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Building the Freelancer Community in Southeast Asia

Save for the occasional Skype or Slack interactions, freelancers are left on their own

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BY Ezra Ferraz - 15 Sep 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Anyone who has ever completed work on a freelancing platform would probably agree at one point or another that it can get lonely. Freelancing for clients locally or internationally leaves you largely on your own, save for the occasional Skype or Slack interactions that break up your day.

Ginger Arboleda, CEO of Manila Workshops and COO of Taxumo, is seeking to build an offline community for a segment that to this day has largely existed online through an annual Freelancer Fair. She was inspired to create the Freelancer Fair due to the 1.5 million online freelancers in the country and the potential she recognized to grow this market even further.

“Another reason is that these freelancers need all the help they can get and in order to sustain a freelancing career, you need to be surrounded by people who understand you. I was a freelance writer once, so I understand the pain and the heartaches that a freelancer goes through,” she says.

Held on September 2, the theme of this year’s Freelancer Fair was Cultivating Relationships, as the goal was to connect freelancers with other freelancers so they build not only their network, but also a support system. Arboleda believes that this support system is essential if freelancers want to make the leap into full-time freelancing.

According to Arboleda, gathering freelancers who might benefit from connecting with one another was a huge operational challenge.

“Freelancers are scattered in different parts of the country, and there is no easy way to gather them. I’m sure that most of the ones who attended are still online freelancers,” she says, adding that she wants to include offline freelancers, like photographers, videographers, event coordinators, for next year’s incarnation.

Arboleda shares that many of the freelancers finally met freelancing friends they had only interacted with online.

“Everyone was excited to finally have their own ‘event’. These freelancers don’t have company outings or officemates. The event was something exciting and out of the ordinary for them,” she says.

These individual connections are indicative of the rise of freelancing across Southeast Asia, which Arboleda witnessed first-hand in the Philippines. If the rise in job platforms is a good indication, she believes that there is a groundswell of freelancers across the region. More people are favoring freelancing because they can choose jobs they are passionate about, all while earning a healthy wage.

“Most of the freelancers here and in Southeast Asia have done just that,” Arboleda says. “The rallying cry of the event was Rise of the Free, since these people are free to do the things that they love, free to flex time to prioritize time with family, free to charge according to how they value their skills and strengths, free to be who they want to be and address needs that they want to address.”

Arboleda will continue to hold The Freelancer Fair every year, and hold more intimate workshops for freelancers through Manila Workshops. “Next year, we hope for a bigger and better The Freelancer Fair. We invite other brands from other countries, which have freelancers as a market to join and support us,” says Arboleda.

As was the case this year, some of the speakers and participants will undoubtedly hail from both the freelancing and business worlds, much like Arboleda herself, who was a freelancer before going on to found Manila Workshops and then Taxumo. She believes freelancers and founders have more in common than meets the eye.

“I guess it’s more of the behavior and the outlook on what lies ahead. Both freelancers and entrepreneurs have that sense of ownership of their time. Both undergo challenges that are not easily understood by people around them,” she says.