Freelancing in Singapore: Complete Guide

how to be a freelancer in singapore

 

Becoming a freelancer in Singapore is no easy feat, especially since freelancers double as their own founders, investors, creators, and marketers. Their skills have to be all over the place. You have to know when to be which, and which role plays to your strength.

What’s a Freelancer?

A freelancer refers to someone who works for themselves, and not a company or agency. While they may still take contracts from organisations and agencies, they’re technically self-employed.

Unlike traditional employees, freelancers are responsible for a number of things – billing their clients, tracking their time, determining their work schedule, filing their business taxes, and paying clients. 

The Importance of Working as a Freelancer

Here are a few of the reasons some people choose to be freelancers and not employees:

You’re the Boss: You choose your rates, schedule, and which clients or jobs to take. You can work in your pyjamas, or choose to vacation or break whenever you feel like.

Less Taxes: As a freelancer, you can take advantage of tax reductions on travel, meals, and so on. State and federal taxes aren’t withheld from every paycheck.

Potential to Make More Money: Freelancing can be risky, but it’s highly rewarding. You’re the person to dictate your pay instead of waiting for your employer to give you a pay-rise.

A Better Work-life Balance: You don’t have to commute every day to work. You can simply walk to the neighbourhood coffee shop and work from there. You work whenever you want and from anywhere.

Flexibility: Working as a freelancer comes with a lot of flexibility. You choose the hours to work, your workload, and when to work.

The Traits Needed to be a Successful Freelancer

Here are a few qualities aspiring freelancers should possess to be successful in this line of work:

Discipline

Working as a freelancer means you’re your own boss. You can waste the entire day watching or browsing through social media, and there’ll be absolutely no one to shout at you. It’s through discipline that you stay on course.

Persistence

Things aren’t going to work for you the first time you try. You have to keep pushing and experimenting with different things to find out what works best for you.

Resilience

As you begin your new journey as a freelancer, rejection will be like the air you breathe. You must learn not to take things personally. Keep reaching more clients and matching their work standards, and eventually, the effort will pay off. 

Organisation

You’ll be handling tasks from multiple clients. The last thing you want is to get the work mixed up or to have a heavy backlog pile up on you. Learn to respond to emails promptly, and make sure you’re never caught behind deadline.

Outgoing

You don’t have to be an outdoorsy person to excel as a freelancer, not in the traditional sense. What you need is a growing network. Go out and meet more people within your field. Dish out your business cards, and keep working on landing new clients.

Communicative

There will be a lot of communication in your journey as a freelancer. Clients will want to be updated on the progress made. Also, there’ll come a time when you’ll want to negotiate your rates or when you’ll want more clarifications on a client’s instructions.

Why Should You Become a Freelancer?

You have several reasons to start freelancing.

  • Extra Income: You can run freelancing as a side hustle and get to generate extra income to supplement your other earnings.
  • It’s Affordable: All you need to start a freelancing career are skills, a laptop, and an internet connection.
  • It’s Quick: You begin making money with the first client you land. With other sites, you can pick these clients directly from the queue.
  • It’s More Flexible: With freelancing, you won’t have to worry about losing your job. One client may fall off. But if your skill is top-notch, you can always land another to remain afloat.

The Pitfalls of Working as a Freelancer

There are a few downsides to working as a freelancer.

  • It takes time to Build a Lucrative Career: You have to start from somewhere, and gradually grow your client base and raise your rates.
  • Irregular Income: You make money when you work or land clients. That means there’ll be plenty of zero income days, where you go without making a cent.
  • Takes Great Organisational Skills: Managing multiple clients and a heavy backlog is not easy. You need great organisational skills to get everything right.
  • Low Pay: New freelancers have to contend with low pay. You have to take in low paying clients as you work on growing your portfolio.

What Kind of Work will You be Doing as a freelancer?

Freelancing is about offering services to other businesses. There’s no limit as to what a type of service you can offer for your freelancing career. Here are a few we singled out:

  • Freelance content developer
  • Freelance web designer and developers
  • Freelance bookkeeping
  • Freelance data entry
  • Freelance social media manager
  • Freelance Virtual Assistant

What You Need to Start a Successful Freelancing Career in Singapore

It should go without saying that you need skills other businesses could benefit from to start a freelancing career. Most freelancers draw their skills from their past employment, while others use the talent they already have.

Skills aside, here’s a list of things to consider putting together while starting a freelancing career in Singapore:

A Business Plan: I bet lots of you won’t see sense in this. But you do need a business plan to outline the services you’ll be offering, the market you’ll cater to, the marketing strategies to employ, and projected income.

A Website: You need a website that showcases your portfolio, about you, and the services you offer. The website must also feature a review and testimonial section.

A LinkedIn Profile: While social media, in general, is great for networking, LinkedIn is the place where most professionals connect. It’s also a great platform for finding freelance jobs.

A Dedicated Business cell phone number: Learn to separate your personal phone calls from professional ones. You should have a dedicated phone number that your prospects will be using to reach you.

A Business Card: A business card is good for offline networking.

A Service Menu and Freelance Rates: What services will you be offering and how much will you be charging for each. All this should be clearly spelt out on your site.

About Freelancing in Singapore: What’s the Current State of Freelancing in Singapore?

More than 211, 000 resident workers in Singapore are working as freelancers – according to the Ministry of Manpower’s report of 2019. That accounts for about 8.8% of the resident workforces, comprising of both Singaporeans residents and permanent residents.

From this, 19, 600 decided to turn to freelance as their main source of livelihood, from a side hustle.

Those jumping ship from their full-time jobs to freelancing are mostly taxi drivers and insurance agents. The same report also went on to reveal that the number of part-timers had risen to 11.2% from 10.9% in the previous year (2018).

How do you Get Clients as a Freelancer?

There are three different ways to get clients as a freelancer:

Inbound: This method involves getting clients through inbound marketing. It’s where you use marketing methods such as SEO and content marketing to position yourself such that clients will be able to find you on their own.

Outbound: This method entails reaching out to the client either by cold-emailing them or responding to their ad jobs. Either way, you’re the one to reach out to them and not the other way round.

Referrals: These are the fruits of doing a great job and exceeding clients’ expectations. Eventually, some of them will recommend you to some of their friends and business partners, and that’s how you grow your client base.

Inbound marketing and referrals will only work for you if you’ve been in the industry for quite some time. Clients won’t just come knocking at your door. You need time to build your reputation and gain authority.

Getting Clients as a New Freelancers

Like we said, much of what you’ll be doing to get new clients at the beginning of your career as a freelancer is outbound marketing.

Here are a few suggestions on what you can do:

Hit job boards: Job boards are your best shot at this. You have a long list of job websites to help you out with this.

Announce: Tell everyone you cross paths with that you’re available for work. Make it clear on your website, social media pages, and business card.

Start sending cold emails to prospects: Have some samples and a portfolio on the ready just in case any of the clients ask for it.

More importantly, though: never stop looking for new clients. It doesn’t matter if your backlog is bloated; the search for more clients should never stop.

Top Freelance Job Sites in Singapore

Freelance job sites are different from the usual job portals (JobsDB, Gumtree, JobsCentral).

So, expect the list not to touch on any of those, but strictly freelancing job boards.

CultJobs

Website: https://www.cultjobs.com

CultJobs is strictly a freelancing job board. Their requirements are also very clear:

  • They only accept creative jobs
  • The creative jobs must also fall on the business side

Any job post that fails to meet the above criteria is automatically rejected. Therefore, if your freelance skills can’t be categorised as creative, then don’t bother signing up with this job board.

MyCareersFuture

Website: https://www.mycareersfuture.sg

MyCareersFuture was started by the Singaporean government to help residents with freelancing jobs. However, unlike the other job portals, this one allows you to list your skills and start attracting clients. It’s a job portal that also doubles as a freelance platform.

Freelancer

Website:  https://www.freelancer.sg.

Freelancer is a popular freelancing job site. The platform is known for attracting thousands of job posts per day.

Here’s how the platform works: clients post jobs, and freelancers bid on them. If chosen, the client will go ahead and create a milestone for the job. You’ll then do the job and submit it once done.

The client approves the job. But you have to wait for at least two days to withdraw your money to your PayPal account.

Freelance Zone

Website: https://www.freelancezone.com.sg

FreelanceZone is a bit exclusive compare to other freelance job boards on the list. In other words, you have to be a member to access their jobs. The good thing is that registration is free, after which you’re given access to a nifty dashboard that you’ll be using to review the jobs.

Startup Jobs Asia

Website: http://sg.startupjobs.asia/sg/

Startup Job Asia is every bit like their name. The platform seeks to connect start-ups with the right talent. Meaning, start-ups from different industries post their jobs for freelancers to apply.

Tech in Asia

Website: https://www.techinasia.com/jobs

Tech in Asia is quite similar to Start-up Jobs Asia.  And please note that this job portal isn’t reserved for tech start-ups only. Anyone is free to advertise their job regardless of what industry they’re in. More of the jobs posted are by tech start-ups looking to hire web designers, marketers, and sales experts.

Glints

Website: https://glints.com/sg/opportunities/jobs/explore?countries=SG

Glint is well-known for helping students score internships. But that’s just part of what this job site is built for. What many people don’t know is that it’s among the few job sites that freelancers can use to land gigs.

Wantedly

Website: https://sg.wantedly.com/projects

Wantedly is a more advanced job site for freelancers. After you spot a job that you’re interested in, Wantedly allows you to hit the “want to visit” button and request for a casual chat with the client. You can even schedule a meeting with the company to find out how it’s like to work with them.

Upwork

Website: https://www.upwork.com

Upwork is a global, cloud-deployed freelance platform boasting the largest job finders pool. It’s a great platform for freelancers to market their services and connect with different clients. The platform connects you with clients while making sure that you’re protected from scammers. A better alternative to Freelancer.

Fiverr

Website: https://www.fiverr.com

Fiverr works a little differently from the other job boards on the list. It’s a freelance service marketplace that may work great with you if you’re just starting out. It’s one of the easiest platforms to sign up, besides accommodating different professionals, including programmers, writers, and graphic designers.

People Per Hour

Website: https://www.peopleperhour.com/

People Per Hour may be less popular when compared to the likes of UpWork and Freelancer, but it’s the most advanced of the bunch. First, the platform optimises how freelancers connect with clients by equipping them with different tools. It also has a series of features to help you out with proposal writing, account management, in-app messaging, and invoicing. 

Nexxt

Website: https://www.nexxt.com/

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Nexxt is a freelance, cloud-based platform for highly-skilled professionals. Businesses post their job adverts for freelancers to go through them and apply. The platform supports a variety of business clients, ranging from small businesses to multi-national corporations.

Design Contest

Website: https://www.designcontest.com/

DesignContest is a freelance marketplace for design professionals. It was designed to help businesses, artists, and organisations create contests. Buyers start a contest, where they invite several designers to submit their work so they can choose from. It’s a great platform for marketing your designs to notable clients.

TaskRabbit

Website: https://www.taskrabbit.com/

TaskRabbit is billed as a same-day service delivery platform. It was designed to help companies and businesses run their errands efficiently and quickly. As a freelancer, it’s a great platform to search for all kinds of jobs, including housekeeping, furniture assembly, grocery delivery, and so on.

CrowdSPRING

Website: https://www.crowdspring.com/

CrowdSPRING seeks to connect skilled freelancing professionals with businesses and companies. It’s a popular freelancing platform among creatives, especially designers and those looking to showcase their expertise. At the time of this publication, the platform boasts more than 200, 000 creative talents, and not less than 50000 businesses from all across the globe.

Hiremotely

Website: https://www.hiremotely.com/

Hiremotely is a platform dedicated to linking businesses with top software developers. The platform takes several weeks to test and grill applicants before it enlists them as members. The platform is so gung-ho on skills. You must be a really good software developer to even consider signing up with them. 

Popular Freelance Jobs in Singapore

Here’s a list of popular freelance jobs you can take in Singapore:

Tutor: It’s simple, you get paid for teaching students. Usually, freelancers charge per hour — $20 for primary students, $25 for high school students.

Photographer: Get paid to take professional photos. The good thing with this is that there are clients who are willing to pay handsomely for professional photos, provided your skills are impressive enough.

Content Developer: Get paid to write. From SEO articles to movie scripts and investigative pieces, this is one area you’ll never miss on work provided you’re writing skills are up to snuff.

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Web Developer: Web developers are paid to build websites and mobile applications. It’s a skill you can learn and turn it into a full-time career. The pay for a writer can range anywhere from a few bucks to thousands of dollars per article.

Swimming Instructor: If you’re a proficient swimmer, then that’s another opportunity to turn that into a profitable money-making career. You might also want to enrol for a swimming instructor course, and make sure you completely understand how to handle a drowning situation before you start offering the swimming lessons.

Social Media Manager: Managing your social media accounts and growing your following is no easy task. It takes a great deal of time and effort to create these posts, come up with nice graphics, and manage the ads. Some organisations and companies hire freelancers to help them out with this.

Private Hire Driver: Use your car to make some little bit of cash on the side, working as a Ryde or Grab driver. You can also make some little cash while driving from home or work. Use the Ryder and Grab app to find out if there are any passengers around you and use the opportunity to fill up your pockets with extra cash.

How Much Should You Charge Your Clients?

The money question, huh! That’s where many freelancers fumble.

The first mistake you’re likely to make as you embark on this journey is not deciding on your rates before pitching to potential clients.

When clients eventually ask you about your rates, they expect a clear answer from you. That’s no time to fumble or ask around for some ideas.

So how do you come up with these rates:

Quote the Market Price

Look at what everyone is charging for similar work. Quote something thereabout. In doing so, you’ll also be protecting yourself from overcharging your clients or undercharging yourself. Don’t be too shy to ask around. Try asking on public forums and various Facebook groups. Your post might be ignored, but it’s worth a try.

Do Some Math

Calculate the expenses of completing one order and add a margin to it. The extra money you add should be your profit.

If you’re planning on hourly rates, this is how you calculate the rates:

Set Your Annual Target Rate: How much do you wish to make by the end of the year? Take that amount and divide it by 12.

Estimate Your Annual Freelance Expenses: Determine how much it will cost you to run your freelancing business for the whole year. Do some math and run down all the expenses to be incurred in a year. Add the figure you get to your annual target.

Add Your Target Profit Margin: This figure will always improve with time. You want to grow your business and improve it with time. Therefore, it’s only best that you have a new profit target at the beginning of every fiscal year.

Calculate Your Number of Billable Hours in a Year: How many hours of work are you willing to pump into the project? These are the number of hours you spend working and not doing anything else. For how many hours do you work in a day? Calculate them for the whole week, month, and finally, the whole year.

Calculate your Hourly Rate: Add your annual target to your annual freelance expenses and profit margin, and divide everything by the number of billable hours in a year, and you should get your hourly rate. 

Your Hourly Rates = (Annual Target + Annual Business Expenses + Annual Profit Margin)/Your Total Number of Billable hours

Pick a Random Number and Adjust from there

Quote the lowest price you can come up with, and gradually work your portfolio. Adjust your rates bit by bit as time goes until you reach your target.

In whatever you do, don’t spoil the market by lowballing everyone. Just make your rates are reasonable, and if you trust your skills well enough, you can be sure some clients will be willing to pay more for it.

How to Get Paid as a Freelancer in Singapore

What payment method do you plan to use? Your options can vary depending on whether you’re planning to work with local clients or overseas ones. It’s a great idea to have a few payment options just in case one of them fails to work with any of the clients.

For Local Clients: They can pay you using a cheque or via bank transfers. If the client is within the same geographical region as you, then you can agree on cold hard cash. Be sure to discuss this with the client before jumping into business with them.

For Overseas Clients: The most popular way to receive payments from an overseas client is via PayPal. You can also agree to receive payments via bank wire transfers or western union, depending on which option the client is most comfortable with.

The point is to figure out a few payment options and reach out to the client with suggestions. Choose whatever method that both of you find convenient.  

Other Payment Options for Overseas Clients in Singapore:

Payment Options

Fees

DBS Bank (for receiving cash)

S$10 plus fees from the remitting bank overseas

OCDC Bank (for receiving cash)

S$10 plus fees from the remitting bank overseas

UOB Bank (for receiving cash)

S$10 plus fees from the remitting bank overseas

Moneygram

$16

Western Union

$25

PayPal

2.9% of the amount you send

TransferWise

0.3% to 3%, free if you’re sending to another TransferWise account

Saving as a Freelancer in Singapore

There’s a lot of uncertainties in the world of freelancing. Winter is coming, and woe unto you if it catches you unaware.

Your revenue will keep on fluctuating. You might land a huge project and net, say, $10,000 within a month. But if the client deserts you, you go back to square zero where you have to contend with an income that’s less than $1,000.

Learn to save for drier months. With every payment that checks in, a slice of it should directly go to your savings. Make sure you have something to tide you over in case winter creeps out on you.

Effective Savings Tips for Freelancers

Working from home tends to promote laziness. You might want to set up a separate workstation and at least separate your personal life from your professional one.

Even more important, learn how to manage your funds and account for every cent that passes through your hands.

Here are a few saving tips you might want to take advantage of as a freelancer:

Prepare a Budget for Every Month

Don’t spend blindly. The least you could do is have a budget that dictates your monthly expenditure. A budget will also allow you to keep track of your expenses, which will ensure that you’re more careful with how much you spend. You have a long list of budgeting apps to take advantage of. Here are some tips – click here.

Cut Down on Unnecessary Expenses

As a freelancer, you have no one to help you manage your future plans. Besides, there’s a lot of uncertainty in this line of business. You must save as much as you possibly can by taking advantage of special offers and discount codes. Also, go slow on buying unnecessary gadgets and planning unnecessary trips.

Get a low-interest Business credit Card

Have a separate credit card for business. Have something to set the distinction and prevent you from overspending. You also want to work on your business credit score, so be smart with how you handle your payments and monthly bills.

Have Budget-friendly Meetings

As a freelancer, there’s a possibility that you’ll be meeting lots of clients and potential business partners to discuss various issues. It’s a sensible idea to choose an inexpensive spot for the meetings, unless otherwise. For instance, you can organise for walk meetings, ask to meet them in their office, or invite them to your home or place of work.

Do you need a Business License to Freelance in Singapore?

Not really. Freelancing is an open industry with minimal legal implications. You don’t need a license to get in. But certain trades (such as offering ride-sharing services or operating a food stall may require licenses from relevant authorities. See some advice here.

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Creative Services (designer, graphic artist, translators, writers, and photographers): No license is needed for any of these. The furthest it can go is clients requesting to view your portfolio or any relevant academic qualifications to confirm your proficiency.

Technical Services (Software Engineers and Developers)

No license required. However, most of the clients will ask for your portfolio and academic qualifications to see if you’re a good fit for their project.

Ride-sharing Services

Ryde or Grab drivers first have to get a PDVL (Private Hire Car Driver’s License), introduced in 2017. You need this license to ferry passengers in a private car in Singapore. Adding to that, you’re also required to attend a 10-hour training course where you pay $40 application fees. See how here.

Freelancers Taxes in Singapore

Your freelance income is not exempted from tax. Your income is taxable, but your rates may vary depending on your tax residency. Check out IRAS notice here.

Tax for Residents: If you’ve stayed for more than 183 days in Singapore and worked for all those days, you become a tax resident where you’re taxed based on the progressive tax rate (of 2% to 22% depending on how much you make).

Tax for Non-residents: Non-residents are usually taxed a flat withholding tax rate, which varies depending on your type of income. For freelancers that are working on professional jobs (trainers, consultants, and coaches), 15% of their gross income or 22% of their net income will go to tax.

Public entertainers are expected to part away with 10% of their taxable income.

Finding co-working Space for your Freelance work

Tired of working from home? You can look for a co-working space around you and get a desk or an office to do your work. The quality of the space you get will, of course, vary depending on the membership fees.

If you’re looking for co-working space, here are a few well-regarded places to begin your search:

Use GorillaSpace to compare membership fees and facilities.

Final Thoughts

There goes your ultimate guide to freelancing in Singapore.

MediaOne is looking to partner with freelancers to get referral sales in. If you can find a $10K deal you get $1.5K in your pocket easily. Call 6789 9852 and ask for Tim.

Author Bio

Tom Koh is widely recognised as a leading SEO consultant in Asia who has worked to transform the online visibility of the leading organisations such as SingTel, Capitaland, Maybank, P&G, WWF, etc. Recently he was instrumental in consulting for a New York-based US$30B fund in an US$4Bn acquisition. Tom is a Computational Science graduate of the National University of Singapore. In his free time he performs pro-bono community work and traveling.
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April 30, 2020

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