For as long as anyone can remember, there never was peace in the history of humankind. Blame it on the sneaky snake and how it sowed the seeds of evil. Even before there was language, humans were already cracking skulls with clubs. As nations wage wars, hostilities in the online freelancing community seems to be escalating.
On opposing ends of the fence are the Western and Filipino online freelancers. Naturally, I refer to Westerners are freelancers from ‘rich’ countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, and much of Europe.
Online freelancing is a booming industry that has benefited the ‘poor’ nations. In fact, it has taken a toll on the local workforce of the Western countries. It is no secret that outsourcing is a pet peeve of Donald Trump.
To be fair, the outspoken U.S. president is focusing on the big industries. Specifically, he does not want Americans opening factories elsewhere and then importing the finished products back for local consumption.
His often-outrageous rhetoric, though, has resonated with the BPO industry. As governments and BPO companies contemplate on the repercussions, the conflict between Western and Filipino online freelancers is real and ongoing.
Outsourcing and Online Freelancing
The very concept of outsourcing is nothing new in business. Even before the Internet came to be, the use of third-party solutions is already prevalent. Take the manufacturing industry, for instance. By asking another company to produce custom parts, that is a form of outsourcing. In the construction sector, general contractors often use subcontractors. Is that not another example of outsourcing?
There are two fundamental reasons for outsourcing that is valid today as it was a century ago. Regardless if the relationship is between businesses or a business and online freelancer, the tremendous value of outsourcing is indisputable.
1. Cost Effective
It is foolish for companies to invest in particular aspects of their business that unnecessarily adds to the cost. Before China became the factory of the world, Western enterprises have already opened manufacturing facilities in Japan and Taiwan. Not only is it advantageous in logistics and supply chain, but they can also take advantage of the cheaper and limitless supply of labor force.
The evolution of technology in the past two decades have also led to the rise of the BPO industries. Global outsourcing is no longer limited to manufacturing. Today, large companies outsourcing a part of their business in the Philippines, for example, end up spending less rather than having or maintaining in-house equipment and workforce.
Technology, however, did not stop with the big businesses. Even small-to-medium size companies can also outsource, and that is where the online freelancers come in. For instance, many small businesses and entrepreneurs cannot afford to hire a skilled professional to satisfy a small yet essential task. Instead of paying a full-time salary, turning to online freelancers on need-to-need basis makes more sense. In fact, the very existence of freelancers is one of the reasons why there is a surge of start-up companies in all corners of the world.
Outsourcing is a means to let a third-party provider do a task that is not only cost-effective but also better. In the Philippines, for example, there is a reason why it is the call center capital of the world. The fact that there are one million agents employed in the industry is a testament to the quality of service they provide.
In any given pool of talents, only a few are exceptional. Hence, cross-border employment increases not only the pool but also the likelihood of finding and hiring the best person. In other words, outsourcing to online freelancers is not always about the more affordable pay rates. In other cases, geographical location and language is a necessity. For instance, a client hires a freelancer to write in a foreign language.
Online freelancing has allowed entrepreneurs to get started by contracting specific needs without hiring anyone full-time. All these are possible because of modern technology and its non-stop evolution.
In a sense, technology broke the barriers between countries. No mountain or sea can stop one from connecting with another on the other side of the world. No longer do businesses today have to operate on a face-to-face basis. In fact, it is not uncommon for people in different countries to hold meetings online.
On paper, the concept of outsourcing has given opportunities for people to in remote locations. It is especially beneficial for stay-at-home moms, for example. Freelancing can also be lucrative, which is why many people are leaving traditional jobs to work online.
Unfortunately, outsourcing is also not without its ugly side. In the past, the labor force of Western countries lost jobs as manufacturing moved offshore. Likewise, the BPO industry has also displaced many people in the ‘richer’ countries. As for Western online freelancers, the competition from Filipinos has taken an enormous toll. Not to mention, there is more competition coming from elsewhere in Asia and Eastern Europe.
As alluded to earlier, there were already some Western companies that established manufacturing operations in Asia before China opened its border. Once they did, businesses from ‘rich’ countries began the exodus to the Middle Kingdom. Not only are many of the raw materials closer, but they are also cheaper. With over a billion people, there is no shortage of workers, and they work for peanuts too.
In a sense, that is how Western freelancers see Filipinos.
Clients can hire Filipinos and pay them twice or thrice as much than the local wage. In comparison, the rate considered a blessing in the Philippines is not enough to sustain a decent life in a ‘rich’ country where the standard of living is astronomically higher. Because of the disparity in economics, online freelancing has become unsustainable for many Western freelancers.
In countries like the Philippines, online freelancing is proving to be a sustainable and lucrative profession. Still, there are some Filipinos who think there is discrimination. The assumption here is that because they are Filipinos, then they do not deserve the same average pay rates like that in a Western country. Furthermore, it is the belief of some that the wage should not be any different from the Western standards. Of course, that is a silly proposition.
Are there racist clients?
Sure, there are a few of them, but most are decent people.
Granted that there are clients offering peanuts, it is not always because of race. Instead, it is the law of supply and demand that dictates the compensation of a profession or field.
Supply and Demand
Online freelancers should understand the concept of supply and demand. Otherwise, it is hard to carve a niche where one is likely to succeed.
Supply, in this case, refers to the number of freelancers. When more people are competing for the same job, then the pay rate suffers. The same holds true for demand. If there are not many clients needing a particular service, its market value diminishes.
In general, online jobs that do not require a certain level of expertise tend to have low pay rates. One can be exceptional, and yet the compensation will not be significantly higher. Competing in this field, therefore, is an exercise in futility. It is a never-ending rat race where winners take home a piece of rotting cheese.
It so happens that many people who start a career in freelancing lack the requisite skills and preparation for better-paying jobs. Hence, they have to compete for peanuts.
If freelancers in third-world countries have to struggle for rates deemed as atrocious by Western standards, how then can they even compete?
Is this the end of online freelancing in Western countries?
Unfortunately for some, yes.
However, there is hope for others.
Before one can even think about competing locally and globally, freelancers must first know themselves. Where many fail is because of focusing on the competition and using them as an excuse for not having better opportunities. Instead of assessing the field, many online freelancers blame the others for the atrocious pay rates offered by clients.
Winning the Online Freelancing War
Back in college some thirty years ago, if someone told me I would be working online one day, I would not even understand that concept. However, there was no letup in the technological innovations. So, today, new opportunities exist as a result of the evolution. Likewise, I assert that online freelancers should also evolve.
First of all, it makes no sense to compete in a field where there is an over-abundance of supply. Unless there is growth in that area, then it is better to find another niche.
An example I can give is being an article writer. As far as I can tell, there are more freelance writers than the jobs available. For that reason, many clients are offering less than $1 per hundred words. While this field is competitive, there is also growth. It means that there are high-paying writing jobs.
In different freelancing communities that I visited on Facebook, I often see some people complaining about atrocious rates. Some even express their mounting frustrations on not landing good writing gigs.
Do these online freelancers know themselves?
Have they audited their skill sets?
It is natural for people to wish for the best, but only a few are willing to do what is necessary. To win the war, freelancers need to put themselves in the best position to succeed. Besides finding a niche where there is growth, freelancers also need to put in the time to attain expertise.
Being able to do a task deserves compensation, but it may not be a lot. Expert skills, on the other hand, has no limits.
Let me end this post with a question.
What can you do to become better and deserve an exceptional compensation package?