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Starting out in the world of freelancing can be daunting without a boss or HR manager to show you the ropes. Communications consultant, journalist and chairperson of the Southern African Freelancers’ Association (Safrea), Georgina Guedes, shares her top 6 things to think about as a freelancer.

How much should I charge - and should I charge per word, hour or project?

This is always the trickiest question to answer. It’s not as simple as working out the income you need and dividing it up over the working hours in a month, but that’s a good way to start. Get a sense of what you need to survive and work out how many projects you would need to complete and at what rate to achieve that. Then network with other professionals to see if your rate is comparative. Obviously, this also depends on your level of expertise and capability, as well as the clout held by the positions you were in before going freelance.

How much tax do I have to pay - and do I work this out or will my client take it off the final payment for me?

Ultimately, you should pay as much tax as you need to depending on how much you earn from month to month. Some clients or media houses interpret tax legislation to mean they should subtract a certain amount of PAYE from freelancers every month (usually 25%); others leave the payment up to you.

You will need to register as a provisional taxpayer - very few new freelancers will have an income justifying registering their business for VAT - but if all of this is outside of your area of expertise, it’s not a bad idea to hire a reasonably priced accountant to handle it for you. Remember to keep track of all your earnings and expenses from the first day of freelancing.

How long should I give a client to pay me?

Cash on delivery is the best way to run a business, but many clients will only agree to pay you 30 days from invoice. Some publications only pay 30 days after the publication of the content that you have provided. Whatever the situation, make sure you discuss this upfront with your client and agree to it contractually. And remember to look out for clauses that mean that if your work isn’t used for whatever reason, you are not paid.

What do I do if a client won’t pay me?

This eventuality should be covered in a contract drawn up at the start. For instance, if a payment isn’t settled after 30 days, interest will be charged. The next steps are obviously the Small Claims Court or other legal action. Safrea, for example, is instrumental in doing is counselling freelancers about how to respond to instances of non-payment as every situation is different.

Should I give clients a contract - what if they refuse to sign?

Any client-provider relationship should be governed by a contract covering deadlines, payment and dispute procedures - even if it takes the form of a list of terms and conditions in an email to which you reply 'I accept'. It’s important to remember that any contract is only the starting point for a negotiation and to discuss any terms that you’re not happy with. Clients who refuse to sign contracts are probably doing so because they don’t intend honouring the clauses, so this is also a good indicator of the kind of people that you are working with.

What other tips do I need to make freelancing work for me?

Remember that even if you’re going to be a one-person show, you are now running a business. Put aside time and money for admin, supplies, support, memberships, subscriptions, hardware, marketing and brand building. Don’t neglect any of these areas or you will come up short.

Then remember, the best advertisement for your work is your work - deliver on time, present it professionally and deal with any follow-up queries politely. Treating every interaction as an opportunity to impress is the best way to ensure future work from your clients.

About Safrea
Safrea is a professional association of freelance workers in the communications field. Find out more about Safrea by visiting