[Season 2] Ep 4: What to Do When Clients Don’t Pay

“I’ll pay you next month,” the client says. And then next month becomes next month and before you know it, a year has passed. Perhaps you eventually write it off as a loss and tell yourself it’s a lesson learned. But you don’t always have to do that.

In today’s episode, we talk to Justin Wong a super solopreneur who founded Write Handed Communications and Kinidia, a streaming platform featuring Malaysian movies. He shares his experiences of taking legal action against clients who delayed payment and refused to pay. Hopefully things never go this far with your client, but it helps to know that even if it does, you have options!  

Show Notes

Read more about the Small Claim Court and how to file a case at this PDF link.

Let us know what you think of this episode in the comments section! If you have any questions, ask away in this form.

Transcript

[Prologue]

Jean 00:01

I think it’s just good to know that there are things we can actually do.

Justin 00:04

At the end of the day, yes, you have rights. Someone doesn’t pay you, even if it’s like half not your fault, money owed is money owed, you know. So I waited until the money was in my bank. So it’s not just a word from finance, not just a acknowledgement or a receipt or anything like that. No, no, I got to see that number. Next station.

Sarah  00:33

Hi, there. It’s Sarah.

Jean  00:34

And Jeannette.

Sarah  00:35

And this is Solo Sync, a podcast for the curious solopreneur where we discover simple solutions to keep enjoying what we do together.

[Start]

Jean  00:43

So one thing that super annoying for me about freelancing is when clients don’t pay or they pay late. Over the years, I figured out some ways to deal with that, for example, taking an upfront payment, collecting a deposit and so on. When clients pay late, I’ve learned to be thick-skinned enough to keep hounding them for payment. And it’s a really painful process. And I try as far as I can to avoid it.

Sarah  01:06

I completely agree with you. To be honest, it sometimes isn’t something that I follow up with either because it gets tiring to keep asking, but what else can you do when nothing else works.

Jean  01:18

So what I’ve heard is that if the amount you’re owed is less than 5000 ringgit, you can go to the small claims court. The thing is, I’ve never done that, mostly because I’ve been quite lucky with clients so far, but partly also because I’m lazy. And I don’t even know where to begin to be honest

Sarah  01:38

I hear you.

Jean  01:39

But a few months ago, a friend Justin sent me a message about going to small claims court. And he really went through with it. So today he is going to be talking to us about his experience. Just a quick intro. Justin Wong is the founder of Write Handed Communications, a digital marketing and content creation company. He’s also the creator and producer of Kinidia, which I’m sure he’ll tell us more about during our chat today. Okay, hi Justin! Nice to have you with us here today. We’ve already told everyone that you’re going to be talking to us about your small claims court adventure.

Justin  02:12

Hi, good to be here.

Jean  02:13

Tell us about how that happened.

Justin  02:15

Okay, I guess everyone’s nightmare is when someone owes you money, and that person decides not to pay. So that’s why the justice system has this thing called a small claims court. Now this court is for pretty much almost any situation where someone owes you money. It doesn’t have to be a freelancer-client relationship, doesn’t have to be agency and client. It can be returning a defective product or landlord and tenant kind of relationships or like in pretty much almost any case that someone owes you money. And they handle cases up to 5000 ringgit of claims. And the beauty of it is that you don’t need a lawyer. Both you and the defendant.

Sarah 02:56

That’s super useful to know, lawyers cost a lot.

Jean  02:58

Because lawyers are the biggest hassle of like going to court, right?

Justin  03:02

It depends. Because in some situations, you will want to let your lawyer handle everything, you know, my house or whatever it is, just handle the paperwork for me, you know. But so in this case, you get to do all this without the help of a lawyer, and that will save you mone. You need to do the application procedure on your own. So here is how you do it. You ready for this?

Sarah 03:26

Go for it.

Justin  03:27

Okay, step one, you go to a magistrate court, you go to any magistrate court. You can go to either the KL one if your defendent is in KL, or you can go to the Shah Alam one, if your defendant is in Selangor. It doesn’t matter where you are based, it matters where your defendant is based. So in my case, it was it was for PJ, so that was fine. So I just had to go to the Shah Alam one. You cannot go to the PJ court because for some reason they don’t do this. So you have to go to the Shah Alam one. You go there, and then you pick up the form. And that form is really, really simple. You just need to fill out who you are, and who you’re claiming money from. So if it’s a company, it’s going to be name of company, registration number, address, phone number, plus the amount that you’re trying to get. That’s it. It’s a very simple form. And then, the procedure also asks for supporting documents. You put in things like a quotation, invoice. Or screencaps of the conversations that you had, whether it’s email or WhatsApp. It’s important that if you did some work for a client, it will be super helpful if you can get like black and white even back when the project was starting. Right. So at that moment, if you can get a in black and white that they say, “Oh, please start work”. That’s important. Because otherwise, they might have that wiggle room of saying that, “Oh, we didn’t ask you to start work. You just did it for us.”

Sarah  04:58

Yeah, good point.

Justin  04:59

I mean, that’s a very weak case. But you know, even the big agencies, you know, practice that line. Wait for the client to say, “Please start work.” So oh, yeah, sorry, I’ve glossed over my part. So in my case, why I did it right, in my particular case. So I did work for a client a couple of years ago. It’s really nothing. It was just 1000 bucks. But, you know, they delay me for so long. Weeks, and months and months, became a year. It came to a time when I’m like, “Okay, it’s not about the 1000 bucks. It’s more about the principle of it. I didn’t want them or anyone to disrespect my profession, you know?”

Sarah  05:37

Yeah. And just curious, has this happened before? Or was this the first time you decided to really take action?

Justin  05:44

That was the first time

Sarah  05:45

So this has happened before?

Justin  05:47

All my other clients have paid me eventually. All of them.

Sarah  05:51

So this was the first client that didn’t pay you?

Justin  05:54

Yes.

Sarah  05:55

Wow, don’t mess with Justin.

Justin  05:57

Don’t mess with me, man. At that point, I’m like, “Okay, this is a I saw it as a disrespect to freelancers and agencies and small agencies.” So I didn’t want them to be able to just think that they can just walk away. Yeah. So it’s not so much for the money. Just, you know, I didn’t want want that to happen to others. So if that can be a deterrent then I’ve done my job.

Jean  06:23

So you’re the superhero for all freelancers.

Justin  06:28

I am the night. I am justice. Yeah.

Sarah  06:32

So what happens next?

Justin  06:34

Okay, so I went into court, got my form, and I got my supporting documents as well. So on top of my supporting documents, of my quotation, my invoice, snapshots, I also wrote a cover letter, because I thought that will help the case. Right, and to clarify on what’s happening. So I just wrote like, there’s like no format, because I don’t think anyone asked for it. I just I just wrote it. And I so I, there’s no format, I just put in a block of text that says, I did so and so work for so and so company for this much. But at this date, but I haven’t been paid yet. And this is a list of attached documents. So this is for clarity purposes, I guess. So I did that. And so what you can do is prepare the supporting documents first and bring it to the court. And then when you get the form at the court, you fill in the form on the spot, and then you can submit on the spot.

Sarah  07:24

Okay, so you definitely have to do it in person. There’s no electronic way to do it.

Justin  07:28

No, not so far. No.

Sarah  07:30

Right. So you send me a form on the spot. And then how long do you have to wait for an answer? Or do you queue up on the spot?

Justin  07:37

Yeah, I queued up on the spot. Oh, wait a minute. Yeah, I got another form. I had to go home because when I looked it up, apparently they needed like four copies, like four sets of everything, four sets of the form and supporting documents. I went there twice. But the thing is, so that’s where the discrepancy lies because when I went there again, they only took one of my copies. So so I’m like, “What? I printed all this for nothing.” Anyways, that’s no problem. So yeah, I submitted one, then it goes into the system. And then I think I waited about a week. It’s pretty fast. So this is the important distinction here, right? When you submit that form and supporting documents, they will key it into their system. But that is not the point where they make a judgement. They’re just putting you in a system. That’s all at that point. And they will set a court date. I think, for me, it was a month plus from the time that I got the confirmation. You get a confirmation email. Okay, now, this is the fun part. This is the funnest part of the whole process. Okay, once you get a confirmation that you’ve received official documents through email, you will get a summons. Now you have to find a way to serve that summons to your client. There are two ways. Number one, you go to your client in person, hand over the summons to them, and then get them to sign a thing that says, okay, they received it. If your client and you are not good talking terms, they’re not going to sign right.

Sarah  09:08

I’m just picturing an episode of Suits right now. Where you coolly take that piece of paper out of your coat.

Justin  09:14

Yeah. And then the other guy will like throw it back in your face or something like that. Yeah. I think for them, it’s like subpoena. It’s just as good as handing it to them. It’s good enough, but, but for us, we need a signature.

Sarah  09:24

Okay. And the second one?

Justin  09:26

That’s why I think we should just opt for the second thing, which is registered post. You send it to them by mail, and then when they receive the mail, they don’t know what’s inside the envelope. So they’ll just open it and realise later. Yeah, so the way it works is that now because this is not your normal Poslaju, this is called AR. There’s a yellow card involved. What you do is you just go to any post office and then say you want AR, you want registered post and then when they deliver it to your client for you, the deliverer will require a signature, the yellow card, and then the yellow card will be sent back to you. And then that yellow card will be proof to the court that the summons is served.

Sarah  10:10

Oh, wow. Okay.

Justin  10:12

So that is key here. Because if you cannot serve the summons, then you have no case. You can’t sue them at all, because they’re not even aware of it, you know. So that’s just fair to them, I guess.

Jean  10:24

How long do you have to serve them the summons?

Justin  10:27

To do that? Well, the court date was a month plus away from the time they received the confirmation. So I have that amount of time.

Jean 10:37

Did you have to write the summons yourself? Or like it’s something you get from the court?

Justin  10:39

No, no, no, no, you just send them what they emailed you? Just print out what they emailed you. And then that has like a chop and everything already. So that’s, that will act as a summons. So what it is to say is, you know, please come to Court. Unfortunately, in my case, that part did not go through for me, because the company was going through some troubles. It became a problem when their company office was closed. No one was in the office, because why? The company’s in trouble. So therefore, there’s nobody in the office to receive the summons. So therefore, the summons was not served.

Sarah  11:17

Would you know what would take place next, if the summons was successfully served.

Justin  11:23

If it were served, basically, they will be summoned to court. And then you just need both parties need to show up on the court appointed date. Then when your number gets called. Yeah, then you get to speak with judge.

Sarah  11:37

I have I’m just curious. Earlier, we talked about how, just the attitude behind you coming to this point to make this decision. You knew that company was going through some financial difficulty. And you decided to go ahead with it anyway. Because you’re right, they need to settle their own problems, and you need to get paid for the work that you’ve done. But were there any other thoughts that went through your mind? Like, were you concerned about burning bridges? What kind of repercussions did you consider that this action of yours would take? I’m just guessing you probably didn’t have a really tight personal relationship with them to begin with right. It was just like a business transaction.

Justin  12:15

Yes. I didn’t know them prior to that.

Sarah  12:18

Jeannette and I, we’ve had experiences with clients that don’t pay. And I think it gets really sticky when you already have a personal relationship with them.

Justin  12:28

Yeah, it might be.

Sarah  12:30

And, and sometimes I wonder, you know, for freelancers, it’s either you have a personal relationship with your client and that makes it difficult for you to even consider bringing things like this to court. Or you’re just I would imagine, I would be really concerned maybe that the world is so small. And by doing this, people will talk, you know, I would think, oh, is one client going to tell another, “Oh, watch out for this person.” You know, that kind of thing? Like, what would you say to thoughts like that?

Justin  12:59

Well, in my case, I’d be happy for that conversation to take place. You know, if my client was, was telling other people, hey, that this guy had legal action against me Oh, did you pay him? No? There you go. So I’m, yes, happy for that conversation to happen.

Jean 13:16

They’re helping you do some filtering as well, right? Because clients who are likely to default will be like, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t hire him.”

Justin  13:24

Well, there you go.

Sarah  13:25

Alright, I think we have a lot to learn. Well, I have a lot to learn from your confidence.

Justin  13:29

Well, yeah, again, I wasn’t close to them at all. It just came to a point where, you know, I didn’t want them to do the same thing to others. So I just want to use that as a deterrent.

Jean  13:40

What was it about the way they delayed your payment that made you think that “Oh, it’s the principle of it, and I need to take them to small claims court.”

Justin 13:48

It was the fact that they did not pay me even after two years. And the excuses that they gave me was, the company is having some troubles, which is not my responsibility. And yeah, so I just took this opportunity to do it. And then if anything, learned how to do it so that I can do it properly the next time around. But you know, even though it didn’t work out for me, for you, as long as you can get your the summons in the hands of your client, then you’ll be able to do that. The small claims court way of doing things. Now, I happen to have experienced yet another case where a different client of mine decided not to pay me for work that I’ve done. So this was different. This one was a different scope of work. This was a higher amount. And because of that I cannot use the small claims court because the small claims court can only number one, handle claims of up to 5000 ringgit or below and number two the small claims court can only help you as an individual, but for me, I did the job for my client as a company. Well, let me just talk about how that went down. First, let me preface this by saying that okay, I cannot go into the details. And number two, I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. Please call a lawyer.

Jean  14:01

Yeah, all we want to know is that it’s possible to win these cases.

Justin  15:30

Yes, it is possible. There is light at the end of the tunnel. So what happened to me, I did some work with this particular client, and it went all the way to the end, I submitted the final delivery based on what they asked for, and then after that they straight up didn’t want to pay me. It’s not a matter of, “Oh, I’ll pay soon, soon, soon” and soon became two years, three years, five years. No, no, no, no, that is not the case. These guys straight up said, “We don’t want to pay you.”

Jean  16:06

Oh, my God. That’s crazy.

Justin  16:08

Yeah, I can’t get into the details. But it is definitely not my fault. I know, it’s my biased opinion. But believe me. It’s not my fault. So because I know, objectively, that it’s not my fault that I decided to take the leap and call my lawyers to help. This is the first phase. This is probably not the term that lawyers are using – phases. But okay, it starts off with a letter of demand. So my lawyers helped me write a letter of demand to send to my client on my behalf to say that, “Hey, you owe my client this much money, please pay.” It’s just a letter and the client can respond in one of two ways. Number one, this is just a piece of paper, these people can’t make me do anything. Or number two, wow these guys mean business. Well, in my case, it was number one. So we moved on to phase two. What my lawyers did was to file a claim to the magistrate court, on this case, on my behalf, and in order to generate a summons to my client. Now, how these summons are served? As lawyers, they are able to do it and do it properly. As opposed to me doing it on my own in the first case. But what happened to me is that they got their own lawyers involved. And then that’s when they decided to pay.

Jean  17:50

Their lawyers must have told them to.

Justin  17:54

I would like to imagine that. I go to sleep at night and picture that scenario happening with their lawyers at the time saying that you got to pay this guy. Yes.

Jean  18:08

Were you intimidated at all when they got their lawyers involved?

Justin  18:12

No, because I found out about their lawyers involvement at the same time when I found out that they decided to pay.

Jean  18:18

I see.

Justin  18:20

Yeah, so in my head was like as per what you said, like, oh, it must be their advice to pay me then. So what happens after that is they said, Okay, we’ll pay you. We’re going to rush our finance department to process this as fast as possible. Please, please retract the case. Yeah. So that was important for them – for us to retract the case from the court. So I waited until the money is in my bank. So it’s not just a word from finance, not just an acknowledgement or a receipt or anything like that. Nope, nope, I got to see that number, on my bank. It’s in my hands, then then. Then only I’ll inform my client and lawyer and say, “Hey, I got paid. Thanks.” Yeah.

Jean  19:14

That’s amazing, man.

Justin  19:16

Yeah. So to add on to all that. Of course, I gotta pay my lawyer’s legal fees, and not just the legal fees, but also the court filing fees and things like that. So you have to ensure that the amount that you’re suing for is substantial enough.

Jean  19:35

I think it’s just good to know that there are things we can actually do.

Justi  19:39

At the end of the day, yes, you you have rights. Someone doesn’t pay you, even if it’s like half not your fault, which is but you know, money owed is money owed. You know the metaphor I like to use, the analogy I like to use is that you know, if you pay a contractor to build a shitty house but the shitty house is as per instructions. You know, you still you still gotta pay the contractor.

Jean  20:10

Yeah, totally man. Well, I’m glad that’s over for you. You’ve moved on to better things. I understand that you’re doing some exciting things now.

Justin  20:20

Yes, yes. So somewhere in the middle of last year, I had a little time on my hands and I stumbled upon an opportunity and I jumped on it. Long story short, I’m trying to give an opportunity for a Malaysian-made films to be exhibited online because there isn’t another avenue otherwise. Then I decided to jump in that I built it. I spent like weeks in my own cave coding the thing.

Jean  20:46

Wow.

Justin  20:47

And there it is. Kinidia. So it is a movie streaming platform featuring local films. And yes, if you want to check out some local films, or some recent films, some Afdlin Shauki films, please check out Kinidia.com.

Jean  21:01

Wow, amazing. You’re definitely one of those super solopreneurs that I really look up to.

Justin  21:08

That’s, that’s high praise coming from you, Jeannette.

Jean  21:11

Thank you so much for being with us here today and sharing your experience. I hope we have you on again sometime.

Justin  21:17

I’d be happy to come back. Yes, this is so much fun.

Jean  21:20

Thank you for listening today. Show notes for this episode will be on our website, http://www.solosync.xyz. If you’d like to get in touch with us for any reason – ask some questions, if you want to suggest some topic, feel free to drop us a line at hello@solosync.xyz.

Sarah  21:42

You can also follow us on Instagram for more updates too! Our handle is @solosyncpodcast.

Featured photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

[Season 2] Ep 3: Paying Taxes as A Freelancer in Malaysia

“I’m looking forward to filing my taxes!” said no new freelancer ever. It’s more like a flurry of thoughts: Which form do I fill in? Was I supposed to keep track of my invoices? How? Do I get to claim tax on certain items? How do I do a final calculation and… what if I fill in the wrong details without knowing! Aaaaagh! 

Thankfully, we have accountants to the rescue. In this episode, we cover the basics about filing and paying taxes as a freelancer / solopreneur in Malaysia. Also featured is Sean Lai, a fellow freelancer who provides accounting consultation and services under his company, Above Ace Accounting. Sean helps us understand the tax filing process a better and addresses a handful of concerns that newbie tax paying freelancers may have. 

Show Notes

To get further details on how to file taxes as a freelancer, this article is pretty helpful.

A friendly reminder: The due date to file your taxes for the year 2020 for resident individuals who do not carry on business (BE Form), is 30 April 2021 for manual filing in Malaysia and 15 May 2021 via e-Filing in Malaysia. The deadline for resident individuals who carry on business such as full-time freelancers (B Form) is on 30 June for manual filing and 15 July for e-Filing. You can access the e-Filing portal here.

Here’s a list of tax exempted items for residents individuals in Malaysia for the Year 2020.

We also love this A to Z glossary of tax terminologies. Refer to it before your next social gathering in case you end up stuck with someone who enjoys talking about taxes!

Let us know what you think of this episode in the comments section! If you have any questions, ask away in this form.

Transcript

[Prologue]

Jean  00:01

I think when I started out, I did not know how to do my invoice numbers properly as well and I had to get an accountant’s advice for that

Sean  00:08

As long as the expenses is justifiable, the cost is tax deductible. But in our situation as a freelancer some of those expenses related to personal usage, we can only do an estimation of the cost allocation based on percentage.

Jean  00:31

Hi, everyone, its Jeannette and Sarah. And this is Solo Sync, a podcast for the curious solopreneur where we discover simple solutions to keep enjoying what we do together. 

[Start]

Sarah   00:41

One of the scariest things about managing my own finances as a freelancer is paying taxes. I’m not a numbers person at all. So even filing my tax returns as a full time employee felt a bit daunting. In Malaysia, our government forms are mostly in the Malay language, which some people like myself may not be very fluent in. Even in English, many terms are foreign to me.

Jean  01:03

And when you start to own your own business, the forms that you need to fill up are different. There are so many more forms like you know, for an individual, if you’re filing your taxes, you fill out one form or something like that. But if you’re running a business, if you’re employing people, you have things like your employees EPF, Socso, their tax deductions and all that to take care of. And that’s why I always recommend hiring a tax accountant to work with or even an accountant to work on your day to day business for you, but they’re especially important during tax season when your taxes are due.

Sarah   01:36

So we’re gonna cover the basics about paying taxes in this episode with advice from Sean, a freelancer accountant whom we both know. He’s also a director and shareholder in a Singaporean accounting firm that operates in Malaysia.

Jean  01:48

He’s also a business investor, he invests in potential businesses and he grows the companies he invests in by providing accounting and financial advice to the owners.

Sarah   01:59

So before we get into which tax form to fill out as a freelancer or sole proprietor, my first question would be, what accounting habits should freelances keep throughout the year in general?

Jean  02:11

Keep your receipts, all of them. Like Sean says,

Sean  02:15

I will say that almost all the receipts seems to be related. Because when we work as a freelancer its very hard to differentiate between what we use for work and for personal. So we could be 24 hours linked to our work and working from early morning up to midnight time. So all these are actually expenses that I might incur. So over here, the receipts are not necessarily just for our expenses, it could be for our assets as well.

Jean  02:40

So assets would be things like your office furniture, your computers, maybe even your car. So these are things that you have receipts for, and they may look like expenses, but it actually goes into your balance sheet as assets. So they’re actually what gives your company value as well, because they’re things that you can sell in exchange for money. Whereas expenses would be things like your food, or like maybe you need to buy stationery. Actually stationery is iffy, I think they could be considered assets as well. But you know, other expenses like driving, you need to drive somewhere for a meeting. And the petrol is an expense. That’s how I think of the difference between assets and expenses. 

Sarah   03:22

Basically, expenses are things that you can’t sell after you’ve used it. 

Jean  03:27

Yeah! I guess so. Yeah.

Sarah   03:29

Going back to keeping receipts right… I find that the ink on receipts fade over time and hardcopy documents really take up too much space. So I asked if I could just keep soft copies. And the answer was no.

Sean  03:42

It would be best to keep the soft copy and hardcopy. Okay, the reason is that the soft copy is everything for us to use when the government wants to have a look on that, we need to provide in the hardcopy. So all those invoices to and from we are providing to our clients and even from our suppliers we keep everything.

Sarah   04:00

Right. The other question I had was about numbering your invoices and quotations. I started out on the wrong foot. When I first started freelancing, I was giving different labels for each different service I provided. See, I’m a photographer, I’m a writer and a social media manager. And I labeled each of these different types of invoices differently. I kept the numbers consistent, of course for each category, but it still worried me for a while because I later learned that the best practice is to keep it all consistent. Thankfully it works for our tax system too.

Sean  04:32

For example, you put it as “Sarah”, the company, you put “SA” so that’s maybe it’s a photocopy you can put a “P” so that month and date follows slash with the numbers of this sequence. The next one is maybe another management things you still can put SA-M, continue with that date, and slash, continue with the numbers. Everything is okay. This is for our personal to use as long as a sequence number is followed.

Jean  04:55

Glad that’s cleared up. I think when I started out I did not know how to do my invoice numbers properly as well. And I had to get like an accountants advice for that. The other thing that new freelancers who aren’t from a finance background might find confusing is the difference between bookkeeping and accounting. But you know, you always hear people use the terms interchangeably. But actually, bookkeeping is simply keeping track of all the transactions happening our business. So it’s something that you can do yourself. And it is part of the process of accounting, but accounting itself is a much broader thing. You know, it involves things like auditing, taxation, it involves looking at the business numbers and interpreting it and communicating it in a way that non finance people will be able to understand as well. 

Sarah   05:39

Right, right. So bookkeeping is like a fancy term for keeping records.

Jean  05:43

Yeah. 

Sarah   05:44

Alright, let’s talk about tax exemptions. I wonder what kind of items we can get tax exemptions for and if there were any special ones for freelancers? Well, there aren’t. But as a person earning an income, the standard tax exemptions apply.

Jean  06:00

So things like petrol phone bills, internet, rent, and even groceries, anything you spend on for the business, you can get like tax deductions for it. And here’s the justification.

Sean  06:11

As long as the expenses is justifiable, the cost is tax deductible. But in our situation, as a freelancer, some of those expenses related to personal usage, we can only do an estimation of the cost allocation based on percentage. For example, we take petrol, petrol as expenses, we assume 70% of the cost is actually for the business usage. And 30%… of course, we might use it after we meet the client and went to the grocery and pick up something, of course that is another another business. So it’s hard for the government to justify anything. So we have this so called norm to decide that okay, the 70 and 30 will be clear for them, and they that they can accept it. That will be good for them.

Jean  06:53

So let’s talk about filing taxes in Malaysia now, shall we? If you’re wondering which form to fill in as a freelancer, since you’re not employed by a company, Sean has a pretty simple way of remembering.

Sean  07:05

I believe we all heard about from B and from BE, right, make it simple. BE… the E stands for employment. So if your main income is from employment, then more likely you will report under the form BE. So for me, the B itself stands for business. So if your main income is from the businesses, you are under form B. Of course, our people are confused when we are working and at the same time having an other source of income. Very easy. If you have a business or whether registered under the SSM or only using a personal trademark, this requires a freelancer, go for Form B. Just that. 

Sarah   07:40

Any final thing that freelancers should know about filing taxes?

Jean  07:44

There is this thing by our government called the CP 500. It’s like a tax installment based on your business estimates like so you estimate how much profit you’re going to make for the year and then you fill out the form and everything. And the first payment will be on the first of March. And then the other payments will be due on like specific dates that are spaced out throughout the year. And the amount that you pay each month will be based on that estimated income that you had filled up in the form. So this is so that you won’t feel the burden of paying a whole lump sum of tax during the next reporting period. So rather than paying say, 10,000 ringgit worth of taxes at the end of the year, or during the next tax period, you split it up into like 12 payments throughout the year. It’s a lot easier in the pocket, I guess.

Sarah   08:31

Yeah, that’s quite helpful. Well, this was a load of information. I guess that’s why it’s good to have an accountant to work with, right? What are the benefits that you’ve had working with an accountant?

Jean  08:44

Yeah, oh, my god, there’s so many benefits. And I would actually say that any Freelancer who has a regular income, like you know, if you have a lot of retainer clients, like just get an accountant, they’ll free up so much of your headspace and clear out like your headaches over admin and finance. Because the thing about accountants is that they should be up to date on all the requirements. Like you know, what kind of payments are required, what kind of things are tax deductible? How can you start a business in a way that… they know all these like things that you need to do you know, and they will be able to provide advice on that. Remember that earlier, we said bookkeeping is just one of the processes in accounting. So that’s really the least of your worries, because anyone can do that, you know, but a good accountant would be able to help you think about increasing profits and decreasing costs as well, since they’re able to interpret the numbers, they will be able to see where your business is operating inefficiently. Like you’re spending too much on something or not making enough money from certain areas like you know, due to exchange rates and things like that, and they would be able to help you optimize.

Sarah   09:47

And which stage do you think a freelancer or a solopreneur should hire an accountant?

Jean  09:52

If you can afford it, just do it. You can start small with maybe someone to just give you like tax advice or something like that. And if you’re running like a larger business, you might want to look into getting someone who can provide you more advice as well, which will cost more but totally worth it. 

Sarah   10:09

Cool. This has been super helpful even for me. Thank you all for listening. Show Notes for this episode are on our website, www.solosync.xyz. And if you’d like to get in touch with us to suggest a topic for an upcoming episode, you can email us at hello@solosync.xyz. Follow us on Instagram for more updates too. Our handle is @solosyncpodcast. See ya.

Featured photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Ep 3: Taking Time Off

If you’re working for yourself — as a freelancer or solopreneur — you need discipline to finish tasks. But you also need the discipline to take time off. In this episode, we talk about why it’s important to take breaks (even if they’re just mid-afternoon coffee breaks) and how to take time off without worrying about work getting in the way.

Show Notes

Tools mentioned in the show: Asana, Google Calendar, Notes (Apple), Trello

Questions or feedback? Email us at hello [at] solosync [dot] xyz or slide into our DMs on Instagram.

Transcript

[Prologue]

Sarah 00:01
Taking breaks is what keeps me going. So maybe I could be working on something for like three hours and really struggling through it right like struggling in every aspect, getting the work done, just pushing that creativity out, I reach this point where I say I can’t do anymore, I just really need a break. And then I find that after that break, I come back to the same piece of work with a completely different attitude or feeling. And I feel refreshed and energized. And it can finish in like an hour. And then I think to myself, it was just me, I just needed a break.

Jeannette 00:25
I’m always in this go mode, or even when I’m reading, I’m always like, “Okay, this could apply to something else that I’m working on.” So I found that having a day set aside where I don’t even allow myself to think about things that way. Maybe I end up playing like the Sims instead, or reading pulp fiction that has completely nothing to do with anything that I’m doing. And for me that requires so much discipline. But I do think that it’s very important to take breaks. As you mentioned, it’s something that helps you come back to your work in a new way.

[Start]

Sarah 01:00
Hey, guys, welcome to Solo Sync, a podcast for the curious solopreneur where we discover simple solutions to keep enjoying what we do and who we do it with.

Jeannette 01:09
I’m your host, Jeannette.

Sarah
And I’m Sarah.

Jeannette
And today we’re going to be talking about taking time off.

I’ve been freelancing for a really long time. And the thing people always say to me is, “Oh, you must really have discipline to you know, really get stuff done.” But for me, I think the struggle is to stop working. I think that’s where the discipline part comes in. I’m just really bad at scheduling time off. This Malaysia day week was actually the first day off I’ve had since mid July.

Sarah 01:45
So crazy. Why though? Why do you do that?

Jeannette 01:50
Um, I don’t know. I’m the sort of person who needs to be doing something all the time. So if I find like, “Oh, I see this empty space in my calendar. Yes, I can put something in here.” And then I do tend to forget that sometimes work can happen last minute or certain scheduling goes out of whack. And then I end up with like, a weekend that has like four deadlines or something like that, which is what happened over the last weekend, actually. I had four or five deadlines within three days. So yeah, it gets pretty insane for me because of scheduling and just my behavior towards life and work, I guess. But I think you’ve had a really different experience. Right? Maybe I can get some tips from you.

Sarah 02:38
I think we have a different approach to what’s work. For me, I don’t think I would be able to do that, like to work non-stop. Taking breaks is what keeps me going. Maybe sometimes I take too many breaks, I don’t know. But I have said, I mean, we’ve talked about this before as well. I said that maybe I could be working on something for like three hours and really struggling through it. Right? Like struggling in every aspect, getting the work done, just pushing that creativity out. But also like my attention span and my concentration, and just my general attitude towards what I’m doing. And so maybe that’s why it takes three hours when it could take less time. And then I find, I reach this point where I say I can’t do anymore, I just really need a break. A break could mean going out for coffee. Or if I have the time, it could even mean like a whole day. Like okay, tomorrow, I’m not gonna touch anything, I know that I’ve managed my time well enough. And I can take that one day off. And then I find that after that break, I come back to the same piece of work with a completely different attitude of feeling. And I feel refreshed and energized. And I can finish in like an hour, you know. And then I think to myself, it was just me. I just needed a break.

Jeannette 03:56
Yeah, I do find that as well. Which is why I tend to schedule at least like one day off a week where I don’t think about work at all. Like I don’t even allow myself to do it. Because even on like normal weekdays. I like to think about work. I always tell people work is my hobby.

Sarah 04:14
Even weekends?

Jeannette 04:17
Yeah, like I find it hard because I’m so excited about certain things that I’m working on. Or there’s something that I want to do. And I feel like I need to do it. Yeah. Because that’s just how excited I am.

Sarah 04:29
And you’re working on quite a few different things. At the same time. Not everything is like paid work, right?

Jeannette 04:35
Yeah. So I have my own projects. And then I have research that I’m doing as well, which is always exciting. So I’m always in this go mode or even when I’m reading I’m always like, “Okay, this could apply to something else that I’m working on.” So I found that having a day set aside where I don’t even allow myself to think about things that way. Maybe I end up playing The Sims instead or reading pulp fiction that has completely nothing to do with anything that I’m doing. Yeah. And for me that requires so much discipline. Yeah. But I do think that it’s very important to take breaks. And, you know, like you mentioned, it’s something that helps you come back to your work in a new way, right?

Sarah 05:23
Yeah, absolutely. I think breaks really prevent burnout. I mean, what’s the point of working on stuff when you’re just gonna feel so unhappy? I mean, for those who do feel unhappy? Maybe not in your case. But I do. I’m sure you experienced some form of burnout at some point of time. So taking breaks really helps to prevent burnout, I think. The truth is like, you’re not irreplaceable, I would feel, okay, one thing sometimes, like “Oh, my gosh, I have to deliver, I have to deliver because all my client is thinking about today is me”. You know, I have this idea that it’s all about me, and that they’re going to be wanting to check in all the time, or they want to be able to look at my work and see, “Oh, yeah, she’s pumped, like a lot hours into it”. But the truth of the matter is, they’ve got a lot more going on. They don’t really care, I guess. They’ve got their whole lives to live. It’s not about me. And I guess if we try to remind ourselves that that helps take off the pressure, in some sense.

Jeannette 06:23
Yeah. I think in cases where people don’t take breaks, because they feel it’s something they need to do because they’re being pressured by clients and things like that. And, okay, so for me, I have encountered situations where I think like, okay, I have a deadline to meet. And I might be feeling not that well, or something like that. But what I’ve started telling myself is that if I die, my client’s not gonna miss me, only my family will. Yeah, so that helps to sort of like, rein me back. And, you know, tell the client the truth, like, “Oh, you know, I was not feeling well. So this thing is going to be delayed”. Does that work for you?

Sarah 07:01
Well, maybe in my case, not that drastic. But for people who really are passionate about work, and who find a difficulty in just having that divide between personal time, taking a break and work, I think that I can see how that’s really useful. Just these little thought habits, right? For me, I think the thing that drives me is the creativity aspect. Like I said earlier, it’s just so important for me to go away, and come back totally refreshed. One thing I find that’s really helpful is we shouldn’t take for granted what we do outside of work, the things that we think about, the media that we expose ourselves to, the stuff that we’re constantly absorbing throughout the day. Because if you’re truly passionate about your work, and I think both of us are, respectively. Naturally, like you say, you might be doing something completely different. Binge watching a Netflix TV series, or reading a book, or just hanging out with a friend and having a conversation. And you’re able to draw inspiration and ideas from all those experiences to your work. Okay. And I know this is about picking your brain. But that’s the whole idea. Right? And then you feel like oh my gosh, that’s it. That was the missing link, or that’s a great idea. And you feel ready and pumped to go back to your laptop, you know?

Jeannette 08:26
Yeah. So maybe taking a break doesn’t have to be totally like, being brain dead. But it’s about taking inspiration from places outside of work as well.

Sarah 08:39
Yes, yes. I mean, I find, for people in the creative line, you know, artists or content producers, photographers, video producers, podcast producers, writers, that really helps. But I believe that this can be applied to every kind of profession. It’s just how you choose to apply it.

Jeannette 09:03
Yeah, so there’s so many reasons why it’s so important to take breaks, including health benefits and things like that. But I guess what I want to focus on is discovering solutions, and what are some of the challenges that we or anyone else who is freelancing might face when it comes to taking breaks? So I guess for me, some of the biggest challenges for you know, not taking time off work is because I like money a lot. And sometimes I find it hard to say no, when, you know, it’s such an easy job, and the money is good. And then as I mentioned earlier, when I see empty blocks of time, I decide that I want to fill it up and I don’t realize that sometimes there are scheduling issues. Sometimes the client needs this thing a bit sooner than expected. So it becomes like an unexpected thing. I guess one of the biggest struggles for me is that we’re always connected. People can reach us anytime via WhatsApp. But I feel like you have a pretty good handle on, you know, separating work and play. Perhaps you could share some, you know, like, do you have fixed working hours or like, well…

Sarah 10:27
I try. Okay, so maybe a typical day for me would be like, I mean, there are days that I have to go to a client’s office, but when I’m working from home, I’m not a morning person. And I really mean that. Even if I were to wake up at eight, I’m not going to be productive until like 11. So my workday would typically start at about 10. I’ll try and put in a good hour and a half before I start getting hungry. Take a break for lunch. Okay, say 12. So 12, it’s lunch. And then I am back at my desk, say, by 2pm latest. I look forward to tea time. That’s just me. So I’ll work till 4pm. And what I find is that after the tea break, right, that’s when I’m really in my zone. So I’ll break like, say, maybe for half an hour, literally, it’s just like coffee and a bun or a piece of cake or whatever. And then I know that if I need more sugar, I’ll like top up on the desserts. And then from four to say, 7:30. Sometimes, I’m just at it, and I have to peel myself away from the laptop to remind myself, it’s dinner. And if I have to cook dinner, or if I have to go out for dinner, I have to really be very disciplined with my time and that rush that I did, oh my god, the days ending already. And you’re feeling really pumped and you need to be disciplined helps me get stuff done, okay. And so if it’s a packed day, like there’s lots to be done in the day, I’ll go for a quick dinner. And I’m back on my laptop at, say 9:30. And then I’ll work till midnight, just because I am a night person. And that means I have better concentration at night. I actually enjoy working till one or 2am because I feel that the rest of the world is asleep. No one’s going to be texting me, no one’s going to be commenting on my Instagram, no one’s going to be asking for requests on the goal. There’s no reason to go out, you know. And so that really helps with my concentration. So that’s like on a daily basis, I guess, when I can afford to. Of course, there are times where, you know, I don’t even get lunch breaks, because I just need to get the work done. When there are multiple deadlines. For the whole week, I think by Friday, I’m dying. Saturday really is my break day, I don’t want to think about work. And so I’ll take a break on Saturday, I will. I’m still deciding if I’m an extrovert becoming an introvert or I’m still an extrovert, just a more mature one, I have no idea. But there are days where I feel like meeting friends really is my way of taking a break. So I’ll fill my Saturday with whatever I need to. And then I find that by Sunday afternoon, I’m already thinking of work. So I end up doing some work on a Sunday evening. But to me that’s like, that’s okay, if I’ve got my break on Saturday. If I didn’t get to break on Saturday, like Saturday was a working day for me, there’s Sunday has to be a break for me. And I might not touch my laptop, like the entire day, or even the entire weekend if I can help it, because I feel that like we spend so much time staring at screens all the time, I just really want to take a break from that posture of sitting at the table, staring into a laptop hunched over. At least for two good days and go out, go get some sun do something else, you know. So that is the schedule that I try to stick to. But you’re right in saying that it’s so easy to keep taking on jobs, because you’re like, Oh, yeah, I could do that. Yeah, that’s pretty easy, or Yeah, it’s a little bit more pocket money, you know? And then suddenly, you’re like, Oh, my God, why did I do that? I’m still at my laptop and it’s already Saturday evening, right?

Jeannette 14:15
Yes. So what I found works for me is being really aggressive with my calendar. Like, if there are times when I forget to schedule stuff, like, Okay, this block of time is meant to be working on this, then that’s when things like multiple deadlines and too much work, to the point where I might not even be able to take breaks, that’s when that happens. So I think one of the things that I’ve had to be really disciplined about doing is like aggressive scheduling. So even break times, like there are times when I’ve put in blocks of time to say watch this TV series.

Sarah 14:59
Would you consider taking a break from one kind of work? By doing another kind of work? Would you consider that a valid break?

Jeannette 15:10
I would say yes. But I have a friend who is really like, I guess strict with me. She’ll say: No reading. It’s not taking a break. Like the only thing you’re allowed to do when you’re taking a break is watching TV or going outside. Yeah. So for me, that’s like the hardest thing to do. Like, I don’t know how to, like just not do anything.

Sarah 15:36
You know, I think one really important thing I’m picking up here is that everyone really is different. And to be really honest, my biggest struggle also is allowing myself to be guilt tripped by comparison. After a while you realize that everyone’s just different. Some people can, like yourself, you find it hard to take a break, because you love work. You love what you do. And you need to keep your mind active. For other people, like maybe me, like people always say, “Sarah, your attention span is so short”. And it’s true, you know, and I can’t keep denying it. I can’t pretend that’s not the case. I think the idea is to acknowledge it, and to find a way to make that work for me, so that I can still deliver my best without the expense of my happiness, I guess, or my creativity. So I think just knowing who you are, and like quit comparing yourself to other people. I think that has worked for me. Over time. I’m not the best at it yet. I still sometimes feel really guilty. I have this other friend that I work with. And he just loves working like every time I see him, you know, when we meet up. I’ll ask: So how was your weekend? How was your day? Stayed up till 5am doing work? It’s always the case? How come? I don’t do that? But I just can’t. Right? Yeah. And I think just stop comparing and just like do what you can with the time you have with who you are. I think that has really helped.

Jeannette 16:57
Yeah, the main thing is to figure out who you are. We all have different biologies ,different capacities. And it’s all about figuring out what works for ourselves. And I’d say, I’m still figuring that out as well. Like, there are systems I think that can help you do that.

We’re gonna talk about some methods of coping, especially for people who are working full time while freelancing. I think that’s especially pertinent to me now, because I recently decided to go back to school full time. And I’m doing that while you know, working on my own projects, and like freelancing as well. Yeah. So I know that you used to do that. Yeah. Freelance at work full time.

Sarah 17:47
Yeah, that’s how I started freelancing. I had a full time job. And then I would take on writing assignments on the side. And at one point, I had one full time job and two retainer freelance jobs and I was just working around the clock for a whole year. This was a few years back. Yeah. And it’s so funny, because at that time, I had housemates, and my housemates were just like, “Oh, that’s typical Sarah. She comes home, she just goes straight to her laptop”. And they could see how tired and stressed I was. You know, you always have to learn the hard way sometimes. That was what made me realize that I’m not a workhorse, like, I can’t do it. I was so unhappy. And I wasn’t great at pricing at that time, either. So I think I spent way too many hours doing work for nothing. It wasn’t worth my time. Okay, so now I’m like a full time freelancer. But if you’re still having a full time job, the first time you take on a piece of freelance work, you might not know how much time it takes to do that. So just do it anyway. Use the opportunity to time yourself. For example, okay, how long does it take me to write a 1000-word article, and that includes research time, writing time, editing time. Time yourself, even if you’re not working at it at one go. Just add up all the little hours that you’ve spent on it. 30 minutes here, 60 minutes there. So that the next time you offer that same service, you can already know, okay, for one article, I would typically take between three to five hours depending on how complex it is. And then you know, if I’m going to take on one article for that week, I can take on one article for one week. Because throughout the week, I can divide those five hours into two or one hour a day throughout that week. And that helps you plan ahead as well. And then you know, okay, I can still have a life. I can still have a social life, I can still go for dinner with my friends. I can still watch that TV series or, you know, yeah, that’s where I was at.

Jeannette 19:57
Do you happen to use any like project management tool like time management tool or anything like that?

Sarah 20:02
I started out just using Google Calendar, to be honest, because I liked how you could slot in time slots for work. And then it will kind of remind you of the next thing. And you’ll get that pop up, right. Other than that, not really. Like I do use Asana and Trello separately, but I’m not really using any other platforms. Would you have any to recommend?

Jeannette 20:27
Yeah, so that’s, that’s why I’m asking I’m so bad at using these productivity tools. I pretty much just use Google Calendar and like a checklist in Notes app.

Sarah
Yeah. And if that works for you, that’s fine. You know, it feels good to check things off the list anyway, right?

Jeannette
It does, it does. But I found that really putting things into my calendar helps to like really estimate, you know, what blocks of time I do have.

Sarah 20:54
Yeah. And the thing is, once you put in your calendar, it’s always there. So if you have to refer to it again, you know, “Oh, actually, a month ago, I was working on this. And look, according to my calendar, it did not take just two hours. It actually took more than that”. Because the time blocks are there. And that helps you come back to reality. I think.

Jeannette 21:16
Yeah, it helps provide like a realistic time. It’s historical. So that you, you can estimate better in the future, right?

Sarah 21:26
Yeah, absolutely. And I think as you go, you will start to gain more confidence in yourself. And that will help you know when to say no, right? Yeah. Which goes back to what we’re talking about taking breaks. I mean, it comes with time, if you already know that a certain piece of work, even though you might think it’s interesting, or it might pay the bills or whatever. It’s going to take just way too much of your time that helps you say no, so that you can say yes. To stuff that matter. Like taking a break for sanity.

Jeannette 21:56
Yeah. And I suppose like, knowing that schedule also helps you to tell the client like if you need it within this time period. No, I can’t do it. But if you can wait until like, another like, week or another month or something like that. Then like, yes.

Sarah 22:11
That’s so important. Just communicating, and not feeling pressure to always deliver according to the terms. Yeah. Because it’s a two-way conversation. And I think that helps build trust, as well with them.

Jeannette 22:25
Yeah, I guess what we want to take away from today’s episode is that it’s really, really important to take breaks, even if you’re a workaholic and you enjoy work. It’s important for your health. You know, your heart sometimes can’t take it. I’ve heard of people who have had heart problems because of too much work. You’ll be able to do better work because you come back refreshed after your time off. And there’re just more important things in life than work.

Sarah 22:52
Yeah, we are more than our work. Yes, we’re human beings, not robots.

Jeannette 22:59
The way we can enable ourselves to take breaks is to plan our time. If you know you’re able to plan your year. If not then at least like the month or the quarter.

Sarah 23:11
Yeah, take breaks every quarter if you want to. When I say break, I mean like, go away for the weekend. To come back feeling really refreshed. I think that’s it.

Jeannette 23:21
Yeah. So if you guys have any tips, or like, productivity tools to share, please feel free to get in touch with us.

Sarah 23:30
And we hope that this episode has helped you recognize that, you know, your life matters more than a work that you do.

Jeannette 23:37
Yeah. So if you want to get in touch with us, our Instagram handle is @solosyncpodcast.

Sarah 23:49
And if you want to send us an email, you can just drop an email at hello@solosync.xyz. We would love to hear from you. Until next time!

[End]

Ep 2: How To Charge

One of the first few questions that a new freelancer often has is, “How to charge?”. You’ll soon realise there are many ways of doing this. In this episode we talk about different ways to calculate your hourly rate (read: value) as a freelancer, how this might look different across a few industries, and how we managed price negotiations with potential clients when we’re caught off guard or find it difficult to decide. Are our solutions good? You decide.

[Prologue]

Sarah   00:01

If this client is willing to work with you for the next six to 12 months. And as a freelancer, that’s a bonus because you have some kind of financial security, but then you can’t go so low till the point where it doesn’t make sense for you. So it’s good to have a minimum benchmark.

Jean  00:13

Even though the work might not be a lot, you need to factor in the mental load as well. You’re sort of like invested in that company sort of, and is definitely going to be on your mind. Because it’s just, it just takes out a lot of you. 

[Start]

Sarah   00:33

Hey, guys, welcome to Solo Sync, a podcast for the curious solopreneur where we discover simple solutions to keep enjoying what you do and who you do it with.

Jean  00:42

I’m your host, Sarah. And I’m Jeanette and today we’re talking about how to charge. So I think this is like the first thing that a freelancer a new Freelancer always worries about, right? Not just new ones, but I think even people who have been in the field for a while are always wondering, you know, how much do I charge for this even now, like, I’ve been doing this for about five years, and I still check in with my friends to ask like, okay, is this the market rate now? and things like that.

Sarah   01:12

Yeah. It’s like a never ending journey. So maybe let’s just start with a real life scenario. So someone approaches you and asks you if you can provide a certain service. Two of us are writers, right? 

Jean  01:26

Yeah.

Sarah   01:27

We also do… well I also do social media management. I’m also a photographer.

Jean  01:31

And I do a lot of editing and proofreading as well as, well uh, sometimes bartending!

Sarah   01:38

They’re quite different services that we can both provide. But yeah, then they ask you, can you do this for me? So let’s say they ask, “Do you do article writing for a blog, or content for a website? I want to launch a product, and I want to be able to build content around it to educate my readers. So you say yes. And they ask, “How much do you charge?” How would you respond to that? How should you respond to that? 

Jean  02:05

So the first thing I would do is probably try to find out more information. Like, what what do they have in mind? Do they just want like, a single piece? Or do they want like a whole series? Do they want maybe four articles a month? Or do they just want a one off thing? And who comes out with the ideas for the content? What kind of strategy do they have? So it’s basically finding out more info before you actually say anything.

Sarah   02:32

Yeah. Sometimes we panic right? So if that happens, I think it’s important to just calm down. Always find more info first. I like that. Okay, and then they tell you everything that they know. And sometimes they actually don’t know that much, either. So you don’t have much to work with. So in that situation, like what I’ve done, I think I would just say, “I’ll get back to you” or “Let me know more” I guess.

Jean  02:59

Yeah, sometimes if it’s a field that you don’t know much about, or if it’s a totally new industry, and they tell you, we need this and that. And it can be kind of hard to gauge how much to charge for things like research. If you don’t realize that, “Oh actually, it’s quite a deep field!” and you need to do a lot of reading and stuff into it before you can actually start any writing at all. Yeah, so you need to factor that sort of thing in as well. So I guess it’s important to sort of take your time to do it. 

Sarah   03:28

Yeah. I would just say okay, I’ll get back to you. Yeah, just give yourself some time. Okay, so let’s say, they really clear about what they want. And it’s a specific service. I know that some freelancers already have a rate card, would you then off the bat, just quote from your rate card?

Jean  03:48

Yeah, I usually do that. I usually give a range. Like I’ll say it, you know, if let’s say its writing an article, my per word rate is around this much. So for the article you have in mind, it will probably be around this price. And then if it involves other scope of work, then the price might be higher. So it kind of gives them a gauge of whether we would be the right fit budget-wise as well.

Sarah   04:14

That’s good. Although I do know that for different kinds of writing also, you may not charge per word, right? Let’s say, if it’s content writing, that’s pretty straightforward. But if it’s like, writing for a printed piece of material that’s going to be used to earn money on their behalf.

Sarah   04:36

I don’t know. You know, they’re gonna really benefit from it, then you would have to think about the longevity of that value and cost. But we’ll go into that in a bit la. Now, let’s talk about like the different ways of charging as a freelancer. So just now we mentioned there’s – if you’re a writer – charging per word…

Jean  04:55

So there’s per word if you’re writer and then a lot of people do hourly rates. So even with some of my clients, after bidding for a specific job, for example, they’ll say, “How many person days do you imagine this would take?” You know, so basically, they’re trying to see how much they’re paying you per hour or per day. 

Sarah   05:20

Then understanding that there are so called eight working hours in a day. 

Jean  05:24

Yeah. So there’s like, I guess the most common ones would be like, hourly rates, or usually, there’s some kind of unit charge, but it’s a lot of people look at it as per hour, I think.

Sarah   05:35

But it is also, some people charge per product, right? Like they have a rate card. Because what if your hourly rate doesn’t justify the amount of work going into a certain type of work? So I’ll give an example. So I am a writer, I also do wedding and family photography, I charge say, my hourly rate for writing is say 90 to 150, right, depending on what and, and I can’t be charging the same for photography, cuz, okay, I’m really bad math. So let’s go with whole numbers! So let’s say my hourly rate is 100. And this shoot takes like, two hours. And then I take another three to five hours to filter through, 500 to 1000 photos. Okay la, I wouldn’t take that much, but 500 photos. So in total, I have seven hours worth of work, which means I would be charging 700 for my photoshoot, which is like way below the market rate, right? So in a situation like that, when would you know when to charge by product?

Jean  06:47

Right. So I tend to prefer to charge by product. Like, I have a specific set of services that I want to offer, there are certain things that I just don’t do anymore, because after some years, I feel like it’s not worth my time, or it’s not something that I enjoy doing. So I’ve come up with a list of products: articles at around how many words and then maybe a website page, or editing of some copy, or maybe even SEO services. And I develop it in the sense that it’s a product, and then they pay a fixed price for that specific product.

Sarah   07:33

I guess that’s something that you’ll get to learn over time la. Right? Yeah, like a freelancer.

Jean  07:39

After doing it awhile you kind of like realize, okay, this sort of work involves this amount of time, time and effort. And this is what I want to get for it. 

Sarah   07:52

Yeah, actually you’re right. Even with the example I gave: writing. You’re sitting at the laptop and is a lot of research effort. But photography, it’s a lot physical effort as well. Not to mention, like covering the gear that you purchase, stuff like that, right? So I was recently reading… I follow this Instagram account that really gives great tips for freelancers. And it was talking about how we should charge per client. To find out what value the client puts to that specific scope of work. So in other words, you’re not charging for the job you’re charging for, you’re charging the client. And I know a lot of people practice that here in Malaysia as well. Or maybe overseas, I don’t know, where they have tier pricing. So there’s SME, which is small, medium enterprises. And then they’ve got another tier rate for like, slightly bigger companies. And they’ve got another rate for MNCs, maybe. What are your thoughts on it?

Jean  08:56

So this is what I’ve heard from other people as well. So recently, I was talking to someone who runs a who runs a training center. So they quote differently for SMEs and like glcs are MNC is because they say like, oh, if you if you charge an SME price, the bigger company is going to think that “Oh, actually, there’s something wrong with you, you know, that’s why you’re charging so cheap”. But to me, I sometimes feel like personally, I like to standardize my rates. So it is that price whether you are an MNC or GLC or an SME. And if it’s a company that I believe in and they really cannot afford my rates, I might work something out with them, or I might even do pro bono. So you have that standard already. That’s what I found works for me. But yeah, it could be different for different people. 

Sarah   09:53

I think that makes sense because usually this kind of practice will come in handy if you are a full grown company. You don’t have the time to keep negotiating per client. So you need to already have fixed rates, right? And it works to your benefit that when you when you have a client who is a GLC, to know that they are going to be charged a certain rate. But sometimes, like you say, even as a company of maybe like three or five or even 20, where you don’t have time to negotiate per client, you want to be able to make rates low enough to help smaller companies. And so it’s like, okay, I’ll just give you that “SME rate”, which we’ll talk about later on: what does that mean, in context of freelancing?! Umm cool. What about retainers?

Jean  10:45

I do do that with some clients, especially those with businesses that I really like. And if they have teams that, you know, we really need to collaborate and work together on a specific project. That’s when it makes sense to have a routine, I think. So when it comes to that, I think it’s fair to go lower than your usual rate. If let’s say I were to charge 5000 Ringgit for a specific piece of work. But it’s more of something that can be done per month. I mean, the overall rate can be cheaper, because it’s being sort of paid over several months.

Sarah   11:34

Yeah. And there’s value in the longevity of the job and the chance to build that relationship with the client as well.

Jean  11:41

Yeah. And I guess something we can talk about later on is cash flow. In another episode!

Sarah   11:48

Yeah, I think, you need to factor in the scope of work if you’re going to do that. And at the end of the day, have a minimum benchmark, right? Because let’s say you really like the client, you believe in their cause, you want to do the work, you love the job. So all that kind of lines up for you. And then you know that, okay, this client is willing to work with you for the next six months, six to 12 months. And as a freelancer, that’s a bonus, coz you have some kind of financial security. But then you can’t go so low till the point where it doesn’t make sense for you. Because the thing about retainers is that sometimes you’re not going to be… yeah, you have a scope of work, but you’re not going to be like terribly calculative about it as well. You’re almost like a part timer where in that sense, I would say like you really build that relationship with them. So it’s good to have a minimum benchmark and not go lower than that. Just in case.

Jean  12:40

Yeah, totally agree. Because even though the work might not be a lot, you need to factor in the mental load as well. So it’s like, you’re sort of like invested in that company, sort of, and is definitely going to be on your mind. You know, that’s why I’ve sort of cut down on retainer work. Because it just takes up a lot of you.

Sarah   13:05

That’s true, you will kind of be expected to prioritize them. You’re right. I always forget about mental load. Sometimes we quantify our value in terms of the actual, physical skills that we’re doing to produce the final outcome of that work. And then we forget like, Oh my God, why is my brain is so tired today?

Jean  13:25

So speaking of extra, one thing to remember as a freelancer is also, you know, the fact that you don’t have all the extra benefits that come with having a full time job. 

Sarah   13:36

That’s true. 

Jean  13:36

Like, you know, your medical benefits and sick days. Yeah. And EPF and SOCSO that normally your employer will pay for you, right? So I guess that’s something that you need to calculate into your hourly rate as well. How do you do that?

Sarah   13:55

Okay, let’s talk about how to calculate our hourly rate. So let’s say you’re moving from your full time employment to being a freelancer. One way to do it is you can just factor in how much you’re earning for the entire year, and just say, I want to keep earning that same amount. But you might mark it up a little for the following year la. To factor in inflation rates. So you take that amount you minus off all the non-working days. So generally, you have 22 working days a month, not counting your Saturday and Sundays. And then you’re supposed deduct, even days that you want to take holidays on throughout the year. So let’s say you tell yourself, and it’s really up to you, right? If you say okay, I want to take like the whole month of December off. Okay la, so you minus that, and then you divide that by the number of days and hours. And that’s how you get hourly rate. But then you were saying we need to factor in these added benefits. So I read somewhere and I think It makes sense that you can calculate it, like down to the last cent if you like. You already know how much you need to pay for EPF, how much your company pays on your behalf and how much you pay. So you factor that in for SOCSO. So maybe you want to take your previous company’s medical benefit as a benchmark, which is not realistic, because you’re just starting out. But you can give yourself like a leeway of… I don’t know, how much does it take to even now just go to the clinic and get very basic flu pills? You’re already paying at least 75 Ringgit, sometimes. But that being said, you should have your own health insurance, and we can talk about that in a different episode. So you will kind of calculate that. But when it gets too much, then I would say based on what I read, just mark it up by 25%. That will be a pretty good benchmark. So you have what you want to earn for that year, mark that up by 25%? And then divide that by the number of working days and billable hours. What do billable hours mean? So if there are eight, actually there are nine working hours in a day, right? To be really honest. So you’ve got nine working hours in a day, including that one hour lunch. So ask yourself, how many hours out of those nine hours are you really doing work? And things like answering emails or doing administration may not be considered actual work? Unless you are a comms specialist, then answering emails is THE work, you know. So maybe you take two hours of every day. So you’ve got seven hours left minus your lunch, you’ve got six hours left, so those six hours are your billable hours. So you divide the amount of money you want to earn for that year divided by the number of working days divided by the number of billable hours. And that’s how you get your hourly rate. 

Jean  16:54

That makes so much sense. Like I’ll be honest and say that I did not do it that way when I first started out!

Sarah   17:01

I think nobody does!

Jean  17:03

And even now I’m sort of like, feeling my way along as well. I always think like, more money is better!

Sarah   17:10

Yeah. And I think it changes also over time. I mean, of course, because as inflation goes up, you need to factor that in. I took a while to learn this as well. I have been freelancing on the side, even as I had a full time job. And I never bothered to calculate my hourly rate, or rather, I just didn’t know, you know. And then last year, I calculated… oh sorry, two years ago, when I started full-time freelancing, I calculated my hourly rate, just based on what I was earning, taking home every year. I didn’t factor in my EPF, or my SOCSO. So I was really losing out. And don’t forget to save up pink tax! Okay, is there anything else we need to factor in when we’re calculating our hourly rate?

Jean  17:58

I think if you’re offering like super different services, you know, how earlier you spoke about how you do like writing and photography. When, when offering these different services, I think the hourly rates can actually get really different from each other. Right?

Sarah   18:15

Yeah. Because of the different amount of effort that is put into it. I would say, okay, so when does calculate your hourly rate not apply? Sorry, it always applies. But when do you not charge based on your hourly rate? So when your services are different, how do you value that right? I would say put a value to your time, compare it to the market rate. So there is a market rate… you need to talk, have conversations with people, find out what other people are charging. One way to do this is talk to other freelancers, if you don’t have a single freelancing friend, within the industry, go online, find out what’s going on. But I know that like for certain regions, these resources are quite scarce. And it’s really difficult to just… there’s a lot of material on this topic in the US. And it’s really hard to just take what they’re advising and then convert it to Malaysian ringgit, it’s just difficult. But what you can also do is talk to friends who are full-time workers whose company hires freelancers and find out “How much did your company pay that person?” You know, that’s one way of doing it. So that’s how you get your market rate, I guess. And then let’s say, you know, how do you put a value to your time I would factor in things like years of experience, your unique creative angle, that’s really hard to put a value to but at least know that it’s something you value la right? The time spent and, and I mean, maybe even the cost of your gear. So with writing, it’s not so bad. You’ve pretty much got your laptop to cover, I guess. For photography, it would be your camera, your flash. You want to be able to set yourself a time limit and say in six months or three months, I want to be able to pay this off with what I’m earning. Yeah, pretty much that I would say.

Jean  20:13

Yeah, I guess for me, you know, my skill sets are quite different in range. I think one is  writing, which is very much like knowledge kind of work. Whereas, if I were to go bartend at a party or something like that, it’s something that’s very service, F&B related. And the hourly rates are honestly, quite different from each other. So that’s something that I have to take into consideration as well. I guess how much people are willing to pay for a specific service… determines the market rate. And that determines how much you can charge as well.

Sarah   20:53

Yeah, that’s right. You know, I will say this, I mean, at the end of the day its also a question of ethics. There are people who just charge so much just because they can, because the market rate is just increasing. And, I mean, I’ll just speak for myself here. Like, at least in terms of photography, I’m a photographer. I might not be the best out there, I may not have had like 10 years of experience. I do have 10 years of experience, it’s just that very minimal experience compared to full time photographers. As someone who’s paying another photographer to take my photos, there’s only so much that I think you should be paying for a photographer. I really struggle even… getting married, you’ve got so many things to pay for on your wedding. And to be able to say, I’m going to be paying 10k for one photographer, there’s so many other things to pay for. Are you really in that range? That socioeconomic range? You know, can you really afford that? And so I think you need to also ask yourself, put your customer first also, and not just think about yourself sometimes. I can’t quantify that. It’s just an attitude to have.

Jean  22:12

What about for things like that you’ve never done before? You know, like, it’s a paid job, you’ve never done it before someone approaches you with it and says, Can you do this for me?

Sarah   22:22

Okay, it’s something that I have always wanted to do. And to try something I think that I can do, my answer is yes, I can do it. The question is, am I going to do for free or get paid, right? I think when I was younger, I used to just do things entirely for free. Because I felt that I had no experience. And so there’s no reason for them to pay me. And I was not competent. Obviously, I felt that when someone pays you the the pressures added on. But over the years, I’ve learned that even if you have no experience, just the time used to figure something out, people should value that time, and I valued at time. So I would still want to get paid like a minimum fee, right?

Jean  23:05

I think you’re bringing your knowledge from other fields into what you’re doing as well. So that’s what you’re getting paid for too.

Sarah   23:11

Yeah, that’s right. You’re getting paid for YOU la. Yeah, they asked you and no one else, you know. There’s definitely something you can bring to the table. So how to charge for that? I don’t know. How do you do it? 

Jean  23:24

So what I’ve usually done is, I guess I have a very lackadaisical way of dealing with this sort of thing. I don’t plan for it. I just take it as it comes. But I guess the closest example would be when I started bartending. And it was something that I had learned, I went for class. And it was something that I wanted experience doing as well. And at the time, I just took whatever was offered. It was below I think, like below minimum wage, but I felt like it was a learning experience. And it really was on the ground practical experience. And that had value for me as well. So I guess that’s something that very freelancer, I mean, it’s a very individual thing. Like, what you need to think about, I think, is what you really want to get out of the experience.

Sarah   24:25

What you’re getting in return la.

Jean  24:26

Yeah.

Sarah   24:27

It’s not always about money, right?

Jean  24:28

Yeah. It’s not about money all the time. Sometimes you might get interesting connections. 

Sarah   24:35

You’re right, you’re right.

Jean  24:36

Yeah. So it’s always looking for other value as well. And then trying to balance that out with how much you need to survive, you know, tomorrow.

Sarah   24:47

Okay. You know what that makes, total sense. So the thing is, you’re still valuing yourself, but you’re asking yourself, what can I get for what I value and it might be in terms of  monetary benefits or in other benefits, that can actually go quite far. I like that. It’s good. One thing I struggle with, though, when it comes to doing something new is how to estimate the time it takes.

Jean  25:12

Yeah, that can be hard. Sometimes you can gauge but even the best effort can be like, you can be wrong sometimes. And it takes more time than you anticipate. But I feel that helps you learn as well, for the next time this sort of job happens. 

Sarah   25:30

Just live and learn. Right? 

Jean  25:31

Yeah, but one thing I’ve realized is that whatever you estimate, mark it up. Because you’re usually wrong! 

Sarah   25:39

Yeah, yeah. I always underestimate the amount of time it takes to do something. I forget that energy levels is a thing as well. So, you know, maybe I can churn out an article in two hours or three hours and then … eh actually I don’t have the research done for this. Then I spend another five hours researching. Before I know it, its been eight hours. And I’m so tired and then I’ve got other things going on in life. Yeah. So really think about that.

Jean  26:07

Yeah. And then the other thing that is always difficult when speaking to a new client is when they want to negotiate. 

Sarah   26:17

Oh my gosh.

Jean  26:19

Yeah, what are some of the things that have been said to you? And how do you respond to them?

Sarah   26:26

They always say like, Can you give me SME price? Haha.

Jean  26:31

It’s like their passive aggressive way of saying, I need a huge discount!

Sarah   26:37

Yeah. What about you? What else?

Jean  26:40

Um, one of the things I always get is Oh, for this rate, I can hire a full timer.

Sarah   26:45

Oh, my gosh. And then you just say to them, Yeah, go ahead.

Jean  26:49

Yeah. Usually, that’s my response. Like, yeah, if you can hire a freelancer then yeah, go ahead. Yeah, sorry. A full-timer.

Sarah   26:56

And we mean that, right? Because it’s true. As much as we would really like to help you, we cannot be that full-timer for you, because we’ve got our own business going on. And it does make more sense for you, you know? Another thing I hear well, I guess it all boils down to how… individual clients la…  and there are some clients that just say, Oh, can you just go cheaper, I just don’t have the budget for it. 

Jean  27:21

Sometimes you got to appreciate those as well. Like, at least they’re really straightforward about it. 

Sarah   27:25

That’s true. 

Jean  27:26

And then you can say yes or no.

Sarah   27:28

Oh, hey, so here’s a question, right? Do you ask people… do you ask them… What’s your budget? Do you bother asking the clients what’s your budget? Okay, and hear me out. I feel that if you were to say that, you’re setting yourself up, to meet their benchmark, or to disappoint them. So let’s say you really have an idea of how much you’re going to charge, but you’re really not sure where this client is coming from. Then you ask them, oh, what’s your budget, and then you find out that their budget is like half of what you would charge, then that puts you in a really sticky situation, because then it’s like, you already know what their budget is, why we used to go ahead and charge like, quote, something that’s completely out their budget. It’s kind of rude, right? But yet at the same time, I don’t know. Is that beneficial? Asking that question?

Jean  28:19

Right. So this “What’s your budget” question? I usually ask after they’ve already told me what kind of work they want done. So when they tell me their budget, I’ll say okay, I can’t do what you want for that price. But we can work on something smaller first. Or I can recommend someone a bit more junior for you.

Sarah   28:40

Would you… which comes first? Asking the client’s budget or telling them your ballpark figure?

Jean  28:47

It really depends. I don’t think that I have like a fixed formula for like what I say first, but… Oh, so in one of my most recent cases, I actually did it in the same sentence. Like, “This is what I charge, tell me what your budget is”. 

Sarah   29:05

Haha! How did that go? 

Jean  29:08

She’s like, oh, okay, let’s talk about it. Okay, so I guess that that already helps you to sort of gauge, okay, this client can sort of see themselves paying that amount. So it helps to make your pre-work conversations more efficient as well. So you don’t waste time. I’ve gone to meet clients for like three meetings. These were not  my clients, but

Sarah   29:37

you were subcontracted?

Jean  29:38

Yeah, like a subcontractor. And it’s like, we’re pitching for a job. And I’ve gone to three, three hour meetings. And then eventually, nothing comes out of that, or the clients are like “Hmm-hawing” about the price, and I’ve realized that those are just not efficient and not something that I want to do necessarily.

Sarah   29:58

Yeah, I wish I could understand where the clients are coming from when they refuse to mention what their budget is. Sometimes I would feel maybe it’s because they don’t have a very high budget, and they’re just feeling like they would rather find out how much you charge in case you charge less than their budget, so that they don’t lose out on that. Or sometimes… I really don’t know.

Jean  30:26

Yeah, so I guess that that brings us to, if they really can’t pay what you asked for, they just really don’t have the budget for it or they don’t want to, but you need the job. You know, what do you usually find yourself doing in that situation?

Sarah   30:43

I’ve been in those situations quite a few times. I think it always starts that way. Okay, so ideally, like you would say, don’t ever put yourself in that position. 

Jean  30:55

Yeah. I’ve always been on the school of thought that everyone needs a “F*** off fund”. Like, whenever you don’t like the situation you’re in, you have enough of a runway to say “F*** off”.

Sarah   31:06

Yeah, but I guess sometimes, we don’t plan for it. And I mean, everyone’s got a different financial situation. They might not have had time to have much savings for… um, so they need the money, or it could be a bad month or season? Well, I would say, if you’re really desperate, you can take the job. Take it in, with dignity, but manage your expectations. You have to just know that this is a learning experience. And I guess, by going through that, by going through the motions, after that, you will come out a wiser person. You will know that no matter what, I’ll never do that, again, for free. For such a low rate, it’s not worth my time. And to avoid such a situation in future, I will make sure I have savings. Right?

Jean  32:05

Yeah. Or sometimes you might find a really valuable client out of that situation as well.

Sarah   32:11

Oh, that’s true. Build a relationship.

Jean  32:12

Yeah. Because they might really just not have the budget for it. And if you ask yourself,  even if you’re not in a place of desperation, you see that what they’re doing, the work that they’re doing is valuable, and it’s something that you’re interested in, you might want to say yes, even though it’s a lot lower than your usual rate.

Sarah   32:30

Yeah. And who knows, like you say, you could end up growing with them and their business. And just having the attitude of wanting to add value to your client as well, wanting to support them, because you believe in what they’re doing. And, you know, if the relationship is good, and if the business model makes sense, I guess, as they grow in their business, then you have more money to pay everybody, you know. Themselves, you and whoever else they’re working with. Right? 

Sarah   33:01

I think this discussion has been really interesting. I like talking about it every now and then. So what are our key takeaways?

Jean  33:09

I would say the first thing to remember is, know your value. Not just in terms of what you can do, or how much you want to charge, but like, what you bring to the table. 

Sarah   33:23

Who you are as a person, right? 

Jean  33:24

Yeah, yeah. 

Jean  33:25

Well, and I think that gets better over time.

Jean  33:27

Yeah, it’s something you learn. And I guess that that brings us to our next takeaway. You win some or you learn some.

Sarah   33:35

Yeah, no one’s a loser. You don’t lose out anything. And that’s what makes just the journey of freelancing so interesting. It’s a never ending journey right?

Jean  33:45

It’s an adventure.

Sarah   33:46

It is! It’s a life long lesson. I love it. Great. 

Sarah   33:49

We hope you found this episode useful. And if you have any other questions, Jeannette and I would love to chat.

Jean  33:55

Yeah, so feel free to email us at hello@solosync.xyz, that’s hello at S-O-L-O S-Y-N-C dot X-Y-Z or send us a message on Instagram. Our handle is @solosyncpodcast.

Sarah   34:11

Give us more ideas of what you would like us to discuss next.

Jean  34:15

Thanks for listening.

[End]