9 tips to help freelancers stay afloat during a pandemic

Have distancing measures, travel bans and the closure of non-essential businesses affected your livelihood? Here’s how to overcome the uncertainty of self-employment.

Five-hour workdays, pursuing your passion, freedom to call the shots on everything… Who doesn’t love the idea of being their own boss?

In 2019, there were about 211,000 people in Singapore who did freelance work as a form of regular employment for their livelihood. That’s about 8.8% of the resident workforce, and figures have been growing1.

Whether you’re a trader, a wedding planner, piano teacher or pet sitter, every self-employed individual takes this path of independence knowing full well that the excitement and endless possibilities come with risks – good months and bad months, fluctuating income levels, changing client demands and so on. But a pandemic like COVID-19 is a rude reminder that work can dry up almost overnight (or, if you’re in the right field at the right time, create a heightened demand for your services that you can barely keep up with – nod to the food delivery folk).

This unprecedented event doesn’t just create an opportunity to rise to a challenge (something freelancers tend to be familiar with). It highlights the importance of achieving financial security as a freelancer. Is that even possible? Follow these tips to set the stage for success during a pandemic and beyond.

1: Look after yourself first. Profits matter, but that shouldn’t be your focus now. You may suddenly find yourself more worried about falling ill during this time. So, take care of your health by eating right, staying fit and going for regular health screenings to detect and treat illnesses early.

If you haven’t already done so, ensure you have adequate insurance to cover at least two things: large hospital bills, and financial support for your loved ones should the worst happen to you. Having this in place lets you focus on your work without worrying about what-ifs – pandemic or not.

2: Reduce your liabilities. Keeping your debts to a minimum and paying them promptly means you won’t have to struggle with repayments during a prolonged dry period. If you need to take a home loan, for instance, don’t just take the maximum loan amount you’re eligible for; instead consider an amount that you can manage.

You can also be prudent by setting lower limits on your monthly credit card spending and reducing non-discretionary spending in general. And in times of plenty, rather than booking a luxury cruise, put your money into a university fund for your child.

3: Have a passive income. It could be rental income from letting out a spare room in your home, dividends from bonds or regular payouts from a savings plan.

This steady source of income can be something to fall back on during trying times. And if you never need to touch this money, it could turn into a handsome retirement fund or even wedding gift for your child.

4: Give your time to non-profits. Since you’d have fewer projects during an unexpected downturn, take the opportunity to donate your time to charity organisations. Doing meaningful work will give you fulfilment and kill boredom. It’ll also widen your network – something every freelancer relies on for success in an ever-evolving world.

5: Have a cash cushion. Aim to set aside emergency savings that can cover you for at least six months. The money should be accessible, not locked away in a bond or long-term savings plan.

That way, should illness, an accident or the next pandemic put you out of work, you and your loved ones will have money to tide you over and pay for essential bills until you can work again.

6: Make regular CPF contributions. If you’re not someone who invests, making regular voluntary contributions to your Central Provident Fund account is an easy and safe way grow your retirement nest egg. While contributions to your Ordinary account will fetch a guaranteed interest rate of 2.5% annually, topping up your Special Account and Medisave Accounts will earn at least 4% interest a year.

What’s more, you’ll also get tax reliefs for making CPF contributions, so this is a smart move for freelancers.

7: Keep learning, improving and acquiring new skills. Because it’s your skills that bring in the dough. Don’t stop upgrading to keep your skills relevant, though. Expanding your repertoire of proficiencies allows you to offer a wider scope of services to a larger market – a great way to build freelancer resilience and increase potential earnings. So, if you’re a writer who likes to play with colour and space, take up a web design course, and if you’re a photographer with a gift of the gab, try your hand at event hosting.

8: Stay on the ball. As we touched on earlier, constant networking is crucial for freelancers – not just during a crisis. Stay on the pulse of what’s going on in your field by subscribing to industry publications or blogs, and chat with other freelancers in the same business.

When customers see that you’re always in the know about what’s trending, you’ll be at the top of their minds when the economy improves and new projects come up. Constant communication with other freelancers could also open the door to collaborations, help you suss out opportunities, or put you in a convenient position to take on jobs that others are unable to do themselves.

9: Be like a yoyo. Versatility is the keyword in today’s economy. If you run a cafe, consider doing home deliveries or selling DIY cooking kits for your signature dishes online. And if you’re a tutor, consider starting online classes.

Remember, you don’t have to wait for a pandemic to reinvent the wheel. Constantly experimenting with new ways to do business helps you adapt quickly in a rapidly changing business environment, create new sources of sustainable income and leapfrog competitors.  

While it can take a while to shake off the effects of a major pandemic, freelancers can find comfort in the fact that the rest of the country – and world – are in it too. Take this lull period to review your operations, draw up plans you never had time to make, do the housekeeping you’ve been too busy to do, upskill through online courses, and just take a break. Together, these measures will help you bounce back stronger when the crisis blows over and prepare you to tackle the next big challenge!

1 The Straits Times© Singapore Press Holdings. Extracted with permission. “More Singapore residents working as freelancers”, 31 January 2020.


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