Why I Quit Freelancing in Singapore

After working for 7 years, I grew a little weary of the corporate world. When the opportunity of freelancing came knocking in 2013, I took the plunge to be my own boss. Running a business (even if it is just a one-woman show) has certainly brought out initiatives where I did not think I could achieve if I were still a salaried employee.

  • I walked away from clients who want to take advantage of me by giving them free mock-ups before signing a contract.
  • I successfully pitched and received my first project from the government through the official invitation-to-bid portal.
  • I once consulted my competitor when I needed to clarify a printing process.
  • Once bitten twice shy, I learnt how to protect my design work with online copyright registration services if I am submitting a pitch. At least that’s something.
  • I learnt how to set up my first website in WordPress.
  • I made photos into 3D in video on Adobe After Effects from scratch.
  • I sourced and brought in innovative promotional items to supplement income.
  • I drove to meet clients at their offices in far-out places up to 30km away, when I have never previously driven more than 6km from my home.
  • I closed the largest single sales at $16,680.

However, 2 years on and I threw in the towel. Why?

Making Health a Priority

Making Health a Priority

In a nutshell, I have to do everything myself and the cash flows are insufficient to support another full-time person to take on the design work that I was doing. I engaged other freelancers, who have their day job as a graphic designer, and want to earn something extra on the side. It didn’t work out well; one left the project halfway, the other was juggling with his newborn and studies – work became a matter of fulfilling one’s commitment and not exacting to quality standards.

In the end, I was working 12 hours from Monday to Friday and mostly weekends too. I began to realise that I have placed my health on the backburner. I had to dedicate so much of time on my business that I had to stop pilates and exercise became infrequent. In long hours of sitting, my calves became very tight and I also felt soreness in my knees. I developed dry eyes and they were sometimes so dry that they watered, which stung when they do. I had to close my eyes until they don’t hurt.

Simply put, my health was affected. If I do not do something about it, it would get worse.

Getting a break to go on long trips is very challenging and the business is not sustainable for a long period of time. In no time, I got burnout from work. Where I was once enthusiastic about working on a design, I would feel it like a chore.

When Getting By Isn’t Enough

When Getting By Isn't Enough

I started freelancing because I wanted to spend more time with my mom and I wasn’t doing that. I also wasn’t earning enough to support myself. When I thought waiting for a salary every month as a salaried worker was slow, the stark reality in freelancing here was I paid myself a lump sum only every 6 months at SGD2,000 per month without CPF contribution* I was really missing out a lot on that 20% employer contribution for the past two years.

*Central Provident Fund (CPF) scheme is Singapore’s national social security savings programme, where you and your employer contribute 20% and 17% of your monthly salary respectively into your account held by CPF Board. These 36% will be allocated into 3 accounts: Ordinary Account (OA), Special Account (SA) & Medisave Account (MA). Contribution and allocation rates depend on your age group. As of beginning 2015, it was announced that we will continue to receive 2.5% interest on OA and 4.0% interest on SA and MA from Apr 1 to Jun 30, 2015.

I had to ensure there was enough in the bank to pay my suppliers and the sum doesn’t drop below the bank’s minimum amount before they start to charge SGD35 every month. I will ask for a 50% deposit before work starts and if that didn’t work out, then my clients will make payment in 30 days after the job is done.

On a few occasions, I had to wait 2 to 3 months to get paid. Longest till date? Well I am still waiting for payment from the same company, who just made full payment this year for the first work that ended 8 months ago. In Singapore, clients usually will pay because the small claims tribunal is pretty efficient – but no one told me that they will take this long.

One good thing was my clients will chase payments for me, because they knew I needed it to survive. On the other hand, they are also bound to adhere to the policies of the company. If the company does not relent, there is only so much that they can do and I can only wait.

Life Does Not Wait

Starting a New Page
Starting a new page of life

It is bittersweet to leave what I love doing, but life has to go on. Passion is like a fire. In order to keep it burning, you need to feed it constantly with chopped wood (finances).

I have reentered into the workforce this year. Until I collect the last payment, I’ll still keep the business open but I have stopped its operations to concentrate on the new job. I also want to build this blog up and see where it takes me.

You have heard my story. I want to hear yours now.

How is freelancing like in your country?
Was your health affected?
Please share in the comments below.