Q&A with Mr. Nima Moktan – a full time online Freelancer from Bhutan
Online freelancing is bidding for works on online platforms such as upwork.com and fiverr.com and delivering the project successfully and getting paid. Nima Moktan is a successful freelancer from Bhutan. Dr. Tshering Cigay Dorji, CEO of Thimphu TechPark Ltd. caught up with him for this interview on19th May 2020.
1. Tell me a bit about yourself. How did you start freelancing as a career choice?
Nima: My name is Nima Moktan. I completed Diploma in Information Management System from the Royal Institute of Management, Thimphu in 2015 after completing my class 12 in the science stream.
In 2016, I undertook the one year training course on website development and online freelancing organized by the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources in collaboration with CodersTrust, a Danish company. After the training, I took up space in the incubation centre at Thimphu TechPark and started my freelancing career.
There were around 100 people enrolled for the training given by MoLHR and CodersTrust, but only a handful of us became successful freelancers.
2. What do you think is the reason why only so few of you could become successful freelancers out of 100 or so trained by MoLHR?
Nima: Firstly, becoming a successful freelancer is not easy. You need to have the required skill and a lot of perseverance to keep going until you succeed. It is not like somebody is waiting to give you work; you have to get the work through competitive bidding. Until you have a track record to show, you have to understand that the clients may not have the confidence to give the work to you.
Secondly, I think the candidates for the training were not screened properly based on their aptitude and attitude. The candidates for the training came from various background, not just IT. My successful experience is with mainly website development and graphic design, though there are freelancing jobs available for people with many other non-IT skills too.
3. How much do you earn monthly on average?
Nima: As a freelancer, you earn quite a big sum sometimes, but small amount at other times. It is not a full time employment, but entrepreneurship. What you earn depends on how much effort you put in. I earned USD 2,700 in one transaction once.
On average, these days, I would say my monthly income is about Nu. 40,000 to 50,000.
4. Would you like to get a job instead of freelacing if you have the choice?
Nima: No. I want to continue working as a freelancer. I like this lifestyle. I am my own boss. I am an entrepreneur. I have a network of around 20 people who work with me to deliver projects as and when I get a good sized project. We share the work and the money that we earn.
5. Which online freelancing platforms do you normally use?
Nima: Initially, I started with Freelancer.com and Peopleperhour.com. Later, I switched to upwork.com and fiverr.com. Nowadays, I normally use fiverr.com.
6. What are the pros and cons of each of these platforms?
Nima: Upwork.com charges a fee of USD 10 per month and allows you to bid for only 30 projects a month, while fiverr.com allows you to bid for 10 projects a day.
All these platforms also take a commission of up to 20% on each transaction. All these platforms charge fees like this because that is their business model.
7. How do you get money into your account in Bhutan when you get paid for your work?
Nima: These sites support only payment systems such as PayPal and Payoneer. Paypal does not work in Bhutan; so, I use Payoneer card. In the past, you could apply for a Payoneer card even without earning a single dollar. But now, you need to have earned at least 25 dollars in your user account to be eligible for the Payoneer card. The Payoneer card is based on Mastercard.
Once you have the Payoneer card, the money that you earn gets credited into your Payoneer card after deducting the platform’s commission of 20%. The commission percentage depends on the transaction amount. When I earned USD 2,700 in one transaction, the commission applied was 13%.
With the Payoneer card, you can withdraw money from the ATMs in Bhutan. But you can withdraw only Nu. 10,000 at a time, and a fee of USD 1 plus Nu. 250 is cut for every withdrawal. I feel the Government should look into this limit and fee in order to support and motivate more youth to take up freelancing as a means of self-employment, given the rising challenge of youth unemployment in Bhutan.
Freelancers often try to bypass the platform for monetary transaction by asking the clients to send money through other means such as Western Union to avoid paying these hefty fees. However, if the platform detects such behaviour, the guilty freelancer is immediately blacklisted or blocked. Yet, it is not uncommon for freelancers and their clients to transact money outside of the platform.
8. Can you list some of the works you have done?
Nima: The following are two examples of websites I have developed and delivered to the clients outside Bhutan: https://www.cityyingyu.com and http://www.saaccountingsolutions.com . I have also developed websites for clients within Bhutan and earned from them.
9. What are some of the challenges you face as a freelancer?
Nima: The following are some of the challenges. The main challenge is getting the money into your account in Bhutan.
- Getting Payment into Bhutan
Currently, I use Payoneer card as the only direct payment gateways from freelance portal like fiverr and upwork. But the commission fees as well as withdrawal fees are quite high. As I highlighted above, with the Payoneer card, you can withdraw money from the ATMs in Bhutan. But you can withdraw only Nu. 10,000 at a time, and a fee of USD 1 plus Nu. 250 is cut for every withdrawal.
The other option is to get the client to send the money through Western Union.
- Inconsistent work-flow.
There is no guarantee that you will get projects every day. Sometimes you get 2-3 projects a day and sometimes you don’t.
- Lack of skills or Team
There are lot of projects related to web development and design but my skills set do not meet all the requirements. Therefore, I am not able to provide services as a package. It will be great to build a team of freelancers with complementary skills so that we can collectively bid for projects as a package.
- Time Zone Difference
Since most of my clients are from the USA, it becomes difficult to manage meetings and discussions with the clients.
10. Do you think our unemployed youth can become freelancers like you and become self-employed?
Nima: Yes. Why not? With proper skills training coupled with their ability for hard work and perseverance, they should be able to do better than me.