The State of Freelancing in South Africa

10 Apr 2019
The State of Freelancing in South Africa

Globalization has increasingly diminished geographical distances and stimulated the growth of networks, which has in turn promoted the subsantial expansion of the freelance economy.

In South Africa, the dearth of job security within the formal sector has encouraged many media professionals to pursue independence and fend for themselves.

The South African Freelancers’ Association (SAFREA) has, since 1999, played an integral role in supporting, promoting the interests of and engaging in standard-setting for freelance media professionals.

SAFREA conducts an extensive annual survey among freelancers, to discern the demographics, trends and rates freelancers charge for their work.

SAFREA recently released the survey report for 2018-2019, which provides compelling insights.

Respondents of the 2018-2019 SAFREA Survey conceive of freelancing as “a choice and one made for a multitude of reasons, including flexibility, freedom to choose projects and clients, and as a way to supplement income.” Respondents identified the challenges confronting freelancers as including “low rates, poor client payment practices, and exploitation by clients with a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude.”

Who are South Africa’s freelancers?

The SAFREA report identifies the average South African freelancer as a woman in her thirties who holds at least one degree, resides in either Johannesburg or Cape Town, works overwhelmingly as a writer or editor, and who opted to pursue a freelancing career relatively recently (within the past 5 years).

Additional findings of the study include that the freelance industry in South Africa is dominated by women with 77% of respondents identifying as female. This is attributed to the fact that freelancing offers women a greater measure of freedom and flexibility as compared to the formal sector, which is appealing as it enhances prospects of more successfully balancing work and family demands, enabling women to “do the work they love in a way that suits their lifestyle and personal circumstances.”

In terms of where freelancers are located: 42,92% are based in Gauteng, 36,64% in the Western Cape, 7,38% in KwaZulu-Natal and 5,89% in the Eastern Cape.

In terms of age, respondents ranged from 19 to over 80-years-old, with the largest cohort – 27,23% – aged between 31 and 40 years.

Compared to 2017-2018

SAFREA’s demographic have not changed considerably in the past year. However, the report notes that “an interesting new insight this year is that 39,19% of respondents have been freelancing for fewer than five years.”

Another interesting development is that there has been an almost 3% increase of freelance professionals in the Western Cape, while KwaZulu-Natal has seen a 3,2% decrease.

Furthermore, there has been an 8% increase in the number of respondents whose main source of income is derived from freelancing.

What are South African freelancers earning?

The SAFREA report notes that – for the third consecutive year – most respondents (34,61%) report earning less than R10 000 a month, which is a concern as more than 80% of respondents identify freelancing as their main source of income. This is considerably less than the average monthly earning of R20 860 across all formal non-agricultural sectors, as determined through a review of the Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) Quarterly Employment Statistics for the third quarter of 2018 (Statistics South Africa, 2018b) – which constitutes a 5,0% average monthly earning increase over the past 12 months.

“The current average freelancer income of R10 000.00 is clearly well below par, with future improvements only possible if clients show a willingness to pay fair and reasonable rates, and freelancers refuse to take on lower-than-acceptable paying work.”

Who are their clients?

The majority of respondents, 74,55%, rely on freelance work from corporate/private sector clients. The rest, 39,19%, undertake freelancing within the digital and print space. This marks an interesting development as in the 2017-18 SAFREA report digital freelancers marginally outnumbered print freelancers, whereas these categories are now equivalent.

What are the greatest challenges freelancers face?

Notwithstanding the freedom and flexibility of freelancing, it remains a challenging mode of work, because:

  • Rates are generally low – 19,25%
  • Lack of benefits associated with a full-time position (e.g. medical aid, pension) – 11,82%
  • Payment (including non-payment and late payment) – 11,61%
  • A lack of understanding freelancing as a business – 11,25%
  • Exploitation of freelancers by clients with a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude – 10,63%

Insecurity of ongoing work, irregular income, access to training, and limited self-marketing efforts were also identified as challenges.

Compared to 2017-2018

The previous SAFREA report highlighted additional challenges faced by freelancers, which include inter alia the fierce competition freelance professionals contend with.

One respondent noted the increasing “number of freelancers within the industry – so many brilliant journalists have been retrenched and we are all trying to make a living freelancing and unfortunately opportunities are scarce.”

Another noted, “there are so many in the field, and the number keeps growing. It’s like a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world as we rush to respond to possible projects.”

A notable challenge highlighted in last year’s report which was not featured in the 2018-19 report was the fact that most freelancers work in isolation and lament the absence of a reliable peer support system.

Administration issues – such as taxation – and quality of work, receiving adequate recognition and feeling valued were also mentioned.

Rates matter

While the annual SAFREA report provides fascinating insights into the world of freelancing, its rates indicator is undoubtedly the most valuable to freelancers.

As already mentioned, the negotiation of rates and payment schedules is a significant challenge faced by most freelance professionals. SAFREA’s rates indicator, which provides freelancers with a critical benchmark, is based on the average prices respondents charge for their respective services, disciplines and focus areas. This indicator provides all freelancers with a powerful tool, but more especially those starting out who may be unsure of how to determine their rates.

The 2018-2019 SA Freelance Media Industry and Rates Report is provided here for you as is the previous report.

Image by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash