Recently, I interviewed a business owner in America who does pretty much what I do – ghostwriting, copywriting, journalism, SEO and so on. She was surprised to hear I was from South Africa and I was equally surprised to hear her mention that she had several great clients from South Africa. It made me wonder, why did those clients not look for a freelance writer in South Africa? Why did they choose an overseas service provider instead?
She’s very good at what she does and those clients have made a great choice by hiring her. But I couldn’t somehow feel that the reason why they didn’t hire someone locally is because they couldn’t actually find them. Or, at least, they couldn’t find someone who actually knew what they were doing.
Then I thought about my own business. Most of my freelance writing clients, at the moment, are from the U.S. These clients are in the media and communications industries, and I wonder if I’m sometimes writing for clients of theirs who are actually based in South Africa! It seems strange for the work to go out of the country only to come back in, but this is very possible.
This has made me think about the way South Africans use the Internet and, even more, how ineffectively businesses are using it. One of my U.S. clients are an SEO content company who have an SEO strategy for clients that really, really works. As a result, they’ve got some pretty big clients! Sitting in meetings with them over Skype I’ve realised that the difference between how the U.S. makes the Internet work for business compared to South Africa is huge!
As a result, even when you do a Google search on google.co.za, you often find overseas businesses popping up first (unless you search for a business or individual’s name). I don’t know how much google.co.za is supposed to find local business, but it certainly does present more local results than google.com. The only time you really get a completely local result, however, is if you tell it to only search for pages in South Africa – but most people don’t know how to do this.
I’ve often looked for writing jobs on the Internet at South African sites but there’s not much to choose from. A site like Gumtree occasionally has work but it always leads to a dead end – you email the client through the system but only get silence in return. As a result, freelance writing in South Africa is more about competing with overseas writers than local writers. That’s the global market, but I think there’s lots of South African talent who can really help South African companies with their Internet presence; or truly help South African individuals with writing their book. We’re just more about networking the old fashioned way than the new way, perhaps.