Freelance Isn’t FREE!

March 2016, I had almost completed my SY Semester 4 exams and was ready to plunge into the final year of college. Until that time, I already had a year’s experience in social media and a fair understanding of PR. In such a scenario, when a friend gave me an amazing offer of joining hands and pitching to entertainment clients for their PR, it seemed like an amazing deal. Freelance work is great – you’re your own boss, you work according to your convenience, and you choose the work that you can relate to.

The first client we got was no less than a dream for me. She was an actress, not a very well-known one, but I knew her. Why and how? Because she was an antagonist in my favorite Hindi serial. Handling her would mean that I’d get to be closer to the show. It was a dream-come-true. Except that it was not. Fast forward one and a half months, she had absconded, and she owed us 20k. Welcome to the world of freelance – where most clients feel that they’re hiring us for free.

When I asked my fellow writers on social media about the woes that they’ve faced as freelancers, it surely opened a floodgate.


I remember having a conversation with a friend who wanted to get into freelance designing but her family asked her to take a “stable” job because “I can’t tell people that my daughter sits at home and works.”

This mentality spills over to the clients too. The maximum amount of bargaining is done, when you’re pitching for freelance work.

“The clients don’t respect freelance work. You know? They want it done by us but don’t see the point in actually paying for it.” says journalist Tanvi Jain.

Tanvi goes ahead to describe a harrowing incident that she, as a freelancer, had to undergo.

“I was working on this project, last year. It was big!! I gave all my content and data, more than what they needed. The event and the release went perfectly and guess what? They owe me 75k. Blocked me from everywhere when the time came to make the payment. I put my foot down and fought for it. The main guy who I was in talking terms with for the project, fled to New York for 3 months after that. My two friends (freelance colleagues) and I still haven’t received the payment. I got too tired to follow up and left it after I received a few threats from an unknown number (which was later blocked too) asking me to stop “HARASSING” him for the money and that it wouldn’t be NICE for me if I continued.”.


Late payments continue to be the biggest issue for the freelancers, and the other issues include excessive paperwork, incomplete briefs, and of course the constant negotiation in price

A digital marketer who wishes to remain anonymous says “What client asked for initially when the amount was being fixed – 3-4 posts a week and monthly reports. What client expected within 15 days – Organic SEO, app installs, deep-linking, more posts – GIFs, animated and what not… weekly reports… for the same old amount.”

 “I wrote for this magazine that has a notorious reputation for paying extremely late but it’s a prestigious magazine to write for, with very good editors. My condition was that I need to get a 50% advance the minute I submit my first draft of the finished piece. They agreed on mail and then they just… didn’t do anything. I followed up, I called, I threatened legal action, and they kept saying “sorry, we’re speaking to accounts, it’ll happen soon, please bear with us, we’re struggling” and I was like why the hell did you agree to it if you can’t do it. And I was actually counting on that money for a bunch of things. Anyway, they finally paid that amount some 4-5 months later.”

– Suprateek Chatterjee, Journalist and Writer


Freelance work usually works on “relationships” and “references”. And often so, freelancers end up working for “friends” and “acquaintances”. But, familiarity doesn’t count for anything in this industry.

“Friends rarely pay. They expect free work/favors.” Says blogger and editor Samarpita Mukherjee Sharma.

I started freelancing in 2013. I dealt mostly with the hospitality industry, and the only problem with this was the money. After a certain point you can’t keep talking only about the food, and once you give new ideas they don’t have budgets for it. Next thing you know your ideas are being executed by others for no money. I have faced this way too many times. I slowly left that industry late in 2015 and got into travel and lifestyle, handled a few healthcare clients too. That was good because it was good money, but no innovation. So, at the end of it, I had to make a choice between money and creativity. I went ahead with creativity, money shall follow soon.

But being a freelancer, it’s the payments cycle that sucks. I work with only one client rn who pays me ON TIME. Not kidding. They have an automated system and trust me I love them so much even if there was no work I’d work for THEM!”

– fitness blogger & influencer Protima Tiwary.

 However, one of the most heartbreaking ones I read, while my inbox was being flooded by messages was this tale, by a web designer who prefers to remain anonymous.

Being a web developer & Ecom consultant, I meet different varieties of clients. But this one was special. A startup with few famous people onboard as investors, invited me via one of my mentor to build the portal frontend they are planning. It’s the usual, “We are getting late so we are outsourcing it, give it in 15 days” and all. “No time for formalities, so we are paying advance etc.”

Advanced payment was received the very next day, and I was asked not to wait for formal written approvals but take a verbal one since everyone was busy. I delivered prototype against the verbally approved design. Then at the time of the final delivery meeting (& of course invoice payment) it all backfired.

They accused me of selling then one of my existing design work, developing it without approval & raising invoice for something they don’t want. The person who verbally approved the design flatly denied that any such call happened. Now they have the final work files, designs and everything while they are asking me to return advance payment as I have wasted the time instead of delivering the work. 

They threatened me with legal action, and I had to return the advance payment. And after a month, work I did went live on their site, removing all my credits. Then I received DMCA takedown notice for the work demo I hosted on my site, claiming it’s intellectual property theft of their site. 

Being a freelancer, I couldn’t simply take against the lawyer team of those well funded startup. I listed all associated people & created checklist to avoid any future interaction with these guys. What else one can do?

Wasted a month of work, creativity, and money. Mental torture & frustration to add! I lost around 65k of work, including 30k advance which I have to return.


This one takes the cake:

How can we make the situation better for freelancers? How can we create a more conducive environment for freelancers? How can “freelance experience” also start counting as legit experience, and not just working-out-of-a-coffee-shop-and-chilling experience? PayPal has taken a step ahead for freelancers, with PayPal.Me, where they help you with the easy generation of professional-looking invoices, seller protection, opportunities to explore work in 200+ markets and they have tied up with different freelancing networks.

What else do you think can be done to help freelancers? Tell us in the comments below!



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