There is a new breed of young Filipino professionals that is changing the traditional landscape of the workforce. And while they are at it, they are also effectively transforming the age-old definition of a legitimate career.
Today The Sunday Times Magazine gives a face to the day’s online freelancers, men and women who are taking advantage of the wealth of opportunities that the Internet has opened for them. In a click of a button, the World Wide Web allows them to work in a variety of industries across the globe, and right from their very homes here in the Philippines. All they need is connectivity and communication via the Internet. According to Freelancer.ph, the leading platform of online freelancing in the country, there are some 680,000 Filipinos registered on their site alone. With a continuous rise in registrants, the company is confident they will hit the 700,000-mark before end of 2015. How then does online freelancing work? The Sunday Times Magazine interviewed four Filipino online freelancers to find the answer, and in the process discovered inspiring success stories from four different perspectives and goals.
Evan Tan: Understanding online freelancing
Evan Tan, 29, is currently the regional director of Freelancer.com in Southeast Asia. Founded in 2009, Freelancer.com is a global outsourcing marketplace that connects registered freelancers—now counting 16 million—with clients, jobs, and projects around the world.
The platform has been available to Filipinos since 2007, then known as “Get a
Freelancer.Com” It was in 2010 when the global company set up office in the Philippines, and by 2011, Freelancer.ph was officially launched.
But according to Tan, even before the phenomenon of online freelancing reached its current peak, Filipinos were already involved in freelancing jobs.
He noted, “Freelancing per se began way, way back here. One example are self-employed Filipinos who work on their own businesses. Consultants are also freelancers because they offer their expertise to a business as someone from outside a company. People just didn’t call it freelancing then but rather, ‘sideline’ or ‘raket’.”
Tan, himself, had always been a freelancer first in the real world and then on the World
Wide Web. A graduate of Mass Communications from Lyceum of the Philippines University, he used to contribute stories for different publications, among them The Manila Times.
Eventually, he helped a foreign startup travel website with their online content. He then returned to media until Freelancer.com chief executive officer Matt Barrie personally offered him to join his company in 2011.
Since accepting the responsibility then, Tan as head of Freelancer.com in South East Asia is now confident that the region is ready to adopt a more flexible kind of employment like online freelancing and other business process outsourcing, citing a report by software company Intuit. “The Intuit 2020 Report” predicts that by 2020, large corporations around the world will “substantially increase their use of a flexible workforce.”
Here in the Philippines, however, Tan has a more meaningful goal: To remove the stigma of “freelancing” among Filipinos.
“Early on, clients and companies thought they would not be able to get top level Filipino freelancers, which was why they were only outsourcing small jobs. The stigma of freelancing started that way and people identified freelancing with data-entry jobs,” he explained.
“As time progressed, people started to realize that ‘Even if I am an expert or a professional, I can be a freelancer.’ It didn’t mean that they had to settle for something low-paying,” he continued.
“At Freelancer, in fact, we have this rating system where freelancers are given 1 to 5 stars, with 5 being the highest rating in terms reviews of clients. Percentages of jobs completed, budget, meeting deadlines, and repeat hire rate are also displayed. With this system, we are able to reverse a lot of misconceptions and stigma about working from home,” he furthered.
Moreover, Tan hopes to take the option of online freelancing all over the Philippines. While most of the registered freelancers come from Manila at present, there is already a good number that hail from Cebu City in the Visayas, and Davao City and Iligan City in Mindanao.
To advance this cause, Freelancer.ph has partnered with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through the recently concluded National Science and Technology Week. Representing Freelancer.ph, Tan talked at the “Rural Impact Sourcing Workshop” where he presented the concept of a flexible and independent job via freelancing.
“We want to empower equally skilled and talented Filipinos outside Metro Manila by maximizing the Internet—and not just taking selfies. It couldn’t be more timely as DOST plans to roll out free WiFi nationwide,” Tan added.
While the benefits and possibilities of online freelancing are indeed promising, there remains an issue with regard to a person’s responsibility in paying taxes.
Asked for his comment, Tan said, “While we are not the governing body for this, we still encourage our registered freelancers to pay their own taxes because its their obligation to the country. However, we also push for tax exemptions just like what small businesses have.”
With that, Tan told The Sunday Times Magazine that in the future, they would invite a representative from the Bureau of Internal Revenue to share insights and regulations on taxpaying at their monthly seminars.
Sharon de Dios: The biologist turned freelancer
A wife of a policeman and a mother of two, Sharon de Dios has been a freelancer for nine years already. With a five-star rating at Freelancer.ph, she is sought-after by international clients looking for web copywriting, social media consulting, and virtual managing services. What her clients do not know, however, is that De Dios graduated with a Degree in Biology, Major in Genetics from the University of the Philippines in Los Baños.
Before she chose to become a “full-time freelancer,” De Dios who is now 38, worked as a medical indexer for a New Jersey-based company, which set-up a satellite office in Manila as one of the earliest business process outsourcing (BPO) ventures in the Philippines.
De Dios dedicated seven long years with the BPO via a home-based job until one fateful day.
She recalled, “We were asked to come in the next morning thinking it was only for a
meeting. When we got there, we were handed our checks. We were told it was our last day and that we were not to report to the office anymore.”
She continued, “I was traumatized yet I realized that I was dispensable. You were not valued despite everything you’ve done. And I was just starting to build my life then. In a snap, paano na?”
At the time, De Dios had just settled in Bulacan with her husband and then two-year-old son. Despite losing her longest job, she decided not to jump in to another one in Manila.
She explained, “My first son was only two then, and I could not leave him alone while I worked. So I thought, ‘What will I do now?’ What if I become an Avon lady?’”
Thankfully, a friend suggested she try online freelancing via Get a Freelancer.com (the former name of Freelancer.com). Her initial job was copywriting, considered an entry level service.
“Of all the listed jobs, I thought that was the only thing I could do. My background is so different I didn’t have an idea about programming and other computer-related skills,” she admitted.
De Dios soon discovered that she was actually good at copywriting. But while she excelled at it in the next two years, she realized she still needed to learn other online freelancing services thus the “decision to branch out to other projects.”
“I’ve always been upfront with my employers that I didn’t actually know [other services]but that I learn easily. I was just lucky to find employers who were willing to teach me, maybe because they already learned to trust me when I was still a copywriter,” she shared.
To help herself even more, De Dios also joined “webinars” or online seminars, and watched other learning tutorials from YouTube. From her apparent desire to improve her skills, it is the clients who now hunt down the highly rated copywriter for her services.
Asked if she ever thought she do freelancing as a career, De Dios replied, “Career comes from a root word that means road. It’s a path. [While] our concept of a career mostly translates to teachers, doctors, lawyers, or any profession, it’s not [just that]. If you are growing in your line of work, you learn new things, and you meet new people, that’s what makes a career.”
Would she recommend freelancing to other mothers who want to work without leaving their children at home? De Dios politely replied that her choice to do so comes from a very personal situation.
She generously shared, “I come from a family background where my mom was an OFW while my father was ‘just there.’ I never really grew up with hands on parents. And I didn’t want that to happen to my own children because there were times when I needed guidance and I had no one to turn to.
“So I guess it’s just a matter of priority. And that’s what’s good with Freelancer because I can balance both work and family,” de Dios concluded.
Anna Salas-Madronero: The architect who found herself online
Anna Salas-Madronero, 29, is an architect who lives and works in Nueva Ecija with husband Romulo Madronero, whom she married in December 2014. Just like her, Mr. Madronero is an online freelancer for graphic design.
Fresh from graduating at the Far Eastern University, Madronero was initially hired by one of the country’s biggest developers to work as a design officer for construction for almost three years. However, as a young architect, she felt the need to design something on her own.
Not wanting to lose her personal style and skill, Madronero quit the company in 2011 and tried her luck in online freelancing.
Just like any new employee, she also struggled at the beginning in the freelancing world. “In the beginning, many clients online preferred male architects because they are more known in the field. But in the long run, foreign clients recognized my skills as an architect regardless of gender,” she recounted, “Happily, I also see women now excelling in the field already maybe because I believe we are more artistic and articulate.”
More importantly, the architect also had the artistic freedom she had always desired in online freelancing. She shared, “Here, I get to design freely. I also get to work for people, architects, developers who are really want you to design. With that, I get to enjoy my profession more today.”
Even online, Madronero is every bit a professional architect via the following process: First, she studies the site photos that show the size of the space she is hired to design, the actual requirements like numbers of rooms, and the client preferences. These are all sent to her online by clients who usually come from Australia, Canada and the US.
“I usually design homes. I also got to work with Subway Australia, as well as a restaurant chain from the US. In general, I do residential and commercial establishments,” she enumerated.
Madronero also disclosed that her online job is more “rewarding” not only because of her artistic freedom but also because she earns more this way. She said, “The pay in freelancing is higher itself because it’s in US dollars. It’s like you are working overseas too.”
In terms of her family life, The Sunday Times Magazine ventured to ask Madronero how working online has turned out for her and her husband. She candidly replied, “We are always so busy, so we can’t afford to go out. Sometimes we hardly have a social life anymore. But when we want to and we can, and we make it a point to go on a vacation once a month.
“But we do bring our laptops and check work if the hotel has WiFi,” the committed online freelancer ended with a laugh.
Jay Batausa: The winning freelancer of Davao
A Davao City pride is 26-year-old Jay Batausa who has been an online freelancer for five years already.
In an inspiring conversation over Skype, The Sunday Times Magazine discovered that Batausa studied Commerce majoring Management at his hometown’s University of Immaculate Concepcion. Unfortunately, he was unable to finish his course because of financial difficulties. Not one to give up, he worked as an attendant at an Internet café where he discovered Freelancer.ph.
Today, the proud Davaoeno describes himself as “a virtual assistant” working on various jobs like data entry, social media management, video editing, product uploading, e-commerce, and article writing.
“My clients come from USA, Canada, UK, Spain, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Germany, among others. Right now, I am working for my Spanish employer,” he continued.
He also enjoys his job because he learns something new every day depending on the tasks he is given by his clients. Life is also better these days especially when he earns a minimum of $500 dollars every month.
Asked what he does with his pay, he candidly replied, “I buy things for myself, I give some to the family, and the rest are savings.”
But while everything seems to be going well for Batausa, he objectively related that there are also disadvantages in online freelancing. He explained, “There are times when you need be fully awake at night because of the time difference in other countries. Sometimes, you don’t get to sleep at all, and we know that lack of sleep harms the health. I came to the point I got sick.”
Thankfully, Batausa managed to recuperate and return to online freelancing. What he took from the experience is knowing the importance of balancing work and rest. He does so by actually “outsourcing” some of his tasks to other friends so he can meet deadlines while not pushing himself to the limit physically.
He proudly related, “I have taught my friends to also do online freelancing. They help me finish a project faster and at the same time, I get to help them in their finances.”
A young man with big dreams, he also considers online freelancing as a “stepping stone.” He shared, “When I have saved enough, I plan to open up my own, small business. I’m thinking of a BPO because I have experience in the field already. And that’s what my own clients are telling me to do, to set up my own office and team.”
Most importantly, Batausa learned from freelancing what many Filipinos should consider: “That I don’t need to travel to other countries to work and earn well. I can stay home in Davao and have the best of both worlds.”