Protima Tiwary is all too familiar with the life of a freelancer. An MBA graduate from Pune University, she started working at a digital marketing firm and started freelancing by offering marketing and branding services in 2014.
With enough leads coming her way through a network developed over six years of working independently, Protima decided to start a community of freelancers, The Mill, in October 2019.
Based in Pune, the entrepreneur and influencer explains that it is a community where a freelancer’s working style is not compromised by untimely payments and or an unhealthy work-life balance. She asserts it is not a marketing agency.
The Mill primarily caters to homegrown small businesses and local brands who often do not see the need for an online presence.
Protima says, “They lack knowledge on branding or don’t feel it’s important to have a presence on social media. We want to show how one can create a brand image on social media without shelling a lot of money.”
After understanding their brand identity and position, it helps curate social media content and campaigns and is used to organise various events as well. For example, if the owner is an avid reader, she suggests organising occasional book club gatherings to engage with customers.
Protima says The Mill does not have a fixed price rate and can offer flexible services based on the client’s budget. It has worked on projects from over 30 brands at varying prices from Rs 20,000 to Rs 1 lakh.
Additionally, each freelancer here acts as a salesperson taking the responsibility to bring in more leads. While the team is currently working together on most projects, Protima is also in talks with her chartered accountant to introduce commission-based payments as well.
At the same time, the idea behind this community is also to step in and help new freelancers who may not have avenues for business leads.
COVID-19 and other challenges
There has been a steady flow of clients amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the freelancers had left their comfort zones of writing and creating content on travel, fashion, and lifestyle to cater to B2B companies in fintech and mobile applications.
Even so, the community was only beginning to take shape when COVID-19 broke out and put many plans on hold. Protima explains, “We are at a very nascent stage and have been cautious in bringing freelancers whose working style I am familiar with. They have come through my network and we delegate tasks as they come in.”
She adds that spending time in finding the right freelancers, which took over a year has been the only investment and claims the community would have included more freelancers had the pandemic not struck.
Other plans to instil a community feeling like conducting workshops, in-person consultation for those who want to start freelancing, relevant panel discussions have also come to a standstill.
“These would make us more than a service providing agency,” she adds.
However, the pandemic hasn’t changed its working style at all. “We have all been remote workers. Although everybody works remotely now, at that point, not many were comfortable with the concept of being completely remote and virtual. And I think that differentiates us from an agency,” she adds.
The Mill seeks to do away with the major perils of the freelancing industry that include a lack of work-life balance and deferred payment. Protima says forming the community has led to on-time payment, but clients would not take them seriously because it was a community of freelancers.
“Many have also resisted the boundaries of work despite stating a clear work time from 9 am to 7 pm on weekdays. They don’t adjust with freelancers but eventually came around after a couple of weeks,” she explains.
Starting a personal blog on travel and lifestyle experiences has helped Protima in her career as a marketer and influencer. She believes personal branding goes a long way generating leads.
A self-starter and multi-tasker, Protima co-founded Thrifty Ideas India last year, along with her friends Aaishanni Agny and Sucharita Iyer. “The idea came when I was giving away some clothes and a friend liked one of the dresses and wanted to keep it,” she says.
Noting that a lot of clothes in good condition are thrown away, the friends started organising clothes swapping events in Bombay and went on to host in Pune, Bengaluru, and Delhi as well. The proceeds were donated to NGOs and the remaining clothes were given to Goodwill India.
The trio saw a huge turnout and a group of people who are environmentally conscious and the impact of fast fashion. Protima is looking forward to hosting more outdoor events for both the ventures once the pandemic settles.