How I Made It – Madelein Pretorius
Tell us a little bit about why you decided to embark on a freelance career!
I think two major reasons influenced my decision. So, at the moment, I’m 46 years old, but I had my first child at 39. And I just felt that I don’t see her enough, and I don’t have enough time to spend with my daughter. At that stage, I had quite a long commute to the office and back every day in heavy traffic, which meant that I hardly got to see her. So that was probably the primary motivation. Then, the second motivation was that I worked in HR as an industrial psychologist. I didn’t want to progress up the HR career ladder and become an HR director because I didn’t think that aligned with my passion and what I enjoy doing. I did reach a bit of a ceiling in my current organization. That, and I think that the main reason was really to get more flexibility and spend more time with my daughter.
What do you wish you knew when you first started out that would have helped you?
I wish I had access to resources on how to market your new business more proactively and professionally. I often think as a one-person team; freelancers compete against consulting firms that range from your giant Deloitte and Ernst and Young to smaller organizations, which are probably 10 or 15 or 20 people big. You do not necessarily have the budget, resources, and know-how to put together a very professional proposal as a freelancer.
I wanted to know how to be business savvy. I am not a businessperson. The ins and outs of managing your business profitably, just in terms of what are the opportunities when it comes to tax, for instance, that is something that I only figured out two or three years down the line, in terms of optimizing your tax payments, because there are things that I could claim for; I do not think people know that necessarily if they are not business people, so I believe some savvy business training would have been great to have as well.
What are some pros and cons with freelancing that you don’t think people realize?
Pros are flexibility and getting more family time.
- I think marketing, getting your name out there, and getting a good supply of work is the biggest challenge as a freelancer
- Not having admin support and the likes. You are so busy that you never really get a chance to lift your head out of the busyness and think about how do I stay relevant? How do I focus on what my clients need? There is not much future orientation.
Is there anything you still struggle with as a freelancer?
I often worry if I am up to date with the latest developments. Do I know what my clients are busy doing? I find it difficult to manage client relationships. There’s really not much time for that; it is just about delivering all the time. At night you catch up on all the admin work that needs to happen, like invoicing. I think that is a further challenge for me as a freelancer.
I think specifically in terms of getting work; I find access to information also very difficult. If I prepare a client proposal, it’s challenging to understand what a good rate is to charge. You are always in the dark regarding the reasonable rate that will give you a good chance of landing the project.
Additionally, there are only that many hours in a day as an individual, so it limits you from putting a proposal in for a bigger project, which is what you need to be successful. I always wonder if there is a better way of collaborating as freelancers, where you could put your skills together and form a group, even if it is just for a specific project, so that you would be able to deliver on a bigger project. Not necessarily forming a formal business partnership, but just a collaboration on a specific project since I do not think I have the appetite to permanently employ people to grow my business in that way.
Are there any resources you have found useful as a freelancer?
Not currently, no. I know only about Outsized.
With regards to resources on mental health, I know all the resources. I am an industrial psychologist, and as part of my job, I train people on calming your mind, quieting your mind, making time for more of a balanced lifestyle, the importance of switching off, creating time to think and meditate. I know about all the apps. However, knowing about tools and resources is one thing, but the important thing is to make sure you create the time to use it!
Are there areas you would like support but haven’t yet found anything useful?
Yeah, just practical ways to maybe leverage social media to market your services; for instance, as a psychologist, I work with people. So, personal contact is my focus, which makes me not very good at social media platforms. I want to get some guidance on how to get the best out of those things; that would be great.
I also think a platform where you can collaborate, even if it’s posting a question and getting some ideas and answers from people. That would be nice, a networking platform where you can meet other people from the freelancing space.
I specifically would also like to understand charge rates. I have not increased my charge rate in five years, purely because I do not know what the right level would be, and if I speak to some of my colleagues, I can say to you that I’m not alone in that situation, as a freelancer, access to what is a reasonable rate is just, challenging.
What are your top tips for people thinking about going into freelancing?
I have a fantastic friend and mentor who has been freelancing successfully for more than 15 years. She gave me one piece of advice, which is ‘just trust the process’. This simple phrase has proven to be such a good tip. When things get a bit tough, and there will be such times, I always remind myself of this, and somehow, things always work out for the better. So, my tip to someone thinking of going into freelancing would be: Take that step and just trust the process!
What would you do differently from Day 1 if you could time travel?
This isn’t easy to answer as I genuinely believe that I have done the best I could with the resources I had at the time. If I have to mention something here, it would probably be to do more to really position my business and service offering effectively. Marketing is crucial, and I still feel that there is so much more about this that I need to learn and understand.