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Finding success in the gig economy

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Freelancing might be on the rise, but is it sustainable for the long term?

Freelance gigs used to appeal mainly to skills-based workers such as photographers, plumbers and writers.

In recent years, freelancing has expanded to include on-demand jobs, such as private car hire drivers and food delivery riders. 

Better known as the gig economy, these on-demand jobs have proven popular, with around 200,000 people freelancing in Singapore.

Despite the perks offered by full-time jobs, such as medical benefits and paid annual leave, some youths are still attracted towards the freelance route.

Youth.SG spoke to four freelancers, who felt that having the freedom of choice was the major pull factor. 

For filmmaker Joy Lee, 28, freelancing offers her more freedom in choosing projects. 

"I realised that I'm super free and I can do my own side projects. That's when I decided I really want to do that. I don't see myself being tied down to any company," said Joy, who earns about $2,000 for a wedding shoot.

While Shamsydar Ani, 27, once considered becoming a full-time photographer, she felt limited by the amount of creative control she had when working for other companies.

"It [full-time photography] is very constricting as clients only want certain types of photos, although it provides a good rice bowl. I just don't feel satisfied when I shoot commercial events as it does not have emotion."

"I can't see myself working for someone anymore, as I have too much control over what I do now," said the freelance photographer, who has been shooting for eight years. 

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As a freelancer, Shamsydar works independently during most of her wedding and family portrait shoots
PHOTO CREDIT: SHAMSYDAR ANI 

They also enjoy the advantage of working at their own pace.

For Uber driver Phua Jian Xun, who has a degree in chemical engineering, getting to choose his working hours allows him to take up other jobs, such as tutoring.

"You can choose when you want to drive and where you want to drive. The only thing limiting you from making more money is the amount of work you put in. The longer you drive, the more customers you're bound to get," said the 28-year-old, who has been driving for four months.

Similarly, part-time henna artist Siti Nurzahidah, 19, believes that working at your own pace should be what freelancing is about.  

"Working at your own time and own target is very important for freelancers, as we need to multi-task different projects from time to time. When I go for my jobs, I need to make sure that all my school work is finished before I start working, because one henna design can take anywhere from three to four hours," said the polytechnic student, who does henna for extra money. 

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While Siti Nurzahidah enjoys designing henna for her customers,
she is aware that it may not be a sustainable source of income in the future.
PHOTO CREDIT: SITI ZAHIDAH

However, the youths we spoke to admitted that freelancing has its disadvantages. 

Competition is keen due to the influx in the number of freelancers in the scene. 

Shamsydar said: "These freelancers are mostly students who take up jobs during the holidays to kill time. The problem is, they do lower quality work and charge cheaper. This makes customers have bad experience with freelancers."

Similarly, Siti Nurzahidah fears that the market will be oversaturated by new freelancers who just want to make a quick dollar.

"A lot of new henna artists post their designs online and get quick customers because their designs are appealing to customers. However, their turnover rate is very fast because majority of them are students."

"They undercut the prices and leave the full-time freelancers to deal with customers questioning why our prices are so expensive," she explained. 

Another challenge faced by freelancers is the lack of employment benefits. As freelancers, they are not entitled to Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution by their employers or paid annual leave.

"Because of the lack of medical benefits, I always make sure I get my insurance coverage in case of any emergency that might happen to me. When I see the doctor, it can be quite expensive as I am paying out of my own pocket," shared Shamsydar.

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Driving Uber is a way for Jian Xun to earn money while looking for a full-time job.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/DAVID YIP

Jian Xun believes that the lack of CPF contribution is the reason why people do not see freelancing as a long-term career option. 

"The lack of CPF [contribution] is the reason why I don't do this full-time. The money I earn at the end of the day is for my keeping, but there is no one putting money into my CPF, so when I grow old or need to support myself in the future, I need to make sure that I have enough money in my account," said Jian Xun, who earns around $600 a week.

Despite such challenges, these freelancers have no regrets as they are doing something they enjoy. 

For Siti Nurzahidah, passion is the main reason why she continues to freelance. 

"Without my passion, I would not have continued freelancing because this job is not as simple as it seems. You must enjoy what you are doing, as this is something you can be doing week in and week out," said Siti Nurzahidah, who charges $10 for a simple henna design to $250 for bridal appointments. 

Shamsydar added that passion is crucial as a freelancer, as it can be challenging to scout for clients and manage business matters at the same time, such as balancing accounts.

The photographer said: "You need to like what you do, especially in the creative industry where you need to come up with something special from time to time." 

"Yes, I can recreate 100 wedding shots every week, but it will not be satisfying if there is a lack of emotions in the photos that I give my clients," she said.

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Convincing other people that she has an actual job is Joy's biggest challenge.
PHOTO CREDIT: JOY LEE

Joy, who is currently working on a Discovery Channel project, added: "(Those who want to freelance) have to ask themselves what they really want in life. Once you are certain, just take a leap of faith. Don't live in misery, don't sell your soul to the system," said Joy, who has been creating videos since 2014.

Youths also need to hone their skills before going freelance. 

Siti Nurzahidah, who took three years to learn how to draw intricate designs with henna, said: "It took me a lot of trial and error before I even considered henna as a freelance job. If youths want to freelance, they need to be ready to put in the hard work to be good at the things they do, before thinking about earning money from this."

BANNER/TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/DAVID YIP