CERTAIN types of work such as editing and copywriting are options that can be done from home but the challenge is the constant need to source for leads, which is hard to do from home. Azlina Abdul Jalil faced that problem when she decided to quit her job as a lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at Universiti Malaysia Sabah.
At first, she tried her hand at running a business involving advertising and publishing. She thought such a business would be suitable as it involves writing. However, she soon discovered that much of her time had to be spent chasing sales rather than writing.
This prompted her to look for writing-based work that could be sourced from the comforts of her home. Azlina talks to Savvy about online freelancing and how she has made it work out well for her as a stay-at-home mother of two.
HOW DID IT ALL START?
I turned online to look for available opportunities out there and that was when I discovered an online freelancing site called Elance (now known as Upwork). I signed up and started getting translation and writing jobs through Elance. That was in 2011. I wrapped up the advertising business about a year later.
DID YOU HAVE ANY DOUBTS WHEN YOU FIRST EMBARKED ON YOUR ONLINE FREELANCE JOURNEY?
I quickly secured some translation and writing jobs from Elance so there was no reason to have doubts. Once I got my first big online job — which paid US$400 (RM1,762) — I was convinced that online freelancing could be a source of regular income for me.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE ONLINE FREELANCING AS OPPOSED TO THE MORE CONVENTIONAL WAY OF SOURCING FOR FREELANCE WORK THROUGH EXISTING CONTACTS?
I chanced upon the online freelancing sites like Elance after searching for “money-making opportunities” online. This approach was ideal for me as I didn’t come from a writing background so I wasn’t well-known and didn’t have many contacts in the industry. With Elance, the clients were already there.
Through online freelancing, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many international clients, something I don’t think I’d be able to do if I were just to look for clients on my own.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN ADVANTAGES OF ONLINE FREELANCING?
The main advantage is that the client and the jobs are already there. Another one is the payment system. It’s very simple and secure. Clients are required to deposit their fund into the escrow system once they engage you for the job. This means that the money is already there and you don’t have to worry about it disappearing or having to chase anyone for payment.
Once you submit your work, the site automatically generates an invoice and bills the client. The client has 14 days to review your work, after which, if they do not take any action, the site will release the payment to you. Payments can be transferred to PayPal or direct to your bank account.
HOW DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH TO CHARGE?
When I first started, I did some online research to get an idea of how other freelancers were charging for their work.
So, I went with the general market rate at the time. There was one instance when a client actually told me I was charging too low for the project and actually suggested a higher fee! But many of the clients I took on were already used to engaging freelancers and they had standard fees for different kinds of work. I’d look at their budget and if it felt right to me, I’d take on the work.
CAN YOU GIVE US EXAMPLES OF WORK YOU HAVE DONE RECENTLY?
I’ve been working on translation of news articles and marketing material for health and beauty products.
There was a job where the client wanted me to adapt and localise their marketing material from US English to Malaysian English.
DO YOU HAVE REGULAR CLIENTS OR IS ALL OF YOUR WORK AD HOC?
I do have some regular clients whom I do work for on a weekly basis. The work is usually small and quick. The payment for such work isn’t big but I’m happy that there’s at least something coming in every week.
WHAT’S THE MOST UNUSUAL WORK YOU’VE DONE?
I once had to do a transcription of terms people used on voice searches. It sounds simple but it’s not so easy making out the words being spoken when so many accents are involved.
Some people spoke too softly, others too fast, some voices were creepy, while some phrases were rather inappropriate. Transcription of voice searches is quite a time-consuming job, as well as taxing. It’s certainly the most unusual work I’ve done so far.
WHAT KIND OF WORK DO YOU ENJOY MOST?
I like doing translation of subtitles for TV shows since it means I get to watch the shows. It kind of feels like being paid to watch TV!
WHAT KIND OF WORK PAYS THE BEST?
Translation and technical writing work pay the best. The best paymasters are companies that are well-established as they provide regular work and are willing to pay good money for work well done.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION THAT PEOPLE HAVE ON FREELANCING?
That freelancing means you have a lot of free time. Yes, we get to choose the work we do, and it is up to us when and where we want to do the work. But that doesn’t mean that we have lots of free time to lounge around.
I put in a lot of effort and care into the proposals I send to clients. Some of the writing and translation jobs can be very technical and require a lot of research. I think about work so much that sometimes I have dreams where there are words just floating in air bubbles in front of me, non-stop!
WHAT’S THE BEST THING ABOUT FREELANCING?
Flexibility. Since I work from home and can set my own schedule — as long as I meet deadlines — I’m able to send and pick up my children from school and spend quality time with them at home without having to worry about finding daycare.
WHAT’S THE WORST THING?
Not knowing where your next pay cheque will come from. There are times when there’s very little work or when the bulk of the jobs coming in are small ones that don’t pay too much.
This is when you need to tighten your belt and be on the lookout for new jobs.
DO YOU FIND IT DIFFICULT SEPARATING PERSONAL TIME WITH WORKING TIME?
Usually not so as I generally try to finish off as much work as possible in the morning, when the children are in school or late at night when they’ve gone to sleep. With my regular clients,
I know their basic work schedule so they send me the jobs around the same time each week and I’m able to arrange my time based on that.
But, sometimes, there are unexpected requests from regular clients or new jobs posted online that I just can’t resist! Such work does eat into my personal time. But this doesn’t happen often.
WHAT TYPES OF PEOPLE ARE SUITABLE TO BECOME FREELANCERS AND WHAT TYPES ARE NOT?
If you have a specific skill such as writing, programming, design or even accounting skills, and you’re looking for work or additional income, freelancing is a good option.
With online freelancing, there are thousands of jobs available every week, all posted online for you to look through. And you can do all this from the comfort of your own home.
But if you don’t like working alone or prefer to have a fixed 9-to-5 schedule in an office environment or need the security of a steady income every month, then freelancing isn’t for you.