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Delhi-based Zoya Seth, a 29-year-old advertising and digital marketing professional, has found her true calling in the gig economy, which has seen exponential growth driven by remote work models amid the covid-19 crisis.

“I switched to freelancing from a full-time content strategy job in September 2019 just to earn enough for utilities while I was on a break to figure out the next step in my career. Come covid-19 and I was flooded with freelance opportunities as companies started warming up to alternative work models. There’s been no going back since," she said. Seth’s average monthly income from freelancing has surpassed her last-drawn, full-time salary.

She is part of a growing tribe of women who are shifting to the gig economy. Data from gig marketplaces such as Taskmo and Gig India show about 3-5x growth in sign-ups from female workers in flexi-work opportunities since the outbreak of covid-19 pandemic.

This trend has also given women on a career break a chance to find their way back into the workforce. “Between June and December 2020, we have seen a rise in applications from women in tier-2 and tier-3 cities. This proves that work-from-home (WFH) and flexible-job opportunities are proving to be a boon for women in tech who find it difficult to shift their base," said Neha Bagaria, chief executive officer and founder, JobsForHer.

Take the case of Agra-based Darshana Chaudhary, who took a break from her five-year-long marketing career to have a baby in 2015. “Before covid-19, taking up a full-time job was not an option as I could not move to a metro, given that my husband’s business is set up in Agra. Remote work models brought about by covid-19 has been a blessing for me," she said. The 35-year-old recently signed a one-month contract with a tech startup for digital marketing projects.

Despite lucrative income opportunities, irregular inflow of money can be a challenge for freelancers. Even though these women have prior experience earning and managing money, their approach towards financial planning should be different, say experts.

Planning for financial insecurity in freelancing: “Work flexibility is great, provided you have financial security," said Priya Sunder, director, PeakAlpha Investment. “Since freelancing doesn’t ensure regular income and security, budgeting is extremely critical. Determine the bare minimum that you need each month, which includes rent, EMIs, expenses incurred on conducting work independently and utilities."

This amount can be the benchmark for the income you need every month. Over and above this amount, you need additional earning each month to build a buffer.

“Since monthly earning is not fixed, it is important to create a buffer fund equivalent to about 12 months of expenses," said Prableen Bajpai, founder, FinFix Research. “This will ensure that even when your earning is lesser during a few months or there is a break from work again, your overall lifestyle and financial plan don’t get affected."

Seth knows this only too well. “Of course, a steady monthly salary removes the fear of instability and anxiety, which weighs on freelancers during lean months. Sometimes, finances are very hard to manage when clients delay payments and one has to keep waiting for weeks on end," she said. “Saving regularly is mandatory for freelancers to cope up with the lack of security in working independently. However, by managing and planning ahead, it does get easier with time."

Bajpai suggests maintaining separate accounts for work and personal use. “A portion of earnings should be kept aside for work-related expenses and the rest should be treated as a salary to self and kept in the personal use account. To ensure that this salary is sustainable, it should be based on average earnings and lowered by 15-20%."

“Once the safety net is set up, you should plan for benefits that came with a full-time job such as EPF and medical cover, and invest for your future," she added.

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