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TODAY’s technology has paved the way toward a path to a freelance economy. Creativity is a plus for anyone seeking to pursue a “lonely” career outside of the mainstream.
Jessica Peterson created the online travel and lifestyle magazine called “The Guam Guide” after quitting her job as international media specialist for the Guam Visitors Bureau. Before her stint at GVB, Peterson worked at Glimpses Publications and Big Fish Creative.
“I'm continuing to work as a web designer, photographer and writer, which I've done for more than 13 years. My creative agency has always been called Greta Design,” said Peterson, who also hosts a segment for the Pacific News Center’s news program.
“I enjoy setting my own schedule and goals. Even when I travel I work on the site. I'm always on social media. The Guam Guide has six social media channels and I can update them from anywhere,” she added.
In the cyber era, the geeks rule and Rich Ocampo knew there would be substantial demand for his services as network administrator and webmaster.
“I have various certifications to provide my network administrator and webmaster work. Most of the certificates were company-sponsored during my employment,” said Ocampo, who also doubles as a freelance photographer.
But in a small island where the market can be saturated easily, Ocampo said, having the right connections would help bring a regular stream of work.
A freelance gig can generate more income than a regular employee “if he knows what he is doing,” according to Jonathan Abella, a freelance photojournalist, who also dabbles in commercial photography.
Freelancers have to meet deadlines as do regular employees, Abella said. The difference is, “you can quickly finish your job or project so you can spend the rest of the day doing what you love to do without having to wait six to seven hours before you are free."
But for all the glamour and convenience of a career without a boss, a freelance life is not completely idyllic.
"It seems to be especially tough in Guam due to the relatively small size of the market, and the difficulty in breaking into established, closely-held business relationships," said Rodney Webb, managing director and principal consultant for Small Business Know-How.
Since job outsourcing can be seasonal, “there are no guaranteed customers all the time,” Ocampo said.
Plus there are the under-cutters to compete with. “The current price for wedding coverage is at least $1,000 on average. Not Watanabe wedding that cost $3,500 or so,” Ocampo said. “Under-cutters usually offer lower prices that you can't even match.”
And then there’s a reality that can’t be swept under the rug. “Getting health insurance is not easy unless you have a partner who works full time in a regular day job,” Abella said.
But just the same, many contingent workers get hooked on the perks of living outside nine-to-five.
“Flexible schedule, freedom in picking and choosing my projects, being my own boss, golf on Thursday afternoons as well as meeting lots of new people,” said network consultant Kris Cole, who provides services for a number of companies on Guam.
Success is possible
Staying afloat in the sea of free agents is possible, Webb said. “The key is offering a skill, product or service that is somewhat different to everyone else, and that is valued by your customers. If you can maintain that differentiated market position as the business grows, you will be successful,” he said. “However, to be ‘Facebook’ successful, your skill, product or service will have to be able to be marketed and sold in larger markets outside Guam.”
In the long run, using the services of independent contractors can be “more efficient” and lead to “better performance” because they know they can lose their clients who are not satisfied and it “would entail no work, no pay,” according to Alfredo Antolin, director of the Agency for Human Resource Development.
“In my experience, those who are unclassified, limited-term employees, or temporary employees take their roles more seriously because they know they have limited terms and can be removed anytime by the appointing authority,” Antolin said.
So is Guam doomed to little or no job growth?
"As the Guam economy picks up – as we all hope it will – freelance businesses will also pick up. However, for the business to be sustained in the longer term, they will need to scale up and hire employees to maintain their business relationships. And with everything else they are doing on a day-to-day basis, it is not easy to do," Webb said.