The crisis from a freelancer’s point of view

15 Nov

I spy, I spy with my little eye that I haven’t blogged in quite a while. I blame this silly slip-up on the ginormous list of deadlines that is staring me in the eye while I type this. Well, at least I have got work, for now that is. With the 2008/2009 economic crisis in the back of my mind, I must admit that the current situation in Europe / Greece is making me nervous. I’m not sure whether I can handle another “2009” to tell you the truth.

Normally, we media freelancers – as opposed to big banks and politicians suffering from Tenderitis – never make the headlines when the going gets tough. And that is fine. Most of us rather want to report on stuff, than being reported on.

Fact of the matter is that not too many people realize that many of their news providers were hit by the economic crisis of 2008/2009.

1) As the global economy twitched and shivered, and South Africa entered its first recession in 17 years, newspapers and magazines and other publications around the world (well, those in the countries affected) saw their advertising revenue streams shrink like a silk scarf washed at 150 degrees. This impacted freelance budgets. As a result, freelance rates remained unchanged and often dropped (BTW: after the crisis, these rates were often NOT increased to pre-2008 levels). Or equally bad: there was less room (or no room at all) for freelance contributions.

2) To cut costs as a result of falling revenue, scores of fulltime media people were faced with retrenchment. Others did not have their contracts renewed. Forced by a persistent lack of vacancies, many of them joined the mighty army of freelance media professionals – who were already fighting over a shrinking pool of work. You get the idea.

All of the above was applicable to me. Well, everything apart from being retrenched.

As my editors kept their hands tightly on their purse, I was forced to take on what ever I could get, at what ever rate. And so I filled my days with brainless and severely underpaid online copy writing work for printer dealers, an online second-hand car portal, insurance companies and even an arms manufacturer. Yes, we are talking guns and war equipment, not prosthetic limbs. Yes. Me, the Pacifist. Look, I am not proud of that particular work, but I had to do something to prevent the boat from going under like a Big Ass Titanic. There were bills to pay, including the one for the extension of my Temporary Residency Permit (R12.000).

All in all, 2009 was my personal iceberg, but I managed to sail around it. In the process, I had to give up my office space as I could not cope with the monthly cost of R2000 + internet + phone calls. Having to look thrice at every rand before spending it, turned into one big frustration. But in the end I was lucky. I know of a couple of freelancers who had to revert to drastic decisions, including selling their cars / house and canceling on their life insurance and medical aid, simply because work had dried up.

As the year 2009 (aka as The Bitch) progressed, the news journalist in me got more and more frustrated: there was plenty of news in South Africa, but my editors did not have /did not want to spend money to take my contributions. I think I might have written about ten news stories in the whole of 2009.

The only positive thing about 2009 was that at some stage the rand stood 14 to the euro (some of my work is paid out in euros).

Then 2010 came, bringing the 2010 FIFA World Cup. That event in many aspects was my saving grace. In the first weeks of 2010, the first pre World Cup Assignments sailed into my mailbox: the whole world seemed to be interested in what was happening in South Africa. I also started a world cup blog, which drew people to my website and lead to more work.

I am not sure what my point is of this blog post, apart from the fact that I am feeling uneasy about 2012. While South Africa’s financial system remained intact in 208/2009, we too were a victim of the global financial crisis. Anyone who thinks otherwise is an ignorant dumb ass: the crisis which affected all sorts of industries, including tourism and the manufacturing industry, cost 1.17 million jobs. That was mainly as a result of declining export. Yes, from Europe and the US, our two main destinations for our export products.

According to my calculations this means that South Africa will be hit at some point if Europe goes tits up. So let’s send that part of the world some good vibes (or send it prayers, if that is your cup of tea).


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One response to “The crisis from a freelancer’s point of view

  1. Mark Goodwin

    November 15, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    THANK YOU! I woke up this morning (already on a winner), the sun was shining although a little chilly. Had breakfast watched a bit of TV mostly about how the Catholic Schools appear to be outed for child abuse. It seems that every day there is another story of teaching monks abusing children in their care. The question this morning was would you send your child to a Roman Catholic school because it had a high teaching standards, after all the bad news about the abuse. So, after that now feeling a couple of notches down, I log on to read some of the emails that I wade through each day. Seeing your latest blog, I thought, ah! Good old Mir, now here is someone who will give me a smile, and a lift, and if nothing else will be an interesting read. So now, I’m really pissed off, Europe is for the chop, we are all gonna be skint again in 2012 and I might have to start looking for work again!!!
    Being a Sagittariun I am usually a positive thinker and looking at the half full glass, plus I have a 70th birthday coming up in December – that I can’t believe – so I have had a few years memories in business to look back at. I have been my own employer all my working life from the age of 18 – except for one occasion when I worked for CBS for 10 years. And one of the things I learnt as a self employed person was that, I can do whatever I like! And basically what that means is that if one avenue of income looks like it might dry up, I can go and do something else, anything else! It won’t be for ever, it’ll be just as long as I want it to be. Just as long as it provides some kind of profit no matter how small. This will enable me to keep feeding the family until things pick up. And if you have to sell the car, or the boat, or move to a smaller home so what? These are material things that can be replaced later on. What is important is survival! And as business people we must be prepared to do whatever is necessary (as long as it’s legal of course) to survive.

    If we have to take a risk then so be it, weigh up the odds to the best of your ability and then do it!
    Drucher the famous business and management writer tells us that the word ‘RISK’ comes from the ancient Greek which translates into “To earn one’s daily bread”.

    There will always be highs and lows in business, either SME’s Corporate or International. And no matter what all the Management books say, you cannot allow for every eventuality. No matter how good your business plan is, it’s not going to make the phone ring! But what you can do is to be tenacious, to use all your energy to become a sales person (not something a lot of business people like to think of themselves as). But there is a lovely old saying “If everyone has to eat, sure as hell someone has to sell”
    When one has no actual work to do, that doesn’t mean you have a day off, it means, Oh good a chance to do a bit of marketing and ‘door knocking’ both metaphorically and actual, to get out there and sell your wares no matter what they are, to make people aware of you and what you do. Selling is a numbers game. If you knock on 20 doors and get one enquiry, then why not knock on 60 and get three? Do that for a 5 day week and you will be exhausted, and you will have 15 possible new clients. To quote NIke ‘Just Do it’!

    If you say you’ll win or say you’ll lose….you will be correct!!

    Fear not Miriam with your passion and obvious talent you will not want for long, if at all.

    Have a good day


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