For Jade Yong, work flexibility isn’t just a personal preference, but a necessary way to adapt to the current career climate in her industry.

After spending over 15 years in the media — from editing notable publications such as Cleo, OK!, MSN, and JUICE; to becoming a Content and Editorial Consultant for Leo Burnett and a Project Manager at Mindvalley — she’s experienced first-hand the importance of flexibility and adaptability to navigate the innovation, demands, and uncertainty in the rapidly evolving digital world… for both employees and employers.

Now a freelance media and affiliate specialist on her own — the mom of two shares her journey in the flexible work world, and how it has impacted her family, her career, and her own individual growth.

How did you transition into the freelance world? Did you apply any specific strategy before making the move?

To be honest, I just found myself in it. I'd been swinging between freelancing and full-time employment in the last few years, but my last job actually propelled me into freelancing. The organisation went into a restructuring process, and after I returned from a holiday, I found myself jobless overnight.

It was painful then but if it hadn’t happened so quickly, I would've taken another full-time job and gotten back on the corporate ladder. But because I found myself suddenly unemployed, the fear and insecurity of not knowing where the next paycheck was coming from was so great that I took on part-time gigs until the right job opportunity would come along.

However, once I started freelancing, I realised that my fear was misplaced. Things weren’t so bad — I just needed to manage my cash flow better!

What was it about your experience in the corporate world that made you decide that you prefer freelancing to a full-time role?

For my last two jobs, it was politics. When navigating politics and tiptoeing around egos became more of a priority than the business, or when progress is slowed or stalled entirely because of the need to assert power — it's no longer an environment that I can thrive in.

There are a lot of people who have worked hard to rise to the top in the corporate world, who absolutely deserve to be where they are. But due to the cutthroat way the digital world has been evolving, some of them don’t adapt fast enough and ultimately become the roadblock for a corporation to evolve and match the rest of the digital world and can even cause the business to tank from the lack of adaptability.

Look at the printing press industry for instance. The newspapers and magazines that are still surviving today are the ones that have adapted or pivoted quickly enough to find their footing in the new world of information consumption.

What were some concerns or fears you had about “going rogue”? Did any of them come true?

It was mostly just the lack of not having a regular salary that made me fear freelance life. But once I was in it, it was okay.

There were times when I had to follow up many, many, MANY times for payment. Even cases where I wasn't paid what I was owed. Eventually you learn the tricks of the trade and how to incentivise clients to pay you, especially in Malaysia, where many corporations still lack the proper system (and respect) for paying contractors.

I know for a fact that most freelancers give up the life and go back to full-time employment purely for the reason that they can't get paid in time when in fact the payment was agreed upon and the work was completed to the client's satisfaction. It’s key to learn to balance out time for financial management — it's one of the most important lessons I've learned as a freelancer.

Can you share your first struggles with getting clients (and getting paid), and how you overcame them?

Absolutely. When I first got into freelancing, I started a company with a friend for accounting and taxation purposes. It's always good to have your paperwork done properly. We didn't struggle too hard to get clients, but we did struggle to get paid. And that's time that we did not budget for. So instead of just doing the work and getting paid automatically, we had to spend a significant amount of time just following up, going to offices to meet people because they weren't answering calls or emails, and all that.

It's really quite disgraceful how some businesses treat the little man who's working on his own to feed his family. They even used the fact that we're starting out to get work done almost or entirely free. And in a way they're right — when you're new to the freelancing, you need to build on your portfolio as a company, so you take on gigs that look good on paper but pay you almost nothing as a result.

After a while you do build a reputation though and you don't have to take on those gigs anymore and you get to charge what your work is worth. More and more people knew that I was available for work, of the work that I do, and they referred me to friends, family, former clients... anyone they knew!

However, it still doesn't stop people from calling you about doing free work in exchange for “recognition” or to “build your portfolio” or “brand alignment”! Have faith in your value, remain strong, and resist!

Even though it was hard in the beginning, now that I've pushed through the tough times, things have gotten much easier. It's also a matter of getting used to the high highs and the very low lows. Once you notice a pattern, you learn how to adjust according to it.  

How has freelancing and having a flexible work arrangement impacted your marriage and family? 

For the most part, I feel like I can have my cake and eat it too! Having a supportive partner meant that I was able to push through the tough times — when freelancing meant no money or no time for an extended period — towards a stable network of clients and being able to pick and choose only the projects that I'm excited by.

This has created an environment where I can work from home, be present for all the important parts of parenting (I have two daughters aged six and four), and still be able to hire help for the parts that are time-consuming yet not fulfilling, such as housework and keeping too much of a mental load about the daily running of the home.

My husband is also a freelance consultant who works from home, so we’ve been able to choose and align our schedules to carve out time for each other as a couple, as a family, and as individuals.

What are some of the best experiences that you've had with your family or partner that wouldn't be possible with a full-time career?

We can take time off and go on extended holidays with the kids. As long as we have access to WiFi, we can work anywhere. Of course, this also means that we rarely get a proper holiday, but we're okay with it.

Right now, both our girls are on different school calendars, but beginning 2020 that will change, and I'm super excited as this means two months of school holidays for the kids, and two months working offsite for us!

On a day-to-day basis, we still try to maintain as regular a schedule as possible because kids thrive on routines, and honestly so do we adults!

What has been the most surprising benefit or realisation you've had about being a freelancing mom?

That it’s true — I can have my cake and eat it too.

There are moms that are only starting now, so they'll have to struggle as they juggle motherhood and pushing through that tough period I was talking about. I was lucky enough to start freelancing before becoming a mom, even though it wasn’t planned.

I feel really lucky that I get to avoid wasting time on the commute to work, getting dressed up and putting on makeup, being interrupted by colleagues (of course I get interruptions from the family, but that's manageable for most part), and work politics. Those who I work with are mostly people who are based around the world, so everyone works offsite.

This also means camaraderie and connections are harder to build and leave me feeling quite lonesome, but I get to spend more time on the friendships that I choose and cherish, instead of the people who I just happen to work with and get depleted by at the end of the day.

If you could share one advice or some words of encouragement to the working moms out there who desire flexibility, what would it be?

Push for it. It's so possible to have it all. At the start, it's about overcoming the fear of losing a regular salary. After that, it's about pushing through the first few hurdles, because there's always a light at the end of the tunnel.

Maintain your sense of humour through your experiences, and eventually you’ll learn how to let go of the small stuff and not sweat it. It's not 100% peaches and cream, so go in with both eyes open. Finances will be tough at first, unless you're lucky to get many (and conscientious) clients.

And life as a freelancer can get lonely. You'll be juggling more with a lack of separation between home and work for a while. But mothers are survivors, and we always adapt. I mean, if you can get through the first few months of having a new baby, you can get through anything freelance life throws at you! ;-)

Imagine what life with your family could be like if you were free to choose where, when and how you work! Gigple is making that vision a reality — by matching qualified professionals with leading employers that are hiring for flexible and remote positions. Create a free profile on Gigple to get access to available flex jobs and get noticed by companies seeking expertise in finance, business and strategy, sales and marketing, branding (UI/UX), and technology.