For four years, freelance business consultant Maansi Gupta was happy with just a dozen clients who called her in for strategy work. Then, the covid-19 outbreak brough a lot of polite refusals from her regulars. Most were small businesses and startups who could no longer afford her consultation fees. So, Gupta, 39, pivoted to doing workshops on mindset and skillset growth, and adapting quickly to changing business circumstances. “Everyone’s talking about struggling to adapt to the changing situation, I help them with it," says Gurugram-based Gupta.
When projects were suddenly cancelled during the lockdown, freelance consultant Masroor Lodi too quickly created 15 training modules, including one on managing personal finance, and a strategy course for top leadership teams. He’s even partnered with a yoga instructor in Bengaluru to provide de-stressing tips. While training sessions only bring in a quarter of the revenue he made earlier, he says it has put him in touch with new clients and is better than earning nothing. “The new programmes have helped us create new knowledge," says Lodi, who is also conducting a year-long study on behavioural changes in organisations during covid-19 for a UK University.
With companies focusing on frugality and business demands changing, freelance consultants have suddenly found that their old ways of working will not bring in revenues during the pandemic. Many of them have adapted and are reinventing themselves to offer new services for a changing business environment. “Freelancers who were more risk conscious before are now trying new things," says networking platform TapChief’s co-founder Shashank Murali.
Freelancers across the strategy, marketing and HR segments are now pivoting. “The reason for the trend is two-fold: The need for multiple sources of revenue due to economic uncertainty, and a choice to address topics that are in demand currently to ensure they can be most useful to clients," says Chandrika Pasricha, founder and CEO of consulting platform Flexing It. “There is a greater need for digital expertise and for strategy consulting as businesses re-align to shifts in demand."
Some gig workers have upskilled and modified their profiles. Freelance HR consultant Chhavi Mishra, 40, took online courses to add new skillsets to her portfolio. Earlier, Bengaluru-based Mishra concentrated on talent acquisition and HR strategy for multinational corporations. As recruitment dried up in large companies due to the effect of covid-19, Mishra has found that smaller enterprises are approaching her. They need help with putting in place work-from-home policies, resource mobilisation, finding skill gaps and coaching current talent.
“It has been a huge change for me. Earlier, I would choose projects based on my areas of interest. Now, I take up projects that may pay less, but give me opportunity to network," says Mishra.
For some freelancers, covid-19 has brought in steady income. Amit Panchal, 32, who provides digital marketing consultancy services, has secured six new retainership projects as companies look to build stronger online presence. In addition, he’s now offering personal brand building for individuals on social media platforms. “My whole business model has changed. I have had to hire two people to help me," says Panchal, who says he’s earning 60% more with the new lines of business he’s offering.