How Dee Gathoni Makes $450 a Month as a Freelance Writer (While Still Working a Full-Time Job)
- March 1, 2021
Perhaps the most popular topic we’ve all come across lately, especially since the epidemic, is working online. Many people are now attracted by the “shiny apple” that is making money working from home — and for a good reason.
But online work isn’t a get-rich-quick type of “thing” as preached by online gurus. You need a plan and strategy to achieve success, especially when you’re employed full-time. (Yes, you can make it online as a freelance article writer while still working a full-time job).
In my phone interview with Dee Gathoni, she’s making over $400 (around KSH 40,000+) each month as an online freelance writer — and yet she’s working 9 to 5. What makes her story interesting is that she balances both online work and her full-time day job very well.
Dee had a knack for writing since way back in primary school. Her well-written English compositions were a staple for great writing in her class, and she became a favorite (among other students) for her excellent writing skills and enviable English scores.
In high school, she’d absorb herself in novels and (literature) set books, which further piqued her writing interests — that would later shape her into a passionate creative writer. She’d write CVs for offline clients, and even, at some point, write a business plan for a financial Insitutions, and more.
Besides writing, Dee used to sell holiday destinations, financial institution policies as well as export artifacts overseas, and more. Her enthusiasm to write and earn as a freelance writer — and chasing after her career goals — has made her who she is today. Here’s my interview with her.
Below you’ll find most of the questions and answers that were given during the phone interview. But please note that these are put-together notes from the phone interview recording fleshed out for your reading. We covered much more in this interview than what you’ll find below.
The person portrayed in this interview is not their real name. She sought anonymity for the sake of protecting her current job. But the story and experiences given are real. At her request, we’ve also withheld the names of organizations/institutions she worked for at the time.
How did you find out about freelance writing? And when exactly was that?
The writing bug seriously bit me in 2013. I wanted to learn more about writing but I didn’t know how or where to start.
Curious, I Google-searched “online writing” and things took a positive turn for me as I came across a website brimming with informative content about freelance writing and more.
Excited with my newfound go-to resource, I immediately subscribed to the site’s newsletter. And that‘s how I came to know about online freelance writing — it was simply by chance.
What were you doing before learning about freelance writing?
I was working in several industries at the time including the Timeshare industry — where my role as a salesperson was to market holiday homes in Kenya’s coastal region.
I also ventured into the financial industry where I sold policies for a living. I even worked in management at a renowned financial institution for years.
It’s while working in the financial industry that a strong desire to write came over me, and I chanced upon the online freelance writing info-filled website.
Although I was employed, my love for writing kept pulling on my heartstrings. So, in August 2013 I trained as a writer and wrote for my blog in September. Then in October, I landed my first freelance writing gig thanks to my trainer.
What type of articles were you writing? And how much was the pay?
I was writing health-related articles (specifically on building muscles, psychology, etc.) Also, there are times I wrote e-book reviews (which was a different cup of coffee, if I may say).
As for the rates, my client’s pay was $5 for a 1,000-word post — never mind I had a steady and continuous work volume. I could write 1,000-2,000 words seven days a week. And this went on for days. That was still back in 2013.
So, you worked on a writing project on the sideline while employed, how did that work out for you?
Everything was smooth. I balanced both because my work didn’t confine me in an office. It was field-based instead — and with minimal supervision.
So I could easily write articles in the morning hours and deliver during the day, and still handle my work-related tasks. I created a solid schedule to help me manage full-time work that included waking up at 4 AM.
This went on for five months (Oct 2013 to Feb 2014) until when my manager called me out for my writing on the sidelines while employed.
I was the one who told my manager about it — even shared my website with them (to my eternal regret). I was later forced to sign a new contract after the “incident” clearly stating that I shall cease working on other jobs — other than what I was hired for — while on company hours from here on out.
Did you quit writing after signing the new contract? And what happened to your writing after that?
Yes, I did quit writing for my online client.
I lost interest in freelance writing entirely. The idea of not being able to write and earn from the craft was soul-crushing.
I chose to now concentrate full-time on my 9 to 5, after all, someone was always looking over my shoulder — and my laptop closely monitored for “suspicious activities”.
I finally quit freelance writing for about three years (that is, 2014, 2015, and 2016). Quitting was an easy decision to make since freelance writing wasn’t as lucrative as my job anyway.
Please note that although I quit writing, I did help a friend create a roadmap for a financial institution in mid-2014. That meant writing materials for days while putting my job on the line. It was a risky move but with too hefty a pay to ignore.
So what happened in between those three years (2014, 2015, and 2016)?
So much happened during this period. First off, I was able to focus more on my job and achieve my targets. Then I got promoted to branch manager.
You could say I was in my happy place, but after some time I was very displeased with working in the finance industry.
So, in November 2015, I got a life coach to advise me on the way forward. I’m not sure the move helped but I eventually quit working in May 2016. At the time, I was earning relatively well. I wanted more from life than just being employed and earning commissions.
You’re now out of work and not writing on the sideline, did you have a new source of income to help you survive?
Yes and no.
I had accumulated share dividends with one of the financial institutions — not to mention pension payments and my employee contribution (more like savings). But I never requested the withdrawal of these funds.
I never took out the contributions for my personal use. I instead took some cash from my other savingsin mid-2016 and started a small boutique.
The business was my main source of income at the time.By December 2016, I was at the bottom of the barrel, and with numerous debts to my name. I even adopted a new lifestyle change where I moved into a cheaper house to make things work for me.
Did you ever get back to writing?
Yes. I had earlier tried to write in 2016 for my blog but I failed at my efforts. I was nursing a severe case of writer’s block, but I wasn’t even aware of it. I wasn’t even aware that the term “writer’s block” exists. I was that green.
But in January 2017, I went back to writing full-time. I went ahead to quit the business as it was taking too much of my time and at the same time writing was starting to pick up.This time I went hunting for clients in all avenues including Facebook groups, content mills (such as iWriter.com), and so on.
Did your hunting for potential clients yield results?
Yes, it did
I first tried my luck on iWriter.com but the experience was a little uncomfortable for me. The delivery time for jobs (around 2 hours) was too difficult to beat. So I gave up right away.
However, my biggest break came from Facebook. I remember applying for jobs on popular writers groups on Facebook and bagging more than one local client at a go.
I also recall falling out with a client I found on Facebook, due to “traces of plagiarism” in an article I wrote for them.
I went on to bag another client, still on Facebook, whom we worked with for quite some time. He was a constant client who, besides being reliable, also paid me very well — around $10 for a 1,000-word book review. Sadly, his pool of jobs dried up.
So what was your next move?
I sought employment to avoid my cash reserves from drying up. So in November 2017, I got a day job in an auditing firm. And I doubled up as Human Resource (HR) and admin in the firm.
Was freelance writing still on your radar?
Yes, of course. In February 2018, I joined Upwork.
My experience on this platform was rather good. I’d bid for writing jobs regularly and score a few small-time clients.
For a while, things went on well until my account was flagged and later shut down. I wasn’t aware that requesting a client to pay you outside the realms of Upwork was against their terms and conditions. I was just a newbie and this was an innocent mistake on my part.
Frustrated, I didn’t bother to sign up on Upwork again. Instead, I went back to school and enrolled in evening studies.
But one semester later, I rejoined Upwork again. And this time I was so determined to make things work, and for a good reason.
What’s the highest amount you’ve ever earned on Upwork?
There’s this one time I was paid $195 for a single blog post of not more than 1,700 words. I was reeling with excitement. But it was a one-time project.
Are you working on other writing gigs on the Upwork platform?
Certainly. My current “bread and butter” client pays me on average $12 for a 1,000-word post. And my work volume is consistent as I’ve been with this client for a year and a half.
How much do you make in a month as a freelance writer?
On average, and on a good month, I make between $450 and $600 a month. I rarely go beyond $400 on my lowest months.
What’s your advice to someone with a day job longing to work as a freelance writer?
Have a soft landing. Don’t quit your job just yet in the hope of making so much more as a freelance writer. Don’t listen to online gurus that hint at quitting your job right away to venture online.
Working online is not a magic bullet and it’s not for everyone. Have some savings or another stream of income (if possible) before you venture into freelancing in general. Otherwise, you’ll fail before you get started. I still have my day job despite working as a freelance online writer.
Another thing: Learn how to multitask as you’ll be required to meet tight deadlines almost all the time. Although you’re working 9 to 5, treat freelancing like a full-time job. When I got a job, I integrated online writing into my life. Lastly, be consistent and clients will value your work.
If you’re going to succeed at online freelancing while still working a full-time job, you have to learn some important lessons from this interview — and how they’ll be significant in your life:
- Don’t give your part-time work a part-time effort. Just because you’re doing it on the sideline doesn’t mean it deserves little to no attention. Online work is REAL work so treat it like regular work.
- Always deliver quality work. Bring your A-game to the table and deliver work that your client will admire.
- Don’t bite more than you can chew. Don’t be too greedy and take more work only to under-deliver. Take work you can deliver on time while you get on with your full-time job.
- Improve your writing skills. Read, read, read, and most importantly write regularly. Don’t stay idle just because a guru said only work for X rate. Strive to look for more work. If you want to improve your writing skills today, enroll in the professional article writing course by Wingu Digital Training.
- SAVE. Have financial discipline with your online earnings and save to break off the “feast and famine” cycle that’s too common in the freelancing world.
- Work 2X harder. Online gurus often paint a picture of how online work can make you easy money. It sure can. But it takes hard work, proper planning, and a great strategy.
- Give freelancing writing a chance. If you have a way with words or are good at writing CVs, literature, essays, poems, screenplays, or anything related, try online freelance writing.
- Start small. Don’t fall for the hype that online freelance writing requires costly equipment and enrolling in high-priced courses. Forget all that. Just get started because that’s what matters the most.
- Work toward attracting consistent clients. Aim to over-deliver on your online work and meet deadlines always. That way, your online clients will find it easier to retain you for consistent work — attracting them for longer.
- Think outside the box. Develop a proactive attitude in everything that you do online. There are several ways to attracting more clients and jobs, but it’s up to you to find those ways. Think outside the box, be creative, go above and beyond and you’ll attract (lucrative) clients.