How many of us would dare to make the leap from being employed to being a freelancer or self-employed?
Perhaps I won’t. But there are already many others who have made the leap.
It is estimated that there are 200,000 locals in such a working arrangement.
If you intend to join the ranks, you should meet Garick Bay.
Garick, 34, was an Aeronautical Engineer with Singapore Airlines before he made the switch to freelancing in 2011. He now has his own photography company and also conducts rockclimbing training for tertiary students.
Here’s our conversation about his experience as a freelancer.
Why did you make the switch from being an engineer to a freelance photographer/rockclimbing trainer?
Garick: While I was an engineer, I had two passion. Sports and Photography. So I was coaching actively back then. And I was doing a bit of photography then. So I was getting a bit bored and tired of the corporate world. I decided to try and see if I could make it on my own. If I don’t try, I wouldn’t know right? I was in a right phase of my life to try; I was married but I haven’t had kids then. So there wasn’t any real burden per se, except perhaps my house payment.
Were you fearful when you made the switch?
Garick: Fearful? I would say that before I made the leap, I thought over it many many times, just to be sure of what I was doing.
When you made the switch, were your family supportive?
Garick: I discussed the idea with my wife. I can’t remember how I broached the subject, but she wasn’t quite shock that I wanted to make the leap. She knew all along that I was pursuing these two interests. I did explain to her that my job wasn’t fulfilling and I wanted to try out something, and set myself a deadline of 2 years to prove myself.
It’s been more than 2 years since. Do you feel that you have succeeded or achieved what you wanted?
Garick: I can’t say I’m content. I don’t think I’ve done enough, really. But every day is a new day and there are new challenges to pursue in this freelance world.
Has there been a reduction in your income?
Garick: Yup, definitely there was a reduction from my previous full-time job.
What sort of milestones did you set for yourself when you first started out?
Garick: My first milestone was to offset the cost of my photography equipment ($20,000) within a year, which I did.
What is one of your biggest fear as a freelancer?
Garick: That would be the fear of not being able to work. Meaning, if I meet with an accident, I will be unable to work. If I’m down with the flu or a cough, I can still shoot and coach. But if I break a leg, I will be unable to do both functions.
Was it difficult when you started? Did you do it alone or you worked with a team of others?
Garick: I joined a friend who runs a Rock-climbing coaching company and he got me to coach some of his schools. That helped me jumpstart my career. Photography-wise, I joined another company, that gave me some peer-mentorship and helped me in the long run.
How different is the Freelancing industry when you started out in 2011 compared to today?
Garick: Today, the young have a more entrepreneurial spirit. A lot of them whom I speak with want to venture out and start a new startup. More and more people are ready to jump into freelancing.
What about the mindset of people towards Freelancing?
Garick: If you talk to people from the older generation, they will discourage you, but it also depends on who you speak with those who have carved a niche for themselves as an entrepreneur, they will most likely say “go for it!”.
Is it easy for someone to become a freelancer?
Garick: It’s always easy to become a freelancer. It’s more a matter of choice. You may want to come out and become a freelance writer, but its always about whether you want to take the risk or not. It’s a risk versus rewards game.
What are the benefits of being a freelancer?
Garick: Financially, if you are able to manage it wisely, you can actually capitalize on it. Same for your time.
Any thoughts about going back to the corporate world?
Garick: If there’s a good enough offer, then I might consider. But that would also depend on the job scope and prospects.
What is one advice you would give to aspiring freelancers?
Garick: Have a good network. That’s basically what you need.
Lastly, how would you measure success as a freelancer?
Garick: I measure my own success by being able to pay my own bills, feed my family, not needing to rely on someone for money and being able to make my own investments.
Freelancers like Garick do not work in a typical office environment where there are other salaried employees. As such, they also do not have some of the employment benefits that most salaried employees enjoy. That also means they do not have a union to attend to their concerns and grievances.
But what about certain services that Freelancers require? This is where the NTUC comes in with a new model for this profile of workers.
Because Freelancers are not full-time salaried employees, they are not able to enjoy the full-suite of benefits and representation that a union can provide to its members. But with the ‘Pay-Per-Use’ model, Freelancers can gain access to selected services including seminars, legal advice and other programmes under the NTUC umbrella.
Besides that, NTUC set up the Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit in 2014 to reach out to the growing pool of freelancers and self-employed individuals which now stand at 200,000. Through the unit, the NTUC intends to help understand the issues and concerns of the Freelancers and Self-Employed and to find solutions along the way.