The state of freelancing in the PH

More and more Filipinos are trying their hand at freelancing online. The online jobs platform Upwork (formerly Elance-oDesk) already has more than 1.4 million registered Filipino users alone.

Freelancing trends in the Philippines

Ryan Johnson, the categories director of Upwork, said there is no “average” Filipino freelancer on the platform. Yet while they may all come from different backgrounds, they are united in the various reasons they find it appealing.

“Freelancing on Upwork provides Filipinos with access to more work, the ability to avoid a long commute by working from home, freedom to choose who they work with, where they work from and what hours they work, the opportunity to earn great incomes in foreign currencies, such as the US dollar, and the ability to spend more time with family,” Johnson said.

Johnson said some Filipino users begin with Upwork only part-time, but eventually transition into full-time freelancing. According to Johnson, the freelancing industry as a whole is flourishing. For Upwork, the Philippines is the third highest earning region in the world.

Johnson said that the top categories based on freelance earnings in the Philippines are administrative support, sales and marketing, and customer service.

SHAKE-UP. u201cMore and more people globally are choosing to work online because it offers them freedom and flexibility that they wouldnu2019t otherwise have,u201d Upwork's Ryan Johnson says

SHAKE-UP.

u201cMore and more people globally are choosing to work online because it offers them freedom and flexibility that they wouldnu2019t otherwise have,u201d Upwork's Ryan Johnson says

The BPO industry shake-up

There’s good news in particular for those from the Philippine BPO industry. The fastest growing position on Upwork was customer service representative, with earnings in its category growing by more than 90% last year. Despite this growth, experienced BPO call center representatives are still in high demand across all areas of expertise, including live chat support, technical support, email support, and call handling.

Johnson believed that the Philippine BPO industry is due for a shake-up.

“We’re living in a connected era that is making it possible to work together via the Internet – that is the true driver disrupting the local call center industry,” he said. “More and more people globally are choosing to work online because it offers them freedom and flexibility that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Johnson and the Upwork team have embarked on a local campaign to raise awareness among Filipino call center agents that their platform represents a viable career option for them. In particular, they have been promoting their new Pro Customer Service program. Johnson said that it’s designed to help qualified customer service professionals achieve success on Upwork by providing them with exclusive benefits, such as access to premium jobs.

Johnson claimed that the change in the call center industry is only representative of the broader digital migration happening globally.

“There is a digital transformation taking place globally that is impacting nearly every industry – customer service is a prime example of some of the shifts taking place in work, and online work is becoming the way of the future,” he said.

BUILD YOUR PORTFOLIO. u0022Freelancers should position themselves as an expert in one of the more than 3,000 listable skills, as thatu2019s who clients want to hire,u0022 Upwork's Johnson says

BUILD YOUR PORTFOLIO.

u0022Freelancers should position themselves as an expert in one of the more than 3,000 listable skills, as thatu2019s who clients want to hire,u0022 Upwork's Johnson says

The Upwork rebranding

Johnson admitted that there have been some challenges in rebranding from Elance-oDesk to Upwork.

“While response has been positive overall, with a rebrand and a new platform, it’s natural for there to be some resistance,” Johnson said, adding that he thinks the rebranding will ultimately help the community and accelerate the company’s growth.

He pointed to some of Upwork’s features, including improved matching algorithms as well as a real-time communication platform similar to Slack that is supposed to improve collaboration.

The Upwork team is doing what it can to facilitate the migration to the new platform. “We are making it extremely easy for Elance freelancers to bridge over to Upwork by inviting them to duplicate their profiles on the new platform, where we’re focusing innovation moving forward,” Johnson said.

Still, even on Upwork, the freelancer’s success will ultimately come down to his own initiative and dedication, so Johnson was quick to dispense with some advice. He said that new freelancers should take the time to fill out their profile.

“A common mistake that newbies make is they create a profile that presents them as a generalist, and as a result it is hard for them to find work,” Johnson shared.

What freelancers should instead do is position themselves as an expert in one of the more than 3,000 listable skills, as that’s who clients want to hire. The various elements of your profile – your overview, your description of your educational achievements and work experience, and your introduction video – may help you develop your branding for this particular expertise.

Lastly, Johnson emphasized the value of persistence, especially for beginning freelancers.

“It can be tough to get your first job but it’s important to keep at it just like any other job search,” he said. “You may consider starting with a lower hourly rate until you build up your portfolio and then give yourself a raise.” – Rappler.com

Rappler Business columnist Ezra Ferraz brings you Philippine business leaders, their insights, and their secrets via Executive Edge. Connect with him on Twitter:@EzraFerraz