The rise and rise of freelancing in Africa. It’s happening! From Kenya, to Nigeria, to Egypt to South Africa, more and more Africans are jumping onto the freelancing bandwagon. And to give this wider perspective, I decided to interview Bamidele Onibalusi, a succesful Nigerian freelance writer who I first knew of in January 2016. I can’t remember how I stumbled onto his site but after I had read a couple of blog posts there, I knew I had stumbled upon something totally fresh! His story happens where passion, drive and focus meet.
I won’t keep you waiting. Bamidele, oga 🙂 Take it away.
How did you start freelancing?
Thank you so much for the opportunity, Sheeroh. I became a freelance writer accidentally in 2010. I had been blogging for about a year then, and I built my blog to a stage where I was regularly getting over 10,000 visitors monthly yet I wasn’t making any money.
Out of the blue, someone contacted me to ask if I can create content for a group of websites he owned – apparently, he had read some of my articles and felt that I could help him.
I agreed, and I asked him how much he was willing to pay. I’d have been content if he had offered $30 to $40 per article, but he offered $100. He became my first client, and he made me realize that freelance writing can be very profitable. Ever since then, I have never looked back.
What was your early freelance writing life like? Do you remember some of those first assignments?
Yes, I can remember clearly. After getting my first client, I got a few other clients that gave me work and paid fees ranging from $30 to $80 per work. I worked for clients in the telecommunications niche, in the weight loss niche and in other specialized niches. They mostly wanted me to guest blog on their behalf at the time.
I didn’t have the kind of knowledge and experience I do now, so at that time, I believed that I had to put in a lot of work to earn a lot of money (instead of simply negotiating wisely). I wrote as much as 80 articles (sometimes more) for clients in a month, in my early days.
What was the hardest lesson you learned when you began to freelance?
That your freelance business is only as strong as your confidence level. People will treat you how you allow them to. In the early days, I put up with some nonsense from clients that I shouldn’t have put up with.
I had a client then that would compare me to some of his other writers who were more than willing to accept his low pay. He told me over and over again that he paid his writers $30 or even less per article and that the $50 he was paying me was a good deal.
I was stubborn (I always had been), and I regularly argued – even fought – with this particular client. I got a better deal than most of his writers, but it was still a bad deal. In hindsight, I would have fired him and worked to get better opportunities.
Is there anything you would do differently if you had the chance to start over?
Yes. I would position myself well – by clarifying the value I can offer to clients, and by making it clear that I am a premium writer who only accepts premium rates. I would also negotiate effectively with my clients, right from the get go.
What would you advise a newbie who’s afraid that he won’t get enough work as a non-native English speaker?
Believe in yourself, and go out and work. If you work, yes you could fail, but you would at least have a 50 percent chance of success. If you do nothing, though, you have a zero percent chance of success.
However, I will also strongly advise the non-native English speaker to work on his writing skills. I get emails all the time from non-native English speakers who cannot write a proper sentence and can’t even correctly spell common words – but they frequently ask for ways to get freelance writing jobs. It doesn’t work that way.
Clients are not fools. Develop the skills first, and, once you do, realize that being a non-native English speaker does not make you inferior to native English speakers. Once you have the skills and can give clients what they want, then command what you deserve!
I follow your blog and your wonderful comments in your Facebook Group. You are so focused! How do you keep the momentum going?
Thank you! People tell me I’m so focused all the time – although I’m not sure I believe that. There’s still so MUCH to be done. In regards to how I keep the momentum going, first, GOD is my strength and I am nothing without Him.
Second, being clear about my goals and focusing on them has done wonders for my productivity and focus. Oh, and I work really well under pressure, too; that’s one of my super powers!
Interesting! I work horribly under pressure. You are passionate about cold pitching as opposed to finding work on freelance sites. How did you decide to focus on the former?
The former simply works. I love it because when you cold pitch a client, they are reading your email and your email alone at a time.
On freelance sites, however, they are probably reading many pitches alongside yours, from people who are willing to significantly underbid you. That could seriously reduce your perceived value.
How can freelance writers survive the financial ups and downs of freelancing?
Keep savings. Invest in other streams of income. In my case, I have a thriving offline farming business that I built through the proceeds of my freelance business.
I have also set up a system in which I have 24/7 light (thanks to a functioning solar system), water and, by God’s grace, secured accommodation.
This saves me a lot of money; those are all things I don’t have to worry about. I don’t have to fuel the generator regularly to get work done. I don’t have to deal with any landlord or pay rent.
If I get really broke, I only need to worry about renewing my internet. Having other streams of income also gives me some sort of leverage.
So my advice is this: Get the basic life needs sorted first when you are earning well; light, water, accommodation for life or for a long time, etc.
This eases a lot of pressure on you – because a lot of times, being crippled by fear of the uncertainty is enough to bring a freelancer (or any self-employed person for that matter) down.
Also, diversify your freelance income streams; don’t rely on one client. Have a lot of clients, and be ready to market some more if your client number starts to drastically reduce.
Any big plans that you have coming up in the near future?
This depends on what “big” means. I have ambitions, yes, but I’m not too bothered about the future. That said, I see serious potential in farming and you should watch out for me in that industry!
Nice! What are your thoughts on the future of freelancing in Africa?
I think the future is good. Africans are increasingly starting to see that being a non-native English speaker doesn’t limit them, and the number of Africans using the internet is increasing at a rapid pace.
“Local” commerce (Africans with Africans) is also gaining momentum, so the future is indeed, bright.
I concur. What are your final words to African freelancers?
Just because your skin color isn’t white, or because you aren’t from America or the UK, or because English isn’t your native language does not mean you can’t earn a good income as a freelance writer.
It also doesn’t mean you are inferior in some way because you aren’t.
First, work on your skills. This way, people can’t disparage you by virtue of where you are from. Then be bold as a lion and demand what you’re worth. Often, people won’t give it to you if you don’t demand it.
Amazing! Thanks for your powerful insights, Bamidele.