Once deemed as a “last resort option” to make ends meet, freelancing has evolved over the years to become a career choice for professionals in search of flexibility from traditional employment, a more balanced lifestyle, and potentially higher earnings.
A reported estimate released early this year, put the number of freelancers locally at more than 200,000 – and industry trailblazers from The Fashion Collective Singapore (TFCS), are paving the way ahead to empower their counterparts with unity, collaboration, and mentorship opportunities.
Here, three independent professionals share their secrets to freelancing successfully in Singapore.
Candy Lim, Beauty and Features Editor (Freelance)
“We are stronger when we build something together – there’s no sense in going it alone.”
Ex-Features Editor, Candy Lim, stumbled into freelancing by accident – after almost two decades of working in the media industry, pressing family commitments required her to take a hiatus from her full-time role at a women’s lifestyle magazine.
Shares the dynamic mum-of-three, “It was one of the hardest career decisions I’ve ever had to make. Some nights, I’d sit in the dark and cry after everyone else had gone to bed.”
She adds, “The reality was that for years, I’d put the needs of my young family on the back burner, and it was time for me to prioritise them, even if it meant giving up a job I loved, one which I’d poured heart and soul into. Every one of us goes through life stages which require us to make personal sacrifices.”
Fortunately, with her proven portfolio and network of contacts, it wasn’t long before freelance projects came knocking at her door.
“I’m grateful to have had a constant stream of editorial and commercial work coming my way,” says the multi-hyphenate, who has art directed cover shoots and interviewed Hollywood’s A-listers, in addition to writing for publications, and creating content for social media marketing. Candy quickly realised that, despite the usual challenges faced by freelance professionals, she was enjoying the dynamic nature of a freelance career.
The Vision: To Change “I” to “We”
While catching up with an ex-colleague over dinner one day, conversation turned to industry talk, and Candy voiced out the need for a credible aggregator, one that’s created for the industry by industry insiders.
“Worldwide trends indicate a shift towards what some now refer to as a ‘gig economy’,” explains the thought leader. “Increasing numbers of professionals are joining the freelance workforce every year. But as attractive as freelancing may seem, there’s also a lot of risk involved if it isn’t done right. Who do you turn to for advice? Where do you go to seek help? It’s incredibly tough to find answers, much less, garner peer support.”
Inspired to create a holistic eco-system for freelancers in the fashion, beauty and creative industries, the pair confidently took a leap of faith and invested all their savings into founding The Fashion Collective Singapore (TFCS), Singapore’s first industry-level platform created to support freelancers with access to proven expertise, mutual support, and purposeful connections needed to succeed.
An annual membership fee of $39.90 per month helps the collective to subsidise the backend costs of maintenance and services – but members say the invaluable returns they receive far outweighs that amount. TFCS members are supported with vital tools such as a comprehensive portfolio builder via a website and TFCS app (which keeps freelancers visible and connected to clients), networking events, and above all, a mentorship program with established professional veterans – another major first for the industry.
A firm believer in the sustainable benefits of collaboration, Candy shares, “It’s tough enough being on your own in a dog-eat-dog world. No man is an island – as independent professionals, we should help to build each other up, not tear one another apart. Mutual leverage will open new doors to fresh opportunities and bigger projects.”
She adds, “Over the years, I’ve worked with many talented freelancers, many of whom have become personal friends. They’ve faced the same set of key challenges for a long time, and so much more can be done for this community, if only it were less fragmented. As an industry, we’ve still got lots of ground to cover in terms of welfare and regulation for freelance professionals, and on that note, I’m truly heartened by the Labour Movement’s formation of the Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit to look into the needs of this segment of workers.”
Ginger Lynette Leong, Makeup Artist (Freelance)
“I would rather fail while trying, than not have tried at all.”
Lynette Leong, known as “Ginger” to her peers, first worked with Candy eight years ago, on a fashion shoot for Female magazine’s annual 50 Gorgeous People.
They’ve since worked together on numerous shoots, including the annual Great Women of Our Time Awards editorial spreads for The Singapore Women’s Weekly.
Ginger, who was recently invited to do Victoria’s Secret Angel, Alessandra Ambrosio’s makeup, when she flew into town for the opening of Pasquale Bruni’s flagship store, has worked her skilful hands on the faces of popular personalities such as Denise Keller, Beatrice Chia, and home-grown model, Sheila Sim – but things weren’t always this rosy.
Charming Alessandra Ambrosio blooms like a precious flower among the leaves of Giardini Segreti collection pic.twitter.com/29HONRZlA4
— Pasquale Bruni (@PasqualeBruniOF) August 5, 2016
“I had just $50 in my bank account when I made the decision to leave the safety of my desk-bound job to pursue my passion,” reveals the makeup maven. “I thought long and hard before finding the courage to venture out on my own,” she recounts, “But I knew I would regret it if I didn’t give myself a chance.
“It was incredibly tough starting out – without experience, no one will hire you, and it’s a difficult cycle to break because obviously, when you can’t get hired, you can’t get experience,” Ginger explains.
“I jumped at the opportunity to work on editorial jobs whenever I could, in order to earn ‘street cred’ and industry exposure. Suffice to say, I quickly learnt the importance of careful money management!”
“There were those who looked down on me and doubted my ability to create diverse looks,” says Ginger, who proved detractors wrong by winning Shu Uemura’s “Mother Earth” Makeup Competition in 2009. The support of my family and friends got me through my darkest hours. My determination and desire for self-improvement has kept my passion going strong.”
Now, as a doyen in the fashion and beauty industry, the TFCS Makeup Mentor is keen to help build the next generation of makeup artists.
“Uncertainty can be terrifying and paralysing,” she shares.
“As part of TFCS, I want to inspire others to chart their own paths. I also want to work with like-minded professionals and brands on more projects,” she enthuses. “I wish that such a platform existed when I first started out,” she adds wistfully. “I love the spirit of collaboration and mutual support at TFCS, this collective has been a long time coming, and it is exactly what our industry needs.”
Eddie Teo, Photographer (Freelance)
“I’ve always dreamed of having my own studio.”
Photographer Eddie Teo, who has shot local celebrities including Pierre Png, Jessica Liu, and Rebecca Lim, started off assisting one of Singapore’s top editorial photographers. He quickly picked up trade secrets – the type usually handed down only from master to disciple, before stepping out on his own a few years later.
Eddie readily shares that one of the key challenges he faces, is the lack of contractual protection for freelancers.
“Some companies require independent contractors to sign an ‘all-lose-no-win’ contract,” he explains. “I did not have much of a choice, especially when I first started out, but to accept those jobs.
“I built my portfolio with editorial work – which typically doesn’t pay much, and sometimes, not at all, but editorial work is creative and carries credibility. And when the opportunity finally came for me to work with one of the publishing industry’s toughest names – someone with a reputation for being extremely difficult to work with, but who at the same time, was widely respected as a ‘genius’ for the quality of work she produced – I bit the bullet and jumped at the chance.”
He admits, “The experience was brutal at times, on top of the harsh conditions of outdoor shooting, professionalism at the highest level was expected.”
But Eddie’s hard work paid off, and a steady stream of work began to flow in. “I started thinking about how to create an efficient studio space to shoot in, without incurring high overheads,” he reveals.
His solution? Converting his entire living room into a studio, and sacrificing his bedrooms into hair, makeup and styling rooms. “These days, I worry about getting a car that’s big enough to carry all my equipment!” he says with a happy grin.
Having worked with a myriad of teams and clients, Eddie attributes the production of great images to the collective contribution from every crew member involved in a shoot, from the editor’s concept and art direction, to the skills of the stylist, photog, hair and makeup artists, as well as the talents.
The Fashion Collective, A Gig Aggregator
“We’re a centralised hub, bringing all these experts together as a functioning community.”
Candy, who regularly assembles her own photoshoot crews, adds, “Team work is crucial because you’re working with different dynamics brought on set by several freelancers.
Having team members who know each other and work well together, sets the stage for a smoother and more efficient flow – freelancers who are familiar with each other’s styles get into a groove and sometimes, pure production magic happens when such teams get into action.
“For every shoot I work on, I personally handpick an A-team based on the concept and needs of the project – are we shooting a fashion spread, a step-by-step beauty how-to, or does the shoot involve ‘real people’ subjects? There are many factors that come into play when curating a great team of freelancers based on skill sets, working styles, pace of work, and collective vision.
“As an aggregator and a collective, TFCS aims to be a centralised hub, bringing all these experts together as a functioning community,” Candy shares. “We work hard for our passion, but we also have lots of fun doing what we do! It’s a great platform open to all levels – whether you’re a newbie looking for guidance, or an established professional looking for more opportunities to collaborate, come say hi and join this growing family.”
Ang Hin Kee, Director of NTUC’s Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit
“Freelancers may not be full union members but they still need services, hence the pay-per-use model may work better.”
With more and more people turning to freelancing as a viable full-time career, their needs differ too from the traditional 9-to-5 workers. We speak with Mr Ang Hin Kee, Director of NTUC’s Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit about what the Labour Movement can offer this growing segment of working people.
Q: Is NTUC looking into helping the freelancers?
Yes, the labour movement is changing the way it recruits and provides services to its members, including changing our model to better serve the new segments, like the Freelancers and Self-Employed. We want to be able to be there for them, understand their issues and challenges. We’ve formed a new unit, the Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit to look into it and find solutions along the way.”
Q: So you will recruit freelancers as union members?
Ang: No, freelancers don’t work in companies, so they cannot be unionised so to speak. But even if they may not be union members but they still need services. So if we have other operating models where we can serve them, they can still benefit from the programmes under the NTUC umbrella. In this sense, the traditional ‘pay per month’ model for union members does not work for freelancers. But it’s possible that NTUC allows the freelancers access to selected services such as training on a ‘pay per use’ basis.
Q: What is the progress of your work to help the Freelancers and Self-Employed?
The key is to engage with them and find out how they would like to be helped, so we’re starting with that.
We also hope that the Labour Movement could give freelancers a voice. We want these groups of workers to have ownership. We want them to champion their cause, internalise the issues, face their problems and stand behind their solutions.
Interested In Freelancing?
Well, you don’t need to be alone in this – check out NTUC Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit’s website freelanceXchange.sg and their Facebook page for exclusive deals, resources and communities that you, and current freelancers will definitely benefit from!
This article is written by Chia Sihan, Freelance Editor with The Fashion Collective Singapore (TFCS).