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Why it could be a good time to join the gig economy

10 Dec 2020

Iain McNicoll of Payoneer explains why the pandemic has paved the way for freelancing opportunities around the world.

If you’ve ever considered freelancing, now might be the perfect time to take the leap. According to Iain McNicoll, vice-president of Americas and regional head of SMBs at digital payment platform Payoneer, the pandemic has paved the way for new opportunities.

Through his work at Payoneer – along with more than 15 years of experience in the payments industry and with emerging technologies – McNicoll is familiar with the freelancer market.

Earlier this year, Payoneer published its 2020 Freelancer Income Report, in which more than 7,000 freelancers around the world were surveyed on their hourly rates, average income and skills.

Here, McNicoll discusses the results of the report and shares his thoughts on how Covid-19 has impacted the freelance market.

‘The pandemic has played a significant role in the acceleration of freelancing over the last few months’

What’s it like to be a freelancer in today’s market, according to the Payoneer report?

The gig economy and freelancing has boomed in recent years as much of the world continues to go digital. Work expectations and technology advancements have proven that there is no singular way to work any more and traditional models are just one way to do business.

The global pandemic has played a significant role in the acceleration of freelancing over the last few months. As a result of worldwide lockdowns and strict social distancing measures, the sudden shift to remote work has become the new norm.

After shelter-in-place restrictions, 32pc of freelancers reported that demand had greatly decreased as a result of the economic downturn. All is not lost as we believe, due to the pandemic, there are more resources available than ever before.

53pc of respondents expected demand would increase from levels seen even before the pandemic. This proves to us that freelancers are optimistic about the demand of clients and the need for their services bouncing back, and are empowered in this new work environment.

Were there any findings that particularly surprised you?

The survey found that the US freelance community continues to flourish, even as the US unemployment rate fluctuated between 9pc and 14pc throughout the summer of 2020.

Our report also found that Ukraine is one of the fastest-growing outsourcing countries globally. The study found that 50pc of Ukrainian freelancers felt that demand from their European clients had not declined at all, while 56pc felt that demand from North American clients had either increased or remained the same.

I found that intriguing since, overall, our report found the greatest drop in demand came from freelancers with North American and European clients, which is the complete opposite for Ukrainian freelancers.

What are some of the biggest opportunities in freelancing right now?

Even amidst the pandemic, Q2 saw a 42pc quarter-on-quarter increase in US SMBs paying international freelancers. This proves that despite budget cuts, businesses are still seeing outsourcing as a flexible and worthy solution, which drives the freelance workforce.

Freelancers that are able to fill lay-off and furlough gaps with contract labour are seeing a lot of opportunity as businesses continue to understand their finances due to the pandemic.

Should more people be considering going freelance in the newly remote world?

Although we are living in uncertain times, one thing is for sure: the pandemic has completely reshaped the future of work and the gig economy. Moving forward, more companies will seek remote and freelance workers and those who look to enhance their skillset and go freelance will have more options than ever before to have work flexibility.

As we have already seen, employees and businesses are adapting to working across distributed locations. A permanent change in the global workforce is inevitable.

Are there any tips you would give someone thinking about freelancing for the first time?

Venturing into freelancing can be intimidating but the digital nomad lifestyle has a lot to offer, whether it’s being your own boss, avoiding the commute or the ability to work almost anywhere. I would suggest starting with a marketplace like Fiverr or Upwork, which brings together freelancers and prospective clients while providing important tools to manage your projects.

Will more people opting for freelance careers be good or bad news for the economy, in your opinion?

More people opting for freelance careers is a good thing. Not only does this create more opportunity in emerging markets from global and diverse perspectives, but it allows businesses to find the best talent no matter where they are located.

On top of this, those who choose to freelance can live the way they want to live and work when they want.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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