COVID-19: Freelancing in the UAE – here is how you can make money

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Dubai: If you were considering a stint as freelancer, a question that you may have is: Will I make as much as I did working for a company?

As precautionary measures for COVID-19 affect businesses in the UAE, many workers have had to take temporary salary cuts or go on unpaid leaves. But is it really possible to earn well as a freelancer?

To get a realistic answer it is important to understand how the freelance sector works in the UAE.

This is our guide to better understanding how you can bid for projects as a freelancer and make it work for you.

Where do I begin?

Freelancing in the UAE
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If this is your first try at going freelance, the prospects can be quite daunting. However, before you take the plunge, you need to plan out a few things:

1. Which authority will you register with to get a freelance permit?

2. How will you charge (per project, per hour or per task) and how much?

3. What are your expenses? Make a yearly budget.

1. Which authority will you register with to get a freelance permit?

Why do I need to get a permit?

According the UAE’s Labour Law you can work as a freelancer as long as you have a freelance work permit.

Part-time work is also a possibility, particularly in the current situation where businesses have been affected by the precautionary measures taken to curb COVID-19.

To know more about how the UAE’s Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation has issued a decree regulating the work professionals can do for another company, read this.

Professions and sectors

There are certain professions and sectors that lend themselves easily to freelance work. Many free zones offer freelance permits to people in the media or education sector, for example. Consulting, too, can be done on a freelance basis.

So, it is important to check the list of professions provided by the authority which is issuing you the freelance permit.

What is the cost of getting a freelance visa?

Freelancing in the UAE
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The cost can vary significantly based on the authority you apply to. Ras Al Khaimah Free Zone, for example, offers a two-year freelancer work permit with a UAE visa starting from Dh17,105. Other free zones may charge on a yearly basis as well. It is important to shop around before you settle on a particular free zone authority to work from.

Regardless of which authority you apply to, it is crucial that you get a freelance work permit, and abide by UAE’s Labour Laws.

You can apply with a number of free zones in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah.

However, depending on the free zone authority you approach, you may face limitations on the type of professions that can be registered, as mentioned above.

The freelance permit under gofreelance.ae, for example, is for professionals within the education and media sector.

The package, which comes for Dh7,500 a year is inclusive of the freelance permit and access to a business centre.

Every free zone authority has its own set of requirements, processes and charges. To get a detailed breakdown of all your options, read our detailed guide here.

There are also online communities that help you post your portfolio and bid for projects that need freelancers. Some of these communities include:

  • Marketplace.ae
  • Bawabba.com
  • xpertin.com
Freelancing in the UAE
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Find out about other restrictions

Are you allowed to work outside the free zone authority? This is something you need to consider and check before you apply for the permit.

Another question you can ask your permit issuing authority is whether they offer flexible payment options, and if a staggered payment plan is available.

Prepare your portfolio

As a freelancer, your portfolio is probably more important than your CV. Your clients will decide on whether the fees you charge is worth it depending on the projects you have worked on and the results you have delivered. So, before you start approaching clients, build a portfolio of your best work.

You also have options to work internationally

Apart from projects within the UAE, you can also bid for projects internationally, especially if your line of work lends itself to working remotely. So, content creators, translators, online secretarial services as well as tutoring can be done for international clients as well. A couple of helpful places to start looking at are upwork.com and freelance.com, which connect freelancers to international establishments looking for professionals on a temporary basis.

2. How will you charge (per project, per hour or per task) and how much?

With a full-time employment, you have the comfort of looking forward to the month’s pay check. However, with freelancing, payments can be staggered depending on the project completion.

A healthcare consultant working in the UAE, who did not wish to be named, said: “You can’t have the salary mindset. First aim at what you would like to earn and chase that number. Look at your expenses and find out at what amount you will break-even (the point where your expenses are equal to your earnings.) So, suppose my break-even is at Dh40,000 a month, I need to make sure I am earning more than that.”

As someone who worked in senior management, the consultant said that she often charged per project, not per hour. 

For professionals looking to work as content writers, photographers or sales executives, the planning can be done similarly, however, you may choose to charge per hour or per task.

Freelancing in the UAE
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Akram N., a freelance translator working in Ajman, for example, said that he charged clients per word.

“If I am translating legal documents from Arabic to English, I know how long it will take me. I don’t need to spend time with research or any other background work, so I charge clients per word,” he said.

Get your projects in the pipeline

Another aspect of planning is to ensure you have an idea of what the delivery time of each project is and that you have other potential clients lined up for when the project completes. This is what differentiates the serious freelancers from the dabblers – by having a reliable line-up of projects and clients, you will be able to plan your earnings and expenses for a long-term period, bringing in greater stability to your personal finances and work life.

Bidding – what is it?

Many online platforms for freelancers encourage applicants to bid for projects. This means you can apply to work on projects listed by establishments in the UAE. To bid successfully, you don’t necessarily need to quote the lowest charge. If you are someone who has many years of experience, or an impressive portfolio, you can bid for it more aggressively by making sure your application mentions why your charge would make sense for the establishment.

The same principle would apply for bidding for projects in general. However, reaching out to clients outside an online platform or hubs like start-up incubators, can depend greatly on how strong your professional network is and how you build it.

Freelancing in the UAE
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Freelancer.com, an international platform connecting freelancers to projects, offers some simple tips to increase your chances of winning a project:

• Read the project description thoroughly. Take the time to go through the project description. If the employer feels that you do not understand the project enough, you are not likely to make the shortlist.

• Keep your bid clear and concise. Employers may have dozens or even hundreds of bids to consider. Make your bid proposal short but meaty.

• Propose Milestones – a way to showcase your professionalism and prove to the client that you are serious about delivering results. 

• Be competitive with your pricing – do not overcharge, but don’t undersell yourself either. This is where your portfolio can play a key role in backing up your charges.

Once you win a couple of project bids, this will go a long way in building your confidence as a freelancer and also give you a better idea of the work demands in the new mode of working.

3. What are your expenses? Make a yearly budget.

Breaking down your expenses to the tiniest details is crucial, if you want to make it work as a freelancer. Some costs you need to consider include:

  • Licence cost
  • Visa cost
  • Health insurance
  • Office space, flexi desk or rent if working from home
  • Equipment (including laptop and phone)
  • Travel/everyday expenses
  • Bills – utility, phone, fuel
Freelancing in the UAE
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Image Credit: Stock image

A PR consultant, who did not wish to be named, said that he left his upper management job to work as a freelancer as it gave him greater freedom to pursue work without the office politics. Already having a professional network in place allowed him to reach out to clients and take on projects relatively easily. However, he said that he had to manage his finances well in advance to continue working successfully.

“As a consultant, I am charging them per project. What the company wants is that the project is delivered. How I do it is up to me. Sometimes, I am building a brand profile or creating straegies for disaster management. This is why I charge per project, because I would be using my experience as well as analysis and strategies to deliver results. Keeping this in mind, I take on projects selectively and make sure clients are in a position to pay for the work I deliver. I often roughly plan forthree years in advance, as I work on bigger projects, but even for someone who is working in middle management, it is important to have your year’s expenses and earnings planned out,” he said.

This is because payments can often be late and whatever money does come in needs to be manageed a lot more wisely.

“If my yearly expense is Dh200,000, for example, and I also want to factor in my salary, I need to then look at which projects I am going to take on and which I will let go. So, if I hope to earn between Dh250,000 to Dh300,000 a year, I will then reach out to the clients accordingly and take on projects depending on these factors,” he added.

— to gulfnews.com

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