Freelancing in Sri Lanka

I am Ziyan Junaideen. I graduated from the University of Peradeniya as a computer engineer. Unlike my peers I choose to be a freelancer. It has been 6 years and I thought of writing about my experience.

Why freelancing?

Its a a good question.

I have always been curious about flexibility. I loved the idea of been able to work from any where at any time. Freelancing gave me the flexibility to earn a buck as a university student to cover at least some of my expenses.

Following graduation, I had even more of a need for flexibility. Mums Downs-Syndrome sister was getting ill. To help take care of her, I had to be home at least 10 hours apart. Ideally I would be able to come home early and finish the rest of the work there. There were companies giving this degree of flexibility, but only after getting established.

As a result I choose to continue working as a freelancer. It opened the possibility for me to work any where, any time.

How do I find work?

I look for work through online freelance marketplaces like UpWork. This has been the only means of finding work in the initial days. But today, at least few times a month, I get invited by headhunters to consider job openings directly.

Invitations I get directly come from both local and foreign companies. I respond to them for curiosity. I have noticed that local companies do their best to match salaries to meet the international competition resulting higher wages than their usual employees.

While I am considering local job offers seriously, my current clientele is 100% foreign.

How do I get paid?

Getting paid as a Sri Lankan can get tricky. How ever you would like to dream about Sri Lanka, it is a corrupt country with difficult to work with financial regulations and negligible economy. As a result most international financial platforms like PayPal, Stripe etc don’t fully support Sri Lanka.

In the early days I used Payoneer. It is a neat platform used by many to get paid. I would agree with the client to complete the work in stages (or milestones). At the end of each stage we will review the work. Then I send a payment request through Payoneer to the client. Once the client pays, the card is ready to use any where in the world. Payoneer also supports withdrawal to local bank accounts. Its cheaper than using the card.

Another possibility is to use some thing like Moneygram. Its fast and effective. I have used it many times.

Currently I only use international wire transfers. The main reason I choose wire transfers is to maintain a USD account. If I function in Rupees and I need send significant amounts abroad again (ex: a refund) I have to have central bank permission. But it turns out that if I have my money as US currency, this restriction doesn’t apply. But there is a catch. Wire Transfer using US currency costs me about $30.00 per transfer which is close to Rs. 5500 which is a lot. So it may not be your ideal method to get paid.

The Risks

Yes! Freelance work has occupational risks. Once I got my laptop almost soaked in rain working in an open area. One there were a bunch of guys I think were interested in mobbing me. I looked them in the eye and said “Can you make up your mind, so that we can get started, I don’t have all day” and they walked away.

Jokes aside, there are some risks.

Firstly you may not get paid. This is why I normally work in milestones and get paid for each step. This reduces your exposure.

Secondly, there might not be a next job. Getting the next job depends on availability of work and your ability to cope with competition. Availability of work could fluctuate with government policies directly or indirectly. Competition comes in many aspects. Most of the time it is the man-to-man competition. But competition may also come indirectly. For example a new technology may out compete an existing technology and competition for work in the latter will increase as the number of available work reduce.

What are the benefits?

The main benefit of freelancing is the flexibility. Firstly you can work from any where, probably at any time. But then there is the flexibility of finding work you like.

Sri Lanka is a small country with a small market. I found out that technologies I like to work with (like Ruby) have negligible opportunities in the local market. While I could have found work in Java or .NET it wouldn’t have been the same.

The other is the financial aspect. If you have a skill and if you are dedicated you will find work and you will get paid well. Some times many times the local wages.

Conclusion

I love been a freelancer. It gives me the flexibility I desire. While there are some risks involved in freelancing, it is easily outmatched by the benefits it provides.

I think you should try it! If you would like some advice, feel free to contact me.