The gig economy has been creating new opportunities for job seekers, especially in this post-Covid world. While some choose to be self-employed, others use it as a stop-gap solution while they are out looking for full-time employment.
Being a freelancer in Singapore is no easy feat. I would know, seeing that I have been a full-time freelancer for the past five years. Specialising in content creation and copywriting, I also doubled up as a salesperson, accountant, or marketing executive, depending on what is required of me.
For this piece, I draw from my experience, sharing how to get started as a freelancer based in Singapore, what to do before you quit your day job, and common pitfalls to avoid.
What is a freelancer?
A freelancer is slightly different from that of a self-employed person (SEP), who essentially “operates their own trade or business.” While SEPs are also loosely referred to as freelancers, freelancers are just an example of the many types of SEPs according to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS).
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) refers to freelancers as “persons who operate their own business or trade without employing any worker. They usually provide services to their clients and are free to negotiate their terms and benefits with their clients.”
Some examples of freelancers include writers, photographers, insurance agents, video editors, graphic designers, real estate agents, and delivery persons.
Freelancers, unlike employees of a company, are responsible for a wide range of responsibilities — finding clients, tracking time spent on work, billing clients, determining work schedules, filing taxes, and more.
Perks of being a freelancer
As a freelancer, you are your own boss! One of the biggest perks of being a freelancer is the flexibility involved, from picking which client to work with, where you work, to fixing your own working hours.
Freelancers have full control of their work, something that most employees do not have. It is your name, instead of the company you worked for, in the credits and byline.
Being your own boss means you can be strategic in acquiring assignments, taking only the ones with opportunities to learn, grow, and earn, or have some value for you. Freelancers are also not restrained by location, often taking up remote jobs even before the pandemic.
The flexibility in a freelancer’s working hours allows us to set aside certain days or hours for working instead of conforming to rigid Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm working hours. We can avoid commuting during peak hours, take a quick nap to recharge in the middle of the day, or even choose to work in the wee hours if that is when we function best.
The flexibility also often translates to better work-life balance. Cutting away the commute to work, we have more time to rest, working from wherever and whenever we want. Need a mental health day? Take the day off! Need to spend more time with your child? Rearrange your schedule and take the afternoon off!
Another perk of being a freelancer is the potential to make more money.
However, freelancing can also be risky — there is no fixed income, and you have to keep finding new clients while providing top-notch service to existing ones. However, you get to dictate your rates instead of waiting for the annual review in hopes of a small percentage pay increment.
Challenges of being a freelancer
As mentioned earlier, freelancing is risky. Finding clients as an independent contractor is, undoubtedly, the most challenging part of being a freelancer.
Without a fixed monthly income, your salary is dependent on how active you are in pursuing new clients while servicing your anchor clients. In other words, you often have to hustle, especially when you’re just starting out.
As a new freelancer, it will take a lot of energy and time to convince new clients to work with you. You are also most likely going to receive pushback on the rates you have quoted.
The flexibility of being a freelancer can also be a double-edged sword.
While you can easily achieve work-life balance thanks to the freedom, you can also end up spending more time than you expect to or want to, as you are doing everything yourself. It might be hard to set clear boundaries, and clients could be asking for urgent work and quick turnarounds without extra compensation.
With the freedom you have in picking clients and working at your own pace, staying disciplined and productive can also be a huge challenge. Suddenly, there is no one looking over your back, and you might end up procrastinating, leading to a mad rush when deadlines are near.
What do you need before becoming a freelancer?
Hold your horses! Before you throw that resignation letter, do you have what it takes to be a freelancer?
Most freelancers draw their skills from their past employment. Not only should you be good at what you do, but you also need to make sure it is something people are willing to pay to get done.
Marketable skills aside, here is a (non-exhaustive) list of things you should put together before handing in that resignation letter:
- Business plan: Your business plan should outline the services that you can provide, your target market, marketing strategies to kickstart your freelance career, and your projected income for the year. Research and refine your plan, and do not rush into finalising it.
- LinkedIn profile: LinkedIn is one of the best ways to connect with potential clients. Create connections with business owners and businesses in your target market to offer them your services.
- Portfolio: Be it on your own website, a dedicated social media platform, or even just on your LinkedIn profile, a portfolio showcasing your past works, clients’ testimonials, and services you offer is a must.
- Outreach: Reach out to your network to let them know that going forward, you will be providing freelance services. Ask for referrals, testimonials, and advice.
- Rates: Spend time researching how much people are charging for the service you intend to provide and find a rate that you are comfortable with. Remember you are not getting paid in benefits such as sick leaves, paid time off, and employer’s CPF contribution.
- Working hours: While your hours are flexible, you should still set a minimum number of hours to work every day. This schedule will make you more disciplined in getting work done.
- Savings: This is something most overlooked. Jobs do not fall into your lap the moment you launch your freelance career. Often, it takes weeks, if not months, before you can start to make a decent living. Having sufficient savings will help you ride through the stressful months as you focus on getting clients.
How to get clients?
As a new freelancer, clients will not come knocking on your door themselves. You need to put in time and effort in getting your name out — using appropriate hashtags on social media, commenting on businesses’ LinkedIn posts, and joining relevant Facebook groups, to name a few.
Join Facebook groups such as SG Creative & Cultural Community to connect with like-minded individuals. Send out cold emails to businesses that are in your target market, and show them how your skills can provide value for their business.
Pro tip: If you happen to see an opening for an in-house position on job boards, you can still send the company a cold email offering your services. Often, companies are not used to working with freelancers but after connecting with them, you can show them how your services are the right ones that they need.
If you need help figuring out how much you need to put aside for emergencies before leaping into a freelance career, feel free to use Planner Bee’s emergency fund calculator!