Why is there an imbalance between the demand and supply of professional freelancers in Africa?
We live in a very interesting time where we are experiencing atomization of the firm, this means that small tasks can be completed and paid for in seconds, The separation of labor into its smallest basic elements so that each element can be performed by a human being, in front of a screen, in a short amount of time and be paid for by the employer.
This means that the supply of this human labor required for atomization is at its highest peak in history, never have we experienced an economy where a designer in Nairobi can deliver work for a firm in New York, a software developer can deploy apps for a technology company in Silicon Valley and a content creator in Lagos can collaborate with a firm in Johannesburg. Professional freelancers are in the highest supply at a rate never experienced before, catalyzed by the demand from firms seeking to outsource much of their work; which brings into question the element of demand.
Firms are increasingly considering the replacement of long-term, full-time work with benefits, and a career path, with occasional, short-term contract gigs without benefits or any escalating career structure. Firms are starting to realize that Individual jobs can more easily be partitioned, subdivided, outsourced, and made fungible with the assistance of software and smartphones. Take an example of what a marketing manager used to do ten years ago and what a marketing manager does today; ten years ago, a marketing manager was in charge of content creation, content distribution, content editing, content strategy and handling media buying for TV and digital, today, this task can be done by twenty different people, leaving marketing managers to do more strategic work for the firm.
Do the above scenarios create an imbalance between supply and demand? Not so much because the market always corrects itself whenever one part of the economy seems to be out of place, as it is at the moment, the demand for professional freelancers is a bit lower than the available supply considering the fact that Africa has the highest number of young people who are entering the gig/micro-task economy, but the demand is increasing year on year. An area we as Onesha seek to capitalize on to help stabilize both sides of the equation.
What did the coronavirus pandemic change about the marketplace? Any different from the changes elsewhere?
Any Significant change in any progressive economy was brought about by a market correction that was triggered by a historical event. For example, TheGreat Depressionof 1929 devastated the U.S. economy. A third of all banks failed. Unemployment rose to 25%, and homelessness increased. It took 25 years for the stock market to recover, but triggered massive government and consumer spending to ensure the US economy never finds itself in such a mess again; this goes on to the 1995- 2000 dot com bubble which wiped off cash from investors pockets but triggered the rise of technology companies, the most renown tech entrepreneurs today had their big break during the dot com bubble, from Jeff Bezos who established Amazon in 1995 to Andreesen & Ben Horowitz who established Netscape and Loudcloud respectively, my point, this pandemic has brought much devastation to some economies but has accelerated adoption of some technologies by up to 10 years.
Companies & key institutions thought that remote work would lower productivity, on the contrary, some companies reported increased productivity due to remote work when COVID-19 forced companies to have a section of their employees to work from home, this spurred the rapid growth of freelancers even more, some employees actually started doing their gigs now that they were not confined in an office desk; an employee who was a data clerk and had skills in graphic design could now sign up to platforms like Onesha and offer their services to anyone in Africa who would like to procure her services.
Case in point, the pandemic has accelerated adoption of video conferencing, enabling freelancers all over the world like those in the Onesha marketplace to connect with their clients on a more personal level, initially, messaging was the go-to way to connect to customers.
What do those changes mean for the ecosystem considering the nature of the gig economy? For better or for worse?
COVID-19 technically acted as a launchpad for the gig economy, over the past 18 months since this pandemic hit, Fiverr.com, the largest freelance marketplace in the world added $5b in market value and became the most valuable freelance marketplace in the world, Upwork added $4b in value and stocks for companies that facilitate remote work like Asana & Zoom have been on an upward trend since.
Local companies like Onesha, the most active freelance marketplace in Africa as of today with 300+ clients in 10 countries, are experiencing tremendous growth. SMEs are now embracing outsourced services to freelance and gig workers. Onesha alone has freelancers who have made over $10,000 during the pandemic as shown in this video
Freelancers have had the opportunity to work with several companies over the past year which they could have taken a lifetime to get access to, companies like Onesha has served both small and big companies during this pandemic giving them freelancer solutions, some of those companies include MarketForce which procured video production from our marketplace, WorkPay Africa which worked with our freelancers for design & illustrations, Silafrica Industries which procured design of COVID-19 communication collateral, The Weston Hotel which currently outsources much of its digital marketing to our freelancers,Amalipo US which procures software developers from Onesha, Sahl Health in East Africa which often times hires UI/UX designers and researchers from our marketplace and many more.
Other freelance platforms in Africa like Gebeya, Kuhustle and Bookings Africa have also experienced growth over the past year.
Has there been any Covid-19 related obstacles Onesha came across and how did the company solve them?
The COVID-19 crisis accelerated an expansion of freelance marketplaces towards new firms, customers and types of services offered in these marketplaces. It has provided customers with access to a significant variety of digital services from the convenience and safety of their homes, and has enabled firms to continue operation in spite of contact restrictions and other confinement measures.
Despite persistent cross-country challenges in Africa, the COVID-19 crisis has enhanced dynamism in the freelance marketplaces landscape across countries and has expanded the scope of freelancing as well as the gig economy, including through new firms like Onesha, consumer segments (e.g. NGOs) and services (e.g. Pandemic research gigs in various markets). Meanwhile, freelance marketplace transactions in many countries have partly shifted from luxury digital services like high end content creation towards everyday firm necessities like basic communication to their customers, relevant to a large number of individuals.
Some of the challenges we experienced during the pandemic include: –
- Bottomline revenue from customers such as Hospitality reduced by almost 80%, this prompted us to quickly double down on customer segments such as NGOs, Healthtech and Fintech customers.
- Some Customers could no longer commit to long-term contracts for some gigs, Onesha adjusted our agreements to allow customers to work with freelancers as they please.
- Some freelancers couldn’t do some work on credit for some of our corporate customers since they needed cash upfront, Onesha took the initiative of supporting freelancers with working capital upfront to enable them come through for some of our customers.
How are freeelancers and clients adapting those these new changes happening in the market?
A majority of clients and freelancers have adapted to the changes that have been brought about by the covid-19 pandemic and the growing space of the gig economy.
Rapid digitization has created a learning curve for many independent workers, but it has also been a boon for some of those who make it their business to help with that transition.
For freelancers, we have seen them take the following measures to caution themselves as well as plan effectively as this market changes over time: –
1. Freelancers are now Learning on how to network to find new opportunities, this forms the core of what makes Onesha’s freelancers effective, we have quarterly dinners we hold where we bring freelancers together to enable them know each other to make it easier for them to collaborate. Climaxed by an annual dinner of select freelancers from our network, as shown below in last year’s dinner.
2. Most of them have Set and are working towards a goal salary
3. A good number of freelancers have Expanded their scope to increase their income levels.
4. Creating budgets to ensure they can meet their most important expenses, Onesha took time during the pandemic to educate freelancers on what they need to do over the next 18 months to ensure they get an upside in their planning.
For Clients, we have seen the following adaptations among businesses which want to incorporate remote workers and freelancers into their operations: –
Setting up departments to deal with freelancers since this helps them lower staffing costs. Freelancers are less expensive than employees, partly because you don’t have to pay for employee benefits. Also, in the pay-as-you-go model of freelance work, you’ll never have to pay a freelancer during a slow period, whereas employees’ salaries must be paid whether everyone is busy or not.
Setting up business accounts on platforms like Onesha to help them access a larger pool of freelancers, technically building a dedicated remote team for their business.
For solo business owners who work with freelancers, most of them now work with virtual assistants to help them manage freelancers. By leveraging a well-rounded assistant’s skill set, they are able to offload, streamline, time-shift, and delegate their way to a more manageable workday.
What do the numbers currently say? Which countries are you getting the most upticks from and how are they relevant?
It’s been an interesting past four years for Onesha; we currently have 400+ customers in 10 countries, serviced by a community of 2000 freelancers or as we call them, The Onesha Creative Network.
We have customers hiring African freelancers actively on our platform, these customers come from Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Somalia, South Africa, USA, Norway, Dubai, Congo and a few from China. The most interesting markets for us to explore further is Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa due to the fast-rising adoption of broadband and mobile technology.
Since inception, has Onesha had to make business model changes to fit into the African freeelance threshold? What are those changes?
Onesha was first incubated at Safaricom’s App Whiz Accelerator in early 2016, later on we got investment from a Norwegian Accelerator called Pangea Accelerator; Pangea has strategically been instrumental in helping us shape our model for scale. This involved changing various aspects of how we do Quality Assurance for work that gets delivered through our platform, project management for clients and building a strong supplier base for creatives where we prioritized building community first among freelancers.
We can’t disclose much about specifics but Onesha has been through a rough road in the past four years which has strengthened our business model as well as helping us address the pain points of our customers, and we are more passionate than ever to build the foundational infrastructure for freelancing in Africa.
For Freelancing to work in the continent, what is needed duly considering the current nature of the market?
1.We need to have an efficient payments infrastructure in Africa, we need things like escrow fintechs and more payments wallets, some which the team at Onesha is working on by integrating with the likes of Flutterwave, Mpesa API and Stripe. Unlike in-person transactions that can quickly be settled with cash, cross-border payments in the gig economy are conducted through bank transfers, fintechs, international payment processors, and remittance companies. You cannot afford to have weak systems when payments are made in ten different ways.
Real-time payment platforms provide upfront payment schedules and costs. Not only that, but they are also fast and accessible. The globalization of the gig economy necessitates the need for transparency and speed.
2.There is need to upskill the supply side of the ecosystem, Let’s say one’s core skill is in web design. The first step towards expanding the skill set would be to list out other related areas they can explore – such as logo design, search engine optimization, or copywriting. These are some of the things that Onesha and its training partners are working on to help upskill its community.
3.Less strict laws from the regulatory side, ravaging taxes from all over by different government bodies for digital businesses won’t do the ecosystem any good
4.Involved marketplaces for talent to drum up more demand from customers to facilitate higher transactions in these freelance marketplaces
5.More investor participation to invest in companies geared towards increasing the size of this market
What does Africa’s future of work look like considering the impact of the pandemic?
We live in the most exciting time in Africa, freelancers and companies are now converging towards a central point of ensuring this model has a structure, which will not only increase the market size of the opportunity, but also attract more players into the ring.
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The Onesha Creative Network is the largest network of vetted, skilled and motivated group of Africa’s best freelancetalent specializing in Digital Marketing, content marketing, web & mobile apps development, Design & branding and Content Production. Explore our marketplace here,https://creatives.onesha.co.ke/
Get in touch with us on 0712983630 or drop by our office in Kasarani, Seasons Road for a cup of coffee.