Rewards of the freelance economy

Omnia Haridy, Sunday 3 Mar 2024

The present economic woes may have opened up rewarding opportunities for those thinking about alternative forms of employment.

Fathi Abul-Ezz
Fathi Abul-Ezz


If you are tired of your current job or seeking to earn more money, you are probably not alone. Many people are fed up with their routine work and are thinking outside the box to increase their incomes, especially those living in countries where inflation and high prices bite the most.

The good news is that many have managed to put new ideas to work and could achieve significant wealth in so doing.

Jobs such as content creator, freelance photographer, graphic designer, and website development officer are becoming a trend. Other fields, like e-marketing, affiliate selling, printing on demand, creating freelance websites, and performing small tasks for agencies abroad have also become widespread around the world, sometimes promising incomes exceeding thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars per month.

Such initiatives are sometimes supported by donors who finance small projects and small investors to implement innovative ideas, whether new electronic applications or small emerging companies that provide new and unconventional services.

The government has also been promoting self-employment, perhaps in an attempt to curb the rise of unemployment. Minister of Labour Hassan Shehata has recently been encouraging Egyptian young people in televised interviews to change their mindset towards employment.

Exploring new ways of self-employment and setting up startups should be considered, he said, and young graduates should benefit from the vocational training programmes provided by the Ministry of Labour in attempts to qualify them for the demands of the labour market.

Shehata has a point. A recent study on temporary online self-employment conducted by the cabinet-affiliated Information and Decision Support Centre quoted 2023 World Bank estimates that indicate that the number of those employed in temporary online jobs worldwide range between 154 and 435 million.  

The estimates are based on innovative survey techniques that combine data science, corporate databases, and a global web survey in 17 countries.

The same study quoted other estimates by the World Bank that indicate that about 4.4 to 12.5 per cent of the global workforce has been employed in temporary online jobs. This includes those employed in temporary jobs on regional and local platforms. According to the study, such jobs have grown rapidly, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The trend had led to the emergence of what is called the freelance economy, which means working via Internet platforms that act as an intermediary between the employee and the employer. The latter could be a company aiming at accomplishing a specific task such as food delivery, care work, data entry and translation, design and software development, and so on. Supply and demand are matched either through an application or a website.

These platforms provide requirements and rules for available online jobs as well as financial compensation, which is usually provided per piece, per hour, or per project after the required tasks are accomplished.

Freelancing via the Internet has grown into a promising alternative to traditional employment in today’s digital age, and many governments seek to support it, including in developing countries.

Issa Ibrahim, the Nigerian minister of communications technology, has recently made it clear that his government’s vision is to benefit from information and communications technology (ICT) to empower young people and help them to make money through developing their own businesses.

Nigeria has developed a new initiative titled “Small Business for Employment Creation” that aims at helping workers earn money and build skills.

“One of the strongest opportunities created by the present economic crisis that the world is suffering from is encouraging people to go into self-employment, as major companies have declared bankruptcy, even in the US, which is considered the strongest economy in the world,” said Ahmed Moati, executive director of VI Markets, a regional online broker.

“Such economic woes have pushed people to hunt for the most available opportunity of self-employment.”

Moati gives a set of important tips to those aiming at setting up their own startups in order to beat potential challenges. Continuity and setting logical expectations are the two important tips since “some people set overblown goals when they start their own businesses, and so they may get frustrated when they fail to attain those aspirations,” he said.

“Do not rely heavily on loans, and make sure you can pay them back,” Moati said, giving advice to those thinking of launching their own businesses. “Study to enhance your specialisation and make sure you get updated with every detail in your field. Make sure you study crisis management since it turns out that most of the companies that declared bankruptcy in the States did not have a team for crisis management. Last but not least, study your competitors and respect them.”

A survey published by the Egyptian Centre for Economic Studies, a think tank, last May indicates that self-employment has become increasingly competitive globally and that there has been a growing demand for it since 2019. According to the survey, 40,000 job opportunities were created worth $60 million in the first quarter of 2023. The US accounts for 34 per cent of those working in the field of software freelancing jobs, followed by the European countries and India (14.13 per cent).

There are now thousands of video clips that explain ways of making money online. But it should be noted that these videos often rely on number of views and advertisements to make profits and this can undermine the credibility of their content. Some of these videos may provide inaccurate information and may even be fraudulent — some incidents have been reported of bloggers encouraging viewers to provide personal data to steal money.

This article attempts to provide a guide for some of the most important fields and ideas for self-employment for those who aim at starting their own projects or who want to hunt for a job via electronic employment sites.

It takes you on a tour of this realm of new ideas, work sites, social-media influencers, important donors and supporters, and the most inspiring success stories.

SUCCESS STORIES: Self-employment has become an outlet for many young Egyptians who have decided to follow the trend of seeking alternative sources of income in the light of global and local economic strains.

Magdi Moussa and Mohamed Al-Abyad are young entrepreneurs who started as school friends and ended up as successful businessmen. They are still under 30 but have managed to push their limits to find success inside and outside of Egypt as the founders of IMERSF, an innovation studio in the field of branding that specialises in e-learning and financial technology.

It all started in 2017, when the duo founded a company specialising in educational and financial technology. “We noticed a deficiency in education and financial technology and saw that the marketing field had a great gap in this respect,” Moussa said. “So, we started to fill that gap and provided brand-marketing services. Then we turned to digital services, particularly during the coronavirus quarantine period, as we found that existing companies did not provide or focus on digital marketing.”

Educational and financial technology were emerging at that time, and the two young entrepreneurs decided to join the trend by focusing on providing services that bridge the gap in these two sectors.

Their business has participated in many initiatives with well-known brands such as Meta, (Udacity), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the African Union (AU), the Information Technology Industry Development Authority (ITIDA), and the Central Bank of Saudi Arabia.

Among the most prominent initiatives were the One Million Arab Coders Initiative led by the Dubai Future Foundation, the Our Future is Digital Initiative with the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, and the Rollo Africa Programme in cooperation with the AU. These initiatives serve Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon, Ghana, South Africa, and Pakistan.

“We also help educational institutions in designing products and providing services that help companies develop and market their products to achieve their goals and make profits via the web and phone applications,” Moussa said. “The good news is that we did not have to seek any sponsors or burn prices and products to achieve success or a profit. Instead, we have made a profit from the outset while helping the growth and development of individuals.”

The two young entrepreneurs soon grew into global influencers in various sectors of technology and innovation — an inspirational story which proves that Egypt has a new momentum of young talents and energy. Currently, they remain focused on creating a brighter future for individuals throughout the Middle East and Africa.

But even simpler ideas can produce huge change in people’s lives. Or, at least, that is the case of Rasha Al-Suhaimi, one of Egypt’s most-inspiring young women who was honoured by First Lady Intisar Al-Sisi on Women’s Day last March. A simple idea of making stuffed dolls soon turned Al-Suhaimi into a successful businesswoman.

Al-Suhaimi’s inspiring story started when she was working in a clothes factory where she also learned how to sew stuffed dolls. “I learnt how to make stuffed dolls at the factory, but the business owner failed to market my products,” she said.

That, however, did not stop Al-Suhaimi. Armed with hope and perseverance, she continued making dolls and went into the streets to market them herself.

“I made a deal with shops in Al-Moski [a popular market in Cairo] to market my dolls,” she told Al-Ahram Weekly. “And soon there was a great demand for my handicrafts and my business began to grow. Today I market my stuffed dolls abroad and provide training for young women in different governorates to make high-quality stuffed dolls and even have their own startups.”

Enas Al-Hinnawi, a graduate in art education, is another story of perseverance and hope. She started her own project by setting up in streets of Cairo with a wooden box containing a collection of handmade accessories. She started a career in handicrafts and accessories designing when she was still in college and with the least possible means.

Today, she has a growing business. Profits have grown, and she has been able to rent a workshop where she can employ and train other young women to expand her business.

Mai Al-Bahdali is another 30-year-old businesswoman who started from scratch. She started as a young woman living in the rural governorate of Daqahliya. She worked in different fields until she landed a job as a travel sales representative.

Sill unable to provide for her family, she stretched herself further when she decided to launch her own business six years ago. She started a food catering project from home, providing traditional dishes and home-made products that soon reached the tables of many families nationwide.


OUTSOURCING SERVICES: Outsourcing has emerged in the world of business as a new technique adopted to curb expenses. It means hiring a third party from outside a company or institution to perform a job that might otherwise have been accomplished by full-time staff.

That third party could be freelancing individuals or smaller or larger companies that can be trusted to accomplish a certain task. Outsourcing has been used to save money, energy, and effort in different fields in the market.

The Egyptian market is no exception, and it has become a vital destination for the global outsourcing industry. Egypt is becoming an attractive target for the outsourcing market due partly to the fact that it has competent and experienced employees and also because Egypt itself has a strategic location and enjoys all the needed infrastructure.

The country has launched its own digital strategy for outsourcing for 2022 to 2026 that relies on four domains; IT services; business processing services; knowledge services; and engineering research and development.

There has been a growth in the outsourcing market, and the number of those working in this field in Egypt has reached 100,000 employees during the past year alone. 70 per cent of these are employed in large companies, and the rest are working in small and medium-sized companies.

On 6 February, a committee bringing together the Education, Scientific Research, Communications, and Information Technology sectors in the Cabinet met to discuss software and information technology and outsourcing services in Egypt as well as ways to enhance them.

MP Alaa Mustafa said during the meeting that outsourcing services contribute significantly to the economy, providing job opportunities for young people and attracting foreign contracts. These services, Mustafa added, “are bound to diversify the sources of national income and enhance the country’s service exports, which will help to improve the balance of payments.”

In statements before the Senate, Minister of Communications and Information Technology Amr Talaat emphasised the ability of the Egyptian outsourcing services sector to attract major international companies and create new job opportunities. Agreements have been signed with 74 international and local companies to appoint 100,000 outsourcing specialists since November 2022, he said.

“Twenty new companies have been investing in Egypt for the first time, and Egypt is expanding its services in ten European countries, including Spain, Germany, France, Denmark, Portugal, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Finland and Malta,” Talaat said. “Those countries all provide job opportunities as well as visas for Egyptian skilled freelancers.”


ONLINE JOBS: The concept of online work includes all the work that can be done via the Internet for the benefit of an entity, company, or person in exchange for a fee agreed upon in advance between the two parties or any electronic project over the Internet that targets customers.

This type of employment takes multiple forms, including content creation, affiliate marketing, and selling services.

Content providers and creators play a significant role in the digital world, and many brands rely on them to market their products and reach out to a larger audience in perhaps a more engaging way.

Youssef Al-Dali, a content creator and trainer in content creation, says that “in the light of the current economic woes, it is necessary to try to generate more income in hard currency.” For him, content creation is “the best way to do that.”

“If you have a blog in a specialised field, you can get advertisements starting from $300 per month, which may reach up to thousands according to the number of views,” Al-Dali explained, adding that “it is of paramount importance to choose a field where you can really be an added value and be able to continue building an audience.”

Affiliate marketing is about recommending products and services to followers through Internet content and getting a commission in return for letting them use links to purchase those products.

Karim Ahmed says he has been working in this field of e-commerce since 2016 and is now a member of an e-commerce team in a big firm in Egypt. He says he now relies on e-commerce as a main profession since it has yielded a significant income.

There are many services that can be sold effectively over the Internet. Graphic design is one case in point since companies may need graphic designs only occasionally and not want to hire a full-time designer.

So, if you have a background in design and love working on designing charts, web pages, or printed materials, you can create these designs from home and work as an independent graphic designer. Having an academic degree in design and a proficiency in using computer programmes like Photoshop are the skills needed in this field.

Proofreading is another type of service that can be sold on the Internet. If you are proficient in grammar and can easily spot linguistic and spelling mistakes, then proofreading may be a suitable job that you can do from your own home. You can provide proofreading services for books, texts, CVs, and other written materials that are printed or published electronically.

Voice-overs are another way to earn more money. Many of the sounds you hear in film trailers, advertisements, or on your favourite YouTube channels have been recorded by voice actors, many of whom may be doing it from home or as freelancers.

Photography is also a good way to raise your income if you are a photography enthusiast. Many websites and companies need photographs to add to their blogs or pages on social-media platforms, and yours may be among them.

Social-media management has also become a trend. As a social-media manager, you are responsible for all the social-media channels of a specific company, and you use your marketing skills to increase the number of followers and deliver the company’s message to the largest possible number of users. In addition, you need to interact with these followers, responding to their inquiries and performing a task similar to customer service.

Translation is another additional freelance job that those proficient in languages can do from home and for which there has been increasing demand.

If you fit into any of these categories, you should have an account at an electronic bank such as PayPal or Payoneer, which are available in most countries. This account is linked to a Visa card or Mastercard, so that its owner can withdraw cash from the electronic bank in exchange for a fee deducted from his balance.

So, if you are looking for an opportunity to increase your income and do something you have a passion for, think about scrolling through these opportunities and targeting the one in which you can develop your skills.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 29 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

Short link: