Whether you call them freelancers or digital nomads, there’s no ignoring the rising numbers of independent professionals who offer their services to a multitude of clients online. In Southeast Asia, the digital infrastructure and internet connectivity even in relatively remote areas has allowed a whole slew of talented individuals to get work from all over the world without stepping out their front door.
In 2014, Freelancer.com found there were almost 1.1 million professionals in the region using its site to connect with global clients. India claimed the top spot with almost 750,000 freelancers. They run the gamut from graphic designers to writers to programmers. But all of them have some things in common – they need the right tools to do their job, and networks and communities to be able to connect to peers and clients. Also, they need to get paid.
Since its product is very much relevant to that last part, PayPal, the grandaddy of online payments, has kicked off the Self Made scheme, designed to bring freelancers together for networking and socializing – and, obviously, to get them to use PayPal.
Living the freelancer way
The Self Made event that took place in Singapore’s Refinery, a co-working space for creators, in collaboration with Tech in Asia, brought on board a couple of established Southeast Asia nomads to talk about their experience in freelancing. Serial entrepreneur Jon Yongfook and UX designer Jon Myers shared what it’s like to be your own boss – even if it’s for a little while.
Yongfook is used to going back and forth on this. Having worked for advertising agencies like Leo Burnett Singapore and then founded Beatrix and, most recently, Intellihelper, he has been on both sides of the spectrum – just because he feels it’s good to mix it up every now and again.
“Usually [I switch] when I get a little tired of corporate life and I want to exercise my creative energies and be my own boss every four or five years,” he says. “And then after a while I decide it’d be nice to be part of a big team again, live in a big city again.”
For him, the incentive to strike out on his own is usually the sense that he’s capable of doing more than the corporate environment will accommodate. The independent life isn’t always easy (particularly on the dating front, he points out) – sometimes it’s hard to find the right partners to help you with your product, and you have to keep yourself focused. But Yongfook believes in paying attention to your data, which can show you where you’re going wrong.
Myers agrees it’s important to have people around you on whom you can bounce ideas. “If you’re locked in your house or your office all day, you’re never going to meet new people or unlock new opportunities,” he says. He likes to have a routine for his work that keeps him focused, and his workspace is set up so he can move around easily and welcome clients and collaborators. Plus, he works with communities to be able to stay current and network.
The digital nomad lifestyle might not be for everyone, but it’s never been easier to get into it. Besides plenty of online and offline communities for freelancers and entrepreneurs, there is a whole infrastructure of co-working spaces and platforms like Freelancer, Upwork, Raket.ph, Applancer, and many more, where professionals can offfer their services.
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