Today, students from the country’s top universities are entering what is called the gig economy as full-time and part-time freelancers, inspiring others. The bigger picture is: their initiatives are turning Bangladesh into a massive hub for sourcing freelancers and starting a freelance revolution.
Some 650,000 active freelancers are there in the country and they work on digital talent platforms such as Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer, according to the ICT division. Their combined annual earnings are estimated at around US$100 million.
Some experts were afraid the freelancing earning would plummet this year due to the outbreak of Covid-19. The pandemic has instead spurred a freelance boom. Freelancers have seen a spike in demand as remote work has become the new normal. Also, countless market entrants – students and fresh graduates – are joining the gig economy, many of whom are working to supplement income and gain experience.
Shahedul Hasan is a Dean’s Award-winning Dhaka University graduate, who has been working on Fiverr for almost a year now. He has been working with national and international professors in the data analysis and research field to gather work experience for future teaching profession.
“When the pandemic hit in March, I started spending around 7-8 hours a day on Fiverr. And now I’ve already been promoted to the seller level 2,” he said, adding that he has prepared two online freelancing courses as well.
Another Dhaka University student of even first-year who gave his single name as Shahriar started freelancing during the pandemic to boost his productivity and support his family in times of financial crisis. He opened his account on Fiverr in September and already earned the minimum limit of US$400 to be promoted to the seller level 1.
Why does student freelancing sound utopian?
The simplest explanation for this huge boom, according to stakeholders, is the tempting set of perks — large market space, zero financial investment, non-traditional work setup, immense flexibility, and simple payment option. Anyone with an in-demand skills and working internet connection can be a freelancer.
On why freelancing is a great option, Shahedul said, “Many 9-to-5 corporate jobs offer the starting salary of Tk 25,000-Tk 30,000, whereas you can easily earn over Tk 40,000 every month from freelancing. And there are a lot of responsibilities, complications, and pressures in a corporate job.” The best part of it is that it gives the option to accept new tasks or decline them at your own convenience.
These freelance jobs also help in higher education big time. “Many reputable international universities require students to show prior projects on a subject before choosing that for a Master's degree. In that case, the works and achievements of a freelancer in the same field can be used to validate his expertise,” added Shahriar.
Should you buy into viability of this fantasy?
With a wide array of advantages, freelancing, to some extent, appears to be a ‘get-rich-quick scheme.’ Still, freelancing isn’t easy and it can take at least six months to get into the full swing of things. People often fail to make the most of this unconventional opportunity, and eventually, fail to grow and sustain. Some individuals are discouraged right at the start because it’s believed the freelance market is a difficult place for newcomers. But is that really the case?
Shahedul gives his opinion: “There are three seller levels on Fiverr and the third one is the top level. I’m currently at level 2 which requires a seller to earn a minimum of US$2000. I got my first order within one month and my students are getting orders even sooner. Two of my students are already in level 1 because they followed the proper guidelines.”
Pro-tips for becoming a successful student freelancer
Pro-tip #1: Figure out your niche
Md. Amanul Islam, a Master’s student of Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at Dhaka University, dabbled in graphic designing at first as it was the most sought-after freelance sector. But he couldn’t do well. So instead of following the trend, he decided to work in research because it always interested him and he had prior experience as well. Within a short period of time, he earned around $1,000 from Fiverr. So, his advice is: “Newcomers must focus solely on one particular sector that they are interested in and master all the skills required to serve in that sector.”
Pro-tip #2: Build your profile and your portfolio
Shahedul believes it’s crucial that a freelancer organises his profile with a remarkable portfolio so that it stands out and informs potential clients about his/her expertise, experience, and achievements. “If you don’t have any previous work to showcase, create some and add those to your portfolio. When I was starting out, I used to share my academic research works in my Fiverr portfolio,” he suggested.
Pro-tip #3: Never give up
Amanul faced many difficulties when he started freelancing. At one point, even his account was reported and gigs were denied. But he never gave up and built everything again from scratch. He believes, “Dedication is the most important element when it comes to freelancing. Without it, you can’t prosper as a freelancer.”
Bangladesh can be a global hub of freelancing if the huge number of talented youths are nurtured properly. “But there is a community issue which we need to be concerned about,” said Enamul Haque, a search engine marketing specialist on Fiverr. Every Bangladeshi freelancer represents the local freelance community on the global market. And if an individual does badly, it risks the whole community’s impression.
“If we can prepare our youth for the gig economy through adequate training, they can contribute immensely to our economy as the torchbearers of the freelance revolution.”
The government has decided to provide the freelancers state-endorsed virtual identity cards. It’s a huge step towards recognising their work and their contribution to the economy. It remains to be seen how the encouraged youth grab the opportunity.
Morium Kulsum is a sophomore at the Department of Marketing, Dhaka University. [email protected]