Decoding India’s Freelancers: Growth, Optimism but the need for much greater organisation!

By: Flexing It, 16/07/2013

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Growth in independent professionals or freelancers is expected to be one of the most significant employment-related trends globally over the next couple of decades[1]. In India, as well, while a rise in the proportion of professionals opting to work independently is foreseen, information on this segment remains dismal leading in part to the perpetuation of myths associated with freelancing. In our attempt to gain insights about freelancing in India, we at Flexing It, are conducting an online survey to gather some real time facts on who constitute India’s freelancers and the motivations that are driving this decision. We have already received responses from over 200 professionals and while we will continue to add to the data-set we did want to share some early findings.

#1 Freelancing or independent working is a conscious choice being made by professionals with experience. That nearly 40% of the freelancers surveyed transitioned into working independently after an extended stint in the corporate sector corroborates this. The early survey data also shows that over two-thirds of the individuals had over 10 years of work experience, indicating that professionals at a mid stage or beyond in their careers, have taken the risk of going independent and to forego the security of a full time, regular job.

#2 An increasing proportion of mainstream professionals are opting to work independently. Although segments historically associated with freelancing i.e., creative and design services, and information technology, remain important (approx. 21% of the surveyed professionals), we were surprised to see that more mainstream professional skills dominated this pool. Strategy and business development, general management, marketing and sales, research/academia followed by human resources and finance were the top functional categories collectively accounting for close to 70% of the expertise. The data on the preferred location arrangements also supported this finding - we see that three-fourths of the professionals surveyed preferred an onsite component to the work.

#3 Sectorally, we see freelancers from a range of disparate sectors. The top two sectors in the early data accounting for over a third of the professionals are advertising/media/publishing and professional services. The other sectors which are seeing active freelancing include education, healthcare, telecom/internet services, and the development/not-for-profit space, which together accounted for 40% of the professionals.

#4 Several distinct segments of freelancers emerging. The largest segment with nearly 40% of the respondents, is of professionals who have opted to freelance after an extended stint in the corporate world. The second largest category with 16% of the respondents is of professionals in creative and technical fields where freelancing is seen as more lucrative and also as aiding better in achieving career objectives. The next three segments are of young mothers/professionals with commitments who had opted for freelancing owing to personal reasons, entrepreneurs who have started their own ventures and are freelancing to keep cash-flows going and professionals pursuing other interests like music or writing. We also see that only 4% of respondents are those who are using this as a stop gap solution for finding a full time job. This figure, therefore, clearly stands contrary to the common perception that freelancing is predominantly taken up by those in between jobs.

#5 The desire for greater control over ones schedule and portfolio of work are the primary drivers. Better control over ones schedule and the ability to be self-employed were the top two reasons for choosing to freelance, accounting for 40% of the responses. An additional 25% of the responses opted to work independently as it also gave time to pursue other interests, and followed by the monotony and predictability of corporate life. A look at the kind of work arrangements that are preferred also support this - two-thirds of the respondents are looking to deploy full capacity, just have more control on schedules and the work they do. In fact a large segment of these professionals is actually looking to leverage their skills across multiple assignments at any given time.  These drivers - and the ownership of them – was also indicated through the high levels of satisfaction currently (>67%) and optimism for the future (>85%) evinced by the respondents.

#6 Despite these trends, freelancing remains nascent and needs much greater organisation. Freelancing in India is still at a nascent stage - the data shows that 50% of the professionals (including those with many years of experience) started working independently less than two years ago with a quarter each having spent between 2 and 5 years, and over 5 years as an independent professional respectively.  The biggest challenge indicated is that of sustenance and difficulty in finding a steady stream of assignments. There is also a sense of being disconnected from the mainstream professional community, the impact on ones career in the long-term, and getting compensated fairly for the effort put in. These are all issues that will need thought and new solutions to address them, even as freelancing gains greater acceptability as the numbers grow.

Our next few pieces will look to understand the emerging segments of freelancers/independent professionals in more detail – What are their demographics? Do we see functional, industry patterns? What drove them to work independently and how they make it work successfully? We will look into these issues and more over the next few weeks while we also pressure test the findings outlined above.   We would love your comments, thoughts and questions – so do write in to info@flexingit.com with your perspectives.



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