#DigitalCareers: Freelancing In The New Normal – How Is It Different? 6 Freelancers Share Their Stories With Us

Category: Career

COVID-19 has caused many freelancers in Malaysia to adapt to the new normal, but how affected are they by the pandemic? We interviewed 6 freelancers on their experiences and stories, read more to find out.


The COVID-19 pandemic has dismantled the global job market, resulting in a record number of layoffs, pay cuts, and unemployment, as employers are forced to trim their budgets as part of sweeping cutting cost measures.  

Regardless, one industry that has seemed to ride out the storm is the freelance industry. Despite the International Labour Organization reporting that there was a 14% drop in global working hours – equivalent of 400 million full-time jobs – in the second quarter of 2020, crowdsourcing marketplace Freelancer reported that job openings increased over 25% during the April to June quarter of 2020. 

According to Freelancer, the pandemic has led to a huge demand in number crunchers, e-commerce and computer game projects seekers. Freelance work for mathematicians (up 99.6%), statisticians (75%) and other jobs directly connected to the pandemic, particularly saw the biggest increases.

The hike, the report states, is in tandem with increase in tracking and tracing of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, mortality rates, tests conducted and more, as well as the impacts of the pandemic. 

But is that scenario really a reflection of the reality in Malaysia? 

To get a better sense of what’s happening on the ground, we spoke to several local freelancers about their work, the impact of the pandemic on their jobs, and asked them to share several tips when it comes to freelancing. 

Oh and if you’re wondering, our definition of a freelancer is someone who provides services like writing, designing, performance etc by the hour, day, job, etc., compared to working on a regular salary basis for one employer.

A seasoned writer, content strategist and authority marketer, 46

Little did Chee Seng know that leaving his full-time job as an advertising copywriter more than two decades ago, and becoming a freelancer – despite not having that many connections or experience – would lead him to where he is today: a full-time freelancer with a rich career spanning more than two decades. 

“It was very difficult (at first). The toughest interview I had was when an interviewer said to me: ‘I got a 15-year copywriting person out there, who has won awards, with a wife and a child to feed – so why should I hire you, who only has one and a half experience? ” he recalls. “Because I spent so little time in the industry, and didn’t have experience in a major agency, I didn’t get to build up the network, connections and a good portfolio of work to help boost my reputation. So it was actually very difficult for a number of years.”

Without significant experience and connections, Chee Seng found himself in a very difficult situation: at the bottom of the freelance barrel, forcing him to constantly hustle, and that meant he couldn’t be picky with jobs.

“If you understand the advertising industry at the time, there was sort of a pecking order, so you had the agencies, and agencies that did jobs for printers, and the bottom of that pecking order was probably the printers because that’s where the final products would come out. So I was taking jobs from printers at that time, who are notoriously cut throat; that was me for about 10-15 years.”

But all that hard work would eventually pay off. Chee Seng’s big break came in 2012, when he landed a part-time job at a prestigious international digital media company, despite that year being, simultaneously, the lowest point of his career. 

“I really thought I was going to lose everything. My wife and I, we just prayed that something good was going to happen – and thank God something did happen – someone introduced me to Yahoo Malaysia. I was hired to be a part-timer there, and that job really carried a lot of weight because a lot of doors started to open after that. Though I did well there, Yahoo Malaysia, unfortunately, would soon close down. But the name itself helped open a lot of doors so I am very fortunate.” 

Today, he continues to come up with creative ideas of different formats like design, advertising, marketing, publications, digital and PR, for brands, C-suites, and senior government officials. His work can be seen on his own platform, and others like Cilisos and Coconuts KL. His stories on Cilisos have done particularly well in terms of engagement, with one article reaching 44K shares.  

How did COVID-19 affect your work? 

Luckily for Chee Seng, the pandemic has not affected his assignments or retainer contracts. “I am very fortunate in a sense that my existing clients have kept me on board. So I’m really fortunate and thankful for that, even though their work has dropped,” he said. “But thank god, recently, work is picking up again on their part.”

He also feels that this economic crisis is different compared to past ones, in a sense that his work may not completely disappear but channeled differently than before. 

“Whenever there’s downtime (crisis), the first budget to be cut is the comms budget. But this round, it’s different – certain portions of comms didn’t get cut. Media got cut, traditional advertising got cut, but digital really came up. Everybody is looking for a digital writer etc. So I think there was a compensating factor. And I am fortunate because I have digital experience. In fact, for me, I was even almost as busy as before COVID-19 because a lot of the work was digital work.”

In terms of the actual work, Chee Seng said he noticed that most of his work is now being done digitally and that extensive remote working has somewhat blurred the lines of working hours. 

“I’m quite used to working from home for 30+ years, because I’ve been doing that, but now we lost a sense of where the cut off point is,” he said. “When video conferencing becomes more available, the time gets a little blurred.” 

Tips for other freelancers:

1. Improve your workflow: learn to research and write faster
For Chee Seng, the gold standard is to get it right the first time. Being more meticulous and consistently producing quality work, he said, can build one’s reputation as a dependable worker with clients. 

“I learned to be more merciless with myself as a writer. I am my worst editor and my harshest critic. When the product goes to the client, it has very little word length to clear so the servicing time is less,” he said. 

“My aim is to always get it right the first time. Even if I didn’t hit it right the first time – at least if I get 90% right the first time, I only have 10% left to handle before it’s done.” 

2. Always have a financial backup
“If you were like me last time – no connections and no jobs in the pipeline – that was really difficult so I struggled for many years. So either have financial security or a line of jobs waiting for you,” he said. 

3. Personal branding is key
Rather than just showcasing your own work, personal branding, Chee Seng said, has evolved into something that is more personal in nature. 

“Everybody has skills, work and experience – so what makes you different? The only differentiating factor is you. So it’s really about showcasing the way you work and think and your personality,” he said. “You can’t corner the whole market. Be authentic when you put yourself out there in the market that will attract a certain group of people.”

4. If it’s to your advantage to do free work, take it up!
“Not everything is valued by money,” he said. “There are values that money can’t buy like exposure for example. It’s a real thing. If I write for a large brand name for free, but they allow me to put my name on it – that’s the kind of branding that I can’t buy. And that’s what I did for the first book that I wrote, it was supposed to be by a ghostwriter, but because the pay was really low, I said ‘never mind, but I want my name on the cover. So if there’s an opportunity that pays very little but benefits you, I say go for it.”

5. Always be curious, always grow
Sharing his experience, Chee Seng said, taking a chance on new, but foreign, challenges could work to your advantage, especially if you pick up new skills or knowledge that could help you on your next career move. 

“When I joined Yahoo, I had zero digital knowledge but I was willing to learn, and they were willing to take a chance on me. When I went into PR, I had no experience, but they were willing to take a chance on me and, again within branding – I only have a little background on it – but I’m willing to take a chance on myself. I am always trying to differentiate myself and take extra challenges,” he said. “The moment you say you’re an expert, that’s when you stop growing.”

Related: How To Survive As A Freelancer In Malaysia

An independent visual journalist who specialises in news and current affairs, 34

Joshua Paul’s job takes him almost anywhere: Taiwan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore and many more. Beyond his passion for journalism, and telling great stories, what drives him and his freelance career is, as he puts it, is his love for freedom and his dislike of being stuck in the office. “I’m pursuing my dreams, and more importantly, I like doing news,” he said. 

Flick through Joshua Paul’s professional website and you’ll see a large body of impressive visual storytelling that exude real, strong emotions. 

An established independent visual journalist with eight years of experience, he specialises in documentary and EFP (electronic field production) camerawork with an interest in social issues, international and local conflicts, and refugee migration. 

He started his career in 2011 as a freelancer before joining the international news agency Associated Press (AP) as a photojournalist in 2014, covering major events like Malaysian Airline MH370 and MH17 tragedies. He also focused on daily news pieces, documentaries and feature stories. 

Today, his work has been published by international news agencies around the world including TIME, Forbes, New York Times, International New York Times, The Guardian, Washington Post and The Telegraph to name a few.

Paul picks up most of his clients, averaging around 50 clients yearly, from networking and getting recommended jobs. “I don’t use a specific platform. I mostly call around networks,” he said.

How did COVID-19 affect your work? 

“Really bad – I don’t get to travel,” he said. “I cover Southeast Asia, so I don’t get to travel and I can’t go for shoots and stuff.”

To cope with the situation, Paul has been coordinating his shoots remotely from Malaysia by working with a local crew from another country. “Recently. I did one for a client in Bangkok, and I coordinated the crew from Malaysia – I let them know what kind of footage we are looking for, doing interviews. Basically you have to guide a group of people to produce. Telling them these are the shots you are looking for.”

He also believes the situation will remain the way it is for freelancers such as himself for sometime, and would only bounce back after there is a vaccine. “There is nothing much I can do (besides coordinating from Malaysia), and there’s not much work I can do. This year I’ve only had six or seven projects. It’s bad but it is what it is. But the good thing is, I did save up for the bad times.” 

Tips for other freelancers:

1. Save up for a rainy day – make sure your financing planning is tip top!
“I started freelancing without any financial support from my parents, so when I started, it was really a risk and a gamble. The first couple of years was tough because you had to pay for rent and all of that, but I believe you really should follow your passion and what you love to do,” he said. 

“I somehow predicted it (that COVID-19 would get this bad), so I started saving months ahead, he said. “It’s just that none of us expected it to be this long. My tip for anyone who wants to do freelancing is financial planning because there’s a lot of ups and downs, and you have to predict that and plan and adapt.” 

2. Know your niche, and be attuned to the market demands 
Other than just financial planning, Paul said, personal branding is also equally important because your work and knowing what you’re good at would be your selling point.

He also emphasised the importance of keeping up with changing market demands by constantly knowing what clients and the audience are looking for. “Years ago there wasn’t Facebook or Twitter, but today, everybody wants one-minute videos because people don’t have that much time to watch long videos anymore,” he said.  

Former financial journalist and producer and presenter

Kathleen Tan was hustling as a financial journalist for around eight years before she decided to become a full-time freelance writer in 2015. 

The transition, she said, came after she got married, as she wanted a more flexible schedule in order to be with her family more often. “I also believed that as a freelance writer, I could work from anywhere, and would not need to commute and be stuck in an office for long hours everyday. I could also pursue the topics and areas of my interest,” she said. 

Like most other freelancers we spoke to, sourcing for work and clients have always been, one of the biggest challenges they face. But Tan said she’s blessed to have secured most of her clients through word of mouth, friends, as well as former bosses and employers who were familiar with her portfolio of work. “Often, they were familiar and confident with the quality of my work, and would seek me out when they needed a writer for extra work that their current teams could not accommodate,” she said. 

She’s also tried searching for work online via freelance groups on Facebook, and listed her details on online writer directories or freelancing portals such as Upwork. Interestingly, she said, though she’s met a couple of prospective clients through digital means, the ones that work out were always by word of mouth. “As a Christian, I believe God has been good in granting me divine favour with people!” she said. “How do I find out about these resources? Google! I just started from scratch honestly. With the Internet at our fingertips, nothing is impossible really.” 

Tan currently works with four different companies in various capacities – a mix of project-based work or ad hoc one-off articles. She’s also found herself in two polarising situations as a freelancer because of the flexible working schedule: sometimes there is a “drought” season where she has to constantly look for work and proposals get rejected. Other times, she finds herself juggling multiple deadlines for several clients in the same week. 

“I try to have a mix of retainer-type project work that takes a longer time to complete and faster turnaround articles so that it is more financially viable and practically speaking, I constantly have work to do,” she said. 

She believes she can earn more than a salaried job through freelancing, but it requires a lot of dedication or in other words, time. “As a freelancer, time is your biggest commodity – the more time you devote to work, the more money you can potentially make. This doesn’t apply to a salaried worker who gets a fixed income every month.”

How did COVID-19 affect your work? 

“When MCO was first implemented, I got affected adversely in two ways – my child was stuck with me 24/7 (so I could not work as much as I wanted to) and my clients were not able to pay me for completed work as their offices were not operating. One of my clients in the education sector could not operate and I had zero work from them – normally I would get a number of article requests,” Tan said. 

On the flipside, when CMCO was announced, she noticed some of her clients were more keen to market their products and services again, which needed her services. “Businesses began operating again and I was able to resume my work as well (a lot of my work is corporate communications or marketing communications related),” she said. 

Tan believes the demand for freelancing could be affected in a few ways – on one hand, clients could be outsourcing more work if it is cheaper than hiring new staff, but at the same time, clients with shrinking budgets would likely not outsource work, meaning less work for freelancers. 

“The advantage of freelancers is that companies don’t have to pay them fixed salaries and offer them employee benefits – they also save on overheads.They are like contract workers, easily dispensable, and can be hired as and when they are needed,” she said. “Some freelancers also offer specialised skills and experience that employers either cannot find in fresh hires or are unwilling to spend on in hiring experienced full-time employees.”

Like other freelancers, Tan has seen more phone and email interviews, as well as video call meetings with clients. “Less work to some extent with certain clients, but more work in others, depending on how companies are affected. The demand for certain kinds of writing has changed,” she said. 

To cope with these changes, Tan has had to be more creative with her approach, and has had to work harder to pitch to new and existing clients. 

Tips for other freelancers:

1. Price higher because clients may tend to lowball you!
“One piece of good advice I got from a more experienced freelance writer was to always price higher than the price you want because Malaysian clients always haggle for lower prices!” she said. 

“However that being said, you better be sure you can deliver the goods if your price is at a premium! I make it a point to never overpromise and underdeliver in my work so I honestly communicate with the client what I am capable of and what I am not, to give them an accurate picture and to manage expectations,” she added. 

2. Let your work speak for itself
A true believer in the notion that ‘hard work will pay off’, many of Tan’s first few clients were her ex-editors who knew her work ethic and quality and wanted her to write for them even when she no longer worked in their companies. 

“I always work hard and give my best as I believe good quality work will speak for itself – I find this to be true in my case,” she said. 

3. Be professional 
“Clients appreciate professionalism and ethics. Be a good person – give clients the benefit of the doubt, be gracious and extend goodwill – you never know when you yourself will need these in return,” she said. “And don’t be afraid to push yourself and try something new – the beauty of freelancing is that you are able to explore different areas and test new waters all the time.”

4. Know how to manage yourself
Tan said one way to become better at freelancing is to keep a routine and schedule as it helps, productivity-wise. This could also mean having a dedicated workspace. 

“When you are focused, you can get work done faster in fewer hours than endless non-productive days. Set small achievable daily goals if the overall workload seems overwhelming,” she said. 

Related: 8 Side Jobs for Malaysians to Earn Extra Money During CMCO

Pursuing Masters while freelancing on the side, 24

Though he’s only still in his early 20s, Nazmi Azrymi already has a somewhat extensive freelancing career, having started in 2016 while still in college. 

A jack of all trades, he currently freelancers in language and writing-related services, including proof editing, translating, resume writing and designing as well as content and copywriting. 

He is currently freelancing full-time, on top of pursuing his masters at a local university, while also taking slightly-longer contractual jobs to build his presence in the industry. “I’m currently also working with an esports company to be their news translator until November. It’s not determined yet whether I will make this a permanent/full-time thing, but for the time being, it is my main source of income.”

Nazmi cut his tooth in the freelance industry by assisting his friend, who was a freelancer himself. “He was the one outsourcing his jobs to me whenever he didn’t have the time to complete it by himself. From there, I began to take note of how he looked for clients and projects,” he said. 

Offering language-related services as a freelancer while studying came with the perk of being at the right place at the right time: on campus. 

“Up until today, I was able to promote my services among friends and acquaintances who would need my help regarding their academic assignments,” he said. “I also utilised social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to post about my services and rates. From there, and word-of-mouth, I was able to get multiple gigs.”

The same can be said for his content and copywriting. It started with the help of a freelancer friend, who outsourced her job to him and was how he built his experience. 

“Once I’ve gained enough, then only I went to a bigger platform: LinkedIn. Upon including ‘Freelance Writer’ in my bio, I received several queries regarding the services. My first major writing job was to write articles for an e-magazine that covers aspects of Malaysian airports.”

How did COVID-19 affect your work? 

“Considering that my niche is within university campuses, the demands for my services are not too dry. However, for my services that go beyond campuses, I saw a reluctance from clients to pay more than the reasonable rates,” he said. “It became harder to get replies from prospective clients after they’ve read my invoice. Abandoned chats and emails became a norm for me as well.”

However, Nazmi said, he has seen an increase in demand for certain industries like advertising, e-commerce, scientific writings etc., but the competition makes it tough to secure assignments.

“Honestly, it is almost impossible to be the first one to hit “I’m interested” on the Facebook reply section or Tweet replies. If you lagged a few minutes then it’s game over for you.”

Nazmi said he notices that heavily hit industries like aviation, tourism, food, retails, among others, resort to hiring freelancers to make up for the bulk of work that can’t be completed by their own employees, but still, these gigs don’t pay that well either. 

“Certain industries, on the other hand, are experiencing good growth like the current gig I’m in, the esports industry; it saw some significant shift. People are getting more and more invested in console and mobile games so the demand is there,” he said. 

In an effort to scale his business and to create more visibility and credibility, Nazmi decided to register his services under a company at The Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM). “I also teamed up with a friend of mine to create a service portfolio and we designed our own site/page. Seeing how e-commerce is becoming bigger, we felt it was important to take that same path (i.e. going digital) to further gain traction,” he said. 

Tips for other freelancers:

1. Be sure to document your work 
“This is important if you want to establish credibility. Get testimonies, feedback, and ask clients to spread news about you,” he said. “Doing this could help build your reputation as a freelancer.”

2. Research the market rate of your service
Knowing your worth and what you can bring to the table would help you figure out where you stand in the market, Nazmi said. “Moderate your rates so that it will not be too low or too high,” he said. 

3. Register your service on SSM and do bookkeeping!
“If you’re a student, you can get exemption from the yearly fee for the first year,” he said, in reference to registering your service as a company. “Bookkeeping (your income, expenses, clients’ database) are important because you need to observe any kind of pattern in your ventures in freelancing.

4. Never be afraid to ask help from peers or to reject gigs
By being connected to fellow freelancers, Nazmi said, you may get morale support and the possibility of getting more work if they decide to outsource their work to other freelancers. 

It sounds counterintuitive, but Nazmi feels that it’s equally important to know how to say no to gigs that may end up being a burden to you. 

“As a freelancer, you are what makes your work valuable. So, if you take too many jobs outside your capabilities, you may end up feeling overwhelmed and this could disrupt the quality of your work,” he said. “This will not reflect well on the eyes of your clients who may have paid a lot to acquire your services. So, know your limitations and do not be afraid to acknowledge it.”

5. Try new things and expand your niche by acquiring more skills 
“If you are a graphic designer, explore more styles. If you are a writer, explore more niches. Create your own mock writings and those can be part of your portfolio,” he said. 

“If you’re a freelance digital marketer, try newer digital marketing tools. Also, make sure to familiarize yourself with tools or aspects significant to your expertise and the industry. For example, as a writer, I am currently mastering Search-Engine-Optimization (SEO) as a lot of clients now want writers who are adept at this.”

6. Don’t be complacent because the industry is evolving and so should you
“Even as a proofreader for academic papers, you have to keep updated with the latest APA format or the current regulations in academia, for example, the usage of first-person ‘I’ in theses.”

Former magazine writer who is currently freelancing full-time, 31

Divine intervention played a significant role in Tan Xi Voon’s journey to pursuing a full-time freelancing career. She decided to pursue freelancing full-time for spiritual reasons. 

“My God told me so, I’m a Christian. To cut the long story short, two years ago when I was considering a career change, I prayed to God for His direction. And full-time freelancing was where He pointed me to. So, I took the leap,” she said. 

On top freelancing, she also currently works on a part-time basis with some of the clients, giving her some permanence. “I mainly freelance in copywriting. Some other areas that I also dabble in as a freelancer include social media management, photography and translation. I have been freelancing for quite a number of years but have only started doing it full-time since about 2 years ago.”

Though she has never actively sought out any freelance gigs, opportunities for Voon have continuously been available since she decided to take a leap in faith, to pursue freelancing full-time. 

“When God told me to go freelance full-time, it came with a specific set of directions: to not attempt to look for any freelance opportunities on my own but to fully trust in His provision. My initial plan to mass-mail my resume to agencies and companies, and to set up a LinkedIn profile were all scraped,” she said. 

“And, true to His promise, God shows up and blesses me in abundance. Freelance opportunities have come knocking on my door ever since until this day. Most of my clients, if not all, know me through word-of-mouth. And I have to mention that my past experience as a magazine writer/editor has likely given me an edge,” she added. 

How did COVID-19 affect your work? 

The demand for assignments, Voon said, for her, has grown pretty significantly. Because of the lockdown, she said, many brands and companies were – and still are – seeking to transition online, with copywriting and social media-related services the most sought after.

“Personally, things have not changed much for me. Most of my clients and I have been communicating online or over the phone pre-Covid, anyway,” she said. 

Tips for other freelancers:

1. Communication is key
“My no.1 rule is to always ask the client for a brief and/or samples (of articles, visuals, etc.) before I take on a project. Communicating ideas verbally is not enough because what we envision in our mind might be quite different from what the clients envision in theirs,” she said.

Putting the brief down on paper, she said, gives clarity and ensures all parties are on the same page for that project. “It will also reduce the number of revisions required, which makes the process more efficient,” she said. “Having said that, some clients may come to the table without having a slice of idea about what they want.”

2. Sometimes, the freelancer may have to take the driver’s seat
“Some clients may not necessarily know what they are looking for,” she said. “So it’s always good to do some homework beforehand so that you are prepared to lead your clients by asking them the right questions and offering them suggestions,” she said.

3. Never forget to document everything!
“Again, verbally agreeing on the rate/pricing of your service is not enough,” she said. “Put it on black and white and make sure you get your quotation signed.”

4. Keep up with the latest trends
Just like any other regular job or career, she said, freelancers too, should brush up their skill set with the latest technology. Doing so helps ensure you remain competitive with the market. 

“Read widely and keep yourself abreast of the trends and knowledge related to your field,” she said. 

5. Create healthy boundaries 
“While freelancing promises certain flexibility, many times it also means you may be required to work over weekends or at some ungodly hours,” she said. For the sake of your own mental and physical health, Voon said, it is important to learn how to create healthy boundaries.

A work-at-home super mom, 36

Freelancing since 2009, Susanna Khoo opted to freelance on a full-time basis, specialising in editorial projects involving either writing or editing, since 2015.

Similar to other freelancers we spoke to, she secured most of her freelance gigs either through friends and family, or ex-colleagues. 

“Besides those avenues, I sometimes get opportunities through LinkedIn. Those are usually complete strangers who are not even in my existing network. But this doesn’t happen that often,” she said. 

Her number of clients varies: she currently has one retainer or an ongoing client that she constantly does work for since 2015. Her other assignments are usually one-off projects, and on average, she has two clients at any one time. 

“But it’s really sporadic and hard to pinpoint to a certain number of clients or workload every week/month. I don’t really actively advance my career much at this stage of my life,” she said. “I’m not really aggressive about sourcing for jobs as my aim is primarily to be available to my kids so I only take up work whenever I’m able to. Nevertheless, I keep this freelance arrangement going as I’d still like to keep my career alive and to supplement family income as much as I can.”

How did COVID-19 affect your work?

“For my existing client, I found that they have changed the scope of work they assign to me. They give me less tasks and it’s more sporadic compared to before where they gave me a steady stream of work to do every month,” she said. 

She attributes these changes to two reasons: the clients themselves have had to evolve their business, in turn, possibly needing to cut down on expenses spent on hiring external parties. 

“On the other hand, I do feel there is an increase in demand for freelancers in some areas. Because I have gotten some inquiries from LinkedIn, out of which some did actually hire me for short term projects,” she said. 

“The only time it was particularly eerie and somewhat worrying in terms of work prospects was when the MCO was first enacted. But a month after MCO was in place, I felt that business had picked up again, albeit in a very gradual manner,” she added. I have gotten paid less (from my existing client). In a sense, worrying about the prospects of work did make me anxious in some ways and consequently, I did take on a role that paid way below my ideal rate.”

In terms of meeting clients, though Khoo has gone out to meet clients and work related contacts since CMCO started, she does only upon their request in order to be more conservative in this area. “I did not want to expose my family to unnecessary COVID-19. I have really young kids.”  

The only benefit that she could see from the lockdown, she said, perhaps, was that since everyone else was forced to work at home too, it might have made some companies or individuals a little more open minded towards working with freelancers who operate remotely. “So maybe you could say this situation might turn out to be in my favour moving forward,” she asid. 

To cope with the negative effects of the pandemic, Khoo said she tries to take on whatever work that she can and not be picky about the nature of the work. 

“But having said that, I usually practice this in the way I do my freelance work, even in the absence of COVID-19,” she said. “I am also trying to diversify my work. For example, I am looking into ways to retrain myself in IT skills as I was an IT graduate and worked as a programmer for a season (prior to becoming a writer).

Tips for other freelancers:

1. Just start somewhere
If you’re just starting out, It’s very likely not going to be a perfect scenario on your first freelance gig, she said, but just take it in your stride and give it your best shot. “Things will improve eventually. Don’t be too hard on yourself,” she said. 

2. Keep an open mind and don’t be too picky 
Sometimes, being open to lower offers may not necessarily work against you, she said. Taking up such roles or jobs might expand your capabilities or give you an invaluable experience that you will treasure later on. 

“Most of us have preferences on the type of work we’d like to do or the remuneration rate that we think we deserve. There will be times that you’ll come across something you don’t expect, or a work opportunity that doesn’t seem to be of much value (for example, in terms of the pay). But don’t turn it down straight away. Hear out the potential client and give it some thought,” she said.  

3. Decide on how you will set your rates and try to stick to what you have decided 
This is crucial, Khoo said, because every freelancer should be happy with what they earn. “In the Malaysian market, there will always be someone out there who is going to berate you for the rates you charge,” she said. “So do your research and be thorough and all that in determining your rate, but don’t be afraid to be firm about what you are comfortable charging your clients. 

If the potential client can’t agree to a given rate, Khoo said, be polite, but decline to work with them if it’s a must. 

4. Do your work with excellence
“No matter how big or small the task or who the client is, I believe we should always give our best. It affects our overall reputation and earns the respect of others,” she said. 

Interested in freelancing – what should you know?

The effects of COVID-19 vary according to each freelancer’s industry, experience and background. So it’s hard to say if the industry has been badly affected or just partially. 

Either way, a common trend we found among freelancers is that most clients are going digital requiring freelancers to be able to produce more and more material for that particular platform. 

Now may not be a bad time to enter the freelancing market, especially as companies are looking to ramp up their digital presence, but as always with most things that you pursue, know what you’re getting into. 

We also advise you to check these items off your list before going into freelance

  • Identify your skills and hone it
  • Looking for jobs isn’t easy so pitch if you must!
  • Build a strong portfolio and make it visible everywhere
  • Be open to negotiating your freelance rate but know your worth
  • Manage your work and time, create a dedicated work space if you must
  • Follow up on the payment
  • Know how to save up for a rainy day (read: COVID-19)
  • Personal branding and networking is important

We hope you found this piece insightful and interesting! 

Also read: #DigitalCareers: Achieving Work-Life Balance in the New Normal