Employment or freelancing?


You have graduated or will graduate in a year or two’s time. Whatever stage you are at, you either intend to get a job or start your own business. Before you make a decision though, it pays to be informed about what awaits you at your destination. This week, we engage four interviewees, who, from experience, discuss the pros and cons of employment and freelancing.

Caroline Nduta “Mika the artiste”
Age: 27 years 
Freelance Model

Caroline Nduta “Mika the artiste”, 27,

Caroline Nduta “Mika the artiste”, 27, Freelance Model. PHOTO| COURTESY

In 2010, Caroline was a second-year student at the University of Nairobi studying real estate. She, however, got pregnant, prompting her to drop out of school to take care of her son. At the beginning of 2013, she got a job as a sales executive in a real estate company. It is while here that her life took a turn which directed her into the world of modelling.

“I enjoyed my job and I didn’t think that I could do well in a field outside real estate, so when a friend who had signed up with a Nairobi-based modelling agency encouraged me to sign up, arguing that I had what it took, I was hesitant,” she explains.

Eventually, though half-heartedly, Caroline registered with the agency.

“Then, I was living with my parents, who had employed a house help, therefore I had someone to watch over my son while I worked. At the beginning of 2014 however, she quit, forcing me to stop working to look after my baby. It is also around this time that I started selling secondhand clothes to provide for my son, since I couldn’t solely depend on my parents.”

But her business wasn’t bringing in enough money, and to supplement the little she was making, she decided to give modelling a chance – between 2015 and 2016, she appeared in nine commercials which fetched between Sh 80, 000 and Sh,5000 each.

At the beginning of this year, Caroline decided to go sole after realising that being her own boss afforded her more freedom to choose jobs and paid more.

“I started by branding myself as a model, creative, photographer and a fashionista, but an old hand in this business advised me to focus on one area, the one I was most passionate about. I chose modelling.”

She adds,

“It hasn’t been an easy journey, in fact, several times, I considered looking for a job due to assured pay at the end of the month, but I decided to concentrate on building my brand in spite of the challenges. As a freelance model, I have been involved in five projects in the past nine months, fetching me about Sh80,000 in total.

If thinking about going freelance, this is what you need to know.

Advantages: You can work from anywhere. I mostly work from home and pitch to prospective clients through emails and Instagram. Freelancing allows you choose who to work for and determine how much to charge before signing a contract.

As a freelance model, I don’t have to share part of my earnings to an agency since I scout for my own clients.

Challenges: It is not easy to start a career as a freelance model if you don’t have clients you can refer to because most prospective clients want to know who you’ve worked for.

It is also not easy to build a brand from scratch in a field where competition is high. Since I went it alone, there are many times that I have had to model without pay to build my brand.

To supplement my income, I still sell second-hand clothes on the side.

Advice: Before you decide to go freelance, have at least a couple of clients you can depend on in case it takes longer than expected to build a decent clientele base. You will also need to step out of your comfort zone to make it. Also, there are many ways of making money, so doesn’t just rely on one job.

Name: Lucy Kung’u
Age: 52 years

Lucy Kung’u, 52 years, psychologist. PHOTO|

Lucy Kung’u, 52 years, psychologist. PHOTO| EVANS HABIL

Lucy got her first job when she turned 23, immediately after graduating from Kenyatta University in 1989 with a degree in Education. She points out that unlike now, there were plenty of jobs, and not many chose to go into self-employment.

“If you had a good academic background, there were many job opportunities, unlike these days that see graduates tarmacking for years in search of employment.”

After working as a high school teacher for about nine years, she worked as an education inspector, training schools on matters to do with safety, a job that she held onto from 1998 to 2005.

In between, she went back to school and enrolled for a master’s degree in counselling psychology at United States International University-Africa. She graduated in 2002, and in 2005, she decided to quit the education sector and practice psychology with a private firm.

In 2007, she realised that more and more people were embracing self-employment, and decided to give it a go as well.

“I quit my job, and for a year, I was my own boss. At the beginning, working from home fascinated me, and then I realised that it takes time to build a brand, hence a clientele. Also, business was unpredictable; one month, I would make good money, the other, barely anything,” she says, and adds,

“After much soul-searching, I eventually decided to look for a job because I felt I needed stability that self-employment was not offering me. There is also the fact that my son had just finished high school, and I was unsure whether I would manage to see him through university without a regular flow of income.

“According to Lucy, if you want to go into self-employment, you need to start building your brand before you graduate from university or college. You will also need to be audacious and steadfast.

On employment, she has a lot to say.

Advantages: There are two factors that I find attractive about employment. One, you are assured of a certain amount of money at the end of the month, enabling you to draw a budget. Second, most companies offer benefits such as insurance, pension and severance pay.

Challenges: Employment is limiting. As an employed psychologist, there are some institutions that I cannot work with because my job doesn’t allow me to.

Building my own brand while still under the salary blanket is also a struggle. Another challenge with most employees is that they get paid for the position they hold, not the scope of responsibilities in their hands.

Advice: Before you graduate, you need to have identified the path you want to take. Identify the needs in the society and work towards solving them. You also need to identify companies that you would like to work for and approach them for internship. Having a business plan at hand is also important, just in case you don’t get a job or the search takes longer than expected.

I would also advice young people to partner if they decide to go into self-employment. For instance, an accountant could team up with a friend with marketing skills, this way, they get to offer a comprehensive package to their clients.

Name: Austine Oduor
Age: 26 years
CPA student/businessman

Austine Oduor, 26 years, CPA

Austine Oduor, 26 years, CPA student/businessman. PHOTO| EVANS HABIL

After graduating from Mount Kenya University in 2014 with a bachelor of finance, Austine was ready for the job market, and also intended to continue with his studies once he got employed.

He got a job as a project manager with a local digital company in Nairobi barely three months after graduation. Though grateful for the ooportunity, the nature of his work left him no time to study. Many were the days that he was expected to work beyond official working hours. He would have stayed longer had the salary been enough to pay for his CPA classes, but it wasn’t.

“My staring salary was Sh25, 000. With that, I initially thought that I would be able to go back to school, but two months into the job, I realised that I barely had any money left after deducting fare, rent and food. After working for 10 months with nothing to show for it, I quit the job and decided to try out farming.

My intention was to start a business with the profit I would make from the farming business so that I could manage to study part time and still afford rent and food.”

In February 2016, I planted tomatoes in my family’s one acre piece of land in Nyanza County, and after four months, I earned a profit of Sh150,000. I then decided to try out sukuma wiki because there was a surplus of tomatoes in the market. These earned me a profit of Sh50,000.

With part of the Sh200,000 profit, I set up a movies and football viewing center in October 2016. Some of the equipment necessary for such a business include a television set, Dstv decoder and a generator, which I bought. The business fetches me an average of Sh10,000 a month, which enables me to pay for my CPA classes.

I have since employed someone who runs the business as I study. Once done with my exams in November this year, I intend to look for a job in which I can use my CPA skills.

Basing on my working experience, here are my views.

Advantages: I was working for an established company, and my position as a project manager helped to expand my intellectual skills. Having a regular flow of income every month was also comforting.

Challenges: Being employed offers less flexibility, such that you may lack time to study. In some cases, you may not be compensated adequately for the job you’re doing.

Advice: Take up a job in a company that is willing to help you grow, this way, should you decide to go into self-employment, you will have the skills you need to succeed. Also, don’t be afraid to take risks or try something new; I gave farming a try and succeeded, and also started a business that has enabled me to go back to school.

Samuel Mwangi 
Age: 25 years
Virtual Assistant

Samuel Mwangi, 25 years, virtual assistant.

Samuel Mwangi, 25 years, virtual assistant. PHOTO| WILLIAM OERI

“In 2012, I was working in a primary school in Murang’a county, earning Sh11,000 a month. I desired to go to college, but after deducting my expenses, I was barely left with enough to save. This prompted me to start researching on ways to earn extra cash on the side. This is how I discovered online freelance work.

To work as freelancer online, you need to have a laptop and have access to Internet. Since I didn’t have a laptop, I would use the school’s facilities during lunch break to bid for jobs. When I was not bidding, I was online learning how online sites work since I didn’t have anyone to look up to. With time, I managed to save some money and bought a second hand laptop for Sh15,000.

When my employer transferred me to Nairobi in 2013, there was so much work to do, I barely had time for my hustle. One day, I bid for work and earned Sh3,000 within a few hours. That was the motivation I needed to quit my unfulfilling job.

Early 2014, I started out as a freelance transcriptionist. As I was combing for other jobs posted on People per Hour and other platforms such as LinkedIn and Upwork, I discovered virtual assistant jobs. A virtual assistant offers administrative services remotely and is not limited to a particular assignment. Freelancing has given me an opportunity to do many things that would have been hard to do if I were in an 8am to 5pm job.

I have been able to go back to school, and even better, I get to determine how much I earn every month – I earn an average of Sh60,000 a month.

Advantages: As a freelancer, I work from the comfort of my home, meaning that I don’t spend on commute fare or have to dress formally every day, which can be expensive. It also gives me freedom because I get to determine when to work or relax. The fact that I work for different clients across the globe means that I get to learn a lot.

For instance, I was once tasked to organise an itinerary for a client travelling to California, in the US. I had to keep tabs with names of streets and hotels around the city, which was an adventure. Working online as a freelancer has opened up other opportunities for me because I am not limited to what jobs I can bid for.

Challenges: This job is risky because all business is conducted online, meaning that it is easy for a dishonest client to con you – some clients go quiet after you have delivered your work. To minimise such risks, one is advised to request some deposit before starting on the job and register with reputable platforms such as People per Hour.

Bearing in mind that I work from home, some of my neighbours who don’t know what I do for a living are suspicious of me. I have had to explain to some that the nature of my job does not require me to leave the house.

Advice: If you are employed and are in need of a side hustle, try online work. And no, I wouldn’t advise you to quit your job before you get a regular flow of clients.

Factors to consider when choosing between full time employment and freelancing

We talked to Pauline Kiraithe, a human resource expert with 21 years’ experience, and Michael Thotho of Centonomy, financial consultants that offer courses in personal finance.

Says Pauline:

Before you make a choice, you need to consider the opportunities available and examine factors such as flexibility, benefits, stability and security before deciding which path to take. Whereas freelance jobs offer you flexibility, they don’t offer the stability and security you get from employment that guarantees a salary at the end of the month.

Self-employment however challenges you to work hard because your earnings are purely dependent on your efforts. However, work is not guaranteed, and there could be lots of competition depending on your field. It may also take time to build your brand as a freelancer, however, salaried employment gives you a foundation in your career path and an opportunity to exercise your skills. The fact that you have a guaranteed income every month enables you to plan your budget and invest.

On the downside, your nature of work might be restrictive, such that you may not have time for other interests such as continuing with your studies.

Says Michael:

Security: Full-time employment comes with benefits such as a salary at the end of every month, an insurance cover and other perks depending on the company.

This might not be the case with freelancing. As a freelancer, you can find a good gig that promises to pay after, say, three months hence there is no promise of an income at the end of the month. This means that you have to figure out how to survive for those three months.

Flexibility: Your contract with your employer stipulates when you are supposed to clock in to work and when to clock out, however, being your own employer means that you dictate your working hours – you might not necessarily have to work daily from 8am to 5pm. Whatever you choose, ultimately, it boils down to balancing between what you will enjoy doing, what will fulfill you and also what will put food on the table.

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