The freelancing business has been more and more popular worldwide due to the quick progress of the internet. However, the history of freelancing in Bangladesh is pretty much a new one. Even though the market has a positive outlook, the sector is not well established yet.
Autonu Kumar Sen is a Bangladeshi freelancer with over nine years of experience in the field of freelancing. His current hourly rate is US$ 22.5. He has worked for over 13,881 hours on Upwork. He earns from Google AdSense as well. He moved to Brasilia, Distrito Federal in Brazil for work.
Rashik Riasat interviewed Autonu to get valuable insights about the freelancing profession.
Question (Q): When and how did you start freelancing?
Answer (A): It was in December of 2011. I was in the third semester of BBA. I was tutoring students in order to earn money, but it was not sufficient. So I started looking for different ways. One of my friends was earning US$ 10-12 per day working for eight hours. This made me interested, and I started freelancing.
Q: How did you learn freelancing? How hard was it landing the first job?
A: I had one friend from Rajshahi who had knowledge in this area. He introduced me to the basics of every work that I do today. My first job was for 50 cents per hour. However, for my hard work and good performance, my client gave me a bonus of US$ 120. Since then, I never had a hard time getting clients.
Q: What were the challenges back then, and how are they different now?
A: The main challenge back then was to learn the skills. The internet was not an option. I even remember having to wait two to three hours in traffic to go to some friend's place to learn something that in this day, anybody can learn in a blink of an eye for free from YouTube. These days, the main challenge that the youths face is the continuous process of keeping themselves updated with the latest trends regarding the work they do.
Q: Was language a barrier in getting clients?
A: The language barrier was not that big a deal back then. However, now, the market is very competitive and proper accent alongside knowledge of grammar is very crucial. Clients prefer workers who not only understand them but also possess their (clients’) pronunciations and accents.
Q: Was there any pay discrimination against freelancers from Bangladesh?
A: No. However, payment depends on the worker's communication and negotiation abilities. In addition, many Bangladeshi freelancers are very weak in language skills, manners and confidence. Moreover, there is a tiny portion of the clients who prefer cheap labour to quality work. Therefore, in those cases, the pay might be inadequate. Other than that, there is no issue of pay discrimination.
Q: Do clients have any bias against hiring Bangladeshi freelancers?
A: No. Bangladeshi freelancers are excellent. The only shortcoming some of them has is the proficiency in language and communication. This does not result in clients not working with the individual. However, it does harm the freelancer in negotiating his/her pay rate.
Q: What kind of works do you do?
A: I provide solutions in terms of search engine optimisation (SEO), YouTube video marketing, photo editing, digital marketing, web designing, and so on.
Q: Is specialisation necessary? How long does it take to specialise in a particular skill?
A: Specialisation is crucial in freelancing. Moreover, it includes staying up-to-date with the latest trends. Therefore, in my opinion, the specialisation process never really ends. It is a continuous and lifelong process.
Q: When did you first consider freelancing as a career?
A: I initially started it because I needed some means to earn some money to stay well off. That was the only drive back then. However, after I went to Brazil, I started considering it part of my business.
Q: How is professionalism different in Brazil?
A: In my opinion, what creates a negative image of Bangladeshi freelancers is their lack of good manners. For example, in Brazil, freelancers never forget to greet their clients and smile when interacting with them. These are some qualities that are rarely seen among Bangladeshi freelancers. In addition, clients do not like to work with those who do not have these manners.
Q: What opportunities are there for the freelancers in Bangladesh?
A: In my opinion, Bangladesh is one of the most freelancing friendly countries. When I first came to Brazil, the internet charge was around BDT 10,000 per month. That is not the case in Bangladesh. The internet is cheap, regulations little, and work abundant.
Q: Why then is the freelancing sector in Bangladesh not growing up to its full potential?
A: The reason is our education. Our primary education has just recently included information and communication technology (ICT) in the curriculum. Our curriculum still does not have sufficient focus on communication skills and manners, which are crucial in getting clients. With these two shortcomings, we cannot expect to grow to our full potential any time soon.
Q: Do you have any plan for developing the future generation freelancers in Bangladesh?
A: Yes, of course. I have been planning to come back to Bangladesh, set up e-commerce business myself and integrate freelancing with the business, and in that way, help develop the future generation of freelancers. It is still in the planning phase, but I am determined to do it.
Q: How much inclination do you see in the Bangladeshi youths toward freelancing? What would be your suggestions for them?
A: I see a great deal of, but I do not see the required hard work. Therefore, my advice to them would be threefold - first, choose wisely which sector to operate in, fix a goal, and then work hard to achieve that goal. Secondly, harness proper language and communication skills. Finally, stay up-to-date with the latest trends in the respective sector.
The interviewer Rashik Riasat is a second year student of BBA programme at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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