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How To Be Your Own Boss – Freelancing 101

Are you sitting at your desk in the office, plotting ways to break free of the nine to five rut that your life seems to have become? Have you already quit, prompted by frustration and saturation? Or worse, did the economic slump hit your employer and as a result, you? Chances are that if you're reading this article, either you're in one of the above situations, looking to supplement your income or a fresher looking forward to contribute to the GDP of the country but unable to find suitable employment that does justice to your skills and college degree. It's alright. Times are such. Many are in the same boat as you.

A good solution to get your foot out of the problem you are facing is freelancing. Free-lancers are self-employed skilled professionals that work as contractors with the companies in their industry to complete task-related task-oriented projects like graphic design, programming, marketing, data analysis, copywriting etc. That basically means instead of being on the pay-roll of your company and getting a fixed salary at the end of the month for showing up in the office for 8 hours every day, you would most likely be working flexible hours out of home, scouting for work and probably having a variable income stream.

Know the industry
According to Quartz.com, freelancing as an industry is poised to become as big as the outsourcing industry by the year 2020. 40% of the global work force will be free-lancing part or full time by that time. Thenextweb.com reports that oDesk, the number one online platform for the freelancing market founded in 2005 has delivered more than $1 billion from employers to freelancers since then. According to the last stats provided by oDesk itself, the company has 4.5 million registered freelancers who have worked 35 million hours in total, as well as 900,000 clients who have posted 1.5 million jobs.

These figures are increasing manifolds every year.

Interestingly, The Economic Times reports that India is in the thick of all the action. "India is by far the biggest freelancing nation in the world," says Matt Barrie, CEO, Freelancer.com. Approximately one third of the global freelancing revenue comes from Indians doing higher-end work - because their yield per hour is much higher. Of more than $78 million earned on oDesk in the first quarter of 2012, the company says the largest recipient was India that got 20-30% of the payments. Their business from India has grown eight times since 2008.
The top sectors that employ freelancers are: customer and business services, sales and marketing, administrative support, design & media, networking & information systems, writing & translation, software development and web development.

oDesk.com CEO Gary Swart in the article published by The Economic Times says: "The opportunities are unlimited. All work that can be done in front of the computer can move online." He says at least one-third of the global workforce could be hired online by 2020.
This whole phenomenon is taking shape because of some very solid reasons. Freelancing offers a lot to both the client and the freelancer.

Pros and cons
For companies offering freelance work, the economies are obvious. They can choose the best resource from a global workforce that is only a click away. Best suited for the job, with specific skills and the most competitive price tag. It doesn't get better than this. The companies don't even pay for your cubicle space in its office, saving on electricity and overheads too. Though this could also backfire in terms of communication lags, lacking the benefits of synergy that comes with working as part of a team.
But as a freelancer, there are many things that change for you as opposed to working 9 to 5. You essentially become your own boss and have a small business to call your own. Let's look at this in detail-

Pluses:
1. No boss, which means no politics, no diplomatic discussions and no bruised egos.
2. Flexibility of time, place and projects - you can define what you want to work on, when you want to work on it and from where.
3. Numerous tax deductions before showing profits as in a business - all expenses that you used to incur post tax, will now be incurred from your pre-tax income. This means huge savings
4. More power over your compensation in every project - as a freelancer you can define your rate and only take on the work that you think is compensating you justifiably
5. No commute - one would be surprised to know how big a plus it is for many people who spend hours on the road, commuting to and fro their workplaces

Minuses:
1. Initially and until you build your reputation, work is not easy to come by. You need persistence and patience. That also means income flow will be restricted.
2. You're suddenly also paying for a lot of overheads that your employer used to pay for. You will have to plan your finances wisely.
3. Hence managing accounts and taxes becomes a task. That's why as a freelancer you should hire an accountant. This is when your accountant will help you manage your savings, retirement and insurance best.
4. Like in any business, there will be times when the business is good and there will also be time when the going will get tough.
5. There is little or no structure to your day. Some people work well under structure and they might struggle. Also, there are no fixed vacation days. It could become very hard over time to steal time away for a holiday.
That being said, if you think freelancing is something you would like to get in to seriously, follow these tips and suggestions for a bright future:
I. Start putting together a portfolio of your work. This is what represents you and your skills, basis which you can pitch for new projects. Work on it, constantly improve it and keep learning new things to add on to it.

II. You can find a lot of work opportunities online. Freelancing as an industry is a result of the web 2.0 revolution. Some good places to start are oDesk, Elance, Freelancer, Guru, People Per Hour, and 99Designs.

III. Expect to work for negligible pay in your initial projects, until you build a reputation to demand a price. Growing industry also means growing competition.

IV. Building a reputation comprises of being ace in your work, discipline, submissions and work ethic. No compromises, no cutting corners. Since you represent yourself, as a freelancer there is no room to slack off.


V. Start networking pro-actively. Reach out to the people that can help you, spread the word, find a mentor, and keep building relationships. Any successful business is simply the summation of the value added and relationships built.

VI. Don't quit your day-job just yet. If you are starting out part-time, keep your day-job until you have started generating considerable sustainable income.


VII. Communication is very important. Be clear with your client about your deliverables and expectations. Draw out a contract and keep a look out for yourself. Make sure you are being compensated fairly for your work.

VIII. Lastly, be flexible. Be prepared to deliver quality work on short timelines, last minute changes and whimsical requests. Learn to be patient and adapt well. It will be more than worth it when you earn the reputation of being a reliable source with a knack of solving problems.

Disha Bathija is a fashion marketing professional and writes on design and lifestyle.
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