Freelancing: looks easy, but is it?

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Image credit: #WOCinTech

There’s no doubt that technology has enabled the freelancer, not just in terms of mobility. Popular apps such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Skype improve access to networks and business across the globe. A myriad of online jobs portals has created a market for freelancers.

The formula for freelance success seems simple enough. Get a WIFI connection, hook up on social media platforms and sign up for as many job sites as possible. Right?

The 2017/2018 SA Freelance Media Industry & Rates Report has shown that finding new business ranks as one of the top concerns for those who venture into independent consulting. It’s what gives us sleepless nights and grey hairs. It can make even the seasoned veteran feel like an insecure, pimple-faced teenager.

So, if technology is not the silver bullet to being a success in the gig economy, then what is?

Here are a few things to think about:

Do you have the personality to go it alone?

Many want the ‘carefree’ lifestyle of a freelancer but don’t fully grasp that it is a venture into running a business, albeit a small one to start off. If 100% of your income comes from freelancing, then you’re all in. This means ‘no work, no pay’. When you are able to go to the school concert or take a holiday whenever you want to, remember that you’re paying for the privilege.

The uncertainty is a killer for many. You can have too much work one month and absolutely nothing the next two. If your personal circumstances and most importantly, your personality, cannot bear this form of stress, then freelancing may not be for you. This is not to discourage you. It is merely a caution that freelancing is not for the faint-hearted.

If you need the flexibility, start looking at other options such as contracting. This could help you build up a network and client-base as you prepare for full-on freelancing, while still giving you the peace of mind of a steady income for a time.

Professional association

The freelancing community in Southern Africa is vague and largely undefined. There is no formal regulation of the sector and it’s also difficult to gauge the size of the freelancing population. Added to this is the low barrier to entry; it can be a scary place for many. All of us aspire to be recognised as professionals, who deserve a quality income commensurate with our skill and experience. This was an imperative for me as I re-entered independent consulting.

Joining a professional association is one way to give credibility to your individual pursuit as well and participate in an environment of mutual benefit. SAFREA was created in 1999 to promote the interests of freelance media professionals, foster solidarity and excellence and stimulate professional standards, amongst others.  

Good old-fashioned networking

Not just the online kind; one-on-one networking still trumps virtual interaction. We’re human and for the most part, online dulls important senses that make for great relationships. There are many nuances that we miss on email and social media communication. This is especially so in the business environment. I know there are those of you who specifically go into freelancing for the solitude, you enjoy working on your own. I’m one of those, but I also enjoy the camaraderie of the group.

The SAFREA coffee clubs provide that interaction. They’re a good way to meet fellow independents, to be a part of a growing community and share common challenges as well as successes. For those on the members-only Google group, it’s great to put a face to the email address. It may eventually lead to new opportunities as you make new contacts. It also gives an outlet to get out of your office or home for a couple hours. And it doesn’t cost you a cent!

Check the SAFREA website for a list of upcoming coffee clubs in your region. And if there aren’t any, go ahead and create them! Feel free to contact your regional representatives to share your ideas.

The most important thing to remember is that it takes time to build up any business; there will be the usual peaks and troughs. You’re essentially a ‘freepreneur’ and need all the support you can get. 

About the author

With over 20 years’ experience across a wide range of marketing disciplines, Robyn Thekiso is a freelance writer with a flair for strategic communications. She dispenses valuable insight and counsel, develops marketing communications strategies and plans, and creates content for an array of formats, including her own blog. Robyn is the current portfolio head of SAFREA’s Annual SA Freelance Media Industry & Rates Survey and sits on the organisation’s Executive Committee. She tweets as @RobynThekiso.

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