Six Figure is a monthly PiggyVest series that focuses on how real Nigerians achieved dramatic income growth, making them millionaires.
For this month’s episode of Six Figure, we spoke to a freelance writer who makes over ₦1 million monthly. She discusses turning to writing as a cure for boredom during the lockdown and finding her footing as time went on.
What did you study in school?
I studied human physiology. My background is in medical science.
Oh wow. And now you’re a writer?
How did you get here?
I defended my project in December of 2019. Shortly after, in 2020, came the lockdown and everyone got stuck indoors. I was bored and tired of following the news, so I went online to research things I could do to pass the time.
I also decided to join my dad; he’s a trader. Still, I was bored. My dad knew about my love for writing and told me, “ Why don’t you write a book? I’ll publish it for you.” I went online for some information and that’s how I discovered freelance writing.
It was exciting to find out that I could get paid to write. But everything from that point on was basically trial and error. I had to research how to write articles and get gigs. I also joined LinkedIn around this time.
Did joining LinkedIn help?
Not at first. Most people posted motivational content, so I walked that road. But I soon realised it wasn’t working for me. Content like that attracts people who need motivation, not hirers. These people were trying to get 10,000 followers; I was trying to get jobs and, ultimately, money.
Eventually, around July 2020, somebody contacted me to write a 1k-word article for $20. This came to about ₦8k, using the CBN rate. Unfortunately, he didn’t give me a second job because he said the work had a ton of plagiarism in it. I didn’t know how to use a plagiarism checker then, but I was also confident that I didn’t just copy and paste. But I took it in good faith.
I also got an internship with a US company, but they ghosted me when they found out I was in Nigeria. Nonetheless, I was over the moon from the ₦8k I made. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any other gigs until 2021.
What did you do until then?
I started working as a kitchen assistant because I needed something to do before NYSC.
How much were you making?
My salary was ₦12k monthly, and it came with free meals.
I didn’t really mind because I was just trying to kill boredom. But I became too busy to pursue my freelancing career.
One day, I came across an opportunity online. It was a content creation fellowship with an NGO in the UK. I decided to apply, but the questions seemed complex. Stuff like, “Tell us about a time when you did an incredible feat.” I thought I would only have to submit my writing samples and call it a day. I was intimidated and discouraged, so I left it.
But a friend told me I could do it. So one day after work, I pushed myself to open the application again. The answers came easier than I imagined.
So I applied and forgot about it. A week later, I got an email that I was shortlisted. I was shocked because days after I applied, I saw a known youth activist talking about being rejected for the fellowship. If they could reject a star like her, what chance did I have?
At first, I thought it was a scam, but I had no money anyway so I responded. Then, I got an interview date. Weeks later, I got the mail that I was accepted. I couldn’t stop jumping. The stipend for the duration of the training was £350, and at the end, we would create written and video content on their website for their educational campaign. As an Igbo girl, I was most excited about the money.
I was already eyeing the land I wanted to buy. Going from earning ₦8k to about ₦150k was crazy!
How long did the training last?
Technically, it was a month. But some delays dragged it out to three months. It was around that time I got called up for NYSC. I was deployed to Kwara but relocated to Delta to be close to my family in Port Harcourt. I was getting job opportunities in Lagos, but I had vowed not to live in Lagos.
That’s the best kind of chaos.
[Laughs] Interestingly, I will relocate to Lagos next month. After my wedding, that is.
Congratulations! See, it’s meant to be.
How did you keep up with NYSC and your fellowship?
I was posted to a school, so I could juggle my fellowship with $20 and $30 gigs here and there. There were six of us in the fellowship from different parts of the world. One of our facilitators — for the podcast section — was a Nigerian. That was fun.
Eventually, the fellowship ended and I received my ₦150k. During the fellowship, I learned the value of branding as a freelancer. Nobody wants to be the first to hire you, so adequate branding boosts your credibility.
What other steps did you take to position yourself?
Networking. I remember meeting up with another freelance writer. She was super helpful and sweet. She didn’t hold anything back from me. She was earning millions, and I learnt that I could do the same!
The thing about freelance jobs is that you can’t do them all. There’s enough for everyone.
So what did she share with you?
She shared links to newsletters and told me people to follow on Twitter. There are websites to update your certifications as well. I found other resources on LinkedIn and discovered Slack groups with marketers from all over the world.
Half of my freelance writing knowledge comes from these Slack groups.
What’s your current niche?
Content marketing, primarily focused on writing on finance and for fintech companies. That’s what I found interesting enough to hold me down.
When did you finally hack freelancing?
Last year. I joined Twitter and saw a job advert for a crypto company. I sent samples of my work, and was asked for my rates. I said 10 cents. But, apparently, Upwork writers charge way more. $100 for 1,000 words was plenty for me. I wrote four or five articles and received around $400 to $500 monthly.
From ₦8k? That’s impressive.
I was elated. But months later, they shut down the blog, and I had to find a new gig. I got one that paid $200 per 1000-word article, but payment issues were a chore and this gig didn’t last.
I kept applying on LinkedIn. I don’t send cold emails because of the low response rate, but sending a message on LinkedIn gets responses because people can easily put a face and portfolio to the name and claim with one click. And with more published samples, my credibility grew.
How much do you make currently?
There’s no capped figure since I’m a freelancer. But I make nothing less than ₦1 million monthly. And that could be from writing five to seven articles every month.
That’s incredible. Does the technicality of the article determine how much you charge?
I mostly charge based on the company. I use Crunchbase and LinkedIn to gauge the company’s value, which gives me an idea of how large or small their budget will be. A company with $500k in funding may be unable to afford to pay above $200 for 1000 words.
I charge lower fees for startups, but I charge higher for more technical articles.
That’s pretty fair. What skills have proven important in growing your career?
The writing skill is the first thing. Before you start chasing money, work on yourself because if you find someone to pay you $1k dollars for 1,000 words, and you mess it up, you’ll never hear from them again.
Personal branding is also important. It is the only way a random person can offer you a job. If I knew these things earlier, I could have made the progress I made in two years in just two months.
Participating in 30-day writing challenges may not be the worst thing, but that activity doesn’t generate leads or land you jobs. You’ll only have people hailing you in the comments while you’re starving in real life.
Did you use any other platforms apart from LinkedIn?
I wanted to try Upwork, but it’s too competitive. So, I stuck to LinkedIn and Slack.
Can you share some of these Slack groups?
Superpath, Fintech Marketing Group, WorkingInContent.com and Online Geniuses. There are fewer job postings now because of ChatGPT, but when you combine these with LinkedIn, especially using hashtags, you can make headway.
Can you recommend some hashtags?
I use #freelance. Sometimes I go to the search box to find only posts with the keywords “looking for writers” or “hiring writers”. Then I use the 24-hour filter because anything beyond that is pretty much a waste of time because there’ll be many applicants.
I do this in the evenings because Nigeria is hours ahead of the US.
These insights have been so helpful! Do you have direct advice for writers looking to make it as freelancers?
Yes! Find a community. The time I spent doing trial and error could’ve been spent better. Get yourself a coach, and pay them if you must. It will help you be accountable.
People say “find a niche” a lot. But I don’t think it’s helpful to start that way. Don’t be in a hurry to niche down. Instead, pick three or four areas and grow first. That way, you’re neither a generalist nor a specialist. After four or five years, you can pick a niche.
- Find a community: You’ll progress faster as a freelancer when you surround yourself with people on the same journey as you.
- Build your brand: Your brand determines your credibility and gets you noticed by hirers. You can start by promoting your work and sharing valuable insights.
- Don’t niche down too quickly: Working in a variety of fields makes you knowledgeable in many sectors. This is beneficial at the start of your career.