Mr. Chigozie Okwara is the founder and CEO of SoftWork Freelance Network Ltd (SoftWork. xyz), a leading freelance platform (website), designed for freelancers and employers to connect and collaborate. In this interview with Tony Chukwunyem, he speaks on impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on businesses and its benefits on hiring freelancers
How has COVID-19 affected the business environment for SoftWork.xyz?
The pandemic actually exposed the benefits of hiring freelancers and also gave more value to freelancers. More businesses saw the need to hire freelancers other than employing more staff. During the COVID-19 pandemic, freelancers weren’t shocked about being locked down indoors because the home has always been where work is.
The only tweak was that businesses weren’t stable and didn’t know the way forward with respect to structure and strategy. At Softwork, we took it as a responsibility to enlighten businesses on how to leverage technology and the digital space at large. We utilised practically all digital platforms to get work going smoothly. Most of our clients believe in us because of our portfolio. For instance, through Softwork, businesses and individuals can hire freelancers with graphic designing skills, websites and mobile app development, and digital marketing. We have worked with top brands and have delivered top-notch products to our clients. We also let businesses see the value in hiring freelancers to get work done.
So far, demand for freelancers has gone high and freelancers are getting more jobs. I would entrepreneurs that have been affected by the pandemic to try to infuse tech in their operations and utilize the digital space too. The pandemic made us understand that we don’t need to be in an office to run a business. Entrepreneurs should be able to leverage on digital platforms to enhance the productivity of the business.
How is this business different from outsourcing?
With the new platform we have created, we have been able to give employers the privilege to look out and make choices for themselves on which freelancer is best fit for their projects. This has brought about advantages to the employer and also the freelancer in terms of advance of communication skills. The employers have the opportunity to make the picks of the soft worker of their choice and not just the company or outsourcing for the employers directly. Apart from these factors, the platform has been characterized to have better and safer factors in terms of safety and proper monitoring of every activity that takes place among the employ- ers and freelancers. Talking about the payment system, unlike many platforms, we make use of Escrow which makes us a third party to the payment process. This means we collect the payment from the employer and hold it from the soft worker until the specified job is done. This allows for a refund in a situation if need be. It’s almost like outsourcing, but better. Unlike using full time employees, you can hire based on skill set. Softwork is the bridge between the talented and those in need of certain skills. Our platform removes the worries both clients and freelancers may have.
In these parts, it is common to find people not wanting to abide by terms and conditions of agreements. How do you guard against this problem?
On our platform, we have been able to make available adequate security systems whereby conversations and projects are being monitored by the administrative officer on the website according to the terms and conditions. Violation of the agreement would lead to banning of the soft worker (freelancer). A breach of any of the terms attracts a ban from the platform and then the job is redirected to another s o f t worker to g e t t h e jobs completed.
Can you give us an idea of the size of your client base?
Since inception, we have been able to deliver top notch and well detailed jobs/projects to over 500 clients, both locally and international.
Which skills will you say are mostly demanded by employers?
At SoftWork, we have over 30 unique skills. The top five on-demand skills are website designing, mobile application development, digital marketing, graphics designing and writings.
Are you restricted to Nigeria or you also offer your services to people outside the country?
SoftWork is a flexible organization and we plan to have our soft workers from every part of the world. Our services are open to everyone around the world; freelancers from all over the world. The company has aimed to create an opening for both parties i.e. both SoftWork as an organization and the freelancers in terms of connecting freelancers-local and international- as well as connecting employers with freelancers from all over the world.
How secure is your platform?
We put all security measures in place by using a security gateway system which has ensured the mandatory uploads of means of proidentification when signing up for their profiles. This security gateway system has ensured the proper monitor of every activity going on in the platforms between the employers and freelancers during execution of jobs/projects.
What will you say are your major challenges?
We had several challenges before the introduction of the new platform. Some of those challenges were verifying employers and freelancers signing up on the platform; the verification process of freelancers, making sure we verify employers and freelancers accurately; and monitoring communications between employers and freelancers within periods where projects/jobs are in execution.
What are your short- and longterm goals?
Our short-term goal is signing up young creative talents who are skilled and highly profiled to our platforms for delivery of topnotch jobs/projects to our clients. Our long-term goal is to connect Africa’s top talents and connect them with the international labour market.
How can internet penetration be deepened in Nigeria?
First of all, we need to solve the issue of power because without power, the internet is practically useless in the country. Also, we need to regulate the cost of data consumed by the people to the nearest minimum to enable premium access of data/internet.