The joys and responsibilities of self-employment and freelancing in an economy such as ours.

By stevewertheim, 29 July, 2012

The joys and responsibilities of self-employment and freelancing in an economy such as ours.

Historically, people obtained post-school training in a specific field; sought and found a position that suited them; and then spent the next forty years or so being ‘the company man’. What this meant was staying loyal to the company that employed you; seeking further responsibility and promotion within that firm and retiring – with a gold watch – after a suitable time.


In democratic South Africa so much has changed. The labour market and job opportunities have opened up post-apartheid, together with changed perceptions about what is considered the ideal career path. Having a series of careers, often in totally diverse fields, is not considered unusual today. Many people find themselves employed in fields for which they have no formal training, and a great many have degrees and other qualifications which they never use.


The idea of self-employment or freelancing allows opportunities firstly, for the ‘square pegs’ that do not fit the ‘round holes’ of corporate expectation.  Being able to work for yourself means being able to determine what you do and when you do it. It also means that you can decide who you will work for and with.  If your circumstances demand that kind of flexibility, then freelance work or self-employment is obviously what you need.


There are also many people who are employed full-time and therefore enjoy the benefits of sick leave, medical aid and vacation leave. For them to do freelance work affords an opportunity to supplement an existing income to save for an overseas holiday or to pay for the education of their children.  While it is an enticing thought, there are a number of things to be considered before offering your services as a freelancer:


  • Do you have the required skills that will make you a sought-after freelancer? If you need to upskill, do so. In fact, do so all the time. It would be good if you are a writer, to specialize in a particular field, for example, health or education so that yours is the name an employer will be looking for
  • Don’t over-extend yourself. Decide how much time you can legitimately spend on your freelance work – and then commit to that time.  Even if you are not working on a project, use that time to do research or to work on your skills.
  • The previous point ties in with the kind of budget you have. Calculate how much you want to make, but be realistic about the demands you need to make on yourself.
  •  Tax is a certainty- like death. If you are self-employed, call in at SARS to find out what the implications are of having a second source of income.
  •  Make sure that you know how to market yourself and your skills. Put together a convincing online portfolio and find out about freelancing organisations where you can market yourself or look for jobs that are on offer.


Personally, I am a full-time teacher looking at retirement in about ten years. Getting involved in freelance work was a conscious decision about a year ago. The pension I can expect from the Education Department after having had broken service (despite a total of nearly 30 years of teaching) will not allow me to pursue my dream of travelling overseas, so I started freelance online writing, editing and proofreading.


It has been a remarkable experience. I have learned so much about a wide range of subjects and I have met fascinating people as employers.  I pride myself on delivering exactly what they want – and more - within the time frame required, and they have kept on coming back. I have worked fairly consistently for an employer in Australia and for another in the United States for the best part of a year. Each time one contract finishes, they have something else for me.  I am proud of the work I do and it gives me a sense of achievement to be working on something new all the time.


Is freelance work something I would recommend? Certainly. If you are dedicated, have a sense of self-discipline and can work to a deadline (and like your own company), this is a really fulfilling line of work. 

Ricky Woods



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