Added to the normal everyday Lagos and Nigeria problems, the country’s youths who are savvy, willing, and with access to the Internet still face other challenges to freelance success.
As the world moves towards a freelance-first economy (usually called the gig or talent economy), learning new skills, being globally connected, and contributing high-quality, consistent value in your field are important criteria for long-term success.
But how can our willing educated Nigerian youths contribute their skills to the global gig economy when they are sabotaged daily by the environment that surrounds them?
Basic human needs and resources which should be provided by the government are lacking in every state. Electricity, clean affordable water, human security, good roads and transportation, employment, and quality education are just some of it.
I have worked as a freelancer for a while and been able to sustain it because (I admit) I have certain privileges. Things like constant electricity to stay connected to my remote colleagues all over the world, a PayPal account to receive payments from anywhere, and a supportive community of writers who are quick to help when one of us faces issues.
All these have helped me earn and maintain financial independence unconventionally in a time when our Nigerian economy is turning to shit, and jobs and opportunities for our brethren are few(er) as our population grows and our government …. I have no words.
Below are some of the problems holding Nigerian freelancers from more success. We hope 2019 brings changes.
Nigerian youths are not lazy and are not seeking handouts. We hope for a government, come 2019, that thinks clearly, works for the good of the people, and pushes the country’s development.
Inconsistent Power Supply
Nigerian freelancers are often not reliable and almost always extend the fixed deadlines because of their number one headache: NEPA aka PHCN, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria.
There have been numerous occasions when one of my Nigerian peer-freelancers apologize oh-so-sincerely because they have been cut off from electricity for days, and I usually get it; I empathize but then have to find another freelancer ASAP on a tight deadline and with the same budget.
This causes us to be kept back from opportunities that less capable candidates snatch up simply based on availability. In most other parts of the world, 24/7 electricity and unlimited WiFi are general utilities. Even the “poor” can get online to work, learn, collaborate, and get things done.
The Nigerian freelancer, regardless of her skills or way with words, may never earn as much or work with good clients because no employer cares about your skills if you can’t meet deadlines.
What’s worse is the Nigerian freelancer also often misses the once-a-week team calls because of the same issues, and that makes her tardier than most global companies can handle. We have to jump through hoops of fire just to get the same amount of work done in a remote, global team.
We have talked about electricity, availability, and reliability and that’s just one problem.
Another, which is just as important, is receiving payments. Thanks to the growing number of fintech startups on the continent, we can now transfer money easier between countries on the continent. Some of the African payment apps and platforms I use regularly include Expresspay, First Mobile, Piggy Bank, and Cowrywise. They all work perfectly and are useful for their specific purposes but we still can’t receive payments from global clients easily. Other payment apps use include Transferwise, PayPal, wave.com, and Barter by Flutterwave (rarely).
As of 2019, PayPal still does not work fully in Africa. We can receive money into our accounts (which must have been opened in another country where PayPal is fully functional) but we cannot withdraw funds from the account.
So how do Nigerian freelancers get paid?
Through so many methods! Whatever works with the particular client. It is always an interesting experience figuring out new payment methods. What works for one doesn’t work for another. And as a freelancer, it is on you to figure out when and how to receive your payment. Don’t be rigid.
Perception of Nigerians
This is an interesting one. Problem number three, a reputation we were born into — the 419 scams from yesteryears, the alleged aggressiveness that we Nigerians bring to everything we do, and the fact that our population is one of the largest on earth so it feels like there is a Nigerian community in every country.
In life and in work, I never lie about my nationality — I am Nigerian. I’ve, however, noticed I feel a twinge in my heart whenever I have to say it, and it’s always followed with a prayer in my mind: Dear God, let them see me as a person, a lady, a professional, not a Nigerian.
For most freelancers, this is a big problem. They are turned down from jobs because clients have worked with other Nigerians who either let them down due to the problems above or because of above stereotypes. For either reason, this is yet another problem for active Nigerian freelancers.
The “Aren’t you from Africa?” question
Recently, I was talking to a potential client and he asked for my hourly rate which I shared. His next response was, “Aren’t you African? One of the reasons I responded to your application was I know how affordable living there is.”
I get it. It is business sense to try to get things for cheap so I wasn’t even mad at him for assuming that because living in my country (in his opinion) is affordable that I shouldn’t earn enough to save for travel, emergencies, retirement and life!
Apparently, people from developing countries only work to survive from day to day.
This is a recurring problem that freelancers from Nigeria and all over Africa face. But there’s no need to take it personal or sell your time/value/work for cheap. It’s up to you (us) to set a standard for yourself and look for clients who prioritize quality above cheap rates.
Many new freelancers, especially us from African countries with our shit currencies, feel the only way to get and keep jobs is to reduce rates but when you really think about it, you’re playing yourself and making it okay for these clients to ask you to work for $5.
Be real with yourself though and don’t over-price. And when you get a good client who pays and communicates well, over-deliver every chance you get.
At the end of the day, everyone is trying to find and hire the best support they need at the time.
Being a Nigeria-based freelancer requires nerves of steel. The gig economy, especially growing at this rate, is an open opportunity for adults everywhere to work, learn, connect with people (who may become friends and cofounders), and even get inspired for your next side-project.