By: Saj Shafique, Independent Creative Director and Designer

Freelancers, independent consultants, the people without full-time employment, what shall we call them? I like the term partners. 

I have been in the design industry for over 25 years, worked as an employee, led my agency, and currently working independently with agencies and directly with select clients.

Current perception of freelancers and why it needs to change

Freelancers in the MENA region are often used as an afterthought when agencies require work to be completed by an impossible deadline and within a ridiculous budget. I have heard many horror stories of agencies taking their own sweet time to pay, sometimes months after work has been delivered.

The flip side to this and in my personal experience I have worked with wonderful global and local agencies within the MENA region and internationally who prefer to refer to freelancers as partners, I have delivered some of my best work and been paid on time and in some cases earlier.

How to make it a fair playing field – Advice to freelancers

Working freelance is not for the faint-hearted, you can go months without any work, simply put! if you are not s**t hot at what you do you will struggle to get work.

Points to consider:

  1. Be a specialist and not a Jack of all trades
  2. Get a government approved license (mine is with
  3. Get VAT registered (this gives you further credibility)
  4. Create a portfolio that shows process and demonstrates your thinking ability
  5. Be active on social media
  6. Connect with ECDs, CDs and senior design professionals, network, network, network
  7. Always let agencies know your availability
  8. Never start any projects without an LPO (hence the importance of a government license)
  9. Never miss deadlines
  10. Never take on more than one freelance gig at a time (the quality of your work will lag) 
  11. Get a decent internet connection
  12. Always produce work that you are proud of
  13. Be professional 
  14. Don’t be shy to ask for LinkedIn recommendations on the work completed
  15. Respect the NDA/contracts you sign, never approach an agencies client 
  16. If an agencies client approaches you, refer them back to the agency
  17. The biggest of all – Don’t burn your bridges! 

How to make it a fair playing field – Advice to agencies

Working with new freelancers can be a little daunting, understandably as you don’t know them, simply invite the freelancer for a coffee and within 10 minutes you will know if they are the right fit for your project.

Points to consider:

  1. Get to know new freelancers first and understand their capabilities and experience
  2. Build a database of quality freelancers
  3. Work with licensed freelancers (if not, then expect the jazz to go with it)
  4. Have a budget approved prior to hiring 
  5. Treat freelancers as partners that add value and not as an after thought
  6. Provide an LPO before you expect the work to start
  7. Be fair on payment terms and stick by them (We all have bills to pay)
  8. If you expect overtime and freelancers to work on weekends, make sure your budget allows
  9. Provide LinkedIn recommendations on work well done (We are all in need of good karma)
  10. The most controversial – (Allow freelancers to showcase their work once in public domain, if they are good enough to work on your projects and make your agency money then surly, they should be able to showcase their work crediting the agency, let’s be a little human)

Fear is born from insecurity, be confident of your brand and what you offer, remember freelancers rely on agencies for work and agencies on freelancers to get the work done,  so there is no need for fear, it should be a mutually rewarding partnership.  

Moving forward

I strongly believe if the above points are considered from both sides, then the freelance market in the MENA region can blossom, this will also encourage more design and strategy professionals to consider freelancing and for agencies to have more options on resources and be able to further trust freelancers with their projects.