Categories: Career Advice
| On
2024-01-12 10:15 AM

Freelance Challenges in South Africa: What to Do When a Client Treats You Like an Employee

By Lethabo Ntsoane

In the dynamic landscape of South Africa’s gig economy, freelancers often find solace in securing anchor clients who provide stability amid the ebb and flow of independent work. However, with this stability come challenges—chief among them, the delicate balance of maintaining client satisfaction without compromising the essence of freelancing. This article explores the pitfalls, distinctions between contractors and employees, and practical strategies for South African freelancers facing a scenario where a client treats them more like an employee.

Anchor Clients and Pitfalls in the South African Freelance Scene

Securing an anchor client is a common aspiration for freelancers, offering a sense of financial security. However, pitfalls abound, ranging from unexpected increases in workload to being thrust into a quasi-employee role. In the South African freelance landscape, the importance of striking a balance cannot be overstated. Let’s delve into the considerations and potential drawbacks.

Contractors vs. Employees: Navigating the Legal Landscape

In the South African context, the legal distinction between contractors and employees is vital for both freelancers and clients. The South African Revenue Service (SARS) outlines specific guidelines based on “control and independence.” Freelancers should be aware of these distinctions to ensure compliance and avoid potential legal issues.

Behavioural aspects of workIndependent control over tasksEmployer dictates work and methods
Business aspects of workSelf-employed; responsible for toolsEmployer manages payment, expenses
Type of relationship between worker and companyProject-based or contractualOngoing relationship, benefits

Benefits of Becoming an Employee

Sometimes, the transition from freelancer to employee is a mutually beneficial move. Clients may realize the compatibility of a freelancer with a full-time position or witness a project’s growth leading to a permanent job opportunity. From a financial perspective, hiring an employee may save clients money and simplify legal matters.

From a freelancer’s standpoint, advantages include job security, entitlement to unemployment benefits under certain termination conditions, and a shared contribution to Social Security and Medicare.

Reasons to Stay Freelance in the South African Gig Economy

Despite the allure of employee benefits, many South African freelancers opt to remain independent. The key reasons include:

  1. Freedom: The essence of freelancing lies in its name. South African freelancers value the flexibility to set their schedules, take time off for personal reasons, and maintain control over their working lives.
  2. Easier Transitions: Freelancers can transition between projects more seamlessly than employees, providing an advantage in a dynamic job market. This flexibility is particularly valuable as professional goals and client needs evolve.
  3. Loyalty to Self: Freelancing in South Africa underscores the reality of the 21st-century job market—there is no guaranteed job security. Freelancers acknowledge this reality and prioritize self-reliance over dependence on an employer.

Preventing Scope Creep in the South African Freelance Landscape

Scope creep, the gradual expansion of work beyond the initially agreed-upon terms, poses a significant challenge for freelancers in South Africa. To combat this issue, freelancers can employ practical strategies:

  1. Avoid Same-Day Work on an Ongoing Basis: In the fast-paced world of freelancing, projects with same-day turnaround are common. However, South African freelancers are advised to balance such projects to preserve the freedom inherent in their work.Note: Unless compensated appropriately or working on a short-term project, overcommitting to same-day projects can erode the benefits of freelancing.
  2. Set Boundaries and Stick to Them: The reluctance to say no is a common trait among freelancers. However, setting clear boundaries is essential. Communicate expectations to clients and maintain a balance between accommodating good clients and preserving personal time.
  3. Effective Communication: South African freelancers often hesitate to discuss responsibilities with clients. However, transparent communication about deadlines and commitments can position freelancers as dedicated professionals managing multiple responsibilities.


The South African gig economy offers both challenges and opportunities for freelancers. Navigating the fine line between contractor and employee status, understanding the benefits of each, and implementing strategies to prevent scope creep are essential for freelancers to thrive.

Ultimately, freelancers in South Africa must remember that while client satisfaction is crucial, their ultimate loyalty should be to themselves and their business. By embracing the freedom, flexibility, and self-reliance inherent in freelancing, South African freelancers can chart a course for success in the dynamic and ever-evolving gig economy.

Join Our Newsletter
Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated.


Start trading with a free $30 bonus

Unleash your trading potential with XM—your gateway to the electric world of financial markets! Get a staggering $30 trading bonus right off the bat, with no deposit required. Dive into a sea of opportunities with access to over 1000 instruments on the most cutting-edge XM platforms. Trade with zest, at your own pace, anytime, anywhere. Don't wait, your trading journey begins now! Click here to ignite your trading spirit!

Lethabo Ntsoane

Lethabo Ntsoane holds a Bachelors Degree in Accounting from the University of South Africa. He is a Financial Product commentator at Rateweb. He is an expect financial product analyst with years of experience in reviewing products and offering commentary. Lethabo majors in financial news, reviews and financial tips. He can be contacted: Email: Twitter: @NtsoaneLethabo