Any freelancer with skin in the game will tell you that freelancing is not for the weak. From the seemingly never-ending stress of seeking clients in a wildy competitive market to the hassle of meetings and deadlines, freelancers have seen it all.
Opeyemi*, like a lot of her peers, has dealt with all of that. Unlike her peers, however, this 26-year-old writer and marketing consultant has done the unusual. She has increased her earnings by 500% in just five years. She tells us (and other freelancers) how she did it.
How did you become a freelancer?
I started writing professionally in 2016 after realising, in my final year, that becoming a lawyer wasn’t for me. While researching how to freelance, I came across a page that offered some resources for earning as a freelance writer. After studying the materials provided, I created a website and started pitching stories to known publications.
Did you get published?
Yes, I eventually did. Let me add that writing for publications was never the goal. It was a means to an end. I didn’t want to earn in naira, but I knew the foreign companies I was shooting my shots at would need references.
As a freelance writer, it’s helpful to have published work that solidifies your claims as a professional. By the time I got published in The Entrepreneur and Huffington Post, I already had a niche in health and wellness.
How did you get these foreign companies to hire you?
It was a lot of cold emails and reaching out to their marketing teams. Currently, a significant amount of my work comes from referrals, but in my first year of freelancing, I sent emails to about 500 companies, got rejected a lot and didn’t even hear back from most of them.
Freelancing has taught me patience and resilience. I started in August 2016 but didn’t get my first gig until November — after three months of religiously looking for clients.
What was your first main client like?
A biotech/healthcare company commissioned me to write health articles and mini-papers for them. They paid me $2,000 to write ten briefs focusing on health conditions that scientists were using stem cells to treat. They were my first and one of my best clients. I ended up working with them for over a year. In that time, I made $20,892.
Wow! Were they your only clients at the time?
No. I had other clients. As a freelancer, you should never rely solely on one company. Till today, I still maintain multiple clients; I never stop marketing myself and my services.
How did you transition from being a law student to a health and wellness writer?
Health and wellness is something anybody with good research skills can do. Knowing the proper places to research and credible sources to cite makes a difference. My role required that I write about medical devices, healthcare tech and other life science-related issues.
After two years of writing about healthcare, I branched into the pharmaceutical industry. It wasn’t something I just woke up to do, it was a gradual process. Currently, I don’t even write about health and wellness anymore, I mostly write for pharmaceutical and life science companies.
Also, I’m not a technical writer. Mostly, I write marketing content. Sometimes, the companies I work with pair me with a subject matter expert or product manager.
How did you increase your earnings over the years?
I kept tweaking my rate cards. I reviewed and increased my rates twice or thrice a year. As I got better, the value of my work kept increasing.
I have realised that most freelancers get stuck earning the same amount because the first few companies that hired them lowballed them and that affected their confidence. So in many ways, I am grateful for my first company. They paid me well for the job and it gave me the much-needed boost to move forward with confidence. My projected earnings for this year, 2021, is $120,000.
Whoa. From just writing?
No. I’ve added marketing consulting to my service offerings, and hope to do more of it than writing. What this means is, I am now involved in developing and executing marketing strategies and campaigns, and not just writing content. This is a very recent development. I needed to increase my earnings.
I currently have several consultation packages, all dependent on the needs of my clients. A new client I landed at the beginning of the year paid $10,000 for an internal communication project. I have also been able to build trust with several clients who then recommend me for roles, so I never have to do as much as I did when I started.
Any advice for beginner freelancers?
Be consistent with your work. There is no magic. You need to keep at what you do. Know what your work is worth and review your rates accordingly. Also, there are a bunch of things you can build your skills on that can earn you a lot of money: graphics design, building games, all sorts of things that don’t require you to be a writer. Just be open-minded, there’s a market for you.