Freelancing is a contract-based profession where instead of being recruited in an organisation, a person can use his skills and experience to provide services to several clients at the same time. It is a remote working module, where people can work from home and bring remittance at the same time.
Freelancing platforms offer jobs almost in every category. This has generated a wide range of new opportunities for people in emerging markets that did not previously exist. Asia has become the number-one region for providing outsourcing services to the rest of the world.
Bangladesh has already become the second-largest supplier of online labour, according to the Oxford Internet Institute. About 500,000 active freelancers are regularly working, out of 650,000 registered freelancers in the country; between them, they are generating $100 million annually, according to the ICT Division of Bangladesh.
However, freelancing, as a career until now does not have any formal acknowledgement in the country. But the good news is, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has expressed her concern regarding this and hopefully, the freelancers will get formal recognition soon.
In conversation with The Business Standard, two top-rated freelancers of UpWork have shared stories of their journey, views on future of freelancing in Bangladesh and gave few suggestions for new freelancers. ISM Habibullah has earned more than $45,000 in just one and a half years and Rakibul Hasan Khan has been working in the industry for around 10 years.
"Clients prefer hiring a top-rated freelancer with higher success rates"
Freelance inbound marketer and content writer
The Business Standard (TBS): Most of the youth of our country after graduation want institutional careers. You instead chose freelancing as your career path. Why?
ISM Habibullah (ISMH): The main reason I am in the freelance sector is that I can get the opportunity to do something I would like to do.
Way before my graduation, back in 2011, I started exploring different freelancing platforms, but it was not a serious thing back then.
I started taking freelancing seriously only in 2018 after the disappointment of failing in various traditional job exams. Also, I became the father of a child by then. By this time, I had already tried various marketplaces like Odesk, Elance, Toptal, Peopleperhour, Fiverr, Freelancer, and few other freelance marketplaces.
The idea of freelancing thus came to my mind and I chose the Writing and Marketing category on UpWork and started to submit proposals under these categories. Eventually, I did get traction and embarked on paid contracts.
However, I often suffer from an identity crisis, and I always have to deal with the uncertainty of keeping my pipeline full, so I always have active and paying contracts.
TBS: How hard is it to open an account in the freelance platform?
ISMH: Opening a profile in freelance platforms was easier earlier. But things are getting harder now. For example, in UpWork, back in 2011, when it was known as Odesk, one could easily open an account and complete it to a 100 percent profile just by giving some skill tests. But it is much harder now and you often require certification to complete a full profile. But, I appreciate such a step as it is ensuring that more skilled freelancers are joining the platform.
TBS: What are the essential skills a freelancer needs to acquire before they start working?
ISMH: Before joining the freelancing platform, a freelancer must have computer literacy and should know how to operate the office suits because he will be working with those the most of the time, unless s/he decides to explore the technical categories.
In freelancing platforms, there is a job for everyone. You can be anything you want to be, your education will not decide your career. Instead, your passion will. For example, if you turn out to be a graduate from arts faculty but have an interest in graphics designing and you have acquired skills on that either through practising or by attending courses, you can explore the graphics designing sector as well.
Also, there is always a chance of learning after you have joined the freelancing platforms. You can learn while you work. And, many clients will pay you for that as well. All you need to do is to be completely honest with our client. It would help if you did not hide the drawbacks of your skills.
TBS: From where can someone get training to work as a freelancer?
ISMH: You cannot train yourself to become a freelancer. What you can do is to train to enhance your skills and then join the freelancing platforms to start earning. For skill development, there are many government and non-government training facilities that work on skill development programmes for the youth. Department of Youth Development of Bangladesh, BASIS Institute of Technology & Management (BITM), ICT division of Bangladesh offers many skill development courses of which some of are free. You can enroll yourself in one of those courses and enhance your skills. Also, you can learn from online platforms such as Google Academy, HubSpot Academy and SEMrush Academy. These platforms offer free classes, and I have taken courses from these online platforms to enhance my skill.
TBS: How can one enhance their profile so that s/he has a better chance of getting hired?
ISMH: Having a good profile in the freelancing platform gives you advantages over other freelancers available in the marketplace. To enhance and maintain a good profile, you must complete your tasks carefully and in time as the clients can provide feedback at the end of the contracts. Also, the freelancing platforms provide different badges from time to time to the top-rated freelancers, which helps them to stand out from the crowd. And in many cases, clients prefer hiring a top-rated freelancer with higher success rates as they can rely on them.
Also, it is better to have a portfolio of your own. By having your portfolio, you can showcase your work to the clients while pitching for a job. This also keeps you ahead, and your chance of getting hired increases a lot.
TBS: How do you find a job in the freelancing platforms and how long does it take to get a job?
ISMH: In the freelancing platforms, there are many categories and sub-categories. You can find jobs from there. All you need to do is find a job that suits you and apply for it. However, it costs somewhere around 50 cents to $1.5 to apply for a job in UpWork, which was free even a year ago. This has made it hard to apply to many jobs like earlier, but on the other hand, it has increased the chance of converting the applications into job contracts.
There is no specific answer on how long it might take for one to get a job in the freelancing platforms. When I first joined freelancing, I had an account in two other freelancing platforms. But I only got success in UpWork. Also, it took me almost two months to get my first work contract. All I can say is that you must have patience and not lose hope.
TBS: How much can you earn? And do you face any difficulties receiving the payments?
ISMH: There no specific answer on how much can one earn in the freelancing sector. It varies from freelancer to freelancer and the number of contracts he has. I roughly earn around $2,500 every month. However, I have talked to many freelancers and got an idea that you can easily make Tk30,000 every month with few active contracts, which is easy to get.
In terms of receiving payments, most of the time, we do not face any problems as we can link our local account and transfer money directly into those from the platforms. But sometimes payment difficulties happen in the client's end. For example, in the fixed contracts, it is often seen that the clients often delay releasing the payment even after completing the task. For this reason, I would suggest you opt for verified clients with good profiles and try taking hourly jobs instead of fixed contracts. The freelance platforms keep track of the hourly jobs with software and make sure that you are getting paid for the time you have worked for.
TBS: What is your advice for newcomers in the freelancing sector?
ISMH: I would suggest that newcomers emphasise on creating their portfolio before joining the freelancing platforms. It is easy to create one. You can use blogs to showcase your work, you even can buy a domain and hosting if you want to give it a more professional look. It is essential as it will help a lot in your interview process with the client. Also, I would suggest you create accounts in different freelancing platforms available, as it takes time to find the first job.
Secondly, I would suggest not to work on something that offers below $10 in terms of hourly jobs. Yes, many freelancers work below that range, but if you agree to work on the amount below that $10, the clients will get a chance to exploit you more, and it is not worthwhile.
"Hard work, persistency and communication are the key features of freelancing"
Rakibul Hasan Khan
Freelance Web Developer
The Business Standard (TBS): How did you start freelancing and why?
Rakibul Hasan Khan (RHK): Back in 2011, a term –"earning through the internet," was very popular in Bangladesh. It intrigued me too, and I started searching to know more about it. Later, I found out that some of my seniors were already working through the internet and earning. Initially I started working with them for two years. Working with them taught me how things work in freelancing, and I gained the confidence to work on my own. Thus, I ended up being a freelancer from my university days.
Another thing is, I never liked the concept of "nine to five" jobs. Though I tried once due to family pressure I could not cope with it. So I quit that job and returned to my comfort zone.
TBS: Global economy has been in decline during this pandemic. Was it same for the freelancing marketplaces as well?
RHK: Freelancers usually work either on hourly or fixed contracts. Freelancers who have been working in this field for years already had some clients and ongoing works. They kept working with them amid this pandemic. Therefore, I do not think that the freelancing marketplace took a big hit.
However, there were fewer job postings which affected the newcomers. But sectors like e-commerce also flourished during this time as well.
Nonetheless, the situation has improved now, and we have resumed and started working at the same rhythm.
TBS: There are different working sections in programming for a programmer, such as front end and back end development. Which section is more popular amongst freelancers and why?
RHK: Basically, it depends on the individual's interest. The person who likes to work with designs and creativity would go for front end coding, and most of the people do so. A significant number of people are also working at the back end too. However, the difference between these two is very little.
TBS: How does one look for gigs on different freelancing sites?
RHK: One should look for gigs as per their expertise and interest. In the beginning, you should read each gig post and note down the requirements and then figure out for which one you should apply.
There are different sites which offer good gigs to freelancers. UpWork, 99designs, Freelancer, Fiverr, DesignCrowd, Toptal, PeoplePerHour, Stack Overflow are some of the websites that offer excellent deals to expert and newbie freelancers as per their skills and ability.
TBS: What are the key features that a freelancer should have?
RHK: Again, it all depends on personal dedication and interest. Anything can seem tough in the beginning, but we should keep moving on. Also keeping consistency in work is very crucial.
Hard work, persistency and communication are the key features here. To earn the right amount of money from this profession, one must spend 4,000-5,000 hours in learning and building skills. Nevertheless, gathering expertise is not enough. We need to know how to present those skills through communication. A significant number of our freelancers lag behind in case of communication with the client. Since we lack proficiency in English, we have to learn this skill too.
Another thing that we should learn is selling our time and product with confidence. We perform as good as the other top-rated foreign freelancers. However, for some unknown reasons, we settle for way less than them. We should stop this practice and have the confidence to ask for a more respectable pay.
TBS: Where can a newbie freelancer learn?
RHK: The new generation is privileged with technology. They can learn from different online platforms. Moreover, a few organisations, like Creative IT Institute, are offering good courses with scholarship too. The government and Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) provides a few good courses. Curious learners can start from these places as well. In that case, having a little advanced knowledge will always help them in this profession.
TBS: Do we have enough facilities to train our freelancers?
RHK: In reality, we do not have enough facilities, but we are trying very hard. The government is taking initiatives to encourage people in freelancing and to train them. Yet, the success rate is very low.
I believe it would have been great if we could involve people who are truly interested in this profession, rather than inviting everyone. We should arrange talent hunt programs in different universities and then train those skilled students properly.
TBS: Why is freelancing becoming more popular nowadays?
RHK: Firstly, it is borderless, and provides an opportunity for remote working. Secondly, one can earn a good amount of money. Thirdly, we can enjoy our lives in our terms. Fourthly, it has many options – graphics designing, programming, web developing, affiliate program and search engine optimisation, content writing and many more to explore. And last but not the least, this market place is expanding every day.
TBS: Does freelancing have a bright future in our country?
RHK: Definitely, we have a bright future here. If we can break a few social stigmas and treat freelancers with respect in our society, more people might be interested in joining us. Eventually, it will benefit us in the long run.