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10 things nobody tells you about freelancing

Reflections on ‘living the dream’, written mostly in pyjamas, by former magazine editor and current freelancer Annie Brookstone.

When I was a tiny, English-speaking child my parents sent me to an Afrikaans primary school. In their defence, this was back in the days when you decided what school to send your kids to based on walking distance, not academic excellence or medium of instruction. (This was also back when you’d still pick them up and drive the five blocks home in a car hotboxed by Benson and Hedges Special Mild lest some trench coat wearing-weirdo outside the school give them ice-lollies laced with LSD or show them a Scope magazine or something). While Grade Ones in other schools were probably learning about all sorts of important things – the letter ‘C’, for instance – I was taught the fable of Racheltjie de Beer, a Trek-era Afrikaner girl who got lost in a snowstorm with her little brother and, unable to find the way back home, draped herself over him to protect him from the blizzard. “Onbaatsugtige optrede” be damned (I asked Google that, please don’t speak Afrikaans to me), Racheltjie died, you guys. There are lessons to be learned here…

What nobody tells you about freelancing

1. Do not work for exposure. You are Racheltjie, that company asking you to ‘just’ design their logo or help them with their website for what is tantamount to a shout-out is the little brother. But actually it’s your bully big brother. Who you don’t even like. And who sure doesn’t like you. You’re starting to doubt if you’re even related. Plus, they never seem to have money problems when the director is Insta’ing selfies from the Bolivian ski slopes. What I learnt early on in my career as a freelancer – and in Afrikaans school – is that exposure is a thing you die of.

2. That said, do work for anything with a monetary value. Sneakers, Cup-a-soup, weekends away, blowjobs, ice-lollies laced with LSD…

3. The glorious thing about freelancing is being able to, to a far larger extent than anyone who has to get leave forms signed off or clock into a cubicle for all their daylight hours, dictate how you structure your days and spend your time. The other wonderful thing about it is the lack of any real allegiance and the unlimited earning potential that comes with it. The catch is that you can have time or you can have money. You can never, ever have both.

What nobody tells you about freelancing

4. People will always ask – usually with a mild look of concern on their faces – if you are still freelancing like it’s some sort of phase you’re going through, like goth or banting…

5. And for most people it will be a phase. Full-time jobs are the carbs of the employment world: they’re so comforting that so what if they slowly kill you? Besides being hungry only feels badass for like the first three hours.

6. Get used to well-meaning friends putting you forward for unskilled labour (usually TV castings, pet-sitting, medical research, etc.). They don’t give a shit that you have an Honours degree and 10 years of experience in your field, they just want to see you get out of your pyjamas, ‘maybe meet some new people’.

7. Then there’s that sinking feeling when a client says, ‘We’d like to offer you a permanent position.’ It’s like your fuck buddy telling you they want to take this thing to the next level and then you have to do that awkward thing where you tell them it’s not them, it’s you, and you really dig them and all but you kinda just wanna fool around with other people too and you really, really hope this doesn’t change anything between you (‘Please, please keep paying me!’). They laugh and say it’s totally fine but you can see the hurt and disappointment in their eyes and you shake hands like you always do but it doesn’t feel the same and you’re already factoring them out of your rent money for next month…

8. Don’t bother trying to sell your panties on the internet.

What nobody tells you about freelancing

9. I’ve been freelance three years. In that time I’ve been plunged into existential miasmas darker than I ever imagined possible. I’ve donated blood just for the free cookies. I’ve even fantasised about moving back in with my folks. But I’ve never, ever opened a LinkedIn account. If at any stage this seems necessary, see point 8 and disregard.

10. Did you know you can claim back tax money for all the important therapeutic time you spend looking at pictures of baby animals online? I don’t know if that’s true but somebody who does know is a financial advisor. Seriously, get someone else to do your taxes for you. Would you do your own gynaecological exam? No. Tax is complicated enough when you just have one job – when you have 30 with different clients it’s admin Cthulhu. IN CASE IT ISN’T CLEAR, I’M STILL ON THE GYNAECOLOGICAL METAPHOR HERE.

11. Make friends with other freelancers in your industry. At best, they’re the assholes who will put you forward for the shitty, poorly-paid jobs that they couldn’t be arsed to do themselves. At worst, they’re the assholes who will be propping you up at 10am on a random Tuesday while you drink away your last few rands/Cup-a-soups and try to figure out where you went wrong with your life.

12. If you’re going to deliver late, always over-deliver.

What nobody tells you about freelancing

Annie Brookstone is a feminist first, nihilist second. Follow her on Twitter.

Also see: Nick Frost’s list of what your favourite South African music festival says about you.


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