With the rise of the gig economy, numerous articles have been written debating about its pros and cons. A Straits Times report stated that, in Singapore, “[t]here were about 180,000 people working primarily as freelancers as of June 2016.”

We’re seeing some people getting into flexible part-time work doing deliveries for operators like Honestbee and others providing dog sitting and dog walking services in their spare time. In fact, some even take it full-time.

This is at odds with the paper-chase culture here in Singapore, where you go to school for a number of years, attain a coveted paper qualification and look for gainful employment.

Although most workers participating in the gig economy involve themselves more with creative production – a far cry from technical corporate areas like blockchain or data integrity, thriving as a full-time freelancer is no easy feat. The flexibility and lack of an income ceiling or boss can be attractive, but is it really all just a bed of roses?

Starting out as a freelancer myself before incorporating HighSpark, a presentation design company that also provides presentation skills courses, I can tell you first hand that a freelancer’s lifestyle was not all that the media made it out to be.

In this article, we ask five accomplished full-time freelancers for their take on the path less taken, offering clarity to the question:

Is freelancing in Singapore truly a viable career path?

Ho Chang Jun, 23 years old, Founder of Gram Pte Ltd

Gram is an animation and video production studio that specializes in creating video stories to help clients deliver clear and effective messaging, motivating their target audience to act. 

If someone wants to freelance as a career, what do they need to be prepared for before doing it?

I think freelancing may not be for everyone, as you need to know not just the technical details of the job, but also the business part of it. The beginning is generally the toughest, as you have little credibility, a small portfolio, and barely any clients, so you should be prepared to work very hard at the start to build those up.

It’s nothing like what you read about online where you put an investor pitch deck together and raise millions of dollars. We’re not running a ‘startup’.

My advice is to scour the internet, either on Google or other freelance blogs about freelancing tips and tricks. There is a wealth of information available online on how you can get started freelancing. When I first began, I did not have a mentor and had to learn things the hard way. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources available online nowadays to help people like me.

Also read: With all this talk about blockchains and crypto, how does the solopreneur and gig economy benefit?

On the topic of mentors, my next advice is to find a mentor who is able and willing to guide you. Someone who is 1-3 years ahead of you would be ideal, and should not be so far ahead that you feel like you’re on a completely different level, as he/she might have forgotten what the initial struggle was like. Having a mentor is great as you can ask for help and advice when you face certain obstacles and difficulties. There are some things you just can’t Google, and having a mentor can help you avoid many of the initial issues.

Please share one interesting experience you’ve had with a client.

This is one that’s still fresh in my mind.

I received an inquiry from a semi-conductor company that wanted to make a video, and the client told me to head down to his office the next day for more information. When I went for the brief, he basically told me to convert a static and boring corporate presentation deck into an exciting 3D product video animation.

It was a very technical product and I had so many questions, but the deadline was a mere week. He then went overseas the week after which made it hard to contact him, and whenever I asked him a technical question or even something basic such as the color of his machine, all he told me was, “You’re the expert, I trust what you will do, just make it impressive.”

I thought things like these only happened in comics or dramas, but they really do happen in reality. Without much information, I decided to just do my best and work based on logical assumptions. A week later he came back, saw the video and said, “Well done, it’s nice,” then paid me the money promptly.

That was the smoothest project I’ve ever had.

What I learned was to have greater faith in my own abilities, as the client chose me for a reason. Of course, whenever possible, you should still ask the client to approve a creative brief to make things easier and less stressful for yourself.

Erika Tay, 25 years old, Founder of Erikartoon

 

 

An illustrator both day and night, Erikartoon does drawings that can mostly be described as surreal dark with a hint of cuteness.

What would you say are the benefits of freelancing vs a regular job? 

There are so many benefits! I get to work in the comfort of my room surrounded by my toys while listening to good tunes, the freedom to run an errand or have a slow morning if I need to, and the time to create cool things which I have a passion for.

The best benefit, however, is the flexibility I get. I definitely take it for granted sometimes, but it is really nice to be able to work at home or a cafe, and actually have control over what I’m doing. Of course, I have to manage my time, and occasionally sacrifice my social life, but it is always worth it!

 

Please share one interesting experience you’ve had with a client.

Most of my illustration clients have been surprisingly good to me, and I don’t recall a client who has been particularly mean or spiteful. The worst experiences would be the times I did not get paid for my work.

I had to turn down a project with a huge international company just because they were unwilling to pay me for my work and offered me vouchers instead. I was quite disappointed with them and lost my respect for this company which I previously admired. I still get a bit sad when I recall losing this job but I know it was the right thing to do.

When such incidents happen, get on the phone and talk to your clients. Be polite but firm, prove that you can listen to them and show that there is always a way to sort this out nicely.

Anngee Neo, 30 years old

Anngee is an illustrator and a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts with a BFA in Drawing. She works predominantly in digital medium to create illustrations with an emphasis on storytelling and characterization that have been described as quirky, surreal and whimsical. 

If someone wants to freelance as a career, what do they need to be prepared for before doing it? 

Be prepared to learn things beyond your discipline, the possibility of never having a steady stream of projects or income, and the endless questions that people around you will ask, such as “Oh, when are you getting a real job?” and “Freelancer very good mah! You must be very free, right?”

Also read: Need a productivity boost? Check out these 7 tools for freelancers and solopreneurs

Having enough savings before you start is also a good idea as the first few months will most likely be rough. Try doing some side jobs (if you’re holding a full-time position) to get a feel for how it is like to work as a freelancer. There won’t be anyone to pay for your insurance, there won’t be a pay check waiting for you every month. You’ll need to continue investing in yourself to learn with courses that can help you get more work, like presentation courses or sales training.

Blind faith and optimism plus a large dose of pragmatism are also needed so that even when times are really bad, you will hang in there and try to make it work. At the same time, you should be able and willing to do other things to support your freelancing if that is required.

Do you recommend people consider freelancing as a career? Why or why not?

I think people who have a greater ability to tolerate (or even embrace) flux and chaos would be good candidates to consider freelancing as a career option. Good traits to have would probably include high flexibility and adaptability, as well as an open mind and willingness to try new things.

Depending on one’s stage in life and the following responsibilities that one’s circumstance entails, freelancing could be a terrific or terrible decision.

Freelancing itself is not a career. Your career is the thing that makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning and go to work. Learning how to freelance well is essential so that you can do it for a long time. Ultimately, I think the best predictor of success is probably how much you want it and how much you are doing to make it happen.

Jiahui Tan, 27 years old, Founder of Fable

Fable is an award-winning, multi-disciplinary boutique creative agency based in Singapore, which observes, researches, and conceives concept-driven ideas and intelligent designs that add value over noise for progressive brands and forward-thinking clients.

What was your biggest challenge making freelancing your full-time career?

Although I run a graphic design studio, now that my fiancé has joined me, I do occasionally miss the times at the very beginning. I think the biggest challenge in design is not about coming up with the design. Every designer should be armed with the knowledge and expertise to tackle the brief in the best way possible (if you hire the right ones, that is).

The biggest challenge is, in fact, convincing clients to buy the idea. Sometimes it is about fighting the backward thinking, the bureaucracy, the middle management, the bullying towards the one-man show (when I was working alone previously) and many others considerations. There will be clients that think they’ll be able to get a better option on the cheap, such as using free stock images or DIY tools like Canva.

The best you can do is to be polite and try to explain to the client your point of view. At the end of the day, be sincere (mean it, not fake it) and show the client you care for his or her project, and that you’re not just someone looking to make a quick buck. I think humans are generally sensitive and smart people – if they feel that you are genuine and honestly want the project to do well, they will listen.

Do you recommend people consider freelancing as a career? Why or why not?

Many who want to venture out on their own think people like youths, and they are half correct. People like youths, but not those that talk louder than their abilities. They like passionate youths that strive to over-deliver.

Before you begin, ask yourself, are you ready to put in extra time to work, extra care when speaking to clients, extra sacrifices in all your gaming or lifestyle endeavors?

Results hardly come immediately, and if they do, it’s human nature to not appreciate it anyway. However, always remember that there are others who are cheaper, faster, and more willing to do the things you do. Be unique and position yourself in a way that makes people want to work with you as a person.

Yugene Lee, 28 years old, Founder of JIN Design LLP (previously yugenelee.com)

 

JIN Design is a UI/UX design studio focusing on User Experience and Interface Design. They craft highly functional digital experiences and deliver the best design solutions to help businesses communicate and innovate in a user-friendly way. He started out as a freelance web designer before running his own agency.

What was your biggest challenge making freelancing your full-time career?

My biggest challenge when it came to freelancing was discipline. When you have no boss breathing down your neck, you need to manage your own time.

The greatest appeal in freelancing is not the flexible working hours, but the control over the time you have, where you can have your schedule based on your own routine. That’s why discipline is key.

For me, my work hours are from 9am to 6pm. Yes, just like every single person who has a full-time job. But why do I do that

Firstly, this is the period of time when I will do my work and when my clients can look for me. Before and after this period, I focus on my own stuff, especially with my loved ones.

Secondly, I am aware that I’ve to complete my work during these hours, instead of allowing myself to procrastinate and do it another time. I will have no excuse to procrastinate any work.

Lastly, most of the clients I deal with work within these hours, so communication with them is easier.

My favorite quote that encapsulates this is by Aristotle – “Through discipline comes freedom.”

 What would you say are the benefits of freelancing vs a regular job? 

  1. Freelancing gives me the flexibility to spend time with my family whenever I want as long as I manage my time well. I can work from my own hometown in Malaysia for a few days and spend quality time together with my family. I also don’t have to go through the process of taking leave while worrying that my boss will reject it. The best thing is during Chinese New Year, I can avoid the crowd back to my hometown by returning earlier.
  2. Freelancing allows me to make more money. How much I earn is dependent on how much effort I put in my work, unlike having a fixed salary paid by a company. If I need to make extra money, I just have to close an extra project and spend more time at night completing it. The income scales proportionately with my hard work, so I’m willing to put more effort into it.
  3. Freelancing makes me a better businessman. I don’t just focus on delivering the work, but also handle the marketing, sales, and finance aspects of the business. I’ve learned and grown a lot throughout the journey thanks to these experiences.

If you were on the fence about joining the gig economy and paving your own career as a full-time freelancer, you’ll be happy to know that these full-time freelancers are 30 and below. Did you have any extra questions? If so, leave us a comment below!

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