In a world that rewards change, it is only natural that Indian PR professionals are gravitating towards the gig economy like never before.
But is the flexibility worth the stress of looking for the next gig and is the money enough? Or should you become a freelancer because you hate your boss? Our PR pros weigh in with suggestions and advice on what to do before turning freelance.
It's the money, honey
Vishnupriya Mishra, communications and marketing specialist, says the financial situation is decent and much better than what it was 6-7 years ago. Mishra adds that "Most clients in the digital era understand the value you bring to the table, the gig and freelance economy of workers are the future."
However, Diksha Sethi, a digital consultant who has worked with PR firms before advises that "It's a good idea to activate your network and pick up a part-time position with a firm that can give you a fixed cover month on month and keeps you going. Freelancing projects can be few and far between and sometimes, conversions take longer than you expect. More importantly, the credit cycle can be anywhere between 30-90 days which means you'll have to feed off your savings while you wait for the payments. This entire waiting period can be quite daunting so you must be mentally prepared and not get hassled."
Vishakha Giri Goswami, a PR consultant, admits that "Freelancers face financial crises often because of delayed payments and the PR resources they use aren’t free of cost. Freelancers invest time, money and effort by their own to get the job done for their client."
This is exactly why Shreya Banda, head of content and digital PR at HOWL an e-commerce and digital marketing Solutions Company suggests strongly that, "The first thing that one needs to be ready to do as a freelancer is to follow up for your own fees. And relentlessly follow up. Therefore, over a period of time, it is not that difficult to build stability and make more than what a fixed job could offer. The key thing being you need to be patient and not give up."
Shailesh K. Nevatia, chief consultant, Grandeavour Communication says bluntly, "One of the worst industry practice for a freelance professional is payment, especially by the bigger agencies. They made us run, argue, fight and even take a non-professional approach by bringing it over social media, which ruins the productive workspace as well as the credibility in the market."
Nevatia, however, agrees that "Having said that it's not that only agencies or clients to blame, but there are many freelancers and consultants who take up work on a false promise and are unable to justify their commitment. In several cases, clients have also lost their advance payment to such people."
Prateek Thakker, one of the founders of Unkrate -a site that curates stories on food, travel and technology, suggests that to handle the cash flow, go freelance only when, "You have at least 2-3 clients in your bag that are willing to work with you because you will need to get the finances rolling. Starting off afresh without a plan can be harmful. At the end of the day, the P&L is in your hands. You could go solo and handle 30 restaurants that pay you Rs. 20,000 per month. So you are earning way more than what a fixed job would give."
Quality of Life
One of the much-valued benefits of freelancing is the flexibility and quality of life it can provide. Mitali Ahuja, PR professional, Arka Communications says it is intoxicating when "We no longer have to answer to anyone. It’s a pure micromanaging of ourselves and our client. If we do not gel well with our client’s personality or business or target then we can pass on an opportunity."
Deepan Dasgupta, a journalist turned PR professional has a different perspective on the flexitime argument saying, "PR and communications are dependent on servicing; how can any industry serving others ever be at one’s free will? Even if you choose not to do 10-to-6 as most offices do, you will have to be in sync with them. At best, you can change to 12-to-8 or 4-to-12 but then will have to keep to the time bands you choose."
For Sethi, the freelance option works because she says, "I was done with whole 9 to 9 routine with just more of the same stuff 5 days a week. I quit my corporate job because I was not being challenged enough. What I missed the most was my creative freedom."
Soundhariya, PR consultant says, "Some factors that work wonderfully well for
independent opportunities are the flexibility of time, opportunity to take a risk on your own terms, direct interaction with 'powerful' businesses, tasting entrepreneur spirit. In keeping with the changing trends, it's time to say, welcome to gig economy!"
Why and when to go freelance?
Kailash Rajwadkar, media consultant has a very specific timeframe for turning freelance. He says one should go the freelance route when, "A professional is over 40 years and he or she has adequate experience without any monthly liability in the form of EMI, he or she could consider going freelance. The positioning of services in terms of the segment is extremely important, due to limited bandwidth that a freelancer has in terms of time and resources."
Bernay IMC's Raghavendra Rao agrees saying that "If one learns the tricks of the trade in 5 years time one can jump in but a lot depends on his personal financial position also. The challenge is that of risk element and how much can one bear if that is manageable. Now if these are taken care of one must start early or the best age would be around 40 years."
Anup Sharma, a senior communication consultant, agrees having gone freelance after a decade of regular work. Sharma who is a short term consultant with IFC and World Bank Group and get specific assignments from them which range for 15 to 150 days says, "If an organization has an assignment and feel they need temporary resources, I plug myself in for that assignment and become part of the team and have an agreement accordingly."
Dasgupta says that "If you are not liking what you do in your regular job and not able to get a suitable change, and think freelancing is a better alternative, STOP! Remember, if you are at the start of your career or somewhere in the middle, and plan to freelance for a few months or so, that would show on your CV. And HR folks take note if such breaks are once too many."
Ruchira Sharma, PR Manager- Hats- Off Digital Pvt Ltd. agrees saying, "If you are considering working independently, have a good reason for doing so. Hating your current role, loathing your boss or feeling exhausted from the long hours all are poor reasons to jettison your current job. Instead, determine what you can do as a freelancer that you can’t do in your current capacity. Vet the decision to freelance from the perspective of an entrepreneur, and not solely weigh it against creative ambitions."
Jom S, a PR consultant from Bengaluru, suggests asking yourself some tough questions before you go freelance. He says to check, " If you are confident enough to face the darker side of the freelancing? Are you ready to get out of your comfort zone and go the extra mile to execute assignments?
So you are a freelancer now!
Geetika Gulati, communications consultant and founder ZIVComms advises, "Focusing on building the pipeline and getting a retainer client for that secure feeling!"
Gulati also says you will, "Worry about whether would people take you seriously, with a small team or seeing you as a one-man army. You also have to handle the admin stuff comes in - acting as an accountant, a runner (Oh God!)."
Sethi also advises that once you are a freelancer, "Never burn your bridges. Keep an active list of 20 people who you know well and who will respond to you when you reach out (old clients, ex-bosses, ex-colleagues etc.) Meet them over coffee and see if you can help them with any short-term requirements, to begin with. Follow up with an email to close the loop and people will remember you when they need you."
Adds Sethi, "Activate your social media profile (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, whatever works for you!) Showcase your expertise to get noticed."