We associate the term ‘freelancer’ most commonly with professionals like a photographer, a journalist, or those in other creative fields. We think of a freelancer as someone taking a break from a regular profession, someone who is not serious about professional direction, or even someone who has been given a pink slip. Statistics on freelancing also corroborate that it is most common in creative fields. A report published by Elance in 2013 on global online employment shows that 40% of online freelancers belong to creative fields, followed by IT and programming (39%), marketing (10%), operations (7%) with the remaining fields comprising only 4%. This trend, however, is changing and the number of freelancing professionals in technical fields or with specialized skills (bracketed in the ‘remaining fields’ in the above statistics) is rising.
An increase is predicted, over the next few years, in the number of professionals leaving their traditional workplace or full-time employment to go the freelancing way. In an article in 2011, The Atlantic  reported that this shift in the workforce would be no less than a revolution and equated it to a transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy. A report by MBO partners has predicted that by the year 2020 more than 50% of the private workforce in the US will be independent. Further, The Economist recently reported forecasts of the Staffing Industry Analysts, that the value of online work that was $1 billion in 2012 will double to $2 billion in 2014, and reach $5 billion by 2018. In the present global scenario, India is second to the US in the supply of online freelance professionals. Many may view this trend as compared to outsourcing through the BPO sector.
In the backdrop of these trends, it becomes pertinent to define ‘freelancing’ clearly, or, rather de-construct and bust the myths that we have commonly associated with ‘freelancers’. In the simplest definition, a ‘freelancer’ is someone who is self-employed, derives gainful employment through various clients and assignments, and is not committed to a particular employer long term. The terms independent consultants, solopreneurs, contractors, independent professionals are also used for freelancers.
Freelancing is not just part-time work. For instance, an individual may choose to work on a single full-time project at one time and move on to the next; or work on multiple part-time assignments at a time. Freelancing offers flexibility in the use of time and in the nature of work and this freedom of choice is often a key factor in the decision to go solo. Also, freelancing does not merely equate with home-based work or online work – it increasingly includes on-site work or works out of client location. A mini-survey conducted by Flexing It (www.flexingit.com, a skills marketplace in India) indicates that three-fourths of its registered professionals prefer a mix of on-site and remote/home location assignments.
Freelancing is also perceived as an arrangement made due to a lack of choice and is taken up by those who have not found a full-time job or those in between jobs. Over the past few years, however, there has been a change in the attitudes of people towards a regular, 9 to 5 job, and many skilled professionals are seeking to have flexibility in their working hours and have greater control over their career development. Flexible opportunities are of interest to professionals with specialized skill sets and across experience levels – over half of the professionals on Flexing It are professionals with over 10 years of experience. Freelancing or working independently is about leveraging one’s knowledge and is a conscious choice being made by individuals. Additionally, it is a choice being made by both men and women!
In a nutshell, ‘freelancers’ are the new league of professionals - men and women - in the workforce, who are making a conscious choice to work with a set of arrangements best suited to their time, skills, expertise, and career development goals, without being bound to work for one employer at one job full time.
We at Flexing It, see this trend towards independent working amongst professionals growing significantly and so want to undertake to answer the question of “who are India’s freelancers?” Due to the lack of any formal research or data about freelancing in our country, it continues to be marred by stereotypes mentioned in this article. In the subsequent segments we will share insights into and glimpses of ‘what’ and ‘who’ constitute India’s freelancers and why they have decided to or are in the process of trying to break away from the traditional form of employment which has been the norm in our country. We will look at professions commonly associated with it, as also professions where freelancing is now being carved.
We will attempt to showcase the different segments that we see within the broad category of independent professionals or freelancers. Here are some segments that we have begun to see and will look to delve into over the coming weeks:
Over the next few weeks, we will share the experiences and stories of professionals in each of these categories in a series to attempt to define “India’s freelancers”. If you would like to share your thoughts and/or experiences with us, do write in, to email@example.com