Building a strong gig ecosystem starts with cutting paperwork, expanding network

Consulting platforms are helping freelancers understand where specialist skills are sought

Work when you want to, from wherever you want to—freelancing comes with its share of advantages. Sure, flexible working hours afford highly skilled freelance consultants more control over the direction of their careers, but being your own boss does come at a cost.

Unlike in a full-time job, where one takes several benefits for granted like travel insurance, the comfort of a regular paycheck, access to loans, credit cards and regular development courses, the freelancing gig means you’re always on your own. You build your own networks, ensure the payments come on time, take care of accounts and market yourself ruthlessly so that money keeps coming in.

Help at hand

To counter some of these challenges, a new breed of gig economy support services are emerging. Investments related to the gig economy are shifting from the financing of marketplaces toward the development of adjacent technologies. In the West, for instance, a range of reputation management services, freelance education and skilling courses, freelance and networking platforms and digital freelance project management systems are taking shape. In India, the advent and freelance consulting platforms that bridge the gap between a client and a freelancer is also steadily changing the freelance landscape.

Zurich-based global consultancy a-Connect provides organizations with on-demand talent, and sees India as an attractive talent base rather than a client base. Their Asia partner Vincent Casanova advocates a seamless engagement process to engage independent consultants which could be achieved by minimizing paperwork and administrative steps, and providing timely feedback. Closer home, Flexing It, a freelance platform, guides consultants on how to quote for projects and to position themselves so they stand a chance of getting assignments. They also facilitate invoicing and timely payments on behalf of freelancers.

Other new entrants like Outsized that focus on Africa and Asia, help those who are looking to venture into the freelance space after giving up traditional jobs. They assist potential freelancers understand where specialist skills are sought and how to get started on the path.

Co-work to collaborate

The advent of co-working spaces has also been a big boom for freelancers. Working from home or the nearby coffee shop no longer has the same appeal for many. With the startup ecosystem gaining pace in the country, co-working spaces have seen a significant rise in usage. There are presently 100 branded co-working spaces operating in India, and this figure is estimated to quadruple in the next three years. The total number of shared spaces are expected to reach around 500 centres by the end of 2020 from the present 150. Currently, there are about 300 branded as well as non-branded shared space operators in India.

Mumbai’s Ministry of New is one such collaborative workspace. Its founder Marlies Bloemendaal claims that unlike many others focused on corporates, their space helps freelancers and individual entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds work together and get to know each other in an environment that encourages them to network, share and tap into each other’s expertise. Apart from learning sessions, Ministry of New also helps with services like registering businesses and navigating the freelance landscape.

Self employment, not exploitation

Over the past few years, the gig economy has been growing exponentially in size. Its impact on labour rights, however, has been largely overlooked. To increase job security among freelance workers, some states in the US, and Singapore are working towards introducing progressive policy-level changes with regard to taxes, employment and revenue, which govern income security, sickness, disability, among others. In India, however, this is still in its infancy.

So, as a freelance consultant in India, you need to be cognizant of reality when you embark on this journey and build your own safety nets. These safety nets can range from writing contracts and keeping excellent documentation, to establishing relationships with other freelancers that can keep you informed of the rates and new work opportunities, and help prevent feelings of isolation.

Registering with freelance consulting firms and networks is a good way to know the market and get support with developing business at a fair professional fee.

Ultimately, the onus lies with the freelance consultant to protect herself. With awareness and proper planning, one can enjoy benefits of freelancing without having to worry about getting taken for a ride.

Ruchira Chaudhary is an independent strategy professional, an executive coach and adjunct faculty.

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