Hello and welcome to my very first podcast! I am really excited about it and this is something that I’ve been aiming for, since the last one year…
There are so many times when I go out for a walk or while driving, I feel like using the time to listen to something useful rather than the usual RJ’s on radio. And that is where I find these podcasts filling in the gap beautifully.
And what’s getting me all the more excited, is the fact that my first guest is a very dear friend from school, someone who ignited a tiny little spark in my mind for freelancing and who has been doing some serious work quietly behind the scenes for quite some time now.
Dear friends, let me introduce you to my guest for today – Saumya Sinha. Saumya has been an independent consultant for about 9 years now. She currently assists private equity and hedge funds in M&A diligence and strategic review. She analyzes businesses, industries and competitive environments and is currently based in India where she relocated 8 years ago from US.
Tulika – Hi Saumya, so how are you doing today?
Saumya – I am doing great Tulika- thanks for this opportunity!
Tulika – You are most welcome! I can’t tell you how happy I am to have you as a guest for my very first session. It’s always great to connect with people like you who take their work so seriously and there’s so much one one can learn from the kind of dedication and commitment you show towards your work.
Before we move forward, let’s fill in a few more gaps I may have missed out. I am sure the audience here will be delighted to know a little bit more about you
Saumya – Absolutely. I went to college in New York City. I majored in Finance in Zicklin School of Business in Baruch College in New York. While in college, I interned in the International and Research division of the New York Stock Exchange. So I started my career on the Wall Street and my then claim to fame was being one of the 10 interns who rang the closing bell on August 10, 2001.
Tulika – Really…that’s awesome!!
Saumya – I know! I was on a roll!! I was then recruited on-campus for JPMorgan’s credit training program. I worked in the Apparel and Specialty Retail group of JPMorgan’s corporate and investment banking. This meant access to freebies from Polo Ralph Lauren and Liz Claiborne, Nine West sample sales and passes to fashion shows in Bryant Park.
I then got married and moved to Orlando. There, I worked for Trustreet Properties, the largest restaurant REIT in the US. I worked for their Investment Banking Group. The company was later acquired by GE Franchise Finance and became a part of GE.
We were blessed with a baby girl. Life was terrific and I thought I had it all figured out! Untill..
We decided to move to India. I had to leave it all behind. And it is then that my consulting career started…not by design, but by default!
Tulika, we went to school together. I don’t recall writing the essay “I want to be a freelancer when i grow up!” And here we are! Every morning I am all energized to power on my laptop and to hit on all the cylinders. I love it! Cannot imagine my life otherwise.
Tulika – I know, I don’t think I’d even heard the word ‘freelancing’ during my school days. I don’t know if you remember our conversation way back in 2012 when you first told me about freelancing. I also remember creating a profile there and feeling totally lost about going any further than that!
And I think that’s the case with most of us….taking the first few steps in a totally unknown territory can be confusing, intimidating and exciting – all at the same time. So let’s begin with this…How did you get into freelancing and we would love to hear about the first few baby steps that you started out with
Saumya – One fine day in Bangalore, when my baby was napping, I found myself looking through my LinkedIn feed. I came across a job opportunity. A Swiss firm was looking for crowdsourced experts. It was an online platform founded by ex-McKinsey partners. They had small research questions posted online. I took a stab at it.
I researched the topic, explained my rationale and provided the links to relevant websites. My answer was accepted and I was paid a few dollars!! The compensation was not much at that time but it was the thrill of answering the questions correctly that got me hooked! It was like solving a riddle. I just kept on going at it – it was fun…and soon the platform contacted me and asked me to help out as an analyst on a live strategy project.
The platform had a robust client roster- GE, Microsoft, KPMG, Accenture and the World Bank. I was working under a former Mckinsey consultant. What more could I ask for?
Tulika – How easy or difficult was it for you to bag your first project?
Saumya – I would not rate it easy or difficult. You have to prove yourself. It is said that in consulting, you are as good as your last project. There is no room for error.
Let me take a step back and put all this into context.
On demand side, in finance and consulting, there are clients who have primarily two types of demands: Demand for (1) specialized transactional expertise and (2) general project support. These are two very distinct skillset. The clients want the work to be done, and to be done well and on time. From an end user’s perspective, it is immaterial whether the work was done in office or at home, by someone in a business suit or a night suit, in New York or in Estonia, by a full-time employee or a freelancer. The quality of work speaks for itself.
On the supply side, as a freelancer, you need to assess as to where you fit in? Are you a specialist or a generalist? Is it research, analytics or financial modelling? Is this unique skillset relevant to your industry? Of course, the sharper your skillset and the more experience you have – the better are your prospects!
As a freelancer, you need to find a project, do a good job, close the project and get paid .Then you need to find the next project, do a good job, close the project and get paid and so on. Building a pipeline of back-to-back projects for yourself takes time. I started this through the crowdsourcing platform and worked my way up. Today there are many industry-specific websites that post jobs, vet freelancers, match roles to professionals. You just need to find the right one for yourself.
All my work in recent years has been solely on referrals and I’m really grateful to my clients and managers for this.
Tulika – What do you think contributes the most towards building such relationships where you are working remotely and you hardly ever get to meet the client or the team.
Saumya – I think even in a corporate environment today, we work in global teams. There is no difference in that respect. We are all connected 24/7 by mobile, Skype, email, GoToMeeting – across various time zones.
The key is to over-communicate.
I typically ask my client and my team what their preferred mode of communication is…I clarify the scope of work and project milestones and try to connect daily.
It may help to connect with team members one-on-one sometimes. I typically air my concerns and clarify doubts right upfront. And remember knowing what you don’t know in the beginning can be helpful too!
Also it is important to build relationships across all dimensions- not just with clients and seniors, but with peers and junior resources too. It just helps to talk- to reach out and to connect. Some of my best career advice has come from peers and best technology tips from junior associates.
Tulika – It’s amazing to hear stories like these where one moves away from the beaten path, take risks and also find success along the way!
What is it that you enjoy the most about freelancing?
Saumya – It is new all the time! New industry, new business, new problem, new team – all the time! No two projects are the same, ever! You get to learn and to grow exponentially. It’s just terrific!
Then of course, the power to choose the intensity of work and its duration as per your schedule and preference.
Tulika – Any downside to this entire thing. Like for me, I made some really good friends at office and I do sometimes miss the vibrant atmosphere and being in the company of some really awesome minds. Your thoughts on this?
Saumya – Yeah, that’s a tough one! I miss that too. Corporate environment brings like-minded people together and it’s easier to make friends and keep them. I still talk to my JPMorgan friends.
A few words of caution:
- First, for some people, freelancing is a euphemism for unemployment or, it is something that you do till you land a real job or that it pays pennies! You know, you just have to look at their demographic and laugh it off. Freelancing is what you make of it.
- Second, we talked about the pipeline earlier. Let’s discuss the client base. If you have all US clients, you know Thanksgiving to a week into the New Year will typically be your downtime. If you have clients in Singapore or China, 10 days in February will be off for the Chinese New Year. In Europe, some countries like Sweden typically like their summers off. You have to balance the timing of the projects so that you are not twiddling your thumbs when you would actually like to work!
Tulika – Now let me come to the work-life balance bit. For me, freelancing has been a great blessing. I was literally running in and out of my house for the last ten years before I finally settled down into this new routine with freelancing. How has it been with you. Like I know, you too have a young kid at home. So, how is it going for you?
Saumya – I cannot tell you how blessed I feel. I am defined by my daughter and my career. I cannot imagine my life otherwise.
Tulika – What advice would you like to give to people who want to start freelancing? The most important lessons that you’ve learnt along the way?
Saumya – I am in no position to advice but this is what I typically do:
- Do your absolute best work – Your work is your best marketing tool. Request feedback, probe for areas of improvement.
- Don’t bite more than you can chew – I typically handle one project at a time. Taking on multiple projects and doing an average job in each will not take you places.
- It helps me tremendously to set professional goals for myself each year – It could be working on X number of projects in a year, hitting a certain dollar figure, learning a new skill, working with or for a certain profile of clients or team…
- Network extensively – Network up, down and laterally.
- Scroll through your industry’s discussion forums and job posts – What jobs are trending? What skills are the most in demand? Do you have that skill? If not, work towards getting it.
- Always work with a trusted platform – Read Glassdoor reviews. Vet your employer as well. What is their terms of payment? Do they pay in 30 days or 45 days? Do they take a 25% cut or 50% cut?
- Make sure you always err on the side of caution – Sign your contracts, confidentiality agreements and non-disclosure agreements and abide by them strictly
- Be professional and respect everyone – Work intuitively. If something is bothering you, it is not for nothing. Don’t ignore it. Reach out and seek help.
Tulika – Well, this was awesome! Thank you so much Saumya for giving such a super start off to my podcast journey. And I hope to get you back soon here to discuss a lot more on freelancing and life in general!
Saumya – Thank you for the opportunity Tulika! It was good fun.
And to all my listeners out there, I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s a lot that one can learn and imbibe from Saumya’s journey. The tips and advice that she has shared comes from her own experience of working independently for the last 9 years. I would love to see your comments in the comments section below and, do share it with your friends who have a keen interest in freelancing . Also, stay tuned for more awesome stuff to keep coming your way!!