Embracing the gig economy: 'I lost Dh120,000 in my first year'

Working from project to project can be liberating but you need good business sense

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Grace Bandola, founder of Atelier LLC, she is freelance architectural designer working from GlassQube on March 13, 2018. (Khushnum Bhandari/ The National)
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Grace Bandola could just not shake off the feeling of restriction she had when she was an employee.

Despite being the head architect at her former firm, she had to pass all of her ideas through her manager first. And she could not help but think she could do better without their input.

“I thought I could start my own company and then I would be able to express myself better,” says the 28 year-old Filipina, who has lived in the UAE for the last seven years.

So she set up her own architect and interior design company, Atelier35, two years ago, opting for a business license with a local sponsor as opposed to a freelance license, which would have restricted her operations to only within the free zone.

The first year was a huge learning curve. She undercharged her first client on a construction project and struggled to make ends meet.

“I gave my all, but I forgot about my profit. As a starting entrepreneur that was the first lesson. It was hard. I lost Dh120,000 because of that in the first year.”

She was always careful to plan her expenses months ahead so she was able to cover herself on the months where she earned less. But that first job even burned through a six months’ expenses buffer that she set to protect herself.

She admits that at times, working for herself and by herself is incredibly stressful, but she says she has no regrets about going out on her own.

Her earnings have increased exponentially, for one. This year she is on track to earn four times as much as she did when she was working for someone else.

And she has learned from her previous mistakes.

“This year I am doing well because I have learned to balance it better,” she says.