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The freelance generation
Publication Date : 14-01-2014
Full-time jobs? Pfft. Who needs 'em when you can freelance at home in your jammies?
Once upon a time, it was only natural to seek and secure a stable job after you graduate, preferably with an established company where you can build your resume based on the reputation of the company.
But now, with the culture of the modern workforce, where demands are high and speed of work is essential, we are seeing the rise of “independent workers” – aka freelancers.
Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Shamsuddin Bardan said there has been a “rapid growth” in freelancing in Malaysia, especially with work that can be done online.
He said: “Freelancers have more freedom and flexibility. For some it is about following their passion and being their own boss, while at the same time earning some income.”
According to a PC.com article earlier this year, since Malaysians started using the Freelancer.com website in 2009, over 27,000 freelance jobs have been posted, and over US$851,000 earned by freelancers.
Most of the jobs originate from the Klang Valley, with Malaysian employers mainly hiring freelancers from South Asia. In line with the growth of ICT industries, the most popular projects are software architecture, MySQL and software testing.
The freelance generation
For graphic designer and videographer Zermi Ng, 25, being a freelancer had not only helped him become more productive, but also given him more free time.
“As a freelancer, I usually take about two to eight days to complete a film, and whatever time I have left is usually free for me to do what I want,” he said.
Ng said he could spend just a week to deliver a production and get the same monthly salary he would with a nine-to-five job with five days a week in the office. “The only problem is you might not get a job every month,” he said.
Shamsuddin said: “People who don’t want to be bound by the strict 9am to 5pm working hours would usually choose the freelancing path. But not all jobs can be done by freelancers.
“They usually are professions in the creative field like designers and copywriters, as well as IT or enginering professions.”
He pointed that more companies are now attracted to this new form of hiring and moving away from traditional employment.
The benefits for employers, he said, is they can “save on benefits and statutory payments” while maintaining a lean workforce and meeting bursts in demand.
“For example, a company who specialises in food and beverage will not need to hire a full-time web developer just to set up a website. In fact, the web developer doesn’t even need to show up to the office.
“By hiring full-time staff, there is space reduction, and more budget spent on benefits. If you hire a freelancer, it’s a win-win situation. Freelancers get the freedom they want and companies don’t need to spend on office space.”
According to Sam Haggar, the Malaysia country head of human resource consulting firm ManpowerGroup, freelancing is becoming a trend because more young people like the lifestyle that comes with it.
“The lifestyle of being able to be anywhere at any time while working is becoming more and more of a trend. There is also no geographical boundary when it comes to delivering their work.”
Fashion photographer Bibo Aswan, 24, started his freelance career in fashion photography and potraiture while studying in Form Two. Before he even graduated with his diploma in photography, he already had a handful of clients to start with.
Even during his internship with a photography studio, he found that he preferred a more flexible working schedule. “I could actually continue to work with the studio full-time, but I chose not to. By freelancing, I don’t actually have to work everyday.”
A price to pay
It is important to note that there is a difference between freelance and part-time workers. Part-timers are employees who are entitled to all company benefits and social security like EPF and Socso, but with a lower level of commitment.
But of course, freelancers usually enjoy more freedom and flexibility. In the eyes of the law, however, they have very little leverage against their employers. And on top of that, their income is rarely as stable as that of a full-time or part-time employee.
“Freelancers are paid for their work but they have almost no benefits and have no rights of employment apart from a contract between the employer and the freelancer,” said Haggar.
According to Shamsuddin, there also have been cases where freelancers were scammed and cheated for their services. “There are ‘companies’ and ‘employers’ out there targeting freelancers. They ask for your services and then disappear without giving you payment.”
Shamsuddin said freelancers ought to be careful in dealing with their employers as they might encounter bogus companies or scams. It is vital for a freelancer to request for a civil contract, and also to check the employer and company’s background before committing to a job.
Through both freelancing and working as an employee, filmmaker Joshua Chay, 27, discovered what he wanted to achieve in his career.
“I didn’t see myself working for a company because I wanted to be my own person. In that way I’m able to produce the kind of work I like and I’m passionate about,” said Chay.
Although Chay pursued a freelance career in filmmaking, he was working with many types of clients – including some he didn’t particularly enjoy working with.
“The biggest thing about my freelance career was that it was growing, and fast. But through the jobs, I realised what kind of work I didn’t want to do. So from there, I began to pick my clients and produce the type of work I enjoy and am actually good at,” said Chay.
Haggar added: “That’s one of the great advantages freelancers have – they get to choose their clients and enjoy their work.”
The path to entrepreneurship
Eventually, freelancing became a stepping stone for Chay to venture into something bigger – starting his very own company. He realised the importance of expanding his services, as well as presenting a higher credibility to clients, which is why he founded his own company, The Spacemen, with two other friends.
Ng had also taken steps to expand his services by starting his own company, Mime Studio. “Starting a company will attract more clients, and it makes it easier for us to convince them,” he said.
But on the flipside, despite the liberty freelancers have, Haggar said they often lose out on the mentorship you get from having a superior, and learning from other colleagues. “This form of working may cause young freelancers to be less business-savvy and structured, because they are without guidance.”
Because of this, Bibo plans to work with a professional photography studio in the near future. “I want to do that so I can learn the business side of things. Plus, a professional studeio would also have better resources, like proper production equipment.”
That’s one of the reasons why Chay spent around three years freelancing before he started his own company. He wanted to learn everything from scratch, from the top to the bottom of the production industry.
“Because I started out doing everything on my own, I had to learn everything. And I realised after a while that starting a company was the right move. Multi-national companies may not work with freelancers, but they might if you’re a legit company,” he said.