Makin’ it big | How freelancers and biz owners are succeeding via digital platforms

By Espie Angelica A. de Leon

Freelancer Luarni Sim or Lu is a graphic designer and builder of robots made of Lego bricks. He is starting to get more recognition internationally with overseas collectors snapping up his creations.

Luarni Sim at work

Being a freelancer, Lu is not working full time in an advertising or design agency. Instead, he is part of the global gig economy now driving the growth of emerging markets in Southeast Asia (SEA).

Simply said, Lu is on his own, working with clients in the Philippines and abroad, and earns a good income from it, thanks to the rise of digital freelancer platforms and payment options.

“They’re turning to these platforms as a way to identify new opportunities for work and to connect themselves to opportunities not just in the Philippines but to opportunities across the world,” said Nagesh Devata, PayPal’s general manager for cross-border trade in Southeast Asia.

In October 2017, PayPal commissioned the Global Freelancer Survey among 9,053 freelance workers and considerers in 22 countries including Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

It found that freelancing is now slowly transitioning from being an intermediate or casual form of employment to a more legitimized, long-term career option for many millennials.

Southeast Asia, for one, boasts of a growing population base composed of millennials aside from having digitally savvy citizens. The survey showed that more than 80% of those surveyed in key Southeast Asian markets have used a digital freelancer platform. Meanwhile, 85% of them have their own PayPal accounts.

Among Filipino freelance workers, 58% source their clients and projects from these platforms. The survey also indicated that nine out of 10 Filipino freelancers are under the age of 40. Meanwhile, other studies revealed that by the year 2020, one out of five Filipinos will be freelancers.

Overall, 48% of those surveyed in the region said they like the fact that freelancing allows them to work anywhere.

Lu is among these Filipino millennials who have joined the freelance bandwagon after working full-time at an IT firm and as lecturer at De La Salle University (DLSU).

Comparing a full-time job with his freelance gigs, he told Newsbytes.PH, “There’s the security of having a monthly salary. But as a freelancer, especially at the start, there’s a little bit of sacrifice because you’re not gonna be earning as much, at first. But definitely, if you keep at it and you keep getting more projects, then that’s gonna earn you way more than you could in a day job.”

Lu (center) in an event

He added that he sells himself in the international market not just through his portfolio. “By having a clean social media page, knowing basic social media etiquette, stuff like replying to potential clients as soon as you can, definitely help,” he shared.

The former DLSU lecturer who is also into the T-shirt business had just shipped a Lego creation to a buyer in the United States and is now busy with two commissioned projects.

“It was so hard to do the self-employed thing before, mostly relying on local contacts,” Lu revealed. “But with the advancements with technology and new online platforms, reaching out to a bigger audience within and outside the Philippines has made me a global freelancer.”

The blue collar worker as a freelancer

People engaged in creative work like Lu are not the only ones active in the gig economy however.

According to Shahab Shabibi, founder of on-demand service platform MyKuya, freelancers also include drivers, carpenters, errand and delivery people, and the like.

“They don’t have the luxury of going on social media and building a brand around themselves,” said Shahab. “So we said ‘Why can’t we take them under the umbrella of MyKuya and enable everyone, as long as they have the legal documents, to sign up on our platform and be able to offer their services at any level?’”

MyKuya calls them “partners” and one of them started with the platform delivering food and shopping stuff around Bonifacio Global City (BGC).

Now he works in an office in BGC three to four days a week and spends the rest of his time doing delivery work for customers.

Business owners in the gig economy

“Technology has really just empowered both the business owner and the freelancer to be able to connect that it’s almost as if you’re sitting with them,” said Nicholas Padilla, co-founder, CEO, and “space captain” of serviced storage firm Kahon.ph.

“It’s amazing now that you can get a copywriter to write something,” he said, “and while they’re writing, you kind of see it in real time, give your comments.”

At the Gig Economy Media Summit held at New World Hotel in Makati City on September 19. (From left) Nicholas Padilla, co-founder, CEO, and “space captain” of serviced storage firm Kahon.ph; Nagesh Devata, PayPal’s general manager for cross-border trade in SEA; emcee Anna Lissa Burgos; freelance graphic designer and Lego builder Lu Sim; and Shahab Shabibi, founder of on-demand service platform MyKuya

Padilla outsources more than 40% of the work in Kahon.ph to freelancers. As a result, his company gets more things done without recruiting additional full-time employees.

Aside from blue collar workers and creative professionals including copywriters, web designers, and PowerPoint presentation developers, the whole spectrum of jobs under the freelance market now also includes a more extensive range of services. These include concierge services, virtual assistants, administrative, accounting, and legal work.

In fact, Devata sees the gig economy as something that retirees might want to get into to keep them productive and earning even after they leave their full-time jobs.

“I think that the opportunity of freelance in the gig economy is not defined by age. It’s mainly defined based on passion,” said Devata. “I think it’s a path. We need to encourage more people that the tools are out there and this is a path they can pursue.”

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