Woes of a freelancer

  • 03 Aug - 09 Aug, 2019
  • Eman Saleem
  • Feature

From the security of a contract, the monotony of a 9 to 5 job and the unexciting reiteration of work, it is easy to so straightforwardly associate the online life of a freelancer with ‘living the dream.’ Expanding on the overused phrase – working in PJs from the couch, no defined hour of clocking in and adherence to no rules besides your own – it is easy to translate to a fantasised way of life on social media. As someone who has been freelancing for a good few years, I wish I could confirm this flight of fancy, musing over the fact that all those years account to near-nothing on a resume. Every freelancer, at least at one point in time, applies for 20 job vacancies after evaluating their income stream as the ubiquitous influence of consistent unpredictability, financial instability and fear of the unknown magnify, and yet, freelancing is not considered as a ‘serious’ career choice. It is a common knowledge how freelancers are often exploited in terms of compensation; on the subject there is an on-going discussion and dialogue around the world, including Pakistan, and as to how and why there needs to be some consistency and standardisation to secure freelancers. Pakistan ranks as the fourth biggest market for online freelancers, often underpaid, because the compensation in dollars makes it look like a fair play [which unfortunately is not].

I took my queries to three individuals in different fields on how to make it through a full-time freelance career and here is what they had to say.

Haya Fatima Iqbal

Academy and Emmy-award winning documentary filmmaker, journalist, producer and director, Haya Fatima Iqbal, was employed for three years under contract and has been working for four years as a freelancer with big clients like BBC, Nat Geo etcetera in an array of subjects.

Haya doesn’t think her road as a freelancer has necessarily been longer but definitely tougher.

“It’s a one-man army with no team to fall back on but it largely depends on how much grit you have. As an employee, you work as a team member and blame is usually shared and same is applied to a winning moment. But as a freelancer, you know you made the good thing alone but when things go wrong, you can’t blame someone else,” she says. In the documentary and production industry, there’s only a certain level you can reach in terms of compensation under contract. However, freelancing is a different story. With the world opening up to you with opportunities to explore and spread your wings in different areas, your sources of income become varied. However, freelancers do not, in any way, enjoy fruit without hard labour. There’s no stage in a freelance career when you just sit back and imagine things are going to be great on their own.

How do you find clients/ projects?

Step one is an official announcement on social media that you have started providing services on a freelance basis. Word of mouth also helps a lot and also your reach online. Six months in, when I had a portfolio strong enough to speak for my skills, I was in a place to negotiate better returns after working at rates I wouldn’t urge any young person to work at. Of course, there are other variables at play as well. Upgrading the equipment and producing better quality footage are key factors here.

How do you deal with bad reviews?

A lot depends on your relationship with your former employer. Clients always approach you or may make an offer after having done some research on you. So, how you called it quits with your former employer is of utmost importance. If you’ve left on a bad note, then be assured that a bad word will already be circulating about you in the market and your start will be rougher than the usual. If you’ve parted ways on a positive note, then your former employer can affirm to your skills. I’m a bit of a stickler so I’ve escaped the fate of a bad review so far but it’s a constant struggle.

Tanzeela Mazhar

A senior journalist with a successful career expanding over 17 years across multiple media platforms including print, radio and mainstream media, Tanzeela has worked with PTV under a long-term employment contract before taking the route to independency. She agrees that freelance work is usually not given its due respect and is not regarded as serious.

“It reflects on terms and rates. Freelance journalism is a lot more hard work (as compared to contractual practice); for one, you have to become financially stable and second, ensure that you keep on getting more contracts.”

Furthermore, there’s a lot happening (in terms of digitising, etc) in the media industry which is reshaping job opportunities, but with no professional baseline training for freelancers, the rates are marginalised. If we talk about our local market, rate negotiations are a much trickier task as compared to working for international organisations which usually have set precedents.

How do you find clients/ projects?

With my experience and contacts owing to so many years to practice, information on openings comes my way. Moreover, social media connectivity has contributed immensely and positively in this manner.

How do you deal with bad reviews?

Personally, I do not over commit to projects and I am a believer of negotiating (and agreeing) on clear terms and conditions. Needless to say, deadlines must be followed because nothing is worse than work that is behind schedule.

Sarmad Hashmi

With nine years of experience on his resume, Sarmad is a known name in the growing field of graphic designing. His pursuit in the field led him to co-founding Pak Deviants, a platform where aspiring visual artists to upload their artwork and engage in designing activities. Alongside freelancing for brands and identities, he’s been employed with digital media agencies. “It’s a very uncertain path, the clients delay the payment, sometimes they pay you in half and disappear. If you are lucky, you can get paid on time and then there is a whole lot of planning involved on how to get clients.”

Moreover, with the digital market in its sky-rocketing phase there is an intense competition in the job market and introducing new concepts is the only thing that can keep you afloat. Sarmad introduced me to a term called “walkout price”; when offered compensation too low, as per your expertise, you walk out or better yet, refer someone else.

How do you find clients/ projects?

First, connections matter. Second, it’s not enough just being good for your own audience alone so you collaborate and diversify with other audiences to present a simple point that you have the capability and skill to handle other projects too.

How do you deal with a bad review?

Whenever in doubt, ask the client that you won't be able to pull it off and refer them to someone who can. This doesn't damage the rating and the client respects you for being honest.

Expert Tips

• If you’re entering the market as a freelance filmmaker, you have to invest in one resource you have control over wholeheartedly. • In the first year, you have to invest 18 hours a day to be taken seriously (an average employee gives about 8 to 9 hours), to maintain your cash flow and for your efforts to translate into success. • Hard work is a given but comfort zone can hold you back in your starting year, often becoming a self-setup road block.

• Do not overcommit, and don’t go for bad bargains. If your think rates are not respectful, try to avoid taking such projects.

• Always (always!) ask for an advance and do not use WhatsApp as a means of communication when it comes to getting your artwork approved, • USE EMAIL! More importantly, don't send the final file until your payment is cleared to avoid being exploited.