tips for freelancing in South Africa - By Megan Kelly

What Nobody Tells You about Freelancing

I started freelancing straight out of high school and I’d like to think that I have learnt a lot in the last 6-years of doing so. I often get messages asking me how to get started or what websites and resources I use, so I figured I’d share some of the things I have learnt a long the way, plus tips for getting started.

1. It’s not as glamorous as you think

I follow A LOT of freelancers and especially love digital nomads, but having worked in the industry, I know just how much goes on behind-the-scenes. So, while they might only share the beautiful sunsets and glorious destinations that they’re currently visiting, they neglect to mention that they just pulled an all-nighter trying to meet unreasonable deadlines while juggling crazy demands and sometimes live on a diet of Redbull and Doritos.

2. Flexible hours are awesome when done right!

Flexible hours is probably what appeals to me most about being a freelancer. As a mom, this is a bonus because I have never had to worry about asking my boss for time off, so that I can go watch my son play soccer or take them to the doctor. It also means being able to go to the bank or do my grocery shopping when the malls are empty! Remember that flexible hours doesn’t mean you have less work to do – you still need to get the job done – just at a time and pace that suits you! This can be tricky at first, because it means that sometimes you need to work through dinner, skip important family events or stay up until 3 or 4am meeting deadlines, but it’s really just about being responsible and practical enough to plan properly and ensure that you’ve allocated enough time to each project or else you risk losing clients or burning out.

3. Negotiating your pricing is tricky – not getting paid is worse!

In the beginning, I really struggled to figure out how much I should be charging. In fact, it’s still something I find challenging. When you’re a freelancer, chances are that you have no other income, so you’re desperate to get in as much work as possible to cover rent and your monthly expenses. The problem is, if you quote too low, you are not valuing yourself and risk someone taking advantage of you or question the quality of your work and if you quote too high, well… if they can get it cheaper, they will! My best tip is to look at SAFREA for guidelines on what the industry charges, or work out how long it’ll take you to get the job done and multiply that by your hourly rate. Alternatively, I have found Facebook groups (The Resource and Authentic Boss) that aim to help freelancers can really be a God send, as they frequently discuss rates and project fees.

Once you have the pricing figured out, it’s getting the payment that sucks. Companies take advantage of you not working in their offices or being a whole corporation, and will likely, pay you last. It means that sometimes I get paid on the 1st, 5th or 16th, when I have invoiced on the 25th of every month. It’s frustrating and takes a lot of planning to ensure my accounts and rent get paid each month. The best thing I can suggest is structuring your debit orders a little differently, so if you plan to get paid by the 1st, set your debit orders for the 10th of each month.

4. There are seasons to getting work

Working a normal 8-5, you have the security of getting paid a salary despite whether there is work or not, but as a freelancer, there is no guarantee or security that you’ll get a salary. I have found there are seasons in my industry; in February, work really starts picking up but come November to January, there’s a real drought! So, it’s important to plan for the quieter seasons or you might find yourself feeling overwhelmed! During quieter months, I spend a lot of time doing admin, maintenance, creating new systems and strategies that I don’t usually have the time for.

5. There is no work benefits or security

I think this is something that people really struggle with, especially if they’re considering leaving the corporate jungle to start freelancing. Perhaps it would have been harder, had I made the change but for me, it’s always been this way, so it’s not been a problem of adjusting. At a lot of companies, you might get benefits like UIF, workman’s compensation, medical aid, petrol allowance, a corporate vehicle or 13th check. But as a freelancer – you’re your own boss – which means you are exempt from the typical basic conditions of employment. This means that when you’re sick or have a baby, there’s no paid leave and sadly, you only get a 13th check if or when you double your workload.

6. You struggle to leave work

One of my biggest challenges is not always being able to leave work. My phone is connected to my emails and my laptop is always within reach, so whenever an email comes in, it’s almost too easy to jump up and reply to a client. While it may not seem like a big deal, hours can go by before I manage to put my laptop away because it’s a constant thing of, “let me quickly do this – and this – and this…” The best solution is to create a dedicated work space and set office hours that suit your schedule.

7. Your role is flexible too

As your own boss, you’ve got to be flexible in your role. Instead of just doing your job, you also have to work the role of marketer, sales rep, accountant, social media manager, strategist, and whatever else might come up because you’ve got to ensure you’re finding work, getting your name out there, invoicing, getting paid and establishing a brand for yourself. At first, it can feel overwhelming, but you learn to take it in your stride, make BFFs with Google and slowly, get the hang of it!

8. You can earn dollars and pounds

I can’t tell you how incredible it is, being able to earn a foreign currency when working from my home in South Africa. You see, according to my American and UK-based clients, I am low-risk, affordable and hardworking because I don’t come with employee contracts, my currency is weaker and our employment rate is so low, that I work hard for any opportunity I am given. The strength of the dollar and pound really work in my favour and means I have a little extra to spend each week! If you’re wondering how we make it work, I use PayPal to invoice my international clients, and withdraw my funds to my American-based pre-paid credit card called Payoneer, which allows me to use my funds directly from a US-based bank account instead of converting my salary each week into South African rands (which includes some nasty fees!)

9. Places to find work

If you want to browse some opportunities and explore freelancing, here are some websites I can recommend.

People Per Hour | Upwork | The Resource | Fiverr | We Work Remotely

Working as a freelancer depends a lot on you and how much you’re willing to do; you have to work to make it work! Sure, this list can seem a tiny bit negative, but personally, the pros far outweigh the cons. I find it astounding to think of all the new job titles that have been created in the short time that I have been part of the working-world and love that we’re at the point where people don’t need to waste away working an 8-5 job chained to an office desk, when they can be doing so much more in less time, and from anywhere in the world.

Remember, if you need affordable websites, SEO, social media or an all-in-one digital marketing solution that is tailored to suit your needs and budget, you can contact me! I am the owner of DR. Design (view our website here)


*post includes referral links

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