Freelancing in India

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India is the second largest country with freelancers after the US with over 15 million people working independently in various sectors like IT and programming, finance, sales and marketing, designing, animation, videography, content and academic writing. In the changing global work environment, freelancers are consistently gaining prominence and the perception that they are an inferior crop of professionals is gradually changing as even people with top educational and professional backgrounds are quitting full-time employment to provide their skills and services as independent consultants. Companies right from start-ups to top-drawer corporate are now reaching out to freelancers in order to seek their expertise to various projects and initiatives.


Freelancing is a term used to define a profession where an individual works independently and offers his or her services without being bound by the standard rules and regulations applicable to a company’s full-time employee.


The origin of the term freelance has now been widely accepted as emerging from the historical novel, Ivanhoe, written by the Scottish novelist, playwright and poet, Sir Walter Scott in 1820.[1] In this novel, Scott used the term freelance as two separate words “free” and “lance” and used it to refer to a mercenary who was willing to wield his lance or weapon to fight for the highest bidder. “I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them—I will lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and embark for Flanders; thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment.” In this first ever reference, freelance is used to suggest an individual who offered skills in exchange for monetary compensation.[2] The gist of the term has survived up to the modern times but today freelancing can be used to define a broad range of ways in which professionals work independently. Some people work on long term contracts, doing a full week at a single client site for several months until the contract is finished or renewed. Others work with several clients simultaneously on a series of fast turnaround projects.[3] Freelancers are also known by different designations like independent contractor, consultant, independent professional, portfolio worker etc.

In the past, freelancing was thought to be a second-fiddle to full-time employment but with globalization and the proliferation of technology, even individuals with strong educational and professional backgrounds are taking up independent employment by choice.[4] According studies conducted in the US, freelancers made up 34 per cent of the total workforce and this number is expected to cross 50 per cent in the coming years.[5]

Governments initiatives[edit]

There hasn’t been much effort from the government of India towards assisting freelancers. However recently, the government set up the Digital India Platform (DIP), an initiative to digitalise all government documents and where freelancers would be hired to help perform this task. Anyone with a knowledge of computers, access to Internet and a valid Aadhar card would be eligible to apply for this freelance opportunity.[6] The DIP announced that it was using crowd sourcing to increase citizen participation in nation building.[7]

Contributions to economy of India[edit]

The freelance sector in India is witnessing a rapid increase and there are studies to prove this.[8] India is second only to the US when it comes to the number of freelance professionals. While the US has over 50 million independent professionals, including freelancers and those working on contract basis, India has about 15 million freelancers.[9] Freelancers in India have been boosting the growth of start-ups in a big way. As a young company, start-ups are usually not in a position to hire highly skilled workforce on a permanent basis, which is why they are looking at the massive talent pool available in the freelance sector.[10] Such a strategy while being cost-effective also fulfills the need for specific skills-set not available internally. While fostering the start-up economy in the country, freelancers today are also increasingly providing their expertise to top-drawer corporates as business environments and needs evolve.[11]

Full-time employment vs freelancing[edit]

When debating about which type of employment is better— full-time or freelancing, strong arguments can be made on both sides. However, even in the most advanced countries, freelancing is still an underdeveloped sector and full-time employment is the most preferred choice. The reason for this is stability and fewer risks. Freelancers also do not enjoy welfare benefits such as medical insurance and retirement schemes from any of their employers whether working for them on a short-term or long-term contract. Also since freelancers are responsible for filing their own taxes, it is possible that they may owe substantial amounts of income taxes at the end of the year in case they weren’t paying their taxes in time.[12] As freelancing is a one-man company, freelancers often have to perform all aspects of a business on their own. Therefore, the support system is weaker than that available to a full-time employee.

While there certainly are risks to becoming a freelancer, there are a great number of benefits as well. Most people choose to go the freelance way in order to have a good work-life balance. As a freelancer, one enjoys a lot of flexibility, getting to choose projects and assignments according to will, deciding how many hours to work rather than running the traditional 9 to 5 clock, picking the work location be it home, library or a cozy café in another country and generally working around family life and social commitments. Being a freelancer also means that you will be your own boss and will not be working under the direction of anyone. This aspect is attractive to many independent workers. As a freelancer one also develops important skills-set like being a self-starter, promoting and marketing themselves and handling accounts.

Indian women in freelancing[edit]

22.7% of Indian women are working as a labour as compared to 51.6% of Indian men.[citation needed] As in most countries, women in India are the primary caregivers of a family and while several women are now breaking the glass ceiling to occupy top positions from business to politics, a large number of female population in India still choose to give up their full-time jobs for the family.[citation needed] Household management and child-rearing take up most of the women’s time as a result of which they are more likely to work in part-time jobs and in informal arrangements that pay less and provide fewer benefits, but provide more flexibility.[13][not in citation given] Additionally, there are a lot of highly educated women armed with a masters and doctorate degrees, in India who cannot pursue a regular occupation due to family and social obligations.[14] Such women can seek out freelancing options rather than cutting short their professional careers.

Despite freelancing providing a viable career option for women looking for flexibility and control the number of Indian women taking up freelancing is still small as compared to their male counterparts. In a survey conducted by Payoneer, a payments services provider based in New York in 2015, only 22 per cent of Indian freelancers are women.[15] Not only this but the same report reveals that women are paid lesser than the men who freelance. While a male freelancer earns $19 per hour on an average, a female freelancer apparently earns $17 per hour for the same project.[16]

Disability and freelancing in India[edit]

According to the 2001 Census, 2.1 per cent of the total population of India suffer from some form of disability, which is over 21 million people.[17] In an Indian society, access to employment is defined not only in terms of education and skills but also cultural and social capital. Persons with disabilities especially those with physical and mental impairments suffer from negative stereotypes and are largely seen to be unproductive and dependent.[18]

Freelancing as a career can help a person with disability in many ways. While the office environment may not be as adjustable to the person with disabilities’ needs, as a freelancer one can choose their own workspace which can be tweaked to best suit their needs. The daily commute to work can also be a hindrance to many, especially since in India public transports are still not very accessible to people with disabilities. Flexible work hours and a control over the amount of work one can take up eliminates the pressures attached with full-time employment. Unpleasant encounters arising due to the social stigma attached with disabilities in Indian societies can also be prevented by working as a freelancer.

Companies and freelancers[edit]

The distinct shifts in areas like technology, culture, demographics and professional needs and goals have driven companies to relook their human resource policies in order to accommodate the burgeoning freelance economy.[19] It comes as no surprise that the start-ups in India are hiring 50 per cent of the total freelancing workforce. These companies are not only hiring freelancers or independent consultants at lower management. In fact, freelance CFO’s are also getting on board in order to help streamline a company’s finances. According to industry estimates, hiring their services of an outsourced CFO can result in operational savings of 30 to 70 per cent and depending upon the nature of the job, fees charged can range from Rs 30,000 to a few lakhs per month.[20]


  1. ^ Burke, Miles. (2008). The Principles Of Successful Freelancing. 1st ed. Collingwood, Vic., Sitepoint.
  2. ^ Wynn, Laura. "Freelancing Through The Ages: A Brief History Of Freelancing". Invenitas. Digital Talent Management, 2015.
  3. ^ IPSE (The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed),. Guide To Freelancing. IPSE (The Association Of Independent Professionals And The Self Employed), London, 2014,.
  4. ^ "America's Independents: A Rising Economic Force". MBO Partners, Inc, Herndon, Virginia. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  5. ^ Adams, Susan. "More Than A Third Of U.S. Workers Are Freelancers Now, But Is That Good For Them?". Forbes. Retrieved 2017-01-10.
  6. ^ Burke, Miles. The Principles Of Successful Freelancing. 1st ed., Collingwood, Vic., Sitepoint, 2008,.
  7. ^
  8. ^ IPSE (The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed),. Guide To Freelancing. IPSE (The Association Of Independent Professionals And The Self Employed), London, 2014.
  9. ^ America's Independents: A Rising Economic Force. MBO Partners, Inc, Herndon, Virginia, 2016,
  10. ^ Adams, Susan. "More Than A Third Of U.S. Workers Are Freelancers Now, But Is That Good For Them?". Forbes. Retrieved 2017-01-31.
  11. ^ Indian Companies Say I Do To The Freelance Economy. FlexingIt, New Delhi, 2016,.
  12. ^ "Government to offer freelancing opportunities under Digital India". The Economic Times. Retrieved 2017-01-31.
  13. ^ "About DIP"., 2016,
  14. ^ "Here's why freelancers are in great demand - The Economic Times". The Economic Times. Retrieved 2017-01-31.
  15. ^ "Thanks to internet, India has most freelance professionals after US". Hindustan Times. 2015-12-07. Retrieved 2017-01-31.
  16. ^ Jain, Mayank. "Work more, earn less: four charts sum up the economics of freelancing in India". Retrieved 2017-01-31.
  17. ^
  18. ^ Indian Companies Say I Do To The Freelance Economy. FlexingIt, New Delhi, 2016,.
  19. ^ "Here's why freelancers are in great demand - The Economic Times". The Economic Times. Retrieved 2017-01-31.
  20. ^ Nilika Mehrotra (2013), Disability, gender and caste intersections in Indian economy, in Sharon N. Barnartt , Barbara M. Altman (ed.) Disability and Intersecting Statuses (Research in Social Science and Disability, Volume 7) Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 295 – 324