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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

The freelance escape just might lock talent up in new corporate shackles

Websites where buyers and sellers of services meet are not the be-all and end-all for individual contractors

Female tech freelancers work in Gaza City. A shift away from established corporate culture towards freelancing brings its own set of problems and solutions. Photographer: Shawn Baldwin/Bloomberg
Female tech freelancers work in Gaza City. A shift away from established corporate culture towards freelancing brings its own set of problems and solutions. Photographer: Shawn Baldwin/Bloomberg

Quitting one’s job to start a business does not surprise me anymore. I am often worried if entrepreneurship is a trend, or if people are really doing it out of passion. Not a week passes without me hearing about a friend or a relative who has quit or is about to quit a 9-to-5 job to pursue a dream business. At one point, one of my friends remarked: “If we keep at it at this rate, then no one will be left working for somebody else.”

According to the Freelancers Union, more than 55 million Americans work as independent contractors or freelancers. This has grown by more than two million over the last two years. Careerbuilders’ 2017 forecast indicated that more than 45 per cent of employers in the United States are seeking freelancers’ services.

There are no exact statistics about the total number of freelancers in the UAE, but from what I see, I am sure that the figure is growing.

On a personal business level, I deal a lot with freelancers, whether they are videographers, designers, copywriters or photographers. I have worked with freelancers in the UAE, Ukraine, the UK and Russia. In fact, I love to work with freelancers, and I would not change my model because my model exposes me to different styles and helps expand my knowledge. I look at it as a continuous learning process.

And this learning process will not be slowing down anytime soon. When I started a few years ago, the freelance online platforms did not have a hierarchy in terms of freelancers’ skills. I would post a bid and I would receive offers from freelancers whose talents were on extreme ends but the offers all landed on the same page.

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It was like a marketplace, where every shop window looked the same, and you had to experiment and browse through each freelancer’s portfolio or connect with them through email, or search their background to find out who was skilled enough to match your requirement.

But that is not the case anymore. Online platforms, whether they are the Behance platform for graphic designers or 99designs, categorise their freelancers according to expertise and talents, and offer packages and prices to the service you require.

In fact, online platforms such as Reedsy have taken it an extra step and will only connect service seekers with elite freelancers. Reedsy – a platform that connects writers with book designers, editors, and ghost writers – allows only the publishing world’s elite to list their services on the website.

But this degree of selectivity and filtering is not limited to the design and publishing world. Gigster, the tech marketplace, only hires software engineers who are in the top 1 per cent of their field’s labour pool.

As more people choose to go down the freelancing route, the competition to be included in high-level freelancing platforms and the good benefits that come with them will only intensify. An applicant will have to apply, and wait, for an approval or a rejection. And unlike a corporate where there is an HR department to go to, this might not always be the case, especially if these platforms are based on the other side of the world.

Come to think about it, these freelancing platforms, with their selection process, and different compensation benefits for each category a freelancer’s work is displayed under, it may not seem very different from the corporate world they ran away from.

Although platforms such as these are great, and would introduce freelancers to clients from the comfort of their homes and would save them a sales trip, I also highly recommend to not completely depend on solely sharing your work on them, especially in the beginning of your freelancing journey.

Consider them as an option of income but also ensure that you have an online portfolio or a blog that you share your work on, build one-on-one client relationships and make use of social media and the efficiency of advertising your services on them to a targeted audience. Constantly develop your skills, and watch out for the latest marketing or business trends that will impact your business.

Doing so will hopefully accelerate your process, enrich your portfolio and land you a place in these highly selective gig websites.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer who manages her branding and marketing consultancy in Abu Dhabi