When people ask John Pangulayan what his job is, he tells them: “I write e-mails for a living.”
Pangulayan, who hails from the Bicol region, comes from a family of limited means. His parents were unemployed, and he wasn’t able to go to college.
But the young man — who looks like he has a lot of time to spend at the gym — has become fluent in English and is now using this skill as a home-based professional.
He used to be a salaried employee before learning about e-mail copywriting, or writing advertising and marketing materials.
He quit his regular job as soon as he started earning at least P200,000 a month from e-mail copywriting, as he felt this gig was enough buffer to support his family while spending more quality time with his kids, whom he hoped would someday be proud to be freelancers themselves.
These days, Pangulayan teaches other aspiring freelancers how to go from zero to six-digit income in 70 days.
Lish Aquino used to be a licensed insurance agent and was happy working for a leading insurance company until the financial hub that her team was handling got disbanded.
She turned to freelancing in 2009.
While pregnant with her third child, Aquino started learning about online selling on platforms like Amazon.
Using P40,000 in seed money that was borrowed from her sister, she launched her first product, but it flopped. Her second product failed, too.
After one year, she launched a third product, which became successful, yielding enough funds for her to diversify into other products. Socks were among the products that have sold well for Aquino.
“Very good is underrated,” she said. “It’s so good to just work two to four hours a day, part time, just at home, just being with my kids and then earning very well.”
Believing that she should pay back by teaching other Filipinos how to be online sellers, Aquino now teaches about 300 startup Amazon sellers.
Pangulayan and Aquino are two of the most “influential” online freelancers in the Philippines today, said CJ Maturino-Cajoles, who founded Online Filipino Freelancers (OFF) three years ago as a support group for freelancers.
OFF, which organizes workshops and conferences for aspiring freelancers, now has about 115,000 members.
“The gig economy is really booming and a lot of Filipinos are open to the idea of working at home and for OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) to go back to the Philippines and really stay at home and see the milestones of their children,” Cajoles said in a recent press chat.
“Internet is really the great equalizer. If Americans can earn $18 per hour, $50 per hour, why can’t we Filipinos?” Cajoles said.
Most of today’s Filipino freelancers are based in Metro Manila, but Cajoles noted that OFF had gone into immersion activities and training sessions outside the metropolis.
She had met freelancers as far as Tawi-Tawi province, who tended the farm in the morning and took up data entry jobs in the evening.
“With $2 or $3—that’s about P100 to P150 an hour, they are doing data entry and helping their fellow farmers, as long as there’s internet. Or they go to computer shops,” Cajoles said.
“Whatever they earn, they give to their parents to buy fertilizers for the farm,” she added. These farmers are happy to earn additional P15,000 a month to augment their household income, according to Cajoles.
According to a recent study by payments company PayPal, 9 of every 10 freelancers in the Philippines are under 40, a majority of whom are women.
About 90 percent have been freelancers for five years.
The average income is P299,000 annually, but the most successful ones—about 1 percent—earn in excess of P1.25 million a year. (See table.)
PayPal and bank transfers are the most popular payment methods.
Types of work
About 34 percent of Filipino freelancers are into data entry or internet research, while 13 percent work as virtual assistants, or providing professional administrative, technical or creative assistance remotely.
Customer service, graphic design, copywriting, online tutoring, accounting, web marketing and sales, translation, transcription and videography are also among the most common jobs.
The PayPal study also showed that 6 of every 10 freelancers received work through freelancer platforms, such as Upwork, Freelancer.com and Shutterstock.
A startup freelancer takes time to build the network, reach customers and retain customers. According to the PayPal study, accounting, tax payments, invoicing and money management are other key challenges.
Yet, the PayPal study noted that dealing with the irregularity of income is a big concern. Further, half of freelancers have at one time or another not been paid.
Organizations, such as OFF, deem it important to build one’s network and teach taxation and financial literacy.
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