What is the freelance economy?
Statistics show that more and more workers are abandoning the traditional 9-to-5 business in favor of self-employment as the gig economy continues to gain momentum. It is estimated that around 1.56 billion people, or around 46.5% of the global workforce, are self-employed, many of whom are online freelancers.
An article titled “What’s the $1.2 Trillion Freelance Economy?” by Matthew Mottola, published on Forbes.com last year, defines the term “freelance economy” as “Software making independent hiring easier did”. He explains that over half your talent will choose to be self-employed in the next 5 years and of those who remain employees, a good proportion will be part-time freelancers.
The freelance economy is made possible by the following three technological disruptions: a) the internet making it possible to connect with anyone in the world, b) remote tools making it possible to collaborate with anyone in the world, and c) Workflow (closing, payment, project management) tools that enable freelancers to run scalable and profitable one-person businesses.
Why Bhutan should take freelancers seriously
Our small population, and therefore small market size for any product or service we offer, is a major constraint on the growth of our domestic businesses as well as self-employment opportunities. Even our so-called big business tycoons have little ability to scale beyond certain limits unless they are able to break into the market beyond Bhutan. On the other end of the spectrum, talented individuals such as artists, graphic designers, architects, programmers and website developers working on their own also find the small market we serve stifling and daunting.
With this in mind, the burgeoning global freelance economy holds great potential to provide self-employment opportunities to many skilled Bhutanese youth who are unable to earn a living.
We recognized this back in 2013 and Thimphu TechPark formed a working group to explore the potential in collaboration with MoLHR and MoIC, who recommended pilot training. In 2016, MoLHR offered the freelance training in partnership with a Danish company called Coderstrust and the Royal Institute of Management. Few participants in the training became successful freelancers, encouraging others to follow the path. Recently, DHI BizAp has focused on educating youngsters to be successful freelancers and it is now encouraging to note that there are already a large number of successful freelancers.
We need to build on that and encourage other young people who are struggling to find a regular job to become self-employed. In doing so, we should let the youngsters know that finding freelance jobs is not easy in the beginning, as the jobs usually go to those who have built a good track record of successfully completing projects. But once you persevere and successfully turn in some papers, future papers will become easier to come by. It’s no different in the real world. You must have a good track record to be hired and paid.
Evolution of the freelance economy – the shift from gig work to big work
The freelance economy in its present form began around 1998 with the founding of Elance. Elance merged with Odesk in 2013 and became Upwork in 2015. Upwork went public and was listed on the NASDAQ in 2018, while Fiverr also went public and was listed on the NYSE in 2019.
The 2021 Freelance Forward Economist Report states that freelancers have contributed $1.3 trillion in annual revenue to the US economy amid the COVID pandemic, an increase of $100 million from 2020.
According to Forbes.com, “The biggest change happening right now is the shift from transaction-based ‘gig’ work to large ‘core-to-the-business’ projects,” cited Upwork’s VP Customer Insights Tim Sanders “the transition from gig work to big work”.
Platforms for freelancers
Freelance platforms connect freelancers with temp employers and receive a commission for their services, which can be as high as 20%. Thousands of works are published on these platforms every day. According to Seeking Alpha, Upwork is the market leader with a 9% market share, but only by a very small margin. Closely followed by Toptal (8%) and Fiverr (5%). Among Bhutanese freelancers, upwork.com, fiverr.com and freelancer.com seem to be the most popular platforms. Other well-known freelancing platforms are Hired.com, PeoplePerHour.com, codester.com, gagster.com, Codecanyon.net, Freemius.com, etc.
Freelance skills needed
A Paypal survey found that 36% of companies use freelancers for web design projects, making this the most sought-after freelance skill. Another 31% use freelancers for programming, which ranks second. Other popular skills were graphic design and illustration (30%), web/mobile development (26%), and marketing and sales (24%). But beyond that, all kinds of skills are in demand on the freelance platforms – acting, creating videos, editing videos, data entry, etc. You name it, it’s there.
A Bhutanese woman who made about $2000 USD through fiverr.com and reached level 2 shared, “As a new seller on fiverr, I basically did whatever I put my mind to. As a beginner, you don’t have the luxury of choosing the type of work or clients. However, once your level rises and you get good reviews on your profile, you can choose the work you like. So I followed that advice and did what I was given. I have worked on projects such as video creation, editing, 2D animation advertising, presentation, voiceover, acting, web development, translation and shooting short cooking videos.”
How do you start as a freelancer?
First of all, you need to sign up on one of the platforms like upwork.com or fiverr.com.
Next, learn how to become a successful freelancer on these platforms by searching online and watching related Youtube videos. There are also courses for freelancers on udemy.com. Nowadays, DITT provides udemy accounts to certain groups to help them educate themselves. If you are one of them, take the opportunity to search for and take freelance courses. If you have the opportunity, try to enroll in a course like the DHI BizAp program or one of the equivalent courses from the MoLHR or the Desuung Skilling Program.
Third, try meeting with successful freelancers and learn from their hands-on experiences. Follow in their footsteps and earn yourself.
How are Bhutanese freelancers paid?
Almost all Bhutanese freelancers are paid through a Payoneer Card (www.payoneer.com). The money you earn is deposited into your Payoneer card. It is based on MasterCard. A freelancer told me that you can use it to shop online at any online store as long as that store accepts the Master Card. You can also use your Payoneer Card to withdraw money from an ATM in Bhutan. But there are certain penalties for the service.
Future prospects for freelancers and Bhutan
Freelancing is here to stay and grow even bigger for years to come. For a small economy like Bhutan, this is a great opportunity for our youth to work for the global market from the comfort of our peaceful nation. Let us empower our youth to seize this beautiful opportunity.