By Darren Gilbert

“Freelancing is talked about as the next saviour of the economy,” says Laura Rawden, chair of SAFREA. While there are comphrensive studies overseas, there isn’t any kind of in-depth research in South Africa, despite a growing freelance population, Rawden adds.

Read our article The gig economy – challenging the traditional 9 to 5 to see how experts in the field are getting ahead.

The inaugural report surveyed just under 400 people, including SAFREA members and freelancers associated with other organisations.

SAFREA aims to be a champion for the local freelancer community

Over the past few months, SAFREA has noted a rise in its membership figures. As the freelance industry continues to grow, they aim to stand in the corner and promote industry standards and fair pay, amongst other things.

“We want to be champions of fair and equal rights,” she explains. “We want to emerge as a strong advocate for freelancers. We also want to start setting down definitions around industry standards, fair pay and the like so that we can get to a place where legislation and other important milestones can be made to protect freelancers.”

A look at the main trends

At a glance, the report uncovers a few interesting trends. First and foremost is that 78% of those surveyed were female. Asked about her take on this statistic, Rawden is wary.

“It’s a really interesting trend that is similar to what has been found in the US and UK,” she says. “It’s difficult to understand why because there can be a number of reasons, but it does open up the bigger debate of why women are dominating the industry.”

Findings such as the above will also lead to more questions about the way in which SAFREA does its research, Rawden says. “It must be remembered; this report is a first and we can’t survey everything. But it’s a good starting point.”

On the Income front, Rawden is surprised and a little disappointed. 42.8 percent of South African freelancers surveyed are earning less than R10 000 per month while a further 23.3% are earning R20 000 or under. Meanwhile, only 4.4% are earning R51 000 and above.

“In the media industry, in general, we are seeing really low salaries,” says Rawden. “So we have to create an understanding between freelancers and freelance employees that quality is worth paying for. If I hire a writer and I pay them industry standard rates or higher, I’m going to get good work and it will pay off for my business.”

“Freelancers are also not those people working on the beach with a cocktail in one hand,” she adds. “These are actually professionals and this is their career. They deserve to be paid as well as people who have full-time jobs doing the same work.”

Another finding by the Report was that those working in the industry are highly-skilled professionals with decades of experience. Of those surveyed, 24% have over 15 years’ experience while a further 20% have 11 to 15 years of experience.

This is a piece of research that negates any perceptions about the work ethics of those in the industry, says Rawden. “These aren’t newbies who can’t get work and decide that they will freelance. These are hard-working, full-time professionals.”

Building a better future for South African freelancers

Despite the findings of the Report, Rawden is quick to point out that it isn’t meant to push people away. Rather, the Report is meant to strengthen the industry.

“We hope that with this Report, we see a stronger freelance community,” she says. “An industry where we work with each other through our issues, whether it’s about pay, negotiated contracts or finding work.”

“This Report is also meant to help develop a stronger relationship between freelancers and freelancer employers.”

Another aim is that come the next report at the end of 2017, there will have more bodies and organisations on board to get an ever better understanding of this growing industry.

You can download the Report here.

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