How Florence M. Went from Being a White-Collar Employee to Earning $800 a Month as an Online Writer (The Ups and Downs of Freelancing)
- April 29, 2021
With the recent pandemic and poor state of the economy, many people are in urgent need of money – and fast. It’s part of the reason people are more susceptible to the get rich quick propaganda, online gurus spread about freelancing and online work. While it is true that freelancing can be profitable, and that it has its advantages, the success is not instant. Like any other career, it takes skill, time, effort and proper planning to reach the level of success online gurus preach about. Those who have managed to succeed as freelancers can tell you they’ve had their fair share of trials and failures.
I recently interviewed Florence, who has been a freelancer for about four years now. Her journey to earning an average of $800 in a month from freelancing, has been one of many obstacles and starting over. A clear depiction of the ups and downs that exist even in freelancing.
As with most writers, Florence’s passion for writing stemmed from her love for Literature. Given her background, she was raised with a strong foundation in languages. Growing up, they mostly spoke English and Kiswahili at home. Her father also taught her poems that she would later go and present. As a result, Florence became fascinated with literature and that fueled her knack for writing.
Despite her writing skill, becoming a freelance writer wasn’t the first thing she thought ofimmediately after high school. As an all-rounder, she had many interests. At some point, it was her dream to specialize in Forensic science. She ended up working for various organizations using her experience and skill as an accountant. Due toa continued bad experience with formal employment, she turned her back on the white-collar world for good. From there, she ventured into other areas of interest, like fashion. She also attempted gaining new skills like transcription, eventually settlingon being an online writer, and slowly growing to who she is today.
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 herself. 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.
When and how did you first learn about freelancing and online work?
I knew about it from my cousin’s neighbor. He was their friend and had an academic account. This was in 2012. We were walking around with my youngest cousin, that’s when we passed by his friend’s place. We found him working on his laptop. My cousin introduced us, saying his friend did academic writing.
On inquiring what it was about, he explained that they helped students with their studies. I asked him to teach me how it’s done, but unfortunately, he was busy at the time. He told me it was a low season, so there weren’t a lot of jobs and he would also be traveling soon. So, I didn’t gain a lot of information from him, but my interest was piqued. The next day, I tried searching, “how to make money online”. What I got were survey and data entry jobs, there wasn’t a lot of helpful information. So, I decided it was better to venture into other interests.
Were you doing anything else before learning about online work?
Yes, I tried several things. I am an all-rounded person, so I have a lot of different interests. After high school, I didn’t want to be idle, so I volunteered at a community-based NGO in Rongai. That was in 2010. I was assisting the accountants there with filing, and running errands like going to the bank. It became evident that I had a knack for the job, so my dad suggested that I should study International Accounts.
That’s how I ended up at KCA enrolled in ACCA in 2011. It was a professional course for International accounting. If things went accordingly, the plan was to complete the course and get an internship. The course was quite costly, however, and being a professional course, it wasn’t eligible for government funding like HELB. That meant my mom had to pay for it from her pocket. My dad wasn’t around a lot, so my mom usually took care of everything.
For the first year, things went smoothly. It wasn’t until 2012 when finances became an issue. By that time, I had sat for some of the exams, so I at least had some form of certification. Because I wasn’t going to be in school, I thought it was best to start thinking out of the box. That was the time I decided to visit my cousin in Juja.
What did you do next after learning about Online work for the first time?
I didn’t start writing immediately. As I said, although I was interested, I didn’t have enough information to pursue it. So, I did a lot of things in between.
Immediately after my visit, I ventured into fashion instead. I started a Facebook page called L&L International and got clients from my mom’s workplace in Afya center. The business didn’t work out too well. Clients wouldn’t pay on time, so I was unable to get more stock.
Around mid-2013, my dad came back, so I was able to go back to school for about a semester before he disappeared again. After that, I got employed several times. The first job was at Afya center. They were expanding to different counties and they were interviewing different people with my skill set. I went for the interview on the 27th of December. The call backwas at beginning of 2014, when I was placed in Kilifi. The work environment there was not conducive, due to a lot of office politics. Our department was slowly being cut off, by the new director. After about one and a half years of frustrations working there, I decided to quit and move back to Nairobi.
My second employment was in an Organization around Mombasa road. My dad was the one who connected me to the job when he came back around mid of 2016. Like Kilifi, there were a lot of office politics, and no growth opportunities, despite how well I performed. I was frustrated and unhappy, so I ended up quitting in 2017. My last employment was in 2018 at a school owned by a white guy. I got the job through a family friend. I worked there as a clerk. The white guy turned out to be a racist and greedy man who insulted and harassed his employees at will. Given the bad experiences I had had with formal employment, after resigning from this job, I swore off office work. That was when I turned my focus to online work, around mid-2018.
What freelancing jobs have you done and when did you start?
I started online work in between the different employment periods, so around 2015. Before going to Kilifi, I had accidentally bumped into an old primary friend in Odeon. As we were catching up, he told me he does transcription. He had an account with Transcribe Me where you get paid $25 for an hour. I didn’t contact him until later in 2015, just before quitting my job in Kilifi. He told me to join a Facebook group called Awesome Transcribers. That’s where I started getting exposure since people there were doing different things.
At the time I believed in having mentors, I still do, but now I know better. I started out working under a lady I foundthrough the group. After doing two jobs for her, I realized it was better to have my transcribing account.So, I got a Transcribe Me account, whereI made an overall $28. After three months I stopped.
Afterward, I worked with I guy I knew through my sister, who gave out writing jobs. At the time he paid 500kshs for 1500 words. That for me was my lightbulb moment, I thought this was a great place to start online work. I worked with him for a month in 2016, earning 3,500kshs, before my second employment. I contacted him again in 2018 That was the time I got the job in Mombasa road. After quitting the job, I tried contacting the guy, but found he had changed his rates. Instead, I went back to Transcribe Me and other side hustles that were paying well at the time.
I ended up contacting him again in 2018 after my last employment. I accepted to work with his new rates. After that, we had a falling out when he withheld my payments, so I stopped accepting work from him. Coincidentally, at that time, I had met a friend of mine by chance. I had introduced her to transcription earlier on and she was now making a decent amount of money on Rev. So,I registered for a Rev account,that I used for a while. I gave up on the account when I got my first high-paying writing contract in 2019. That was around the time I started focusing on the International freelancing groups on Facebook.
When can you say you found stability after becoming a full-time freelancer?
Around 2019. After the fall out with my sister’s schoolmate, I became more mindful about stabilizing my online work. I didn’t like taking chances, and I knew the information wasn’t going to fall on my lap, I had to go look for it. So, I started focusing more on the groups on Facebook. That was when I came across some helpful writing related groups.
I started networking, getting different perspectives from different people. As you know, the more you network the more you get to know. I got a local client from one of the Facebook. He was doing law articles, which needed quite a bit of research. Still, I managed to do it and I was impressed with the quality of the work. So, I thought of trying to get my clients, which led me to the international Facebook groups. From there I kept pushing myself, testing boundaries trying to improve my work. I saw a lot of potential from the clients I got, so, I tried forming a team. I must say I was disappointed by the reality of the skill set that was available. I tried training two people but eventually retained only one.
How much were you getting paid after becoming a full-time freelance writer?
I became a full-time freelancer in 2018. At that time, I was working with my sister’s schoolmate. I earned 15,000kshs that first month. That was before our falling out the following months.
In 2019, after joining the international Facebook groups the first client I got, paid $600 per month. My second client was paying $25 per 1000 words which was almost double what the first clients were paying. By April, I was juggling three clients and earning an average of $1,000-$1,500 per month.
I joined ProBlogger the next month with the help of a writer I met on one of the platforms. Using hisadvice, I ended up with another client who was paying $100 per 1000 words.Although I only worked with them until November, when they decided to reinvest their resources.
Did Covid affect you? How so?
Yes, it did.
The highest paying client as I mentioned decided to cut down their content writing investment and focus on other areas. For the second client, the work was reduced and the flow became inconsistent. I ended up dropping the first client, but that’s more to do with work politics rather than Covid. That was around November.
In any case, by December 2019, through my networking, I realized that I needed to take some time off to invest in myself. I wanted to improve my skills and build my portfolio. My goal was to venture into content marketing and join private companies from an entry-level position.
How was your 2020 like given the pandemic and having one client?
I tried starting an affiliate site, but Amazon slashed the commission rate. Since it didn’t align with my goals at the time, I focused on studying and joined content marketing groups. That was my main goal for 2020. The good thing was even with one client, I had enough savings to cater for the rent and bills, so I wasn’t worried.
I started out doing some free courses in Digital Marketing and Content marketing. Those courses turned out to be a bit shallow, so I decided to try another content marketing certification. Afterward, I did a course on inbound marketing, an enlightening course about how all the elements of marketing are related. I kept doing different courses all through the year. The end goal for me was getting long-term security. I wanted to establish myself in the Digital marketing world and create a full-proof business. That way I won’t have to depend on anyone offering me a job.
What advice would you give to someone looking to venture into freelance work?
The first piece of advice I would give is, have a learning mindset. Having certain qualifications doesn’t mean that you’re the best at what you do. Always be ready to listen and take in criticism. Take time to observe how things are done so you can learn.
The second piece of advice does not conform to what other people tell you. Explore, get perspectives from different experts. Test your boundaries and take risks. Also, make time to learn. Always look for ways to improve yourself, whether it’s listening to podcasts, courses, or joining different groups. Ensure you develop yourself
One last thing, ensure you mind your health. Try exercising during your breaks and maintaining a healthy diet. If you can, also try balancing online with offline work like a small business. You never know what can happen.
Making it as a freelancer doesn’t depend on your degree or certification. It depends on your skill and the effort you put in. If you want to succeed as a freelancer, then here are a few pointers to take home:
- The more people you network with the more exposure you get. Find out what others are doing and how that can help you improve.
- Always end a contract on a good note. You never know where you will meet the clients again. So, ensure there is no bad blood between you.
- Be prepared for anything. Whether it’s a certain skillset or joining a particular platform, try being prepared for it where possible. That way you won’t miss out on great opportunities.
- Don’t take rejection negatively. Use it as a sign that you need to improve and let it build you. Ask yourself what you can do better, and try again.
- Never conform to other people’s mentalities. Always be open to new opportunities or ventures.
- Have a writer’s contract. It makes it easier to deal with clients, especially when it comes to issues of payments. Note that certain platforms like Upwork, have systems in place that protect the writer. In such cases, a writer’s contract is not necessary.
- Keep testing yourself. Never get comfortable with your accomplishments. Always gauge and see where you can improve to get to a higher level. Get out of your comfort zone and take risks.