How to be a Full-time Freelancer?

By the SMU Social Media team

Is it realistic to make a career out of freelance work? With more measures being put in place to protect freelancers, perhaps one could really turn ad-hoc freelance gigs into a full-time pursuit.

It might be a dream for some: Working in bed in your pyjamas, with a laptop and cuppa balanced on a tray table. However, the idea of freelancing—working for a range of clients or on a plethora of projects, rather than for just a single employer—also sounds like a nightmare for others who have been brought up to believe that a stable, well-paying job with a slew of benefits is the only way to go.

However, the so-called gig economy has gained plenty of momentum and is only going to strengthen over the years. According to business networking site LinkedIn, freelancers are expected to make up a whopping 43 per cent of the workforce by 2020; and as of June 2016, 8 per cent of Singapore’s working residents are freelancers. With such positive numbers, it’s tempting to get in on the burgeoning freelance economy. Why? With the flexibility to often work wherever you want (hello, spiffy co-working spaces and hipster cafes), and being the boss of your own schedule, or simply because a permanent position with generous benefits is now hard to come by, permanent freelancing might be a very viable career option.

Here are some essential tips on surviving the gig economy:


1. Take charge of your finances

On paper, it might seem that the harder you work as a freelancer, the more you are able to earn—as compared to earning a fixed monthly salary when in full-time employment. However, clients often take their time to pay for your services, or might even default on payment. Based on a report by the Freelancers Union in the US, 71 per cent of freelancers have had trouble getting paid at some point in the career. Hence, you have to be truly diligent about keeping track of your invoices and implement a system to prevent late payment. Or spend some time figuring out a free accounting system or invest in a robust tool like Quickbooks to keep your books pristine.

Moreover, as a self-employed person, you are not entitled to Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions from your employer, and have to be responsible for your own compulsory Medisave contributions. While you might not think much about CPF contributions at a young age, the scheme allows Singaporeans to earn a higher interest rate on their savings with a higher annuity pay-out after retirement. Voluntary contributions by freelancers are also tax-deductible, and your CPF savings can be used to buy a HDB flat.


2. Truly be your own boss

Are you prone to putting off assignments till the night before a deadline? Or have the tendency to spend a free day at home taking naps and stalking folks on social media, instead of being productive and checking off tasks on your to-do list? Then perhaps freelancing might not be the best path to take.

Freelancing involves being self-motivated enough to avoid distractions, prospect for new clients, manage multiple projects simultaneously, and, of course, completing your tasks on time. It also means you get to decide and create a productive work routine, without a boss hovering over your work in an office environment.


3. Grow your portfolio

After deciding on your business, start growing a portfolio that will earn you credibility as a freelancer. Build your presence with a simple website, social media accounts, and a business card. Next, start telling your friends and family about your venture. You’ll probably start off working on small projects that pay very little, in order to establish your reputation and gain experience.

After consolidating a portfolio of work—which might include projects you have done in school, samples of your work, or pro bono work for a charity—you may begin to canvass for clients. Your initial clients will likely be referrals from those who know you, so take the opportunity to spread the word about your services. After which, you could try cold-calling companies that you think would benefit from your services, armed with a simple presentation of your services and portfolio.


4. Work harder than you’ve ever done before

As much as The 4- Hour Work Week is an entertaining read on how to work a lot less and earn more, the reality is that you are going to put in a lot of hours as a freelancer, especially when you first start out. You might spend the workday attending back-to-back meetings and delivering pitches, while working all night on your actual projects. You might also realise that accounting could take days out of a month to sort out. And although you are not stuck in a cubicle as part of a 9-to-5 job, you could be on-call around the clock—depending on how demanding your clients might be.

While it is essential to set boundaries, and properly manage your time and workload to avoid burning out, the truth is you will probably work harder than a typical employee. But the payoff might also be higher, with the opportunity to scale freelancing gigs into a full business, and eventually having the means to outsource tasks to other parties to free up your time.


Stay positive and remind yourself of the beauty of having a flexible schedule—in other words, being able to remotely work on your tan and a freelance gig on a beach in Bali, while your peers are stuck in their suits and ties at their desks.


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