Olutola Majolagbe Head, Corporate Communications, TERAWORK in this interview with BusinessDay’s Frank Eleanya unveiled the world of freelancing in Nigeria and how the company is connecting both the providers and the people that need their services.
Where does the name TERAWORK come from and what does it mean?
The name TERAWORK is a combination of two English words – “TERA” and “WORK”. TERA in computer language means a trillion of a given base unit of measurement. For example, “one terabyte” means one trillion bytes.
WORK in our context means freelance jobs. Combining the two words, TERAWORK simply refers to ‘trillion of freelance jobs’, and that’s essentially what we are all about. We create a platform where individuals and businesses can come to search and hire talented freelancers, and trillions of freelance jobs will exchange hands between the freelancers and people that engage them. The journey is long and promises to be interesting and we’ve already set out to embark on it.
Who is a freelancer?
A freelancer is a person that works on different projects or assignments with different companies or individuals instead of being an employee of a company; usually, a skilled self-employed person who get paid by the hour, day, job or per project instead of a monthly thirty-day salary cycle. Freelancers could work from home or any location of their choice and deliver their jobs remotely. Somethings, depending on the nature of the task or contract, they may be required to be physically present at the location of the person or company that hire them.
Freelancing is relatively a new field; how long have you been playing there?
Freelancing is not new per say. What I can say is that we rarely use the word ‘freelancer’ to describe people that work in this manner. For example, if you hire a creative designer to help design brochures, rollup banners or flyers for your company’s upcoming event, that creative designer is actually doing freelance job for your company, because s/he is not your employee, and once the task is completed s/he moves on to work for other clients. This sort of work nature aptly describes the definition of freelancer or freelancing.
However, the concept of gig economy is becoming more popular by the day, and so freelancing is getting more and more popular. Gig economy is a situation or environment in which companies that have temporary positions contract independent workers or freelancers on short-term engagements – for hours, days, weeks or a few months. So, anyone with marketable skills in writing, creative designs, web designs, programming, multimedia, digital marketing, event planning, photography etc. and does short-term jobs as I describe is freelancing.
TERAWORK freelance website was open to the public in December 2017. That’s like ten months ago.
From your experience, how viable is it for an individual who wants to take up freelancing in Nigeria?
As I stated earlier, there are lots of people already doing freelancing in one form or another, only that we don’t consciously call them freelancers. Also, the number is increasing by the day as the world embraces gig economy. For example, we have a growing number of people today in Nigeria offering taxi service via various service marketplace platforms like Uber, Taxify, Lyft etc. and many companies are looking in the direction of using these services rather than spending a massive amount of money to buy cars and employ full-time staff as drivers. Also, more companies and people are looking to outsource some of their core and non-core professional services like software development, call centres, hardware support, events management etc., and these jobs are gradually going away from people with regular employment to independent workers or freelancers.
However, it’s not as easy as it sounds though. Finding one’s feet in the freelancing space can be daunting. One of the challenges freelancers face is not getting paid at all for their works as friends, family members, religious organisations, want to use their services without paying a dime. Another challenge is paying them far lower than the actual value of jobs or services they render. Some people that engage freelancers have devised means to pay them by promising to refer new clients or give them exposure that never exists.
These are part of the problems we solve at TERAWORK, by building a hub or ecosystem where freelancers are protected from the perils of the otherwise difficult path. And not just that, everyone that signs up as a freelancer on our platform, gets their own branded e-commerce site with access to control their backend free of charge. I mean, every freelancer receives their own branded e-commerce website hosted on terawork.com with friendly, easy to remember URLs. Freelancers can run their businesses from here, everyone sees them, clients can reach and patronise them through our platform. All the tools they need to manage their projects are built into the system made available to them, and our system ensures that they get paid for every job they successfully deliver. All these give everyone who has marketable skills the opportunity to make a living. Freelancing is an alternative to full-time employment. In a way, you can see that TERAWORK is also helping solve the humongous unemployment problem in Nigeria.
But it’s not just the freelancers alone that we care about, we also design our system to protect the interests of the clients that hire them. We ensure that clients don’t pay for poor jobs.
What are the similarities you can draw from the market in Nigeria and elsewhere on the African continent?
Concerning freelancing, Nigeria and the entire African continent need robust online freelancing platforms to ease the processing of hiring and engaging freelancers. Many multinational companies in the U.S and Europe hire freelancers on platforms like Fiverr and Upwork, which are US based freelance sites to get some of their things done. Companies and individuals in Nigeria and the entire African continent have limited or no such local freelance platforms they can use to engage professional freelancers. Often things get delayed because of this. Few people in Nigeria that know these U.S freelance sites do hire freelancers from these platforms for their projects. Also, skilled unemployed and not-so-fully-engaged skilled individuals who want to consider freelancing to earn a living or get additional income do not have platforms that can effectively support them both in Nigeria and across the entire African continent.
You see, if we are not solving our problems, no one will solve them for us. Without compromising on quality, safety and convenience, TERAWORK is built primarily to be the freelance platform for Nigerians and Africans both at home and in the diaspora.
Going through your website, it seems you have freelancers in just about every field, is that correct? What sets you apart from the competition?
Yes. We have freelancers signing up every day on our website and across all categories and services. However, as I stated earlier, we are just starting the journey. And, what sets us apart from the competition? First, signup as a freelancer or buyer is free, secure and intuitive. We don’t charge our freelancers before they are listed for potential clients to see. Unlike some competitors’ websites that merely provide list of services providers to potential clients, TERAWORK marketplace provides features that enable freelancers and buyers effectively manage their projects, communicate and share project files securely, handle payments efficiently etc. Besides, we have dedicated customer support for timely resolution of issues, excellent documentation, interesting and educative blog posts and helpful tips on our blog website. Also, on a lighter note, I think people that have seen us like our website, they trust us, they know we mean business.
How do you ensure freelancers are constantly engaged with work?
We continuously innovate and invest in both digital and traditional marketing. Creatively promoting our brand and those of our freelancers, and of course giving people who visit our website great users’ experiences. Apart from these, we encourage and assist our freelancers when they signup in creating impressive profiles for themselves, make their profiles so easy to read and understood by potential buyers that visit their profile pages. We encourage our freelancers to upload pictures and videos that make people easily understand the services they offer. Also, to increase our clients’ satisfaction after our freelancers work for them, we provide means and encourage our clients to rate our freelancers’ performance. On a continuous basis, we vet and review our freelancers’ public profiles to be sure they are very good at what they claim they do.
How do you prevent security breaches and safety online for freelancers and buyers’ information?
There are many measures we have in place to ensure security and safety of all our freelancers and buyers. First, we follow best practices in our implementation and deployment of security measures that prevent cyber-attacks, and we keep improving on them every day. Also, we refine our processes to ensure that our users’ data and privacy are well protected. For example, every freelancer has a dedicated backend and wallet that keeps financial details of their jobs, and only them can see their wallets. Equally, buyers have their dedicated dashboard at the backend to access details of their spending. No one else can see these except the buyer. We have highly secure payment channels for buyers to make payment for jobs they order and for freelancers to cash out money they earn while working on the TERAWORK platform. These channels use the highest level of data encryption technology to ensure the safety of their card or bank details.
We also have a very robust messaging solution that ensures that communication between buyers and freelancers is confidential and secure. We prevent any other means of interactions between buyers and freelancers to ensure that communication between buyers and freelancers can be trusted. While freelancers have their entire “e-commerce” site on the TERAWORK platform, they are not allowed to send unsolicited messages to our buyers. Buyers always initiate job requests; freelancers only reply to a request that come to them. With the use of brand or screen names, buyers can mask their real names, thus protecting the identity of some famous or high net worth individuals that use our platform to hire freelancers.
Given that services are going mobile, are you planning for a mobile version of TERAWORK soon?
Yes. We are in the process of launching the Android and Apple IOS apps for TERAWORK. However, our website when viewed on web browsers on mobile devices is highly responsive. Users can easily access and enjoy viewing our website on their mobile phones, tablets, laptop and desktop PCs.