Earlier this month a well-known production company in Singapore was closed down, after allegedly neglecting to pay its freelancing workers. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that this kind of negligence has occurred, and is unlikely to be the last. If you've just taken the leap as a freelancer or entrepreneur, have no fear. We have some advice to guide you.
Of course bad debt is a reality of any business, in any industry; businesses fail, and are unable to clear their debts. However, as freelancer is an individual unit, any form of bad debt will impact the livelihood of the freelancer and affect them more. If you're not careful, people who outsource their work to you may try to take advantage of you.
As a community of freelancers, we have to be aware of the risk we undertake and prepare accordingly, keeping in mind that the freelance economy in Singapore is still nascent, and does not yet have the level of contractor protections in place that we see in countries like the US. Preparing for situations where your fees are at risk will put you in a better position down the road. Below are some measures freelancers can take to best set themselves up for success in their invoicing and payment processes:
(1) Act professional with all your clients; while the work can sometimes feel more informal, appearing professional will set the standard with your client that you expect professionalism in return
(2) Run your freelancing efforts like a business: understand your rights under the law and when/how you can seek protection
(3) Know who you’re dealing with, and do background checks on prospective clients. Employers often check your own social media feeds before making hiring decisions; it's wise (and perfectly normal) to do your own due diligence on them.
(4) Don’t commit to any job without having a written contract in place and, where possible signed by both parties. If a formal contract is not possible, or too much of a barrier to securing business, even an email confirmation can provide some protection.
(5) Cut your losses when there is no further choice: after a certain point, you are hurting yourself and wasting valuable time in seeking fees that will not come. When all else fails, do not let a stingy client affect your overall freelancing career.
As freelancers, it is in our interests to deliver the best products for our clients. We all work hard to deliver on the promises we make, and have every right to expect that our clients will fulfill their promises as well. Hopefully experiences with non-paying clients will ultimately impart wisdom into your freelancing career, which you can apply to create a more trustworthy pipeline for the future.
Let’s all work together to create a vibrant freelancer ecosystem and build up the professionalism of the industry.