Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Diving in the gig economy

Cliff diver David Colturi for Hugo Boss

Philippine Star business writer Iris Gonzales writes about the country's freelance economy, or those who live and work on their own terms. 

It's nice not having to do a 9-to-5, dread Mondays, work in your pajamas, or get stuck in rush hour traffic. Or if you really lucked out and a day's work can net you a million. 

Not everything is rosy in the freelance world though. You do all the things that a normal HR office would do for you: take care of your own taxes, get your own healthcare, save for your own retirement. You have to hustle for your next project to make sure you have a more or less steady income flow. 

But that isn't so easy when there's tons of competition out there, made more cutthroat by  the phenomenon apparently known as  diving, or "bringing down rates below industry standards to get more gigs."

I once had an acquiantance link me with a potential client, who wanted a relatively easy write up.  I gave a quote for the work. But then a quarter of an hour later, my acquiantance calls me up. Turns out the client was also talking to other people. Someone else, a single mother, offered to do the job for half the rate I quoted, and with unli-revisions. 

My acquiantance was embarrassed and apologized. But really, there wasn't anything we could do. How can you compete with someone who gave a basement bargain rate with the matching pleading words, "Please, I'll do anything because of my child." 

I understand her situation, but it really harms everyone else working in the industry if you lowball your own fees. Gonzales puts it best: "If nobody accepts low rates, employers hiring freelancers will realize that they need to pay more. Trust me, they can afford your rate because they’ve already saved so much as they don’t need to pay for health and other benefits." 

An article from The Atlantic looked at gig economies around the world, including the Philippines. There's a bit where a contingent worker from the PH is proud of having gigs that allow her to spend on necessities for her family on her own. On the other hand, there is that consistent problem of competition that necessitates lowering your rates--from $8 to $3.50!--just to get gigs. 

Gone is the world of permanence and tenure and unions and job security. What we have now are part time gigs that turn us into "service providers" and "contractors." But hey, we're our own boss, right?