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Jul 05, 2023
How to Start Earning as a South African Freelancer

Freelancing is a great way to earn income and work independently for different clients or companies on various projects.


I’ve been freelancing for years as a Cape Town-based UX, UI, Web and Visual Designer. I joined Upwork when it was formerly known as oDesk back in 2007. Some high-profile clients I’ve worked with include one of Europe's leading electronics mail-order retailers and a global systems provider of logistics solutions. All thanks to the connections I made on the platform.


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However, not many people know how to start a freelancing business in South Africa, and as a South African who has succeeded on the Upwork platform, I believe being a freelancer may be the best way to start earning an income. Here are some steps that helped me get started.


Choose your niche and services


The first step is to decide what kind of work you want to do and what services you can offer to your potential clients. You need to find a niche that matches your skills, interests, and market demand. For example, if you’re good at writing, you can offer copywriting or editing services. If you’re good at design, you can offer graphic design services. If you are good at teaching, you can offer tutoring or mentoring services.


For example, I saw there was a demand for UI/UX designers and I had a portfolio to demonstrate my skills to choose this as my niche.


Set up your online presence and portfolio


The next step is to create your portfolio.



You can give your proposals a competitive edge by uploading a video that is polished and concisely showcases your skills and personality.  


A portfolio is a collection of your previous work that showcases your skills and abilities. It helps you attract clients and prove your credibility. If you’re a designer, you can create a portfolio by using online platforms, or use social media sites, to share your work. Make sure your portfolio is relevant, professional, and updated regularly. 



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If you want to create a simple and elegant online presence, you might be interested in a mini-website service. These are platforms that allow you to build a one-page website with minimal effort and cost (they usually offer a free plan). You can use them to showcase your portfolio, promote your business, share your resume, or do anything else you want to communicate to the world. Some examples of mini-website services I have used are Linktree and Carrd.


If you need a more traditional website, you could consider a no-code website. No-code websites are websites that can be created without writing any code. They are ideal for people who want to create a website quickly and easily, without having to learn how to code or hire a developer. Some examples of no-code website builders I found helpful are Webflow and Framer (I use Framer, it also offers a free plan). Ensure that your online presence uses your niche’s keywords and is consistent.


Find clients and projects


To find clients and projects that suit your niche and services you can make use of online platforms like Upwork. These platforms are a great way to start freelancing as they connect freelancers with clients who are looking for specific skills or services. Payment and contracts are handled on the platform. Upwork also provides the ability to create a portfolio or case study. However, you will need to create a profile, bid against other freelancers and familiarize yourself with the terms and fees.


Other methods would be to use social media to promote your services and share your portfolio. You can also join groups and communities related to your niche and look for opportunities and ask your existing clients and contacts to refer you to others who may need your services. However, you will be responsible for the admin of dealing with clients directly.


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Manage your projects


Once you have clients, you need to manage your projects effectively. This involves setting clear expectations, communicating regularly, delivering quality work on time, and getting feedback. I like to use tools like Trello, Zoho Projects, Google Calendar, Outlook Calendar, and more to help you with project management. Upwork allows you to schedule Zoom calls and sync them with your calendar.


Improve your offering


If you are looking for ways to improve your skills and knowledge in your field of work, you might want to check out some websites or platforms that offer professional development opportunities. Some examples are Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, and even YouTube can be useful.


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Manage your finances and legalities


Now you’re all set!

Hold on… the final step is to manage your finances and legalities. I can not offer legal, tax or financial advice and you should seek the help of a professional.




Freelancing is not easy, and in my experience, earning a foreign income is a good financial strategy and can be rewarding if done right.


To start freelancing successfully, follow these steps:

  1. Choose your niche and services
  2. Set up your online presence and portfolio
  3. Find clients and projects
  4. Manage your projects
  5. Improve your offering
  6. Manage your finances and legalities

I hope this blog post has helped you understand how to start freelancing in South Africa. All the best and good luck with your success!