Go from surviving to thriving as a freelancer
The trendy F-words rolling off the tongues of millennials today are Flexibility, Freedom and Freelancing. We toy with the idea of being our own bosses, earning our own keep and enjoying simple privileges in life such as having nobody to judge us for going 24 hours without brushing our teeth.
Working on your own terms and being your own boss can seem so appealing when you’re *done* with your demanding boss and whiney colleagues. If going the freelance route is for you, here are 11 practical tips to ease you into a thriving freelance career. Follow these, and your journey to being a successful freelancer has just begun.
1. TASTEFULLY contact people you know to say you’ve started out on your own
So a long-lost friend who’s not contacted you since graduation suddenly wants to “catch up” over a cup of coffee - you instinctively react with a “sian… not another insurance or MLM pitch!” We've been there before, and we know how dubious it sounds when to get a random message out of the blue.
Start by being upfront about the services you offer, pass them your name cards at class reunions, and don’t hesitate to convey your intentions openly - people can tell when you’re being wishy-washy under the guise of having kopi. You’re offering them quality service that benefits them, so it's a win-win.
So tastefully hit up the most valuable people in your network: social butterflies. You know them - those with varied social circles, experts at gathering people together and making introductions - they are your gateway to other valuable connections. Don't underestimate the power of word of mouth!
2. Research your competition and develop a sensible pricing system
This is your green light to social media stalk. Not your ex's new squeeze, but more pressing competition - competitors to your businesses.
Spend some time researching the market, scout out online portfolios and reviews to get the lowdown on what others are doing that you’re not and find out supplementary skillsets they have that complement their main line of work - for example, photographers can learn basic videography and video editing skills and provide simple videos as a bonus.
Grasp a bigger picture of what your competitors are doing and how much they’re charging because it’s important in evaluating how much your work is worth.
3. Prowl both online and offline platform for business leads
Once you’ve blasted out emails and contacted everyone imaginable, you’d think work will start falling onto your lap. Reality is, until you hit famous freelancer status, you’ll always have to do some groundwork to get your next gig.
Whatever your vocation - graphic designer, aircon handyman, or hacker - you’re providing a value-adding service that someone out there needs. But when you take to online sites like Gumtree or Craigslist, your listing risks getting swallowed in a sea of chapalang advertising.
Try Upwork, freelancer.sg or other sites that specifically cater to freelancers, or utilise technology to your advantage in this competitive market and check out apps that link you up with potential clients - Servis Hero, and Vanitee (for beauty services) to name just 2. Or if you’re into traditional “offline matching”, try agencies like Creatives At Work who do rigorous client and freelancer profiling before linking you up.
4. Attend networking events to find a mentor
A perk of freelancing is that you don't have anyone watching over your shoulder, but one thing you'll soon realise is that bosses do have their roles to play: with their years of experience, they often have insight that steer you in the right direction. If you're just starting out, look for a mentor to fill in that gap!
There’s benefit from expanding your network connections and having access to more experienced opinion. Getting mentored by veteran freelancers in your field is where you’ll get both general tips to run your business and industry-specific hacks that will not only boost your work standards but also your confidence to take on challenging projects.
Alternative ways to learn from others in your trade is shadowing or “interning” under more experienced freelancers. Companies like The Fashion Collective help newer freelancers in their ecosystem for beauty, design and fashion, getting them to collaborate with more lao jiao ones in the industry.
5. Draft legally-binding contracts that safeguard your interests
Almost every freelancer starts their business through verbal agreements. We agree on a reasonable price, shake hands, and expect everything to turn out well. And it always does, up till the moment you meet your first client from hell. Without a contract, you could be left catering to their every unreasonable whim, only for them to renege on their payment.
Rene... what? Don’t sweat it, you don’t have to be proficient at legal writing to draft your own contracts. It’s helpful to wrap your head around some basic legal jargon, but keep in mind that simple language is the best way to avoid confusion.
Here are 8 clauses to include in your freelance contract - a written agreement that outline the terms of the project - Drafting a contract averts miscommunication before the project begins and should problems crop up later, the contract defines each party's responsibilities with respect to confidentiality, project deliverables and payment!
6. Give clients 1-2% discounts when they pay on time
Avoid cash flow problems and awkward confrontations by offering clients discounts when they pay on schedule, where 1% or 2% discount on the total invoice amount is commonly offered if full payment is made within ten days.
Consider digitizing your payment process as a way of bumping up transaction legitimacy. Offer your clients the option to pay via iBanking or credit cards with online payment platforms and paylinks. If you don't know where to start, local startup Xfers is offering Paypal services like paylinks and credit card checkout for cheaper, making it a viable collection option for newer freelancers.
7. Ask happy customers for testimonials and referrals
Turning a passive customer into a happy one can increase your business revenue up to 2.6X. Not only will they return as loyal customers, with our generation’s everything-also-must-post-on-social-media attitude, they will take to any platform to rave about their experience!
This happy customer’s post garnered over 13,000 likes and made for great publicity for SQ Source
Some potential clients aren’t as convinced when they hear you "ownself praise ownself", and there’s tremendous persuasive force in positive testimonials left by other clients. Thicken your skin and ask happy customers to leave reviews and refer you to their friends!
8. Practice methodical book-keeping and scheduling
If you’re someone like me, with a serious allergy to paperwork, the administrative aspect of your freelance work might prove to be challenging.
First things first: keep distinctive lines between business and personal finances. Start a separate corporate e-business account so you’ve a clearer idea of your earnings and expenses of your business.
For bookkeeping, engaging a personal accountant would be the easiest way to go about it. But if you’re working on a tight budget, accountant endorsed software like Wave are free to download online and can go a long way in helping you with your invoicing (sending clients reminders) and expense tracking!
Time is also money so if you really want to streamline your work processes, check out freelancer project management tools like Schmeet (for coaches) and Internet of Talent (for IT) for scheduling deadlines and tracking project milestones. IoT even shows your working timeline to the client and ensures you’re paid the moment you hand over your deliverables!
9. End lonely freelancer existence with a co-working space
Some of us work best through the night, neglecting personal hygiene in our quest to get our work done. But no matter how you feel about it, working at an office or co-working space produces better results, requiring you to look good and feel good about yourself.
You’ll get into a work routine, resolve the work-home blur and other freelancers you’ll bump into help you hit your daily social interaction quota! Optimize your state of mind and you’ll maximize productivity, making friends in the process.
Operate from co-working spaces like The Great Room and Work Central, offering hot-desking options and even designated desks! With stable Wifi connections and meeting rooms for rent, never again resort to cafes for your client meetings. Your clients will thank you they no longer have to yell over the steam valve of an espresso machine or loud cafe chatter.
10. Get credible backup freelancers to fill in when you can’t be there
“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” and you will find yourself in situations thwarting your plans to get the job done. Swamped with existing deadlines, Murphy's Law always kicks in. Your dog might need a visit to the vet or a family emergency might crop up - you’ll need to have reliable backup buddies who can do the same great job as you!
Freelancer workshops and aggregators are where you’ll find your “coalition of the willing” - friends who’ll come to your assistance when the workload gets too demanding.
Nothing says professionalism and preparedness like having a Plan B. Remember that no man is an island and you’ll be happy that the people you once saw as competition are now friendly mobilizable forces to come to your rescue. Uphold your business reputation because no client likes a last minute flake-out.
11. Surround yourself with like-minded freelancers determined to succeed
Beyond working in the company of other freelancers and staying merely “hi-bye” friends, it’s high time to get chummy with them. You’re trailblazers in the industry and you’ll more likely than not find soul sistas and brothas in this community of #freespirits
Co-working spaces organize networking events for their freelance communities - think Breakfast Clubs, workshops and networking mixers - places you can exchange ideas and find inspiration from people on the same exciting business trajectory as you.
And don’t discount the power of online communities like forums and chatrooms!
Freelancing is serious business
You’ve been single-handedly holding down the fort, doing everything from accounting to marketing as a sole proprietor in your one-man company. Long days have been dragging into long evenings on your computer, plagued by clients with unreasonable demands who think they know your job better than you do, bills to pay, and tax forms to complete that are longer than the last novel you read.
You are not alone in this. And you can be sure that you’ll never again walk alone.
NTUC Freelancer and Self Employed Unit (U FSE) organised The Fair For Freelancers on the 7th of September 2016, gathering freelancers together at the Red Dot Museum and inviting speakers from diverse industries to share their two cents on how they make their freelancing businesses work.
Small group sharing sessions at the The Fair For Freelancers
It's one of many initiatives that NTUC’s rolling out to support freelancers - YOU - in addressing the challenges faced every day, supporting you with resources to find jobs and safeguard your interests.
NTUC Labour MPs Chan Chun Sing (centre) and Ang Hin Kee (right) listening to feedback from a freelancer
Mr Ang Hin Kee, who is driving this freelancer effort, says, “We want (freelancers and self-employed) to have ownership. We want them to champion their cause, internalise the issues, face their problems and stand behind their solutions.”
NTUC’s end goal is that freelancer community will grow into a viable, vibrant and self sustaining profession.
There are many advantages of being part of groups (formal and informal), communities and associations and that you’re never alone when you face your challenges and concerns. Find out how your voice can be better heard when you unite to form a collective voice with other freelancers today!
This post is co-created with NTUC to support freelancing as a viable and sustainable career option in Singapore.