Earnings of freelance professionals, which saw a decline at the onset of the pandemic, have increased in the third quarter of 2020 and returned to pre-COVID-19 levels, according to a study by Flexing It. The firm’s platform connects more than 70,000 highly-skilled freelancers with more than 3,000 companies worldwide. The research is based on 3,84,000 fee quotations and benchmarks collected from independent consultants, which showed trends in freelance earnings based on skillset, experience levels, gender and industry including professional services, pharma and healthcare, FMCG, education and the development sector.“After the initial decline in the earnings of freelancers as a result of the pandemic, we have now seen a return to pre-COVID levels,” Chandrika Pasricha, founder & CEO, Flexing It.“As top-tier global talent increasingly chooses freelancing because of the flexibility, autonomy and financial opportunities it offers, large corporates are rapidly recognizing and leveraging this talent pool for the agility, quality and specialised skills offered. Our data represents over 200 skills sets (including strategy, marketing, operations/supply chain, technology, HR and more) and reflects key trends in the earnings of top performing freelancers across sectors,” she said.As per the study, the median fee earned by freelance consultants dropped by almost 25% between the first and second quarters, but started picking up Q3 onwards, slowly reaching pre-COVID-19 levels.In the FMCG industry, consultants were least impacted by the pandemic in terms of fees while in other industries, including professional services, pharma and education, there was a decrease of over 20% in the median compensation between the first and second quarters.The impact of the pandemic on fees paid to junior consultants (with less than 5 years of experience) was limited and their earnings were relatively unaffected, the study said.The professional gig economy (the market for highly skilled freelance/independent talent) values experience, with skill levels, education and years of experience determining the fee they command.On the Flexing It platform, the income earned by consultants increases by 120% between 5-10 years of experience (₹6,800 per day) vs. 15-20 years of experience (₹15,000 per day).In addition to simple years, the ‘quality’ of a consultant’s experience i.e. educational background, past organisations and positive feedback on prior projects, has a significant impact on his/her ability to charge higher fees, the study said.With respect to top skills in demand, information technology is the highest paying skill for junior consultants with less than 5 years of experience with a median per diem fees of ₹6,500 and those in the 90th percentile commanding ₹28,000. At higher experience levels between 15-20 years of experience both strategy & IT consultants charge the highest median fee of ₹15,000.As per the study, gender pay gap persists in freelance work with the median income of women lower than that of men by 35% (based on per diems). “Though the median compensation of women is significantly lower than that of men, it grows at a relatively higher rate than that of men until 20 years of experience. However, it stagnates at this point while that of men continues to grow. Post 20 years of experience, while men’s median income rose by 20% from ₹15,000 to ₹18,000, that of women remained the same at ₹12,000,” the firm said in a statement.