TL;DR – Freelancers make their own lunch. And it’s not free!
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently commented to a group of union leaders on how Singapore must not only protect its lunch, but steal other people’s lunches too.
In fact, young and hungry freelancers are already “stealing other people’s lunches”, even before they graduate from university!
If you, like me, are quite clueless about the competitiveness of such freelancers, then you should meet Terence Pek.
The student who became an entrepreneur
Terence is a young entrepreneur who started his own freelance business, Terresquall, when he was still studying in polytechnic.
Terresquall is a creative agency dealing with web, games and visual media. Terresquall offers gamification services, which has been touted as one of the new ways of getting people to pick up skills faster via bite sized, just-in-time modules that can be customised quickly to adapt to changing market demands.
I mean, if people yawn at the prospect of sitting in long lectures, why not make learning fun via games? Gamification is set to disrupt the traditional adult-learning education industry where it can take months to develop new curricula and “innovation” is simply uploading lectures on webcasts and tests via online forms.
Whose lunch is at risk of being stolen by up-and-coming tech-savvy freelancers?
As a freelancer, Terence aims to offer web, games and media services to multiple clients who have trouble in-sourcing these services to their own employees, as the latter may not be quick enough to pick up the skills to create such services.
So how did he respond when we asked him if freelancers were stealing the lunches of full-time employees?
“Everyone who has or had a job is guilty of theft. Every job that someone is doing can be done by someone else.”
A full-time job isn’t a lifetime employment guarantee, although many seem entitled to feel that way. Essentially, when you hold a job, it means that you are, in some way, providing value to someone. If you have given your employer enough incentive to start looking for alternatives, that means that you are likely falling way below their expectations in some way.
If you really want that job, why not start finding out where you are lacking as an employee and shore it up?
Terence also does not intend to find a full-time employed job with a single employer, saying
“Personally, I’ve never found the idea of a full-time job particularly logical, because you are putting all your eggs in one basket. You will always have to be pandering to a handful of your superiors because they control so much of your “fate”.
How did this millennial start freelancing?
Terence started freelancing since he was 17 years old because he had classmates and lecturers who “knew people” when he was pursuing his diploma in Polytechnic.
“They would refer people to me quite frequently, especially after my graduation, because I had a reputation of producing good work.
Freelancing was also exciting because it gave me extra pocket money during school and my National Service…over time, my freelancing evolved into what you see today.”
Can students sustainably manage their studies while freelancing?
Even though he was busy freelancing, he still managed to complete his Bachelors in English Language at the National University of Singapore. If you wonder how he juggles between working on client’s projects and school work, Terence will share that it’s all about smart-planning, and being brutally practical about what matters.
“I would say my studies clash with my freelance work, actually. I don’t plan to have a full-time job, so it’s more important that I am good at my freelancing than I am at academics. There really isn’t a timetable plan I have. I just set myself up for University in such a way that it demands very little time from me.
For example, I choose modules which allow me to do “last-minute mugging” so I can skip going to the lectures, or modules I already have a background in so that I don’t have to study too much. Most importantly, I study for exams. This means I only spend time on material that are relevant to the exams (a lot of what your professors tell you are relevant might not be so).
Find smart shortcuts! Think about working smart first before working hard. I have a CAP of 4.2. It’s not too bad, but I’m not exactly a high-flier either. Take my words for what they are worth.”
The freelancing industry is still a cowboy town
But if you think the freelance industry looks all free and easy, Terence also warns that freelancers face their own set of problems.
“A lot of people become fascinated with the fact that I make my own hours, and so see me as some sort of modern cowboy. It is nice to be seen that way, but things aren’t always rosy. Plus, you will have no social life if you play your cards wrong (which has its own brand of terrifying), because you can be working on your own most of the time.”
Freelance job hazards include late or no payment from clients, contractual disagreements and clients “who are looking to get a good deal out of you”.
So how does he deal with clients who try to take advantage of his freelancer status?
“Knowing your boundaries is important with your clients, because that will educate you on when you should be assertive with your clients. It may also be good to get a deposit from clients before you start work, as it shows commitment to the project from your client.
That being said, I’ve learnt not to treat my clients as the enemy. Even if they may be trying to get a good deal out of me, a sincere effort to help someone create something useful goes a long way to creating a reputation among your clientele.”
What tips does he have for fellow freelancers?
“No matter how good you think your work is, as a freelancer, clients aren’t going to come to you because of work quality. If they had money, they would go to a company with a reputable track record, wouldn’t they?”
This is why he also decided to set up his own company Terresquall. “This is just to give a professional front to my freelancing really. You do have to develop a simple sales process for handling some clients, and it is convenient to have a company name for the purposes of said sales process.”
Terence shares that freelancers should also network actively!
“A lot of the deals I close are actually from people I already know. On top of that, socialising can be fun if one goes into it with the right mindset, so that’s what I’m looking to “gain” from an upcoming freelancer fair organised by NTUC*.
I found out about the fair through IoTalents, where I’m also working as a freelance Community Manager, and I am helping them put a segment together for this fair.”
The industry should also push for better education on how clients should treat freelancers.
“The fair NTUC is doing which educates hirers is very much appreciated, because that will hopefully drive more people to engage freelancers. More opportunity is never bad for us!”
So are freelancers stealing the lunches of full-time employees?
Although freelancing can be tricky business, there are more people joining the freelance industry (especially with the rise of the gig economy). This means that increasingly, companies may depend on short term contracts for contingent labour to expand and contract their manpower needs more responsively to market demands.
Regardless whether a freelancer is freelancing as a result of losing his full-time job or not, the competition for jobs between freelancers and full-timers looks set to increase.