Getting to grips with the gig economy

Getting to grips with the gig economy

Home office too comfortable

Freelancing offers you the opportunity to be your own boss – to choose your hours, clients and place of work. But like all good things, you need to put in some effort to make it work for you. What do you do when it looks as if fulltime employment isn’t on the cards? Become your own boss, of course. But you don’t need to start a business to do this – freelancing is an increasingly popular option.

Laura Rawlinson, chair of the South African Freelancers’ Association (Safrea), says the trend is particularly noticeable among media professionals. “Safrea membership has experienced unprecedented growth over the past year.

There is a growing trend in South Africa, already evident overseas, where people are increasingly choosing freelancing as a career option. We expect this is due to challenges in the media industry, such as lay-offs and downsizing, but it may also be attributed to the growth of the gig economy, where companies are hiring independent contractors and freelancers instead of fulltime employees.”

As Rawlinson explains, freelancing has grown internationally to the point where digital marketplaces like Constant Content now serve as online “shop windows”, allowing freelancers to showcase their talents. In countries like the US, policy-makers are even being urged to consider how the law should protect freelance employees. Here in South Africa, digital marketplaces have yet to become an entrenched part of the freelance scene.

However, our freelancers are doing well enough without them, says Rawlinson. Many employers – media houses in particular – balk at the costs of hiring permanent staff, which leaves the door wide open for professionals in areas such as writing, editing, graphic design, photography and translation. She adds that Safrea’s partners in other areas, such as information technology, financial services and consulting, are also growing.

“Freelancers are able to direct the course of their careers in ways that fulltime employees can’t. We are able to choose the projects we want to work on and the clients we want to work with. We also get to choose our own working hours and place of work: for many of us, working the traditional nine-to-five at a desk is great; for others, working at midnight in our PJs is best. As a freelancer, the choice is yours,” says Rawlinson.

THE BAD … Rawlinson notes: “There’s a stereotype that supposes that freelancers work on the beach, cocktail in hand. This is so wrong. Freelancers have to be masters of their craft, and they are. Safrea’s research shows that we are highly skilled professionals, but we also have to manage the administrative, financial and self-marketing aspects of our freelance careers. That’s a lot of work, and it can sometimes be daunting.”


  • As a freelancer, you need to maintain your profile. This will ensure that you’re top of mind when someone’s looking for a consultant to do the job. Use your social media feeds to establish yourself as an authority in your field, and to show that you’re active and engaged. Don’t forget to blog about where you’ve been and what you’re up to.
  • Remember that every single person you meet is a potential contact. That girl you met at the club might have a friend who’s looking for someone with your skills for a side project; maybe that guy at church knows that his supervisor is on the hunt for a consultant. Be vocal about what you have to offer, even if it doesn’t seem likely that anything will come of it.
  • Accept that the hustle never ends.
  • Take up every invitation that comes your way, work-related or social: attend lecture series such as Creative Mornings or Science & Cocktails; make your presence known at industry gatherings; work at coffee shops where you’re likely to see other people from your field. In short, make sure you’re visible. U Join your industry’s associations.
  • Live up to your promises. You’re only as good as your last job, so a skipped deadline or unprofessional interaction can compromise future gigs.
  • Never say no to a job. You can always find a way to get the work done, but a client you have passed on might never come back.
  • Keep updating your skills. are assured of landing a plum gig. Safrea’s January 2017 report on media developments identified a worrying trend in the media industry: many freelancers earn less than R10,000 per month. Your ability to bring in more money obviously depends on the number and quality of the jobs you land. And you need to be resilient to carry you through the times when such jobs just aren’t coming your jobs,

As Rawlinson points out, there’s little difference between freelancers and entrepreneurs: both need to be motivated, passionate and determined. You also need to be resourceful and have a good eye for opportunity, so that when a gig becomes available, you’re the first to hear about it – and land it. “It’s not easy to market and pitch yourself, but if you don’t do it, you won’t get work,” Rawlinson notes.

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