A freelance revolution is happening all across the globe, but as Americans often tend to do, we don’t see, or care to see, beyond our own borders. Our economy is a global one, which means the freelance economy is as well. North America is in many ways leading the freelance revolution with the highest percentage of workers who considered themselves freelancers at 35%. On the other hand, North America and Europe employ more foreign freelancers than any other continent. Because our work does not require a fixed location, freelancers are going to be the ones leading the global workforce to a remote, location independent future. As exciting as that sounds, the effects of this global proliferation of freelancers is complex to say the least. So it behooves all freelancers, in the US and abroad, to have a better understanding of freelancing on a global scale.
FIRST WORLD ECONOMIES
The freelance workforces in economically developed countries function in similar ways. Some of these countries include the US, UK, much of the EU, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, UAE, and Brazil. Many of the same trends we’re seeing in the US can be spotted in these nations, and the freelancers within them have a similar mindset. They’re driven largely by ideals like freedom, independence, and a more flexible lifestyle. So, if you were thinking about working or moving abroad, you can be assured that there are plenty of nations with vibrant growing freelance communities.
Freelancing as we know it today started in first-world countries and has grown there organically over the years; skyrocketing in the last few. Freelancer earnings in the US grew 68% from 2018 to 2019. The growth of freelancing in these nations hasn’t come from any government programs or public policy initiatives, but from everyday workers realizing they can actually make a living this way. This organic shift in the workforce is actually leaving many first-world governments behind the curve. Many freelancers feel they aren’t given the attention they deserve by their governments; healthcare being a major example. Other countries may have policies that treat freelancing more favorably, but it doesn’t seem like freelancing is treated as the norm anywhere quite yet.
In developing nations like Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and India, freelancing is primarily about making money. Obviously every job is about making money, but in these nations freelancing presents a new path for many young workers; one that could potentially raise their standing in life and accumulate more wealth than the traditional paths they’ve known. This is possible because most services offered by freelancers in countries like Bangladesh are sold to people and businesses outside of Bangladesh (mainly in North America and Europe). Freelancers in these nations see this as a stable way to make good money. They can offer lower costs to employers in the US but still make more than the average worker in Indonesia. Plus, the market for freelancers is so huge there’s always another job to be found. Freelancing, and the ability to work remotely has also given citizens of developing countries the opportunity to take jobs that didn’t yet exist for them; jobs that are knowledge based, and utilize creativity and reasoning.
Unlike in first world nations, freelancing trends in many developing countries have been stimulated by government initiatives. The Pakistani government has spent years investing in digital skills for younger citizens and implemented wide spread 4G connectivity across the nation. India has created multiple government programs like Startup India, Skill India, and Digital India to try and encourage young Indians to become digital entrepreneurs and start their own businesses.
American freelancers are far more used to creative, knowledge-based jobs. They expect a certain type of person in their freelance community. Despite the explosive freelance growth in developing economies, and the willingness of their governments to support them, it will probably be a while before US freelancers care to engage with the communities in those countries.
BRIDGING THE GAP
There is one reason first-world freelancers should be paying attention to developing economies. While freelancing has certainly helped many in developing countries emerge from poverty, they could potentially push down wages globally. A trend like this has happened in the past with the rise of outsourcing and the moving of manufacturing abroad. It led to a drop in wages for blue-collar workers in the US. Some freelancers in wealthier countries already find it hard to make a living wage off the same work someone in Indonesia does for half the cost. Domestic freelancers need to start paying attention to freelancing trends abroad, as it can have an effect on their livelihoods.
The ability to work anywhere may not be as advantageous as previously imagined. Real estate still plays a key factor in one’s ability to support themselves, the rate they can offer, the community available to them, the government support they receive, and more. As global economies become more intertwined and the ability to work anywhere becomes easier and easier, established policies and norms will be shifting constantly. It’s warranted for the average freelance to stay abreast of these changes no matter where they live.