Work

COVID-19: Don’t forget the freelancers

by Fiona Teh // April 5, 2020, 11:20 pm

Don't forget the freelancers

Young adults, our adulting quest just got super real. 

For many of us, not only is this coronavirus market crash our first brush with a financial crisis as members of the workforce, it’s also set to be Singapore’s “worst economic contraction since independence” as pointed out by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in the Resilience Budget.

For many freelancers in the gig economy, each stepped-up measure to limit gatherings can mean immediate job cancellations, knocking out months of income in one fell swoop.

After all, no gig means no income. 

2 months of income wiped out in 2 days, but the Foongs believe that God will provide

I imagine freelancers would have felt some relief when the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (SIRS) was announced as part of the supplementary budget last Thursday: Gig economy workers can receive $1,000 a month for nine months to help them tide over the pandemic.

A third round of Budget measures supporting Singaporeans will also be announced later this afternoon.

But even with help on the way, times are tough for our young freelancing friends.

We sat down with three of them who shared what it’s like to be self-employed during an unprecedented financial crisis. They are videographer/video producer Vicson Huang, fitness instructor Eleanor Fong and magician Mingda Sng.

HOW IS IT LOOKING ON THE BUSINESS FRONT?

Mingda: Needless to say, the situation is bad and the near future looks bleak. I have had cancellations and postponements since the end of February, and almost no new jobs since then, as everyone is unsure how long this will last.

In fact, as it gets longer, people are anticipating the coronavirus to be here for quite some time. The dip in business is almost 95%.

Vicson: Events and jobs were slowly getting cancelled, and I started to receive news that the jobs I had bid for were now cancelled. All my plans went down the drain.

I had real concerns about my personal financial security, and it got to the point where I had to watch my daily spending for food because every cent counts.

Do I have chicken rice for $2.50 or U-Mian for $3? If I decide to eat at home, do I buy this bread or chicken to save the few cents? Do I skip an entire meal, have a slightly heavier next meal, and hope that it’ll last me till the next day?

I promise you that this is real and I am not exaggerating. These are real decisions that many, who are in the same situation as me, have to make because of the uncertainty of when the next pay cheque is coming in.

Eleanor: Cancellations are about 100%, since I teach mostly in gyms, corporates, private studios and with the Health Promotion Board. The month of April will be very dry in terms of teaching dance fitness classes, but I’m going to spend some time building up other areas of work.

HOW ARE YOU ROLLING WITH THE PUNCHES?

Eleanor: Now that all of my sessions have been cancelled, my steps moving forward are to focus on content creation and building up my YouTube channel – Dance With Elly – as well as organise private classes, keeping in mind the size of the class to be kept at 10 pax including me. 

Building an online business such as YouTube, or creating my own paid programme online has been something that I wanted to do for a long time, but just never had the confidence to do so. I guess  now’s the opportune time!

Mingda: Spending less and saving more. Which is hard, because like any other artist, magicians invest in our craft quite often. And now, we have to put a pause to that.

I’m also exploring the option of bringing the show online through livestreaming and even my online lessons. But there is a limitation to how digital a performance can be, especially if it’s something as interactive as magic where participation is so important.

Vicson: Thankfully, things have kind of picked up since the time I pushed an open letter out (on Facebook). The irony is that, if COVID-19 didn’t happen, I think I wouldn’t have had these doors open for me.

I am grateful that God has created these opportunities for me to use the gifts that He has blessed me with to help churches with the recording and editing of their services.

WHAT HAS GOD BEEN TEACHING YOU? WHAT ARE YOU THANKFUL FOR?

Mingda: It kind of feels like being in the wilderness – not knowing what to expect and how long it will last. It reminds me of when David was in the wilderness and he proclaimed in Psalm 28:7: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is also a constant reminder of what my posture should be during this time. To rejoice, pray and give thanks despite the uncertainty.

I’m grateful that I don’t have a debt to pay off and my family that is supporting me through this time.

Eleanor: Trusting God in this season means keeping my eyes fixed on His plans for me to build my online business without swerving to the left or right. Even though it’s hard to see the fruits of my labour, I’ll be faithful in the little that the Lord will multiply!

My cell leader shared this verse from Isaiah 43 with me: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.”

I’m grateful for my friends and family who have rendered support in their little deeds. From words of encouragement to kind gestures, they all mean a lot!

Vicson: I know I have to keep going and not give up because we will never ever know when will God make something happen for us.

Beyond this season, these are the verses that have kept me going through the years: Psalm 29:10-11, Lamentations 3:22-23, 2 Corinthians 9:8, Matthew 6:34. It’s really about believing and trusting in God more than ever.

When you work freelance, you either grow in fear or faith

I am grateful that God has kept myself and my family healthy. And as always, I am grateful that I am still alive, that I have a roof over my head, that I have a bed to sleep in at night, that I am still able to provide and feed myself…

I am grateful that I still have access to daily necessities, and above all I am grateful for God’s grace and mercy.

HOW CAN PEOPLE SUPPORT YOU?

Vicson: If you need help with editing photos or on any form of shoots… If you are looking for a second shooter/camera for something you are working on, hit me up. Just remember, it can be literally anything. I really just want to be productive during this super lull period.

Eleanor: Subscribe to my channel and share my videos on your Facebook to get the word out! I will also be setting up a Patreon account so that students/participants/friends and family who are willing to support me financially can contribute by being my patrons. Hopefully by doing this, I can still receive support during this period, and in the long run, form an online community.

Mingda: I will be putting out livestream shows where it will be paid-per-view basis. It is like buying a ticket and going to a theatre and watching a show. Just that it is online. Support by watching the shows and sharing it with people!

I will be doing online lessons as well, where people can learn some simple magic tricks – take it as learning a new skill or craft. Also, some of us will have some merchandise that we sell online, which you can support by buying. But most importantly, don’t forget us when the crisis is over.

(Mingda is also looking for help with camera gear and software so he can take his shows online. You can drop him a DM.)


Giving a shoutout to local businesses, Malaysian YouTuber and content creator Ming Han recently put out the following message on his social media accounts.

“If you’ve a friend who has a small business, now’s really the time to help them out, if you can. Instead of ordering from really huge franchises, why don’t you hop on over and try to support them in any way you can?” 

We can do likewise in Singapore! 

Malaysia lockdown: Why I reached out to rough sleepers at Kranji

Remember those in our midst who need help. Check in on them and send encouragement even if you can’t engage their services or order their products. You can even spread the word for them. Every share and repost goes a long way in letting them know they’re not alone!

If we band together in support of one another and share our resources to get through this rainy season, then there’s real hope that we’ll all come out better for it on the other side.

In a time when instinct tells us to hoard up resources for ourselves, we need to be generous instead. We must unite if we are to win this fight against COVID-19.

Let’s look out for our neighbours. We’re in this together and we need one another.

PAUSE + PRAY

  1. Pray for those whose incomes have been affected by the crisis. That they will have sufficient support in their time of need and will be able to use this window of opportunity to continue growing!
  2. Check in with your friends (they don’t need to be freelancers) on how they are doing and offer to pray for them! Offer words of encouragement too.
  3. Reflect on how you can show love in a tangible way and be a blessing to someone else who may really need it today! 
About the author

Fiona Teh

Fiona is low-key hilarious, a dog person, and she loves a good chat with strangers – particularly at Yakun. She also believes that everyone should know that they are absolutely worthy of love.