(updated 28 Oct 2020)
Freelancing Checklist for Newcomers
You’ve just graduated from one of the media schools. Perhaps you were hired to perform media work as a side gig, or were engaged as a full-time employee in a media company. You feel ready to become a freelancer.
Before you start, look through the following points. They serve as a checklist to ensure you’ve got your bases covered.
- Do you have at least three months of living expenses saved up?
- Do you have access to all the equipment you need?
- Have you set up your workspace safely and ergonomically?
- Do you have a separate bank account to store business cashflow?
- Do you have accounting software and basic knowledge of bookkeeping, or have someone to do your accounts?
- Do you have a safe way to store all your work documents, backed-up and encrypted?
- Do you have all the appropriate insurance for your line of work? (most commonly public liability insurance, but specialists might need insurance tailored to their field)
- Do you have a workflow, routine, schedule or business plan to follow?
- Do you have your first job lined up?
Other resources for freelancers
From here, there are two steps to take: first, find resources that cover your own sector. Secondly, do your best to find your community. Online is helpful, but a physical group of people that can support you, mentor you and advise you will go a long way in building a successful career as a freelancer.
Media sector subtypes – Feature/TV/Corporate/Online/Advertising/
Understanding the media landscape in Singapore is important; it can get quite confusing, and the skill sets you’ll need to develop vary widely.
As an overview, the media industry is broadly categorised into the following sub-sectors:
- Feature Films
Different freelance roles require different skill sets. And the same job role, in different sub-sectors, will also vary slightly. For example, the knowledge required to be a scriptwriter is very different from that needed for a camera operator. And being a camera operator in a feature film environment is very different in scope and approach from a corporate events videographer.
We highly recommend going to various industry networking sessions, or joining online communities to learn more about the various fields, so that you can find out more about the various job roles in the different sub-sectors.
Alternatively, the SkillsFuture Skills Framework also provides some useful information on job functions and skills required, but we still recommend that you network and talk to fellow media practitioners. The media business is a ‘people business’ after all, and contacts can help point you in the right direction or land you that first job.
Setting up a business entity
Generally, all businesses must register on BizFile+. However, some business owners may not be required to do so because they are exempt from registration. See https://www.acra.gov.sg/how-to-guides/before-you-start/who-must-register for more details.
Choosing between a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited partnership, limited liability partnership, and private limited company
Different entities offer different pros and cons. For sole proprietorship (SP), limited partnership (LP) and limited liability partnership (LLP), earnings (revenue) are taxed at the personal income tax rates (which are generally lower) whereas private limited companies (Pte. Ltd.) are taxed at Singapore’s corporate tax rate which is a flat 17%.
- Personal income tax:
- 0% for the first $20,000
- 2% for the next $10,000
- 3.5% for the next $10,000
- 7% for the next $40,000
- 11.5% for the next $40,000
- 15% for the next $40,000
- 18% for the next $40,000
- 19% for the next $40,000
- 19.5% for the next $40,000
- 20% for the next $40,000
- 22% for the excess
- Corporate tax:
- flat 17% rate
Most freelancers would only be looking at the first few tiers of personal tax. For example, a freelancer with a sole proprietorship earning $35,000 for the year would be taxed: $0 for the first $20,000 (0% tax rate), $200 for the next $10,000 (2%), and $175 for the last $5,000 (3.5%), which comes to a total sum of $375 in taxes. In comparison, if the freelancer had a private limited company, the tax payable would be $5,950.
So why then do companies exist? This leads us to the second most important difference between a company and the various SP/LP/LLP options:
A private limited company is a distinct legal identity on its own, separate from its shareholders and directors, whereas the sole proprietor or partnership owners are personally liable for debts and losses of the business.
SP/LP/LLPs: Please note that should your business go under and should your debts owed exceed the amount of assets in your sole proprietorship (cashflow, equipment, etc), debt collectors can show up at your home and make claims on your personal assets. It is best to carefully assess business risks, before deciding which business entity suits your needs best.
Finally, the government offers a lot of incentives and grants for companies. These include the Startup SG Scheme and the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG). It will support up to 70 per cent of the cost of adopting off-the-shelf solutions with a strong focus on innovation. There are other differences, in terms of how annual financial records and taxes need to be managed. In terms of administration, SPs are the easiest to operate while companies need the most administration. For further information, see
How to charge for your work
Rates of pay will vary greatly based on an individual’s knowledge, qualification, competence and work experience. No one factor determines an individual’s level of competence and there are many instances where individuals with many years’ work experience lack the technical or creative skills to command the higher rates of pay.
In addition, most production companies wanting to embark on a long‐term production will want to secure freelancers for the duration of the project and will negotiate a reduced rate based on an extended run. Others will negotiate a rate based on a commitment to provide regular work over a specific period. Rates will also vary as demand in the market fluctuates. During periods of high demand employers are prepared to pay premium rates, while during quieter periods, employers are likely to offer lower rates.
As a freelance contractor, it is your responsibility to negotiate a rate that’s aligned with your qualifications, experience and expertise – but also with your own sense of self-worth and cost of living.
Some helpful tips:
- work out how many times you are able to provide that service in a month, and your financial goal for each month, based on the cost of living. If you are interested, here are statistics for median wage in Singapore: https://stats.mom.gov.sg/Pages/Income-Summary-Table.aspx
- consider that a freelancer does not have the same benefits as an employee. He/she will have to factor in operating costs, non-billable hours (doing sales, marketing, accounting, administrative work, etc), is not paid CPF, needs to set aside amounts for annual taxes and Medisave contributions, to account for sick days, leave days, work-related insurance, equipment upkeep, and so on
- and finally, understand some basics of the market economy. Consider the law of supply and demand, and your own value proposition. You will need to find out how the rest of the market is pricing themselves, in order to see where you fit.
Starting out on a freelancing career is no different from starting a business, you need to be an expert in both your tradecraft as well as the business side of things, and we understand that it can be very daunting to take the first step.
As such, we also recommend enrolling in free online introduction to business or entrepreneurship courses, where you can learn more about the fundamentals of business, such as marketing strategy or branding.
Other further reading: