The Millennial Pilgrim: New to freelancing? Watch out for these red flags

For most of us who have quit a stable job to pursue a new career, crippling self-doubt and never-ending financial crunch are a daily reality. It's just not a financial decision. It is an emotional and psychological decision too. Your routine and habits go for a toss. You have to build a new version of yourself from scratch.

While the self-doubt is only temporary and can be overcome with positive self-talk, the financial problems need more active engagement with the outside world.

The "free" in freelancer doesn't always stand for freedom. Not very long ago, when I had to explain this change in my career path to a relative, very spontaneously and unwittingly he summarised my profile in this way: "Oh! you are freelancer. You do free work for people." Funny as it was, it wasn't very far from the truth at that point.

You can keep working round the clock without ever making enough money to take care of your basic needs. Often money is such a big part of our identity that the paltry returns from flexi-work can make a huge dent on who we are.

Clearly, then we have to reorient our attitude towards money. Making peace with what we can't afford and never losing sight of the original goal is ever so important. But once you are sure of your place under the earth, why you quit your cushy job and have detached your self-worth from your pay check, you need to watch out for red flags when people come offering you work. Being in a vulnerable position with decent experience makes you a super magnet for people I call networking gangsters. These are people who claim to know someone in all places under the sun. They can always arrange a meeting with influential people at the drop of the hat. “I will put in a good word about you and introduce you to so and so” are other common tropes.

This deluge of name dropping somewhat makes you forget the reason you were in the room in the first place — to negotiate your remuneration for the freelance services you would be providing this person.

Notice how your pay cheque is always the last thing to be discussed in the meeting which usually takes place at a posh joint in Delhi. I have never really understood how your remuneration is the last to be discussed when it is your skill that will get the job done and not the social connections of your employer.

The networking gangsters feed you good food with a generous seasoning of their high connections to show you your social place, to make you doubt your self-worth and create a power equation that may not have existed in your mind earlier. The networking gangsters’ message is always clear — my social status is a part of your salary. In all probability you will fall for this con job.

You will end up quoting a lesser amount and give away the power of negotiation to the person with contacts. All this while it may not cross your mind that you can never really exploit anyone’s contacts without having done some solid work to back yourself up.

Now that you know how to spot a networking gangster, here are few dos and don’ts to deal with them:

1. Try to fix meetings at a place which is convenient for both of you. Go to a neutral setting. Avoid going into the den of the gangster.

2. Cut short any personal conversation. Networking gangsters are also good personality readers. They are vulnerability vultures. Keep it more about your work and what you have achieved.

3. Never apologise for being a freelancer. You don’t need to be employed by a corporate entity to feel worthy of social status. You have multiple interests and a full-time job sucks the life out of you, which is why you are part of the gig market.

4. If you want to build a relationship with the person, it can be done over a period of time. The first meeting is about assessing whether this will be an easy person to work with.

5. Ask them vital questions about deadlines, when they will be available for feedback. Ask them to give you precise directions about what they want. Networking gangsters pose as experts while wanting you to ghost write their book. So be sure about the quantum of work you are signing up for.

6. Never come across as someone who badly needs the gig. Trust me, they need you more than you need them. Some of these gangsters can’t string two sentences together without making a spelling mistake. So, value your core skills.

7. Don’t let the name dropping overwhelm you. Respond to it dismissively. Only ask for their contacts once you have built an equal partnership based on mutual respect.

8. Quote an amount that you deserve, not what will make you readily available for them.

(The writer is a mental health and behavioral sciences columnist, conducts art therapy workshops and provides personality development sessions for young adults. She can be found as @the_millennial_pilgrim on Instagram and Twitter.)

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