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This Singaporean Start-up May Be Your Ticket to Winning in the Gig Economy

ZomWork is enabling SMEs and start-ups to leverage on Southeast Asia’s growing gig economy

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BY Tricia V. Morente - 19 Oct 2018

gig economy

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Here’s the most aggravating thing first-time freelancers will soon discover about the gig economy: You produce, you invoice, you wait, and still…crickets. Being made to feel like a pesky debt collector, instead of someone who delivered good work worthy of getting paid on time (at the very least), is not exactly the best feeling in the world. Sadly, this is just one among the many challenges the independent professionals comprising the gig economy have to deal with on a regular basis.

But things aren’t exactly better on the other side of the fence. Many start-ups or growing companies have experienced freelancers disappearing off the face of the earth during time-critical moments, such that they either end up doing the work themselves or hiring another freelancer at a higher cost for a rushed project.

These are just among the pain points that Jason Teo identified as prevalent in the gig economy. The general manager of ZomWork, a joint venture talent outsourcing platform between Singapore Press Holdings and ZBJ Network, Inc., relates that his start-up seeks to nip these concerns in the bud, with Singapore being their Ground Zero.

“As technology and globalization become more ubiquitous, the adoption of the gig economy is taking off in Singapore, where we have a relatively large pool of experienced self-employed professionals. [ZomWork’s] goal is to give both these professional talents and companies the tools to better find and engage with each other,” he says.

With the local gig economy rising, ZomWork provides a robust portfolio on its platform to ease the decision-making process. SMEs and start-ups may easily post their projects on ZomWork and choose suitable freelance talents, with both clients and freelancers protected in the platform — thanks to such tools as a monetary escrow service for secured payments, a communication platform to navigate timeline and milestones, and a dispute management team. Such tools have helped build a thriving community of over 2,000 companies and self-employed professionals joining the platform since ZomWork’s official launch in April this year.

In an interview with Inc. Southeast Asia, Teo shares three insights culled from ZomWork’s efforts to bolster the gig economy:


1. The romance of digital nomadism is ‘overplayed’

There’s no doubt that digital nomadism — the phenomenon of people leveraging telecommunications technology to earn a living while gallivanting the world in a nomadic manner — has been this year’s buzziest buzzword, boosting the growth of self-employed professionals not only in Singapore but globally.

However, Teo cautions the need to “not overplay it.” The reason, he relates, “is such trend may be overly romanticized by people with full-time work.” The idea of just working anywhere, where one can worship the sun in Bali or St. Tropez while earning a living, may be well and good, but it diminishes what freelancing is all about.

“When I talked to freelancers, I learned that what they value more is the freedom in terms of being able to choose projects they like to work on, freedom in terms of getting exposure and full credit, of building their personal brand, and in getting to choose the company they want to work for — that’s actually a lot more fulfilling than being able to work from wherever they want,” he posits.


2. Clients often overlook interpersonal relationships

Face-to-face meetings between clients and freelancers are still crucial, says Teo. “Quality talent, as much as we try to make it objective, is really subjective. We view and create these industries where different designers, writers, and coders have different styles or are good at different things, so it’s still important for a client to talk to the person you’re going to be working with,” advises Teo, because as he’s observed in the ZomWork platform, “the people who get the most deals tend to be the ones best at sales, rather than the ones who are really good at the work.”

At the end of the day, working in the gig economy still involves interpersonal relationships. “Sometimes clients think that once they outsource a problem, the problem is solved. But I think they need to also be prepared to put in a bit of work to guide the freelancer — you need to teach,” he points out. Meaning, there must be somebody in your team who can educate the freelancer properly about what the company stands for, your business model, etc., because “while the freelancer is an expert in the functional area they are in, they’re definitely not an expert on your business.”


3. Freelancers empower corporates, not just start-ups, to be more agile

As a start-up or a small- to mid-sized company, hiring independent professionals tend to be driven by necessity. Through the course of his work at ZomWork, Teo observes that the platform’s growth isn’t merely driven by start-ups. “We’re increasingly seeing fast-growing companies and big companies hiring freelancers — but they do so for different reasons,” says Teo.
Fast-growing companies tend to hire freelancers because of a need for skill sets that are “extremely rare,” i.e. data scientists and cloud architects who are “expensive to hire full-time.” More often than not, Teo points out that these specialists would still prefer remote, on-demand work over a cushy corporate job. “It’s not even about the money — it’s about the fact that they learn so much more by working for different companies and different verticals,” he says.

Bigger companies, on the other hand, work with freelancers as a means to “venture away from their core business.” In a world where innovation spells the difference between a progressive company and one consigned to oblivion, hiring freelancers empower companies to explore new, untested innovations.

“They don’t necessarily know what is going to work so they would rather hire specialists who can work on a project basis first. As the project starts to pan out and work better, that’s when they think about hiring someone full-time,” says Teo.

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