MALAYSIANS in urban centres are increasingly turning to gig work to make ends meet, or even just to try something new and different.
The concept of gig work, which refers to short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent employment, offers opportunities, especially in a fraught economic landscape.
The gig economy has been projected to add US$2.7 trillion (RM11.2tril) to the global economy by 2025, making it a viable sector to look into even though such work has been considered less stable and lacking financial security nets.
Though some people may have been forced to take up gig work after being laid off, others, like delivery rider Aiman Dani, purposely chose it for its benefits.
Aiman, 21, said the allure of having the freedom to work on his own time was what made him stick to gig work since 2018.
“I get to be my own boss,” he said, adding that the monetary rewards were not bad either.
“People have asked me why not work full-time in a factory or a restaurant. I tell them if these jobs can pay as much as what I can earn as a delivery rider, I’ll go for it,” he said.
Despite the intense competition from the rising numbers of new delivery riders and recent calls by restaurants for customers to bypass delivery apps services, Aiman said he could earn between RM800 and RM1,300 in a week.
But he quickly asserted that there was no easy way to make money, as he had to clock up to 12 hours a day on the road.
“Today’s delivery landscape is very different from the despatch riders of yesteryears, thanks to the emergence of delivery apps.
“We can now access and compare benefits, like delivery rates, at our fingertips,” said Aiman, who provided delivery services for several companies.
Originally, his stint as a delivery rider was supposed to be a temporary job to earn money while waiting for his SPM results and later, his application to a local university to be approved. He had planned to study law.
But as restrictions imposed by the movement control order and the current Phase One of the National Recovery Plan (NRP) allowed only for online classes, the KL-ite decided to shelve his study plans for now and continue being a delivery rider.
“I am going to use this time to earn enough so that I can pay for my law degree when students are finally allowed on university campuses again, and not burden my parents,” he said, adding that he had saved RM7,000 so far.
Banking on online sales
In addition to food and parcel deliveries, another sector that has mushroomed is e-commerce.
Musician, songwriter and producer Dennis Lau, 35, who started an e-commerce venture by selling kampung chicken in April last year, said the MCO taught him to reset, reboot and reconfigure his mindset.
He has some advice for those who dream of venturing into this field.
“It is important to start off with the proper mindset.
“Focus on how to make it work, research your product, target market and be alert to current trends about your product so that effective promotions can be created,” said Lau.
From selling 18 chickens a day, he said sales had increased, hitting as high as RM6,000 daily.
He has also expanded his product range to 60 items from the time he started his online food store in May last year.
Lau started with a core team of three. He did the sales and marketing while his partner took care of the technical backend of the e-commerce side, and his girlfriend coordinated the deliveries.
From the start, Lau saw the importance of IT to provide analytics on buyer behaviour for sales forecasts.
“So I turned to my partner who used to do all my concert posters, and told him, ‘Bro, can you create a simple website so that my customers can have a landing page to buy my chickens?’ In 24 hours, the website was up,” recalled Lau.
In terms of progress, the start-up has grown to create job opportunities for others.
“We have five drivers to do deliveries. One is full-time, another four are part-time. We are also working with different vendors including a private kitchen,” said Lau.
From fashion to ‘keropok’
Father of four Fadzli Amin, 41, has traded in his jet-setting ways as a fashion trading consultant to sell keropok lekor using social media platforms.
He made the jump after travel bans due to Covid-19 restricted his business trips to China and Cambodia.
His friend, who runs a keropok factory in Gombak, got him involved in the business in June 2020. In the beginning, Fadzil could only earn RM2,000 a month when he started.
But after a year, the Bangi resident is now able to earn twice as much thanks to canny online advertising, so much so he is looking to recruit sales and dropship agents in the Klang Valley.
For those looking to try their hand in the gig sector, Fadzil has some words of encouragement.
“Once workflow is stabilised and a customer base is established, the money will automatically follow.
“Establishing a steady stream of income will take time when it comes to gig work. For those who want to earn well, laziness is not an option,” he added.
Fadzil now sends keropok lekor all around the country via delivery services and post.
Dance videos pay off
The gig sector also has a fluid quality about it as discovered by choreographer and dancer Haslam Abdul Rahman, 35, better known as Alam to his fans.
Expressing dismay over the number of viral videos of fights in public, Alam admitted he too was at his lowest ebb after work stopped coming for him when the MCO started.
To take his mind off his gloomy financial situation, he began posting videos of him dancing with his wife, Nurul Alisya Najwa Hazman, 20, on social media.
His followers liked what they saw and shared his videos. At last count, he had 800,000 followers.
“Some of my videos garnered up to two million views,” he said.
With the extra eyeballs came a chance to sell merchandise such as pouch bags, jackets, LED masks, headscarves and cosmetic products to his followers.
One video saw Alam and Nurul Alisya in full PPE suits dancing in a cosmetic products factory for a specially commissioned gig.
Describing his newfound income as “okay”, Alam said he was satisfied as long as he could settle his house payment, daily expenses and feed his 10 cats.
He also hoped his dance videos would remain relevant for him to continue using them as a revenue earner even when the situation returned to normal post-pandemic.
But he is not taking things for granted.
“I am careful not to tie up my cash in product stocks. I do not take more than between 50 and 1,000 pieces at a time, depending on the cost per unit. In case the product does not move, my losses will not be too great,” he said.
Converting art into NFT
Due to the impermanent nature of the gig economy, one must be ever ready to adapt, said audio engineer Kevin Chand, 46.
As work slowed down last year, Chand took to earning a living by building websites and handling social media pages for clients. But that work soon dried up too.
So, he decided to take the plunge by developing a host of web tech apps for the creative industry to sell their work digitally in the form of NFT (non-fungible tokens).
NFT is a unit of data stored in a digital ledger, called a blockchain. This certifies a digital asset to be unique and not interchangeable.
“It is a new technology that will benefit artists, musicians, photographers, visual artists and animators. The goal is to build a platform that will convert art into NFT. “I saw potential in this after discovering US$2bil (RM8.3bil) worth of transactions recorded in one month alone last year,” said Chand, who leads a team of seven people on the project.
News items, memes, videos, music recordings, original source codes from the Internet or even tweets are examples of work that can be created or minted as NFTs.
They could be very lucrative. For example, the first tweet from Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter was minted and sold as an NFT for US$2.9mil (around RM12mil).
Chand said his platform’s wallet, which stored the artists’ NFTs once minted, was ready.
In another two months, the creation studio, which enabled artists to mint their work into NFTs, will be put through the testing stage before being launched.
“Right now, we are reaching out to private angel investors and accelerator companies. But if there is none, we can still come out with the platform within 12 to 15 months.
“We are doing work for free right now. There will be no income until business comes,” he said, adding that faith and his mother’s support gave him the courage to carry on.
“Mum is amazing. She is not IT-savvy so she is not able to fully grasp what I am doing. But she has chosen to stand by me. This makes me all the more determined to succeed. At this point, it’s either go big or go home,” he added.