The Challenges Facing Freelancers in the Creative Industries

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Article by: Peter Gatuna

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There is no doubt that there is an employment crisis in Kenya today. Even though the entire country seems content to skirt around the topic as part of “bigger” issues, we all know what’s what. Is it that we simply don’t understand the problem? Even I seek to skirt it as well and talk, instead, of the plight of freelancers. 

Freelancers are people who offer up their skills to others as self-employed workers. Simply because any successful freelancer worth their salt starts a business to consolidate their work soon enough, a majority of those who are still actively looking for work is youthful. These are people who are a few years out of school who plunge into the economy, come what may, and slug it out.  

Freelancing is not for the faint-hearted. It tests your patience, your perseverance, and your limits. So let’s talk a little about this world, shall we? Because, for all you can say about unemployed youths – they are lazy, choosy, whatever – you cannot say of freelancers. 

Money problems

First off, it is incredibly hard to hack it as a freelancer. Unlike when you land a position in a company, you are all on your own. You have to figure out the ropes of your industry without the help of more experienced mentors. 

I hear the employed call them bosses. 

So, naturally, you have to work very hard to be better. You make the internet your friend and learn everything you can from those who are gracious enough to share. 

And this is not to mention anything of landing gigs. Unless you have been doing it awhile and have managed to find a handful of regular clients, the world of the freelancer is a barren, unforgiving world. Gigs are few and far between, so that you always struggle to pay rent, sometimes even putting food on the table.

To build up your resume, you will almost always have to take a few unpaid gigs first. While there are not very many businesses looking for freelancer to fill employment gaps, there is no shortage of firms looking for good workers in return for “exposure”.  

But the greatest money problem is when you dedicate yourself to a (really good) gig, only to have the employer block you. Roughly two in two freelancers have had to deal with this very depressing fate. The impunity with which these so-called employers defraud freelancers of their hard earned money speaks to the lack of oversight in this area. 


For a freelancer, access means everything. You need access to pitch your services to would-be employers. And even though every door does not always end with a contract signing, it goes a long way. Even when you interact with clients remotely and work the same way, access is everything.  

Before you can get that assignment, you need to access the client. To gain access, you need recognition. To get recognition, you need access. This is the vicious cycle you must endure before you gain enough experience to be sought-after by clients – if that at all.  

In the entertainment industry, doors here are locked tighter than a vault. The endemic close-mindedness of the industry means that sometimes you can send all the emails you want; call all the front desks you want, but you still won’t get anywhere. On that note, we should all give Riverwood a round of applause for being the most self-sufficient film industry in the world.   

Career growth 

Because freelancers lack mentors, their career advancement takes a massive hit. You learn through trial, error, and self-evaluation, with limited opportunities for growth. And if you lack business skills, well, your goose is cooked. Because everything you do as a freelancer is 100% on you, even when your joblessness drives you to take on ill-advised and audacious projects.

There are no job titles to be won in freelance. Just milestones like; “this month I can afford to pay rent.” “Oh, thank God I can finally eat” – that kind of thing. Career growth is, quite honestly, a myth. What a freelancer must care for, with singular focus and no break, is making money.     


With all the things working against you, you need to be made of sterner stuff to keep your morale high despite the challenges. You must learn to grin and bear disappointments without ever letting it get to heart.   

And most importantly, when, even after you do everything right and you end up getting replaced with a more experienced freelancer, you have to check yourself before sending that scathing email, take a deep breath, and delete all. 

Lack of opportunity

The situation is no different in other segments of the industry. Even without the current youth bulge in Kenya (and Africa as a whole), competition for job positions remains high. In Kenya and Africa, it is very much a case of too many workers and not enough work. 

And even though youths start job-hunting eagerly and enthusiastically, the lack of opportunity soon stymies this eagerness. To be supplanted, in its place, resentment and hopelessness. After all, not everyone was made for the treacherous world of business and self-employment. We couldn’t possibly all be freelancers, it is tough enough for those who try this route.  

The solution

It is very disconcerting that, in the 21st century, we still can’t see how well-endowed we are with resources. The whole world is waxing poetic over the youth bulge in Africa and the opportunity it presents, yet we remain so hopelessly clueless over what to do with it.  

Thankfully, I have a simple solution. A solution that does not require any action from our electorate or the government – we all know how that goes. Business owners must be the ones to open their doors not just to the youth, but also to youth ideas. There are a lot of good ideas out here, and they require only a little capital to transform our society for the better.