Stop expecting Asian freelancers to work for cheap rates

Some would argue that racism is not as big of an issue in freelancing as it is in traditional office environments. Thing is, racism comes in many forms and it’s catching up with all the technological changes happening. For Asian freelancers, it happens too often that it feels like the norm.

According to the 2019 Global Gig Economy Index, four of the top 10 countries that saw freelancer growth are Asian nations. Pakistan tops the list with 47% growth, the Philippines at 37%, India at 29%, and Bangladesh at 27%. On a macro level, it looks great that Asia is growing and becoming a freelancer hub. However, when you shift to micro level you’ll realize there is systemic racism that the freelance community needs to address.

Cheap rates is not an Asian-exclusive problem, but they’re at the core

The problem we’re talking about is cheap rates. Job boards like Fiverr and Upwork are open to global freelancers and they’re inundated with low-paying gigs. People from anywhere around the globe trying to find their way into freelancing through these job boards and gig platforms are susceptible to low-paying projects. However, with Asians comprising a huge percentage of global freelancers, they’re at the core of this issue.

On Facebook groups and LinkedIn, two other good places to find freelance projects, many companies and entrepreneurs are specifically looking for Asian freelancers. The reason? Because they can pay them cheaper compared to hiring someone from their home country.

Why businesses expect Asian freelancers to accept cheaper rates

For starters, the default expectation towards Asians has formed because they usually have a lower cost of living.

In the Philippines, making $700 is enough for one person to live comfortably in the metro. Heck, it’s enough for a couple and a young child to live comfortably — more than an average nurse’s monthly salary if converted to Philippine peso. If you’re in India making $6,000 per year, that’s roughly 35% more of what a high school teacher would make. And in Pakistan, making $420 a year means you’re hitting the average annual salary.

It’s these lower costs of living that’s making western businesses think it’s okay to pay freelancers from Asian countries a rate way below the global average.

Another reason is because a lot of western entrepreneurs tend to look down on Asians. Particularly when English is not their first language and assumptions are made that Asians are not good writers. Or, they live in a low-tech country and assumptions are made that they don’t know the latest on social media trends. This kind of stereotyping is not only ignorant, it’s also unhealthy and disrespectful.

Does the willingness to pay cheap also mean that many western businesses are okay with lower quality of work? Not really. When it comes to quality of work, race and rates don’t matter. You are expected to deliver the best article, virtual assistance service, or website package. As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for!” And, clients want top-quality work to the point that they tend to micromanage.

How to flip the script and charge decent rates for your services

This is the million-dollar question. Flipping the script is easier said than done, especially if you’re used to lower rates. From personal experience, I was stuck at $3 per 500 words for years! In the 5th year when I hit $5 per 500 words, I thought I was finally nailing it.

Here is my two-step answer to this question:

First, expand your knowledge. Surround yourself with freelancers from all over the globe. Follow them on social media and have conversations with them. Know where they find their clients. Read their year-in reviews—a lot of freelancers write these things. Always question things and always be willing to seek the answers.

Second, shift your mindset. Do you really want to settle for less? Do you think your skills are only worth what you’re currently being paid for? Is this how you want your freelance career to be in the next 5 years? And more importantly, do you feel respected and valued?

From here, you can start playing with your numbers. Increase your rates to a number you’re comfortable with and reach out to clients directly. Forget the job boards! Find companies and brands willing to pay for what you want to charge. You will fail. Your emails will be ghosted. Keep at it, persistence will do you wonders.

Let’s be clear on one thing—a person’s race and/or home base don’t matter when it comes to their rates. What matters is their output. What matters is their commitment to providing quality services. For so long, Asians were expected to accept low rates. It’s time we shift that part of the global freelancing industry.

Tammy Danan
Tammy Danan

Tammy Danan is a storyteller who reports on environmental and social issues. She also covers productivity, creative pursuits, and the future of work. Her words have appeared in VICE, Audubon.org, ZEKE Magazine, Shutterstock, Toggl, among others. You may find her on Instagram @SlowFreelancing.