Times flies. I have been a full-time freelancer for the past 2.5 years, deriving income from tutoring students and writing finance-related articles.
I am plugged into the growing gig economy, alongside others like tour guides, delivery couriers and piano teachers.
Freelancers and self-employed (FSEs) are often the envy of friends, who harp on the fact that we are in charge of our daily schedule. We could easily sleep in on a Monday morning or take a siesta in the afternoon to recharge.
But like most things in life, these perks are balanced out by potential downsides. And here’s how I have tried to overcome some of them.
If you are not getting gigs, it’s really good game (GG) for a budding freelancer unless you have an alternative source of income like substantial investment dividends.
At the same time, it is also not realistic to expect to earn an income comparable to a full-time employee at the very start of the freelancing journey.
From August to December 2015, I was earning less than $300 a week as a tutor. During this period of time, I was willing to charge lower fees, travel a little more and provide more services just to ramp up the volume of work and build my credentials.
I set aside my ego, approached friends for referrals and was even willing to distribute flyers personally outside a nearby Secondary School. Deep down, I knew these actions would be worth it as long as I could convince just one additional parent/student to give me a chance.
Things finally started picking up in early 2016 and from then on, I have been relying mainly on referrals to build up a steady pipeline of work.
I guess one has to be more open towards potential opportunities. I am actually quite surprised to find out that FSEs could even tender for government contracts. This could be an additional income stream for some.
Payment Issues (Lack of Protection)
This is a point of contention for many of the other tutors or FSEs I know. Whether it’s late payment or worse, no payment.
I have been really lucky so far. Except for a few instances of late payment, I have had no issues on this front.
It is really unfair for the freelancer not to receive payment when the service or good has been rendered. Even when it’s late, it could result in cashflow issues too.
A decade ago as a part-time tutor, I had incorrectly assumed that the only realistic avenue I had in the case of non-payment is to brush it off, blame it on my bad luck and move forward.
I didn’t know that I could file a claim with the Small Claims Tribunal and in recent years, there has been more support and protection for freelancers like me.
- Help for retirement and medical needs
- Having a fair mediator for dispute resolution
- Clear and fair standards to protect freelancers (such as these tripartite standards launched to protect media freelancers)
- Growing freelance communities (such as associations) for skills upgrading and networking
FSEs typically do not have colleagues and sometimes, it does feel like there’s no one to air your grievances to.
Join NTUC’s U FSE and/or form associations to have a collective voice and represent your interests. Some associations that exist are:
- Sports Coaches Association of Singapore (SCA)
- Tour Guide Chapter (TGC)
- National Taxi Association (NTA)
- National Private Hire Vehicle Association (NPHVA)
- Singapore Talent, Artistes and Resources Association
- Screenwriters Association Singapore
You can also share your views at various focus groups held currently by the tripartite workgroup formed by MOM to look into freelancer concerns and make recommendations.
As U FSE is part of a larger Labour Movement network that seeks to represent and be relevant to all working people, there is strength in numbers.
Let’s be honest and realistic. It’s quite impossible to avoid delayed payments, especially when you are dealing with big companies with cumbersome payment processes.
Getting your personal finances in order is probably the best way to minimize the impact of late payments.
If you have set aside a buffer to cover 6 months of your expenses, you probably won’t have to pester your client every other day for payment. Which will also likely increase the chances of repeat business.
In my line as a tutor, it’s quite inevitable for Nov and Dec to be lull months as students enjoy a break or head overseas. Besides taking on more writing assignments, the other option would be to thoroughly enjoy the break, without worrying about money.
That’s only possible if you are aware of both the expenses and income for the year and have budgeted for enough slack to cover for the last two months of the year.
Ironically, FSEs need to actively instil discipline in their lives. With no office to report to and flexible working hours, the temptation to binge on video games or dramas is very real.
In fact, I have decided to put off video games for the immediate future. Recently, most of my free time have been spent on ‘healthier’ and less addictive activities like exercising and reading.
Filling up Google Calendar with these activities provide the necessary organisation and structure and nudge me towards more productive days, weeks and months.
Since there’s no compulsory hours devoted to training and upgrading, I also have to actively set aside time to catch up with latest syllabus changes and teaching techniques.
Attending freelancer fairs such as this should help me to find out more about the developments in my industries. Moreover, I might be able to get more tips on contracts, getting business etc while establishing more networking opportunities.
Have I missed out on other potential downsides of freelancers? If yes, let me know in the comments below!