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IDORENYIN OBONG: Five financial planning tips for African freelancers and gig workers


The global pandemic has accelerated the pace of change, causing significant disruption across labour markets and forever changing how we work. While some companies have reviewed their working policies to accommodate hybrid approaches to work, others have shed millions of permanent full-time jobs. 

Many African countries are facing extremely high unemployment rates, such as South Africa (35.3%), Nigeria (33%), Gabon (22.3%), and Somalia (19.8%). Africa also has the world’s largest and youngest workforce (almost 60% of its population is under 25 years of age, and 250 million of its youth are unemployed). With millions of permanent full-time jobs being made redundant, we are seeing a dramatic increase in freelancers, contractors, digital nomads, and other gig workers. Currently, Africa has 10.1% of the world’s freelancers, with 42% of workers working remotely at least once a day a week – and these figures could increase. 

While some people choose to freelance because of its flexibility and variety, others are freelancing because it is a means of survival. 

Traditionally, freelancing is seen as an unstable way to make money reserved only for the brave. On the one hand, you could land a great gig only to lose another at any minute, making the perpetual need to find new work very overwhelming. It’s essential, however, that you do not let these challenges cloud your perspective of freelancing. Freelance work can be rewarding and lucrative if you are responsible and plan correctly financially. 

Five financial planning tips for freelancers 

As freelancers and contractors carry the burden of uncertain income, they must formulate a concrete financial plan. The tips and strategies shared below can assist freelancers and contractors in building a solid financial plan with variable income. 

  1. Planning a budget 

Freelancers and contractors must plan a budget that allows them to pay for their expenses while saving for the future. Financial experts usually recommend the 50/30/20 rule as a monthly budgeting formula for freelancers and gig workers. The 50/30/20 rule is a straightforward formula that tells you exactly how much to put toward your monthly savings and living

expenses. The basic rule of thumb with the 50/30/20 rules is to divide your monthly income (after paying any taxes) into three spending categories: 50% for needs (such as monthly rent, groceries, education for children, utility bills, transportation, medical and short-term insurance), 30% for wants (entertainment, holidays, clothes, other luxury goods), and 20% for savings (including an emergency fund) or paying off any debt. 

You can manage your income more efficiently if you regularly balance your expenses across these three main spending areas. 

  1. Choose a suitable payment method. 

Being a freelancer or contractor in Africa means you can work for anyone regardless of where they are based in the world. However, one of the more challenging tasks for freelancers and gig workers who work with international clients is how to get paid. Billing and being paid in foreign currencies can be complicated, especially when bank charges and exchange rates differ. Today, freelancers can choose from a host of fintech platforms, like Grey, that caters to the demands and needs of African freelancers and gig workers by providing sophisticated yet affordable digital banking solutions, such as virtual banking accounts. 

A virtual banking account is an account that does not require the holder to have a physical address, something typically required for a bank account at a brick-and-mortar bank. Virtual accounts allow holders to access financial services from anywhere in the world. Freelancers can receive electronic payments from international clients and get paid in foreign currencies such as USD and EUR while converting their international funds to local currency. These virtual accounts are essential for freelancers, particularly those who frequently travel to different locations. These accounts help them manage cash flow, protect against identity theft and fraud, and keep track of their financial records. 

Freelancers can activate a virtual bank account within minutes. Customers can have instantaneous access to funds, make international payments, transfer funds and exchange between currencies. 

  1. Keep your business and personal finances separate. 

Every freelancer and self-employed person should consider separating their business and personal finances. Freelancers should use their business

accounts only for business expenses. Once they have a budget, they can determine how much money should be allocated to personal expenses. 

It is also a good idea for tax purposes to put aside some money monthly for self-employment taxes or other income taxes. In this regard, you will need to look at your unique tax situation in your country of origin to assess how much should be set aside. 

  1. Factor hidden costs into rates 

Usually, when freelancers and digital nomads start, they usually undercharge because they fail to consider all the things their former employer used to cover. Freelancers will need to set their rates high enough and secure enough work to pay for the benefits they need to provide. These hidden costs include medical and disability insurance, retirement savings, and taxes. 

  1. Create multiple and diverse income streams 

Freelancers and gig workers should try to diversify their income streams from different clients so that if they lose revenue, they have other clients to rely on. We suggest broadening your skill set and engaging in business networking to acquire more clients. 

A financial plan is crucial in decision-making, where uninformed decisions can cost you significantly. Working as a freelancer and gig worker entails extra responsibilities. A solid financial plan will allow you to continue your business without worries.

Idorenyin Obong is the CEO of fintech firm Grey, Africa.

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