From Inconsistent To Competent

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Tremendous well-paying job opportunities are available for freelancers in Pakistan mainly because they have succeeded in changing their previous image of “inconsistent” to “competent” and are well-versed at what they do, according to industry experts.

“The quality of projects delivered by Pakistani freelancers is at par with our top freelancer countries from around the globe,” Matt Cooper, Vice President of International Enterprise for Elance-oDesk Inc. said in one of his interviews. “Pakistan ranks fifth on the top freelancers countries’ list because Pakistani freelancers are regularly delivering quality work in a timely fashion on projects ranging from web design to blog and art jobs.”  

Experts believe Pakistanis are well positioned to take advantage of opportunities international freelance market is likely to offer in coming years.

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Amidst forecasts of a digital boom in the next five years, freelancers in the world are expected to make up to 50 percent of the full-time workforce. An upsurge in the number of total (full-time and part-time) freelancers will also be observed with expectations one in every three employees will be providing freelance services by 2020.

The scenario speaks for itself as the opportunities for Pakistani freelancers are not any different. At a time when the world freelance market is reeling with positivity, the growth for freelancers in Pakistan is certainly on the cards.

Hassan Abdullah is, perhaps, a good example for aspiring freelancers who want to earn big bucks.

An engineering student enrolled in the undergraduate program of a reputable university in Islamabad, Abdullah started working as a freelance digital marketer in 2014. Currently, the young techie earns about Rs1 million a year – over Rs80,000 a month – through online freelancing. This leaves him with enough finances to take care of all his and his brother’s expenses including education and lodging.

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“Freelancing has enabled me and my brother to pursue higher education,” said Abdullah. “The hours are flexible. Though the work is hectic, it is manageable with studies.”

Abdullah and many others, not only in Pakistan but also in the entire world, earn their living through digital freelancing. This global community of freelancers is growing each year with many joining the market for better opportunities.

“One only needs a computer and an internet connection to work as an online freelancer. The entire global community becomes your client,” said Badar Khushnood, an accomplished IT professional.

With a population difference of more than a million from the market topper, USA, Pakistan is exhibiting relatively buoyant growth in its freelance market.

Pakistan ranked on number four among the top 10 freelancers countries in the world in 2014, according to the Global Online Employment Report by Elance-oDesk Inc, the largest online job portal in the world. Moreover, Pakistani freelancers’ earnings were fifth highest in the world during the same period.

“In my five year experience of online freelancing, the basic compensation I receive has increased from $5 an hour to $25 an hour,” said Abid Hussain, a freelancer registered on upwork.com. “If a job is too technical, one can earn even up to $50 or $60 an hour.”

Hussain further added that he prefers freelance work over jobs that require him to be physically present because the work hours are flexible and he saves time and money that he’d otherwise have to spend on commute.

A freelancer spends no time commuting to and from the office, whereas other workers spend a median of 32 minutes in traveling each day, as mentioned in the Elance-oDesk Inc’s Annual Impact Report 2014. Freelancing also allows needy individuals to take several jobs at a time. Some freelancers take up to five small and large-scale projects simultaneously. “It is important to maintain quality. As long as you are an A player at what you do, you can take as many projects as you can handle,” said Hussain.

With the increasing acceptance of technology, the number of macro level opportunities for IT freelancers has surged to commendable levels. Over the years, requirements of expertise in the field of IT have maintained implication over the fundamentals of the freelance market. Almost 50 percent of the online work spend by employers was made in the technology sector in 2014. IT led the market with a work spend of almost $486 million, followed by $110 million on admin support and $109 million on writing and translation.

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Some other services that are highly sought-after in the market include sales and marketing, design and multimedia and finance and legal assistance.

Freelancing also helps connect with the global market on a whole while a physical job usually restricts the employee to a certain location. “One only needs a computer and an internet connection to work as an online freelancer. The entire global community becomes your client,” said Badar Khushnood, an accomplished IT professional. “This can aid tremendously in filling the employment gap in the country.”

Another reason for the increasing number of freelancers is people’s frustration towards the fluctuating economies of their own countries. They feel insecure working in their own economies and the compensation they get elsewhere is far better.

“One of the benefits of online work is the opportunity for contractors (and businesses) to ‘escape’ their local economies,” said Kjetil Olsen, Vice President Europe at Elance-oDesk Inc. “A number of countries in Europe have weak economies and the workers in these countries are seeking work online.”

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The scenario mentioned is applicable to Pakistan also as freelancers in Pakistan seek work outside the country to be able to earn in dollars and pounds (the common currencies for freelance payment transactions).

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A number of websites are available for freelancers to work online including freelancefree.com, 99design.com, elance.com, guru.com, peopleperhour.com and freelancer.com. These websites are global markets within themselves as each website has users from various different countries in the world. These include both clients/business owners and online freelancers.

As per industry experts the freelance industry of Pakistan is growing 10 to 25 percent each year. Freelancers especially tech experts are taking refuge in freelancing mainly because of the current lack of digital laws to provide support to the workers who intend to start online businesses of their own.

“I’ve thought of opening my own digital marketing firm plenty of times but the lack of facilitation by the government makes it difficult for individuals to open small digital businesses, said Shummas, a digital marketing expert and a freelancer on several different online platforms.   

“Eighty five percent of the software used in Pakistan are pirated. We rank on number 116 out of 143 countries in the world where the intellectual property theft is very frequent and the offender does not face many consequences either.”

These and many other mal practices need to be eliminated to encourage individuals to provide further boost to the industry.

Meanwhile, the unavailability of suitable payment solutions in the country is also a huge hurdle for Pakistani freelancers. Services that are commonly used around the world like PayPal, an online money transfer solution, should be accessible for freelancers in Pakistan for easy transaction.  

“We need cyber laws. We need regulations and above all we need PayPal.” Shummas said of the hurdles in the growth of the market.