I love my job. I really absolutely and truly love love LOVE being a freelance writer and journalist. But sometimes I wonder whether I really want to do this for the rest of my life. No, let’s rephrase that: I quite often worry whether I will be able to do this kind of work for the rest of my life.
The freelance rates in South Africa have not changed for at least five years, people keep telling me, and that while expenses have gone up-up-UP dramatically:
- Petrol (±R3.50 per liter when I arrived in South Africa in 2004, and over R8 about 6.5 years later)
- Medical aid contributions (increase of about 15% per annum)
- Rent (increase of 10-15% per annum)
- Food (six years ago, R100 gave me bags full of groceries. Today R100 is nothing more than ‘petty cash’)
- Electricity (my bill has pretty much doubled over the past three or so years, regardless of the fact that I switch off geyser during the day and despite the fact I have installed energy saving light bulbs. And guess what? Electricity will go up again this year, by 26% this year)
- Inflation (which basically makes everything more expensive).
To make a monthly income of R9.000 a month (this is what I need to survive and to save a small amount) I have to produce between 4500 and 6000 words a month. This number of words depends on the client: some publications – the minority, let me tell you – pay the recommended rate of R2,50 a word* or more. Other pay no more than R1,50.
I can guarantee you that in three years from now, I will no longer be able to survive on R9.000 – which is quite tight as we speak (I am basically screwed when big expenses occur – when my computer gets nicked for instance, or when my cat needs to go to the vet) but sufficient to sustain my lifestyle: I have no car, no kids, no mortgage, no credit card bills / study loan to pay off, and have no debt.
Back to why I will not be able to live off R9.000 in three years time. Three to four years ago, I used to be able to live off R7.000 (AND save). This is no longer possible due to the reason I mentioned earlier in this blog (rent increases, power increases, food price increases, etc).
According to my calculations I will have to earn between R2.000 and R3.000 more a month in 2014 to make ends meet. And this, dear readers, means I will have to up my work load as I doubt the freelance rates will go up.
Of course, squeezing in one extra 1o00-word story (equivalent of R2000 to R3000) extra a month should not be a problem (assuming that my clients want more work from me, of course. What if they do not want to?), but what about 10 years from? Firstly, there is only so much one can do in a month without burning out like a piece of cheap charcoal. Secondly, there is only so much work available for us freelancers.
So what to do? Luckily I have more than one skill apart from news and feature writing. I do translating (from Dutch to English and vise versa), photography, I write reports, I have basic SEO skills, and am able to write press releases. Nevertheless the future worries me. And I doubt that I am the only freelancer in this position. Or am I? What are your thoughts?
*Recommended rate set by the Southern African Freelancers’ Association (SAFREA)