It’s easy to imagine that with the rise of Covid-19, many employees lost their jobs in South Africa and started freelancing. However, a shift to freelancing had already emerged prior to the pandemic.
The benefits for both freelancers and employers are many, and we consider these, along with some problems this trend may resolve.
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What do the stats say?
A recent survey, conducted by online talent platform Outsized, revealed that 81.5% of skilled professionals are considering resigning so that they can freelance full-time.
In a press release, Outsized noted that a quarter of respondents said they’re already in the process of taking the leap, 37% think it will happen in the next few weeks or months, and only 10% admitted it’s more of a long-term fantasy.
“The survey covered skilled South Africans, with every respondent holding a university degree and 64% having five to ten years of experience. Another 20% have 10 to 15 years of experience, and 16% are industry veterans of more than 15 years,” the press release explains.
Getting out of the “agency” life
Dominique Pienaar worked at various PR agencies for 20 years and she never thought she would take up freelancing full-time. But in 2019, she was unexpectedly retrenched.
She had kept in touch with former colleagues and clients and she knew that they were disillusioned by traditional agencies. The agencies were considered to be too expensive, and too rigorous in setting up hard and fast contracts that didn't make provision for changing business requirements.
“I made a spur of the moment decision to freelance,” says Pienaar. “I wanted to do what I loved, with people who inspired me, and I wanted to be my own boss. That was June 2019, and today I do PR consultancy on a freelance basis for some of the most interesting technology brands in the country.”
She believes that a shrinking fixed-employment market, and the fact that there are more highly-skilled people who don't want to get stuck in big corporates or agencies, are probably two reasons for the surge in freelancing.
“Being able to be more selective about the type of work you take on, as well as the flexibility to work as and when you need, are probably other reasons,” says Pienaar.
Why else the shift to freelancing?
According to Tennille Taylor, public relations and marketing consultant, freelancing gives you the option to determine your own hours and to choose the clients you wish to work with.
“It provides the opportunity to earn more than you would from a typical 9-to-5 job, but then you also have to be willing to put in the extra hours,” says Taylor.
Mies Jacobs, freelance graphic designer and illustrator since 2016, believes that flexibility is only one side of the story. She points out the following additional benefits:
- A very balanced work-life ratio. It requires a lot of hard work, dedication, and effort, but every little bit of effort is spent on building your freelance career, not someone else’s company. Even though there can, at times, be long hours, they are spent at home. If your family understands and respects your time and work boundaries, it can be a very pleasant experience.
- Being able to work with more companies on varied projects instead of just specialising in one field. But this can hold you back in later years if you don’t have enough experience.
- Building your confidence – no matter which industry you work in. Finding and working with international clients on international projects gives a sense of accomplishment my regular job never delivered, and never would have been able to deliver.
What are the benefits of working with freelancers?
Shane Williams, managing director at Print Crowd, favours freelance graphic designers because every designer has a different style.
“This allows us to really get our clients the look and feel they want and need. Every client gets a well-suited experience and perfectly designed marketing materials,” says Williams.
Anne Vicente, who started freelancing in 2020, says that freelancers offer many benefits to those who hire them.
“Clients only pay for the content they need. They can brief a freelance writer, specify the content, style, length, and platform, and then set a deadline and wait for delivery,” says Vicente.
“A freelancer is always eager to please and will in many instances deliver before the work is due. When using freelancers, it's also possible to commission more than one, depending on the style of the assignment and the urgency of the job,” she explains.
What kinds of problems can freelancing solve?
Dumiso Gatsha, who’s an independent consultant and founder of Success Capital Organisation, points out that freelancing allows flexibility for disabled people.
On top of this, they* believe that it could also assist those who live with mental health conditions, such as bipolar and attention deficit disorder (ADD).
“Freelancing limits exposure to politics in the workplace, passive aggression between colleagues, and other related incidents of toxic work environments,” says Gatsha.
They also believe that freelancing has helped create job opportunities.
“There are high levels of unemployment and other socioeconomic challenges for Sub-Saharan Africa. Advancements in technology and digitalisation have fuelled alternative or virtual labour markets,” they add.
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*This source prefers to be referred to in non-specific terms.