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Through the looking glass

Published on: 01-Jul-2020

A day in freelance makeup artist Larry Yeo’s life goes something like this: He wakes up at 6.30am every day, drinks a cup of Joe, and starts work an hour later. 
The bulk of his morning is spent on “content prep” — shooting pictures of the latest beauty launches for his Instagram account (@larryyeo), researching the science behind skincare products (he has a background in cosmetic science) or rehearsing talking points for upcoming brand presentations that he is engaged for.

Once the “at-home” to-do-list is checked, he rushes out; either to be on set as the makeup artist for editorial shoots, or as a hired makeup artist for brides-to-be, or simply to purchase products for upcoming work projects. It’s usually a 12- to 14- hour workday for Yeo — the norm, he shared — and  his schedule includes weekends as well. Being the hustler that he is, 2020 marks Yeo’s 14th year as a freelance makeup artist; and he has successfully established himself as one of the industry’s most renowned. It’s as they say, the early bird catches the worm — till February this year, when Yeo finally slept in for the first time. 

“It’s like a long weekend that keeps getting longer,” he says wryly, over the phone. “I enjoy being at home too much now and I’m afraid I’m going to get used to it.”

Most, if not all projects that require close interaction — like a makeup artist’s — have been cancelled as Singapore went into circuit breaker mode in a bid to flatten the Covid-19 curve. An estimated 2800 freelance creatives (at press time) were affected, according to, a  crowdsourcing website set up to tally the losses faced by freelancers. In the beauty scene, “high touch” professions like freelance makeup artists, nail artists, and hairstylists, are the ones bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s impact — with their already volatile income dropping exponentially.

On a macro level, more than $30 million was lost. Personally, Yeo counts 13 jobs gone, most of which were elaborate brand workshops that contribute to bulk of his yearly paycheck. Sliding down the income slippery slope — fast — is scary. Yet, at the end of the day though, it’s what one makes of the situation that matters.

How are you spending your time now? How are you differentiating yourself? How are you staying relevant? For Yeo, campaigns that weren’t cancelled took on a new direction: they were launched digitally, either via Zoom or Instagram Live. “Basically, the face-to-face interaction during workshops are now online meetings,” he says. “These are platforms that are rather foreign to me, so I’m learning as I go along.” 
Being out of his comfort zone ironically, serves as an opportunity to learn and grow in these turbulent times. “I’m busying myself by keeping up with social media tech — like search engine optimisation (SEO), and how different platforms best work for different types of content. It’s a new world for me,” he adds.

While it’s definitely not as easy as embarking on a magic carpet ride, building a robust online presence can only serve to benefit freelancers (especially those who have yet to), as the circuit breaker has clearly worked up an even bigger appetite for online content consumption. An investigative survey by data analytics firm Nielson on Singapore’s consumer behaviour showed that  38 per cent of people surveyed demonstrated an increase in social network activities — making
social media fertile land to grow one’s visibility and credibility. 

Going digital is foresight, explains Charlene Chen, assistant professor of marketing at the Nanyang Technological University, which rides the wave of being “able to anticipate challenges and disruptions to one’s core product or service”. From there, freelancers have to exercise creativity and flexibility to help them recover from the downturn. “You need to have business acumen and be able to read your market beyond just being very skilled in your core offering,” she says. 

Yeo, who has successfully diversified his career as a makeup artist by developing into an education expert for beauty brands over the years, is happy to add yet another feather to his cap: marketing his skills online through video makeup tutorials — be it editorial or advertorial — something he had never fully explored in the past. “Through the Instagram Live sessions, I realised that my audience enjoy me being the blunt person that I am, and that’s my strength right there,” he says. 

And he’s not the only one playing to his strengths. Freelance nail artist Rebecca Chuang (better known as @flutterytips on Instagram), also embarked on new endeavours when she couldn’t service clients at her home salon or do commercial work. Instead, she started creating designed press-on nails for customers — customisable right down to the individual’s nail sizes. This was something that she’s done before in the past for a fashion show, but is now expanding that concept to be part of her core business now.

“The idea came after some market research from my clients, who [told me] that they still wanted to have beautiful nails (to look at), and there were even some requests for me to start creating presson nail designs,” Chuang says. “It’s another source of income for me, and it helps raise awareness  of my business, so I
got to work almost instantly.”

This opened up new business ideas for her — as she excitedly shares that she’s looking into international sales for her press-on designs and hopes to collaborate with fashion brands for their campaigns and shows to feature her fully customisable offerings. To get ahead of the competition, she’s aggressively beefing up content on her social media platforms — doing creations 24/7, posting online nail tutorials, recommending tips and educational information on nail care to followers and making sure her designs are as perfect as they can get. “This lets existing and potential clients know what I’m up to, and how they can benefit from my business,” Chuang adds.

It’s a move that earned Chen’s stamp of approval, and one that is highly recommended for freelancer beauty service providers. “For those who have an existing customer base, it’s important to keep these relationships [alive] by staying in touch and keeping customers updated on their services, and to take this time to upgrade their skill set,” she explains. “Positive word-of-mouth reviews, on top of encouraging customers to refer other customers are business strategies that shouldn’t be neglected.”

For what it’s worth, perhaps the most crucial step towards future-proofing a career as a freelancer in these fluctuating times is to stay abreast of the latest trends and news in the industry and the wider socialenvironment — to devise strategies to stay relevant. Indeed, these are curious days for local beauty service
providers, one where it’s virtually impossible not to feel whirlwinds of emotions, what with closed doors, literally, at ever corner. 

Might this be rock bottom of the rabbit hole? Possibly. That just means the only way to go from here, is up. Emerging into the world’s new normal with an enhanced version of a business works like a spanking new suit of armour; but if anything, take it from the Red Queen: “If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast.”

Source: ELLE magazine, July 2020

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