The Persistent Stigmas Around Freelancing in the MENA Region – and How to Overcome Them

Since it is difficult to measure the success of a freelancer on the traditional workforce scale that solely focuses on climbing the corporate ladder, some people – especially in the MENA region – are yet to view freelancing as a legitimate for of employment.
Carolyne Njeri

Carolyne Njeri

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In the past few years, freelance work has been on an upward trend, so much so that in 2027, it is predicted that more than 50% of the entire US labor force will work on a freelance basis. But this growth is not limited to the first world only. In the Middle East, the freelance scene has also been thriving. 

A study done by Bayt.com in 2019 found that 70% of the respondents were open to providing their services on an on-demand basis and 64% of those with professional skills would consider going freelance. Freelancing is a viable choice of employment with numerous benefits such as increased creative freedom, faster acquisition and development of skills as well as being a steady source of income. 

By all means, freelance is the future of work. But despite these glowing advantages, there’s still a lot of stigma around freelancers and the industry as a whole. Since it is difficult to measure the success of a freelancer on the traditional workforce scale that solely focuses on climbing the corporate ladder and racking up academic accolades, some people are yet to view freelancing as a legitimate source of employment. 

This makes it especially difficult for those considering going into freelancing in the MENA region, where jobs are only taken seriously if they are accompanied by lucrative titles and lie within the normal 9-5 work hours. But to keep up with the emerging work trends, there has to be a shift in this perspective to ensure that this region does not lag behind others in the evolution of “normal” jobs.

In this article, we will delve deep into the stigmas associated with on-demand work in MENA and then discuss ways you can combat them to ensure you have the best freelance experience.

  1. “Freelancers can’t hold down normal jobs” 
The Persistent Stigmas Around Freelancing in the MENA Region - and How to Overcome Them
Source: jcomp

This is probably one of the most widespread misconceptions about freelancing. People generally tend to assume that because freelancers aren’t governed by normal time frames or don’t work in structured corporate settings, they are lazy and wouldn’t survive in regular jobs. But this can’t be further away from the truth. Although a huge chunk of freelance work is done remotely, freelancing requires high levels of discipline and time management. This is because when you’re a freelancer, time is literally equal to money. The faster you complete a task, the faster you get paid and the sooner you can move on to a new client. For this reason, freelancers have a better work ethic than the average employee. 

  1. “Freelancing is not a ‘proper’ or ‘honorable’ job”
Source: freepik

Since freelancers are not tied down to any specific company or business, their job description rarely includes the fancy titles their employed counterparts enjoy. This brings with it the social stigma associated with lacking a “proper” job. Parents from MENA derive great satisfaction from their children working in professional industries such as engineering and medicine. 

A 2020 study discovered that parents in the Middle East have the highest expectations for the educational and career achievements of their children. Additionally, having children in “hard” professions also raises their standing in society. As such, they have a difficult time accepting that their children can achieve professional fulfilment working from their couches sans the flashy job titles. But this is not to say that freelancers are an uneducated lot. On the contrary, from their interactions with different employers, they gain a wealth of knowledge and experience making them more competent than the employee who remains in the same static position for years on end. 

Because of its increasing popularity, freelancing is nowadays not limited to just the arts and humanities (i.e. graphic design, writing, etc.). There are some online marketplaces such as Ureed.com that offer freelance services from seasoned freelance engineers and developers. Therefore, freelancing can accommodate many different career paths, and be as career-fulfilling as traditional employment.

  1. “Freelancing is synonymous with unemployment”
Source: 75.2% of people from MENA believe that freelancing provides a better work-life balance and pay), this mindset has yet to be fully dispelled. 

This can be traced back to the impossibly high standards that parents hold over their kids. Some of them are yet to resign themselves to the fact that not working in a traditional set up is not the same as being unemployed. In itself, freelancing is a form of self-employment. So there shouldn’t be such a big distinction between a freelancer and an entrepreneur or business owner. These two are two groups of people who work for themselves and on their own terms. 

  1. “Freelancers don’t make enough money”
Source: Racool Studio

Another unfounded stigma around freelancing is that it can’t pay the bills. This is why some people are usually doubtful of those who leap into full time freelancing. But freelancing is a  highly rewarding endeavor. In 2017, it was reported that a freelance developer in the Middle East was paid an average of $64 per hour, an amount significantly higher than the pay for most public sector workers in the region. 

Also, freelancing gives you the ability to work on multiple projects from different clients simultaneously, so you can have a consistent revenue stream. Aside from that, employers also leave room for negotiating prices and freelancers can set their own rates so they can be paid what they’re worth. 

How can you navigate these stigmas as an aspiring freelancer?

  • Give yourself a title for what you do 

Although freelancers tend to be jack of all trades, you need to find a field that you excel in and label yourself as such. For example, if you write blogs, the title “Content Creator” is befitting. It will help employers and your loved ones take you and your career more seriously.

  • Track your projects 

Because some employers can be quick to dismiss your experience as a freelancer, it is important for you to create a portfolio of your work and keep a record of your former employees to help build you up as a professional. These records will also come in handy in case you decide to transition back into the traditional workforce.

  • Register on a freelancing platform 

There are many freelancing platforms that will guide you on your career path. Platforms like Ureed.com will help you secure gigs faster than you would if you were on your own. You also get protected from scammers and no-good employers who would want to take advantage of you as an independent freelancer. Aside from that, if you are registered on a legitimate platform, you get more credibility as a freelancer and you can even secure gigs on your own in the future by virtue of being associated with that platform. 

  • Spruce up your social networking pages

Yes, Twitter is great for sharing memes, but its use can go way beyond giving you the occasional laugh. You can use it as a tool to further your career by growing your professional network or soliciting employers for job opportunities. You can also channel new employers your way by having a LinkedIn page updated with all your skills and credentials. Having a professional online persona is an indication that you are serious and passionate about what you do.

In conclusion

Although freelancing is burgeoning in MENA and all over the world, there still exist some stigmas around the industry, mostly driven by fear and misinformation. But by implementing the measures discussed in this article, you can successfully combat these stigmas and unlock a full and rewarding career as a freelancer.

Boost your credibility by registering as a freelancer now on Ureed.com, the GCC’s top freelance marketplace.