Freelancing pitfalls & how to avoid them
by Marisa Louw (@marisalouw) The decline in South Africa’s economy has resulted in a rise of freelancers and consultants across all industries. But you don’t simply become a freelancer. There are many pitfalls that may be avoided if you know what to look out for.
Regulating your income
Managing a revenue stream is probably the biggest concern for freelancers. Many of us started with a client or two in the bag but what happens when you lose a client? Or when the area you specialise in is not in demand any longer?
To limit the typical ups and downs of the freelancer income, it’s important that you diversify. This not only means offering a broader range of services than what you specialise in but also dividing your time between working and trying to find work.
Two years ago, I enlisted the services of a business coach. He made me realise that, even if I’m in a comfortable financial position, I should never stop exploring new business opportunities. I started approaching my freelance profession like a salesperson — setting targets for cold calls and new-business meetings and working towards a specific financial goal, not just for this month but mapped out for the entire year.
This approach requires immense discipline and it’s not easy to maintain the energy required to do this. But it is worth it.
Managing your time
Because it’s difficult to estimate whether you will have work next month or not, freelancers tend to accept more work than they have the capacity for. To avoid burnout, and to ensure you meet all your clients’ deadlines, it’s vital that you plan your time carefully. As you gain experience as a freelancer, you will get to know how long each job takes to execute. But the main trick is to always overestimate.
It’s further important that you know your worth. Don’t spend days on a job with a large scope if the financial rewards are small.
Linked to this is the hourly fee structure, which I disagree with. As freelancers, we should be paid based on the value we add to the client’s business, not for time we spend doing the work. If I can solve your business problem in two weeks, and someone else can solve the same problem in four weeks, why should I be paid less?
The dreadful admin
If you think freelancing will release you from doing the dreaded admin, think again! As a freelancer, you’re running a business. You’re responsible for marketing, new business development, office administration, and billing. On top of that, you need to do accounting and bookkeeping and become familiar with contract law, not to mention all the tax regulations and the preparation for submitting your tax returns as a provisional taxpayer.
Thankfully, many freelance bookkeepers offer all these services at affordable rates, but you must keep a meticulous record of your income and expenses.
The pitfalls of being a freelancer are many, but they can be managed and even avoided. The only thing you need to do is take the blindfolds off. Approach your journey as a freelancer with purpose, with your eyes wide open, and you will reap the rewards.
Marisa “eM” Louw (@marisalouw) is an independent marketing professional from Johannesburg. Her marketing career spans 24 years: 12 years in corporate marketing, four years at an agency, and the past eight years as an entrepreneur. She specialises in publicity, content creation, social media strategies and management, and campaign/project management.
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