CAN YOU HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT TOO?
A Guide to Viable Career Options to Full Time Work
This is a question I often find myself asking, as a 39 year old woman, trying to balance a hard-won career with a loving family that I'm trying to grow with little ones. Can we girls have it all? A fulfilling career and a wholesome family? I started my career in a similar way as most Singaporeans would, I worked in a bank, followed by an American MNC, before finding myself in government service. I went for several overseas postings, and while I had a wonderful, fulfilling career that I would not trade anything in the world for, my husband and I found ourselves wanting for children, 10 years into our marriage. It was then that we considered seriously, what changes we should be making to our highly-stressed, frequent-flyer, achievement-focused lives. This list is a summary of our most favourite career alternatives to full time work, based on self reflection, conversations with peers and observations of others. Which path would you choose?
- Being Organised : writing down daily to-dos, using productivity tools, and meeting deadlines
- Staying Connected : keeping clear line of communication with bosses and peers, maintaining a high level of transparency if you are remoting from office
- Being Proactive : letting your team and bosses know what you are thinking or have evaluated, even if it is playing devil's advocate to the general consensus
- Know Your Limits: (this was my main problem) many over compensate for the reduced number of hours worked by the tendency to overwork. If this is happening on a regular basis, you need to speak with you bosses to establish work task priorities
- Step Outside the Box : explore other areas that you can contribute to the organisation outside of what you were hired to do
Despite this being an option that didn't work out quite the way I wanted it to, I have many friends who have found this option to be an excellent choice. So if your company has such a programme and the right policies set in place, it's always an option to speak with your boss and HR about it.
2. Remote and Telecommuting Work
A seemingly "newish" working culture, particularly for technology and startup companies, is the arrangement of telecommuting or "remoting" from work. However, unknownst to many, telecommuting was a huge trend in the 1970s, and is seeing a resurgence today, with Reuters reporting that in 2012, around 1 in 5 workers around the globe telecommute frequently and nearly 10 percent from home everyday.
Remoting, or telecommuting, is typically a work arrangement in which employees do not commute to a central place of work. Notable startups which promote this "work anywhere" culture, includes Trivago, Wikimedia, and Github. In the past, telecommuting was largely limited to call centre personnel, but these days, many skilled professions, including IT, programming, design, social media have job opportunities for remote workers. There are specialised websites for remote jobhunters, such as Remote. According to the site, remote jobs can pack a punch! As the pay packages range between US$43,000 to US$150,000!
Interestingly, about 30% of the personnel in my current workplace are remote workers, who work from home and remote offices in Ohio, Boston, KL, Saigon, Hong Kong, Perth and Melbourne, away from our HQ in Singapore. These are full time employees who enjoy the same benefits and privileges of the HQ based staff in Singapore, and we speak with them almost daily on Skype, Webex and other telecommunication tools and apps.
Telecommuting makes sense to most people, 65% of those polled by Reuters thought telecommuters were productive because the flexibility enabled them to have more control over their work life. However, 62% polled also found it socially isolating, and 50% thought that the daily lack of face-to-face contact could harm their chances of a promotion. 53% believe working from home can increase family conflict because of the blurred boundaries between work and private time.
Having spent more than half my career as a full time employee remoting from home and remote office locations, I do enjoy the flexibility of such a work arrangement, but isolation, and the lack of visibility with your bosses and HQ colleagues are very real issues. A successful remote employee needs to double up on the discipline needed to ensure that deadlines and tasks are made, and also to maintain frequent communication with peers and bosses. Indeed, as remote arrangements become more popular, I have often also seen the roles flipped, with a boss remoting and subordinates based in the office. In such cases, both sides need to be equally transparent with communications and accountability.
If your company has a "work from home" or telecommuting arrangement, I would strongly encourage you to speak with your boss and HR about it. Work out an arrangement where you are still on full time employment, but with part or all of your work arrangement being on remote basis. Work out detailed KPIs, and understand the company policies such as security measures of such an arrangement.
3. Starting an Ecommerce Home-Based Business
It started with Ebay, and I remembered buying a guidebook back in 2005 titled "Selling on Ebay - The Beginner's Guide". I don't think I actually got round to selling things on Ebay, but I do remember buying many things from Ebay, including my sample sale Vera Wang wedding dress and limited edition Tamagotchi eggs. Regardless, Ebay helped herald in a new online shopping age, peppered with ready online platforms and store templates, making things super easy should you want to start an online home based business selling products and services.
Fast forward to 2016, and instead of Ebay, the Singapore online ecommerce platform of choice are Facebook, Instagram and Carousell. I do have friends who have given up their full time corporate lives, running their own home-based businesses, admittedly, some more successfully than others. I have friends who run instagram-based businesses who make a cool S$50,000 in revenues a month, but at the same time, I have friends who have run into S$100,000 credit card debts while holding onto inventory which could not move.
So what are some of the contributing factors in determining a successful and non-successful home based ecommerce business?
- Establishing a secret low cost supply/ inventory base
- Keeping and retaining returning clients
- Commit yourself to being a seller and not a buyer
- Set your foundations right by incorporating a company if you are selling items as a business
If you are committed to making your online store into a successful business, and establishing yourself as an ecommerce small business owner, then make sure that your foundations are solid. Many online sellers rush into setting up their online store as individuals, forgetting that as a viable business, you are a deemed to be a "home trader" and governments and tax authorities have the right to ask you to pay for taxes and to apply for permits. Some yardstick indicators that sets you apart from someone who just sells their old used items online occasionally and as a "home trader" are:
- you want to make a profit
- you have bought goods to sell them on
- you register as a business seller on an internet auction site (e.g. Ebay)
- you sell things you have just bought
- you change or improve things before selling them on
- you have borrowed money to pay for the items and you need to repay that loan
So remember to set up a company structure if you are serious about your online business. If you are based in Singapore, you can access Singapore Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority to set up your local Singapore business. Here's a handy link to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore to find out about your tax responsibilities and liabilities. As of YA2010 (Year of Assessment), the Singapore corporate tax rate is a flat 17%. New companies can also enjoy a full exemption on the first $100,000 of normal chargeable income; and a further 50% exemption on the next $200,000 of normal chargeable income for the first three consecutive YAs.
4. Freelancing And Self Employment
A close cousin of setting up an ecommerce home-based business, is being self-employed as a freelancer. While there aren't clear official statistics on the number of freelancers, it is estimated that freelancers make up to 10% of the workforce in the UK (source: Office of National Statistics) and 33% in the US (source: Freelancers Union). And this number is on the increase. I recall that one of the first instances I knew of someone embracing freelancing as a career, was my friend, Genevieve, who set up her own sole proprietorship in Communications and PR in the mid 2000s, right after she had her children. Indeed, till today, the writing and creative industry still soaks up the majority of freelance workers, with the 2012 Freelance Industry Report reflecting that half of North American freelancers do writing work.
Freelancing is particularly interesting to me, as I think that it's a brilliant way to bring back highly skilled workers into the workforce, and at the same time for people to have control over their time and lives. I don't think that I'm the only who thinks so, as the internet revolution has brought on many freelance marketplaces for sellers and buyers of skills to get together. These online marketplaces started off offering general freelance work (e.g. www.freelancer.com and www.guru.com), but of late, I have observed that the freelance marketplaces have become specialised marketplaces, reflecting the increase of highly skilled workers who have chosen not to do fulltime work due to other obligations.
Some of my favourite specialised freelance marketplaces include:
- Fiverr : for creative freelance professionals, you can design a new logo for just $5, or find a voiceover artist for $35 for your corporate video
- Axiom Law : for legal and business professionals, these professionals work on M&A deals, supervise business & legal teams etc.
- Uber : I would say, that this the marketplace that popularized it all; Uber allows drivers with their own cars to drive Uber passengers for a fee
- CaregiverAsia : for healthcare professionals, you can book a caregiver, doctor, nurse, therapist to come to your place within 12 hours
- peopleperhour : for technology professionals, if you need a new website, a new app, UX flow, there is a freelance programmer who can help you here
As with a home-based ecommerce business, people serious about freelancing as a career option, need to know their registration and tax obligations. In Singapore, freelancing comes under the category of "self-employment", and the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore deems you to be a self-employed person when you earn a living by carrying on a trade, business, profession or vocation. Besides freelancers, other commonly seen self-employed professions include commission agents, taxi drivers, hawkers and even doctors and therapists with their own practices. Generally, many freelancers register themselves with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) as sole proprietors and partners. In such cases, IRAS will deem them as self-employed. IRAS has a handy guide on how you should should be keeping accounts, preparing statements and filing income taxes, and you can access the guide through this link. Similarly, should you be wanting to set up a sole proprietorship for your freelancing career in Singapore, ACRA as a comprehensive guide to take you through the steps.
5. Multi-Level Marketing Entrepreneur
A standby option for many stay at home moms and retirees wanting a flexible career; the option to earn at their own pace; and even perhaps continue meet new friends with similar passions to them; is to join a multi-level-marketing (MLM) programme. Popularised and introduced into the mainstream by tupperware parties in the 1960s, homemakers and moms would gather for a nice tea afternoon party sponsored by the Tupperware company, and in the process purchase tupperwares for their own use. MLM companies were the original riders of the “word-of-mouth” marketing phenomenum. These days, just like Tupperware, MLM companies have continued to focus on network selling, and products range from aromatherapy (www.youngliving.com), skin care & wellness (www.nuskin.com), health supplements (www.herbalife.com, www.amway.com). I feel that MLM programs are a great way to become an entrepreuner as there are very low barriers to entry, the compensation packages are set up with clear guidelines, you can enjoy doing the business with friends and the programs usually have comprehensive training for enhancing product and sales knowledge.
Many people start off being their friend’s customers, but what does it take to transit into making MLM a viable career option? I spoke with a friend, Melissa (not her real name) who is a Diamond level member of a MLM program that promotes holistic therapy through essential oils. Her monthly sales numbers are in the high 5 figures, and she has network “legs” in several geographies including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Her advice on making MLM a career:
- Be passionate about the cause. Holistic therapy has always been one of her main passions, and she even pursued a higher diploma in Alternative and Holistic Medicines. After much assessment, she was convinced of the ethos and quality of the products in the MLM program, and was fully passionate in using the products to push her conviction and commitment to holistic therapy. To Melissa, it wasn’t just about the product, it was a way of life for her, her family, and closest friends.
- Acquire indepth and current knowledge of your products. Most MLM companies have a large inventory of products for sale, and it is of utmost importance that career MLMers learn thoroughly the history, rationale, use and application of the products. This could mean spending hundreds of hours in in-house training, in group discussions and self learning. There should be significant time commitment needed in this process of learning. As you grow your networks, it may also be the case where you start training your networks.
- Work your networks hard. Melissa spends a significant amount of her day on watsapp groups (she has close to 50 groups running at any one time); giving advice to her networks and clients; setting up accounts for her newly acquired clients (each taking up to 30 mins); handling issues for her existing clients; going out of her way to support friends in health crisis (she once drove in the middle of the night to deliver a diffuser and therapy products to me in the hospital, when my grandmother was warded); supporting her network by conducting training classes; and travelling overseas to set up new networks and attending corporate networking events. Whew, this sounds like a full time job already, and that is, without the usual office and administrative support a full time job usually comes with.
- Thinking out of the box and working around grey area constraints. Breaking into new markets and geographies takes a lot of local ground knowledge, imagination, innovation and grunt work. Melissa shared stories of how, as early entrants into new markets, she had to solve issues such as customs clearance, billings and settlements as well as fulfilling regulatory filings and licenses.
Marie Antoinette was right on the cake issue. I think with modern day communications and technologies; an urban workforce which values a good balance of work with "life"; companies embracing a global marketplace; and individuals placing an increased emphasis on flexibility and independence; the opportunities for a person to find not just an "eeked-out" livelihood from non fulltime work, but a fulfilling career driven by passion and growth is plentiful and extremely accessible. If you are finding it hard to perform well at work and at home, and that you are burning your candle at both ends, it's perhaps timely for you to have a long and hard think about the viability of going non full time. There are many strong, sensible, interesting and economically viable options out there. You just need to take the first step in understanding and discovering how.
If you are wondering what I had chosen in the end, write me, I'd be happy to share with you my journey. And yes, I believe that you can let them eat cake (and to have it too).
Interested to take the next step? We have prepared a quiz to help you get clarity on which career would be best suited for you!