Curious about freelancing? This guide has everything you need to know to start freelancing in 2023.
Freelancing has become increasingly popular in Singapore in recent years. According to the Ministry of Manpower's Labour Force in Singapore 2022 survey, freelancing or being self-employed is the primary source of income for 202,700 of the 257,300 freelancers in the country. That means more than 8% of all employed residents chose freelancing because they prioritise freedom and flexibility over having a full time employment in a stable job.
Freelancing is a work arrangement where individuals offer their services to clients on a project-by-project basis, as an independent contractors rather than being employed a full time employee. Freelancers typically work from anywhere, setting their own schedules, working hours and rates.
If you're considering quitting your job for freelance work, keep in mind that freelancers now have to specialise and upskill regularly to stay relevant. Despite the challenges, more and more people pursue self employment with freelancing, whether going full-time or working on a part-time basis , because of these benefits:
Before reaching out to potential clients to offer your services, ensure you're capable and prepared to take on the work. Here are some actions you can take to kickstart a successful freelance career.
Identify your skills and things you enjoy doing, such as writing, graphic design, or programming. Consider activities that energise you. This knowledge will guide you in finding freelance jobs that match your strengths and passions.
Consider your skills and passions. Focus on a specific skill and industry. For web design and development, choose preferred project types. As a graphic designer, identify your style for specific industries. Determine fields for consulting work. After selecting your niche, think about adding value and creating a unique selling proposition to stand out.
Having a designated space to work from can increase productivity and help you stay focused. It creates a clear boundary between work and personal life, reduces distractions, and establishes a professional image.
Here are some tips to help you set up your workspace:
Before putting yourself out there, create a solid portfolio to help you stand out. Highlight the work you're most proud of, including projects, case studies, and client testimonials. Having an online version of your portfolio is an excellent way to get discovered by potential clients — especially if you are in the creative industry.
Many freelancers, usually creative professionals, gravitate towards these online portfolio platforms:
Ultimately, the best platform for your online portfolio will depend on your specific needs and preferences. Take some time to explore the options listed here and see which one is the best fit for you. Remember to keep your resume updated as well.
Capitalise on social media to build your online presence. Platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook can be powerful tools for reaching your target audience, and building your personal brand and aligning it with your business direction. Whether it's blog posts, videos, or social media updates, providing valuable content can help establish you as an authority in your niche and attract potential customers.
Now that you're armed with your skills and backed up with a strong portfolio and online presence, it's time to get those clients and find freelancing work.
In any career in any industry, networking plays a big role in your career growth. Building relationships with the right businesses and individuals can help you find new projects and opportunities if you're a freelancer. Read more about how networking can benefit you as a young professional here.
Be intentional when you build your network. Attend events that are relevant to your niche. For instance, if you're a graphic designer, you can attend design conferences online and in person. If you're a software engineer, attending app launches or tech conferences may be an excellent way to connect with fellow professionals and potential clients. If you're a marketing professional, watch out for industry events.
Events are not the only way to build your network. Reach out to old colleagues and managers, and don't be shy to ask for introductions to people who might be interested in your work. Join and engage with industry communities online. Sometimes, even joining hobby groups can lead to meaningful professional connections. In this day and age, the possibilities for meeting new people are endless if you keep an open mind.
Remember to stay in touch with and nurture the connections that you make. Here's a networking template to help you keep track of your network.
Another great way to find clients is via freelance job platforms. You can start by searching for freelance jobs on JobStreet, but you might want to consider looking at different specialised freelance platforms depending on your industry.
Once you're in touch with potential clients, you need to send a proposal. Before creating your proposal, familiarise yourself with your client's needs and tailor your proposal to make sure you are adding value to their business.
You can take advantage of different tools available to add impact to your proposal. For creative proposals, it's always a plus to have a polished and visually appealing deck. You can use Powerpoint, Google Slides, or Canva to build and design your presentation. If you have the skills, adding graphics and videos to your presentation will make it more impactful. For more technical proposals that go into a lot of detail, you might need to create a worksheet with breakdowns of the deliverables. You can also explore proposal software tools like PandaDoc, Proposify, and Venngage.
Regardless of the format or medium you choose, content has to be on point. Here are some tips for a winning proposal:
Once you have sent out your proposal, follow up with the client to show your enthusiasm for the job. Offer to set up a meeting to pitch your ideas and discuss details in the proposal. A presentation, done face to face or via video call, is a good way to establish rapport with the client and answer any questions they may have immediately.
Here comes the tricky part. Every freelancer knows that negotiating rates can be a challenge. Andres Lares, Managing Partner of the Shapiro Negotiations Institute, talks about how to negotiate as a freelancer in Harvard Business Review. He outlined three main challenges that freelancers face when negotiating rates:
“They focus on the business aspect of the relationship to the detriment of building a personal rapport; second, they attempt to differentiate themselves from their competitors with price discounting, and third, they waste their negotiation time on the wrong clients.”
When negotiating your rates, it's important to first build your rapport with the client. Establish your credibility and make them feel that you share the same goals. Then, be firm with your rates. Having fixed rates for specific deliverables is better to set clear expectations and leave less room for vague requests.
If you need to negotiate higher rates, it is important to really emphasise the value you bring to your client. Break down the service you will be providing and itemise all the work that goes into that. Do your research and note standard industry rates. Remember to not sell yourself short. If the client offers a rate that is not acceptable to you, learn to say no. Use your energy to find other clients, instead of getting stuck with a rate that you're not comfortable with.
Once all parties have agreed, make sure all the terms and conditions of contract work are documented in a contract that is reviewed and signed by everyone involved. This serves as protection for both you and the client.
Along with the freedom and flexibility that comes with freelancing is the additional task of managing yourself and your business. You'll need to set your own goals, set your schedule, keep track of your commitments, deal with clients, manage your finances and taxes. That sounds like a lot of work, but it's part of a freelancer's reality.
As a freelancer, you have to juggle multiple projects and clients simultaneously. This is where great time management skills come in handy. Knowing how to manage your time and energy and prioritise your workload will greatly improve your work output and overall well-being.
Here are some tips that can improve your productivity:
With no manager or boss to watch over you, you need to learn to set your own goals as a freelancer.
Become a high achiever by setting specific, measurable objectives that align with your business goals. For example, do you want to get more clients? Do you have a target number of projects per month? Are you aiming to grow your business in the next three years? Break down the bigger goals into small, actionable steps and hold yourself accountable for completing these tasks — this can look like closing a deal, learning new skills, or just making sure you're delivering on your promises to your clients.
Take time to assess what's working and what's not working, then adjust your strategy. And as your business grows, reevaluate your goals and see if you like the direction you're headed. Lastly, remember to celebrate your wins, big or small. Giving yourself the recognition you deserve will help you push forward.
Here's another thing that can be a pain to do, but is crucial for a thriving career. As a freelancer, you are responsible for filing your own tax returns, unlike employees who have taxes withheld from their paychecks. It is important to know your tax obligations as a freelancer, as it differs from other self-employed individuals like business owners. Simply put, a freelancer works for different clients while a self-employed individual works for their own business. You may check out the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) portal for more information on your tax obligations.
Keep track of your income and expenses every month. This will come in handy when it's time to compute and file your taxes. Doing this will also help you identify areas where you may be overspending or not charging enough. Proper financial management can help you stay on top of your cash flow and ensure you have enough money to cover your taxes and other expenses.
If you can afford it, you can hire a personal accountant to help you manage your finances. This takes the load off your shoulder and gives you assurance that you don't miss any tax payments.
Maintaining a healthy professional relationship with your clients is important. At the start of your engagement, there may be challenges in dealing with new clients since both parties are still learning and adjusting. This is normal for any new professional relationship. But what if you experience clients who are demanding, unresponsive, or unwilling to compromise? You can take some steps to enforce boundaries and protect your wellbeing while still being productive.
Set clear expectations at the start of your engagement. Agree on the deliverables, rates, and payment schedules. Make sure all agreements are documented in a contract that all parties sign. If your client is not paying on time, you have every right to follow up and ask for what's due.
Avoid misunderstandings by being transparent and communicating regularly. Raise problems as they arise, and make sure every step of your workflow is documented.
When dealing with angry clients, stay calm and professional. Listen actively to your client and take note of their perspective, then explain your side. Stick to the facts and avoid getting emotional.
You and your client share a common goal, and should be working together to arrive at a solution that benefits everyone involved.
Accept feedback, but don't be bullied into following your client's whims. Take note of behaviour that you're not willing to tolerate. If a client is getting on your nerves and impacting your mental health, ask yourself if it's worth it. Consider finding new clients that could give you the same income with less stress.
Freelancing doesn't necessarily mean working on your own all the time. For bigger projects, you might need to build a team and outsource work. Other projects will also require expertise beyond your skills, so it's good to team up with other freelancers who can fill in the gaps.
Once you have established yourself as a freelancer, you can start planning for the long term. There are many ways to grow in your chosen career.
Do you want to expand your services? For instance, if you're a graphic designer, maybe you can upskill and start offering video services as well. If you're a writer, perhaps you can start offering content planning and SEO services.
As you take on more projects and earn more experience, your skills and expertise level up, too. Consider gradually increasing your rates. As long as you provide value to your clients and can justify the increase, go for it.
Word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool. Build relationships with clients and colleagues who can refer you to others in your industry.
Explore passive income streams that leverage your existing skills and expertise — maybe write an e-book or develop online courses. These can generate more opportunities even when you're not actively working on client projects.
If you're keen to take on more demanding freelance projects though, it may be time to grow your team. You can collaborate with other freelancers and who knows— maybe set up your own agency or company in the future.
To stay on top of your game as a freelancer, you must take care of your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Worker burnout is a real problem, and gig workers are not spared from experiencing this.
It can be challenging to set boundaries, especially for freelancers with flexible work arrangements and hours. Here's what you can practise to achieve work-life balance:
Rejection is an inevitable part of a freelancer's life. Jia Jang, author ofRejection Proof: How to Beat Fear and Become Invincible,shares his thoughts on rejection and failure with The Guardian. He said, "I realised my fear of being rejected was worse than the rejection itself. I started losing my fear and having fun instead."
Rejection doesn't always mean "no" — sometimes, it's a "not yet." Don't take it personally. Learn from your experience, see where you can improve, and just keep working on yourself.
You can find inspiration everywhere if you seek it. Whether it be watching movies, reading a book, starting a new hobby, connecting with like-minded people, or getting into a sport — trying new things can be refreshing for you.
When starting your freelance career, or even after accomplishing so many projects, you might doubt your capabilities and feel like a fraud. That's completely normal, and there's a name for it — imposter syndrome. This phenomenon is common among high achievers and if not kept in check, it can sabotage your success.
Even if it might feel like it, you're not alone in your freelancing journey. Ask for support from friends and family when you need it. You can also join online communities for support and knowledge sharing in your field. It helps to know that your struggles are not unique to you, and there are people who are willing to help, if you just reach out.
Feel free to explore freelancing opportunities in different industries.
Freelancing has become popular because of various benefits — flexibility, freedom, and potential for higher earnings. If you're considering taking the plunge and becoming a freelancer, know that the road ahead may be challenging, but it will also be incredibly rewarding. Be ready to face difficult clients, manage your own time and finances, and be accountable for setting and achieving your own goals.
If you are still having doubts about pursuing a full-time freelance career, you can start by taking part-time jobs. Whatever path you choose to take, remember to take care of your wellbeing.
Ready to start freelancing? Start by creating or updating your profile on JobStreet. Get timely Career Advice and find your dream job by downloading the JobStreet app on the App Store or Google Play .