August 5, 2014

Shaking Off the Freelance Rep

By Anya Rangaswami

I’ve been working independently, as a freelance designer, for the past year. As is the case with most freelance designers, my first few projects came from friends, friends of friends or people who were happy to spread the word. My next set of projects came through recommendations – people I’d worked with recommending me to people who needed a designer. This lot of people, I did not know. They didn’t know me. They had no experience working with me – what they did have, was experience with other freelancers. And their experiences (to put it mildly) had not been good.

I was given a brief, and I was given a deadline. I figured out, not soon enough, that the deadline I was given was five days earlier than the actual deadline. This annoyed me. If I’d known, right from the start, that I’d had more time, I could have done more. I might have done things a little differently. I would certainly have been less stressed. But from their bewildered reactions when I delivered on time, I figured out why I’d been lied to. The expectation was that I’d miss the deadline. The expectation was that I’d disappear for a few days. They’d worked this into the timelines they’d given me. When this happened over and over again with new clients, I wasn’t annoyed anymore. I couldn’t blame them. Freelancers in India, by and large, have a terrible reputation.

I began to question why that had come to be, and what we could do about it. After all, so many designers, after a few years with a studio, choose to work independently; the idea of freelancing is appealing – Flexible work hours (and the chance to travel) creative freedom (sometimes) and the freedom to choose ones projects (that we all aspire to) – drives a lot of people to risk quitting full time jobs. Armed with a good portfolio and optimism, we set out to look for work. And very often we end up fighting the Great Freelance Rep.

So how can we change this, to make things better? At the end of the day, freelance is business, and a business we all want to run well. Clients may come to us because of a great portfolio, but being easy to work with is just as important as delivering great work. Sticking to deadlines, communicating clearly and consistently, being available during regular business hours – these are things that clients appreciate. These are things they come back to us for. If clients know they can rely on us, if clients trust us, we have a much better chance of getting great work out, of getting paid better, of getting in more work.

Perhaps we need to rethink our work ethic, and make some changes. It’s a small price to pay. And it’ll probably be worth it.

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  1. Kavita Jhala



    I am a freelance copywriter and I am still bogged by clients who think that I can dish out a memorable quotable quote or a paragraph in matter of minutes. Making the clients realise that I am not stand-up writer with unstoppable adrenaline rush, is the core fact that I need to talk out to them before I enter into a working alliance with them. It’s definitely difficult to break many myths.

  2. Jyotish



    I am not a full-time freelancer. But based on my past experiences and experiences shared by my fellow designers, I felt I need to add a few things.

    Now in my personal opinion I find it wrong to say that “freelancers in India, by and large, have a terrible reputation”. It is important to look at how clients treat freelancers as well- they don’t communicate on time, set unrealistic deadlines in between a project and don’t pay on time. Infact clients in India, by and large are known to not pay on time.

    I feel there has to be an effort from both sides and freelancers can obviously give that extra push to improve relations.

  3. Arnab Das



    Precisely why me and few of my friends started The Copy Shop, an aggregator of freelance writers. We stand between the client and the freelancers, working for mutual benefits and interests.

  4. Arka Gupta



    Heh. More than the “freelancer” rep, I find us struggling to shake off the “Indian” reputation. At least I am. I quite agree, people need better work ethics: freelancers AND clients, interns in agencies, creative heads in startups. I don’t know about people employed in bigger agencies yet.

    When we freelance, we meet a larger variety of clients hence a larger variety of work cultures and expectations. Some we should to match up to, some are frustrating (and occasionally insulting) to work with. Design professionals in this country need appreciable work ethics (some already do, some need improvement) and a lot of clients (also Indian) who commission work from designers need to trust the designer and (primarily) keep the money flowing as promised upon signing the contract.

    All a freelancer can do is work hard (and smart) and hope for the best. As the article says in conclusion, it’s not that difficult.That should, collectively, take care of any bad reputation.

    Fingers crossed, here’s hoping the other side rewards that. -.-

  5. Lavanya



    Albeit thoughts clearly expressed in a well written article, I have a slightly different story to tell. This is my personal opinion on the subject as you have yours; and it may be an exception to this otherwise reiterated stereotype of being a freelancer. I have been a freelance animator and illustrator for close to four years now. And I agree, that one needs to communicate well with clients and have a certain amount of self discipline in order to get work done, maybe a little (lot) more, than an employee. But I have to admit, that in all my four years, my experiences being negative with respect to the ‘reputation’ of being a freelancer, have been next to none. In fact, to be honest, I’ve never been told of the existence of this reputation, delusional as this may sound, I may owe this to my work ethic. Yes, sometimes, there are hiccups, but in my opinion it’s not always because the client makes assumptions of my professional status. Let’s be honest, clients want their work done, they want it done well and on time. One’s reputation is built on one’s own experiences, delivery and commitment, client or freelancer.
    That ill reputation may be out there, but it’s not all on the freelancer, that’s only one side of the story, let’s be fair. We have the right to have certain expectations from our clients as well, especially if we meet theirs.
    Maybe it’s time to invest less time in what people assume and invest more time in doing what we do, and doing it well, because we love it. :)

  6. kanchan dhankani



    Hi … I too am independently working since past 3 -3 and a half years and I too observed the same issues. People are not able to trust designers who work independently. Its frustrating when you loose a project just because of this reason. All what I can say is be the change you wish to see in the world. …. we need to work towards this responsibly.

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