from experts, they can also have an honest conversation with their client about their expectation—if they wish to take a few days off, if they want to work daily between only certain hours, etc. As long as expectations are met, the gig workers have nothing to lose.

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Stay secure as a gig worker

Ensure that you have a contract signed with the client with terms and conditions clearly articulated. There is merit in consulting a legal expert to manage your contracts with the clients better.

Since you don’t enjoy benefits as a regular employee of an organization, get yourself covered by signing up for a third-party health, life and accidental insurance.

Ensure you have a tax consultant who helps you with filing of taxes at the appropriate time of the year and a financial adviser who helps manage wealth.

Manage your hardware better—computers, laptops, tablets, etc. Ensure you have all the IT safety infrastructure installed on your machines, especially if you access public networks and work on confidential data.

—Neha Pant

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