There’s a large population of freelancers in Asia, with countries like India, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Bangladesh constituting the majority of this community.
Some are swayed by the lifestyle choice freelancing offers – there’s no need to follow corporate rules and regulations whilst abiding by a structured 9-to-5 job. Others have found opportunity to overcome job scarcity and insecurity in their countries.
Successful freelancers can make it big and on their own terms. The potential freelancing offers in socioeconomic progress and labour force participation has also been recognised by the World Bank.
Danyal Saleem, who lives in Pakistan, is an example of how hard work and perseverance can reap rich rewards when bidding for projects online.
The graphic designer works exclusively on an online freelancing platform and has earned, on average, US$20,000 per month for the past several months. But this isn’t a story of overnight success – Danyal has had to work hard to differentiate himself and stay true to his goal.
“I was introduced to freelancing by my cousin back in 2012 but was initially put off by the low prices clients offered to pay,” Danyal said. “However, I was in college at the time studying engineering, and I saw intense competition in the job market, which is why I decided to give it a shot.”
It was a full year later, in May 2013, when Danyal finally decided to jump in. He signed up for one of numerous sites that connect designers or coders with people or companies that have small projects, like designing a logo or building a website.
He had already started a small business to help pay for his college education, so he was nervous and apprehensive about the decision. “I gave myself two or three months at most. If I didn’t succeed, then I would go back to running the business as it was showing potential,” he says.
Danyal’s area of expertise is in graphic design. In his first month using Fiverr he pitched mostly for projects centred around logo designing. But it wasn’t so simple. In the first few weeks he didn’t hear back from even a single client, despite pitching for dozens of projects.
“I needed to understand what worked, so I read blogs, participated in forums, and analysed profiles of successful freelancers. It was an uphill struggle, but I didn’t want to give up,” he explains.
Danyal says he understands why clients would be apprehensive giving projects to untested freelancers. They literally have hundreds of options to choose from, he explains, and to give a project to someone with no experience requires a strong leap of faith.
They expect a professional job and are nervous to hand it over to someone who doesn’t have an established track record. To help stand out from the competition, Danyal worked obsessively on his Fiverr profile and portfolio. “A visually-appealing profile and strong portfolio are integral – the odds of landing a job are much higher then,” he outlines.
A slow stream of projects started to come Danyal’s way. Within a few months he was landing an average of a hundred projects every month, with a large number of repeat clients. He also expanded the range of his professional services, branching out from logo design to business cards, banners, Facebook cover pages, letterheads, and stationery.
Clients who would engage him for a specific requirement soon began outsourcing related work, which resulted in higher earnings. Since May this year he has projects queued up – an enviable state of affairs for any freelancer.
But he’s had to face his fair share of challenges too. The shoddy state of internet infrastructure in his city, Mirpur, threatened to derail his freelancing career. “Sometimes I haven’t had connectivity for two days straight,” he explains. “That’s unthinkable for someone who makes his livelihood on the internet.”
Danyal’s workaround was to constantly scurry between friends houses – a frustrating but necessary process.
So what advice would Danyal give other budding freelancers? “Always give something extra,” he says solemnly. “Go beyond client expectations so they keep coming back to you.”
He adds that many freelancers bid for hundreds of projects daily and then get disheartened when they don’t hear back from even a single one. The trick is to apply only for those which best meet your skillset, and then write a highly-personalised pitch so clients know you’ve spent time researching the requirements and are able to deliver. “Freelancers who copy-paste their pitches won’t get far – always put in original work and be patient.”
Danyal’s success has also rubbed off on his peers. He claims he’s trained around 70 people in the art of freelancing online – all of whom are now earning several thousand dollars monthly. “Just learning skills isn’t enough. You need to know how to manage yourself properly and consistently give it your best,” he smiles.