How Can I Become A Freelancer In South Africa?

With the economy on a downturn and the effects of corporate downsizing being felt everywhere, you may be wondering how to become a freelancer in South Africa. Don’t worry- you are not alone! That’s exactly why I have assembled this simple guide to working freelance in South Africa, to help you take your first steps on what will hopefully be a satisfying journey.

So, how do you become a freelancer in South Africa? The answer is, on the surface, incredibly simple- set aside a block of time in your day to work on your contacts and assignments, sign up with a trusted freelancing platform, and sell your skills to potential employees. When they assign you work to do, do it well and on schedule so you build a reputation, and you are all set.

We all know the real world is never so smooth, however. You are probably wondering if this is a gig for you, what tax implications there are, and just maybe even how on earth you will get your freelance career off of the ground to start with? So let’s get going with your first steps into the freelance world, and all the information you need for a solid start.

What is freelancing, anyway?

At its simplest, freelancing is being your own boss. Starting a business is always a scary process, however, and typically needs a lot of overhead and investment you may not have to hand right now. Perhaps you don’t even really see yourself as the new CEO of an enterprise- you just want the freedom to work for yourself, flexibly or remotely, offering your skills and receiving fair remuneration for them.

There are many full-time freelancers in the world working right now. Current stats suggest that, for the US market, it could be as much as 35 percent of the population! South Africa’s freelance market is slowly growing to match. The phenomenon has even earned its own name from economic experts- freelancing is seen as part of the ‘gig economy’. You don’t have to make freelancing into an all-or-nothing proposition just yet, however. A large percentage of these folks are freelancing as a side-line, using it to build skills and reputation (and bring in extra cash) outside of their 9-to-5 jobs. Freelancers are now proud to list their side-gigs on their CVs- and are taken seriously.

Freelancers typically don’t work with one client. A successful freelancer, in fact, will have a stable of multiple clients (typically businesses) to whom they provide services. Many of them take their first steps in the freelancing world through online ‘sharing economy’ sites, where those seeking to outsource tasks connect with the freelancers who will get the job done. You’re probably more than familiar with the ride service Uber- it’s just one good example of the new freelancing economy. Publicity, marketing, advertising, tech support, customer service, graphic design, financial tasks like bookkeeping and many, many more skills can all be sold freelance. Anything at all that you can provide which is in demand could be your key to freelance success. It’s a question of finding a unique skill you can offer, and then finding the market to sell that skill to.

What skills do I need to freelance?

It’s important to realise that freelancing isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. You won’t be spending your day leisurely doing nothing while money pours in. Freelancing is basically running your own business with you as the product- and that means you’re going to need quite a few other skills besides the one you’re actually selling if you wish to make a success of the attempt! Be sure to be prepared to act proactively, set your own work schedule, communicate with clients, organise goals, find business and market yourself. It may seem a tough skill set to learn, but it can be very rewarding too!

What are the top 4 jobs I can freelance?

As I mentioned above, there’s actually no limit to the skills you can freelance- anything you can provide that there is a market for can be used as a freelance skill. It’s only limited by your imagination and ingenuity coupled with your ability to find a market. As a beginner at freelancing in South Africa, however, you’ll find that there are certain categories of freelance work that feature on every platform in high demand, and it’s well worth considering if you have any of these skills in your repertoire.

1. Coding and I.T related skills

There’s a huge demand for I.T related freelance help, especially if you have any form of coding knowledge or web design talents. Now is the time to brush up on your skills!

2. Skilled writing and translation

The demand for engaging content writing is huge, with everything from creating blogs and articles to copywriting and ghostwriting, through to specialised writing for the medical and legal arenas, resume writing, creating product descriptions and offering translation between different languages being heavily marketable skills. Proofreading and editing are other arenas to explore.

3. Social media anything

Social media has become the new marketing focus for businesses- and with it comes the need for freelance skills to help boost advertising efforts. From content creation to campaign design, it’s on. There’s also need for those skilled in interpreting data analytics and helping companies streamline their efforts. This is a valuable arena to focus on.

4. Photography and graphic design

Humans are visual creatures. Help companies take their campaigns to new heights with slick designs and eye-catching photography, and you could have your new freelance talent.

What are the best freelancing platforms for beginners?

Word of mouth and contacts you already have can be a great way to dip a toe in the freelancing world without feeling too exposed. This allows you to work, build a portfolio, and get valuable experience from people you may already know. If, however, you are ready to launch onto a bigger stage you are probably going to want to join up to a larger freelance platform. These help put potential clients and freelancers together, and often offer basic services like contract creation and potential mediation in return for a small commission. The key is finding a reliable, upright platform with an established history of fair play and a record of paying out what you earn. Here are 4 reliable, established platforms you can feel confident working through- and which accept South African freelancers.

1. Freelancer.com

This is one of the oldest freelancing platforms, launching in 2003. It’s certainly one of the biggest around, and has recently acquired vWorker and Scriptlance, making it bigger than ever. If you don’t know where to start, start here- even well-established freelancers keep a presence here.

2. SimplyHired

You can’t beat this one for the sheer variety of work posted. If you’re hoping to freelance offline, with a physical presence at the client site, this one’s for you. There is plenty of online work too. While the South African side of the platform isn’t as large as the US, there is a decent variety and spread of work for you to choose from.

3. Upwork

Upwork is the result of the amalgamation of eLance and oDesk, which were both freelance industry giants. With reliable payouts in several methods South Africans can use, and a vast amount of jobs posted daily, you’re sure to find a freelancing start here.

4. Guru

Another long-established platform with a good track record, Guru makes it easier than some other platforms to showcase what you offer. With a sophisticated workroom and a safe payout system, it’s well worth exploring.

It’s important to remember that you will still be in charge of vetting your potential clients through these platforms- they are just the means to gain more exposure to those seeking your work. Be sure to take advantage of the platform’s tutorial material, and always work with common sense, on contract, and paying attention to your ‘gut instinct’ and ability to communicate with the client.

Other tips for beginning freelancers in South Africa

This is only a small selection of the things you will need to consider as a ‘baby freelancer’- but I am sure you’re already off to a good start! Here are a couple of important things to consider as you launch your freelance future.

What technology do I need as a freelancer? This will be strongly influenced by what type of freelance work you want to do. At the very core will be a stable, secure internet connection and a PC, plus a professional-looking email address and web access. If writing interests you, invest in a steady word processing program and some advanced copy/spell checkers- several great freeware programs can be found, so there needn’t be a huge outlay.

If you want to apply for specific coding, transcription, web design, accounting, artistic, creative or design jobs, you will need access to the software for the work you want to do (QuickBooks, AutoCAD, Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Video editing software, Android/Apple emulators…whatever it is you use to do your magic). Hopefully, you will already have these, given you have the skills.

Those looking for PA, teaching or support work will need a good microphone headset, and a quiet, interruption-free working space. If video contact is needed, this will also need to be neat, clean and neutral. Many clients communicate through apps such as Skype, so you may wish to consider this too. Add a good ‘to-do’ app and goal scheduling tools to the list- you will need to organise and self-manage, remember.

Do I have to register for tax? You didn’t think you were going to skip paying taxes, did you? Freelancing is still an income generating activity, and you will need to pay taxes on it. Unlike a 9-to-5 job, where your employer will be responsible for handling this, you will now need to do it yourself. You will no longer pay PAYE but instead will need to register with SARS as a provisional taxpayer. Twice a year you will return IRP-6 forms declaring your income and paying over tax from your work- so you are going to need to set aside your taxable portion of your income through the year in a disciplined manner. Filing can be done through e-filing. It’s not all ‘bad’ news, though. You will also be able to claim certain expenses related to your freelance business. For a more detailed look at your personal needs, I suggest you schedule an appointment with your accountant to discuss the change in your working style and stay tax compliant.

There you have it! With this critical information under your belt, you are now well placed to take your first steps as a freelancer in South Africa. Good luck and stay in touch!