Looking Back: NTUC’s Introductory Technology and Consulting Freelancer Workshop

Handouts for NTUC Tech Workshop

Last Saturday, NTUC, in conjunction with IoTalents and ThunderQuote, held an introductory workshop for aspiring technology and consultancy freelancers. Aimed at informing existing professionals of the pros, cons, tips and tricks of plying their trade as independent contractors, the event attracted a greater-than-expected turnout of over 80 people – a sizeable percentage of which were professionals considering freelancing.

The event lasted for two and a half hours and was divided into two 1-hour sessions with a break in between. The first session had IoTalents (that’s us!), ThunderQuote and a lovely moderator from NTUC jointly kick off the workshop with a handful of introductory speeches intended to stir up questions in the attendees. The second session broke the cohort into two, with IoTalents taking the attendees interested in technology freelancing and ThunderQuote taking attendees interested in consultancy freelancing.

Panelists Answering a Question
Our panelists taking a question from the audience.

Designed to resemble a dialogue session more than a lecture or tutorial, the event featured panelists, brought in by IoTalents and ThunderQuote, with varied experiences in freelancing to answer attendee questions. Three of IoTalents’ own – Sei Wee, Adrian and myself – and the founder of T2 Web, Jiang Zilin, constituted IoTalents’ group of panelists. Many questions were asked, and many insightful answers to these questions were shared – not just by our panelists, but also, after some encouragement from Sei Wee, by those among the attendees who were already freelancers (or freelancers turned business owners). The opportunity to share not only their questions, but also their answers, went a long way in keeping the audience engaged over the course of the workshop.

Key Takeaways of the Workshop

Many interesting perspectives and insights were shared in the workshop. Below are some of the most salient ones that stuck with me after the workshop:

  • Being a freelancer is not unlike running your own business – your profits and losses are all your responsibility, along with your marketing, client management, invoice management, and everything else that a typical company needs to do. Hence, a freelancing practice should be handled like a business.
  • In a way, freelancing allows one to earn at a better rate than a full-time job of the same profession. At the same time, however, hirers utilise freelancers because they are less costly! On the surface, this seems to be a contradiction, but remember that hirers don’t have to account for a freelancer’s CPF and myriad of employee benefits. The freelancer can thus mark-up his prices with the premise of covering these additional expenses.
  • Despite the Internet making developers from lesser-developed countries (i.e. cheaper developers) accessible to local hirers, there are still strong arguments to favour hiring a local – a mutual cultural understanding, easier communication between the parties, and more accountability (since the hirer has the option of meeting up with their freelancer).
  • Reliability is a very important trait for a freelancer to have – many see them as being unreliable, sloppy, or both. Being a freelancer that is neither, then, allows one to stand out. This brings repeat clients, and newly-referred clients from old clients.
  • Learning on the job is a very real thing. Technology is a vast industry that is rapidly-moving, and it is impossible to know everything that you are eventually going to work on in your projects. Sometimes, you are just going to have to take a job first, and then learn the requisite skills for it afterwards – ready, fire, then aim.
Audience for NTUC Tech Workshop
The audience: Listening intently and (occasionally) taking photographs.

Some Closing Thoughts

Although I was present at the workshop as a panellist, I have to say that I learnt more from my listening than my talking at the event. It surprised me especially to see that even some of the attendees themselves shared really valuable insights during the course of the workshop – insights that I have never thought of or come across in my 8 years or so of freelancing. I had imagined that the event would be a one-way information transmission, with the panellists doing the transmitting (after all, this is how our educational system is normally structured). It was a humbling experience to see that wasn’t the case, and a reminder that one doesn’t necessarily know everything just because one has several years of experience in doing something.

Event Photographs

More photographs from the event can be found here.

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“I have a problem answering people when they ask me what I do.” That’s the first-world problem that Terence faces with people. An NUS undergraduate, part-time Polytechnic lecturer, freelancer and Community Manager for IoTalents, Terence goes by a motto when choosing his jobs: don’t do it if it isn’t fun for you. His various responsibilities may make him look busy, but he actually has a fair bit of spare time that he always ends up wasting by loafing around or playing video games.