Editorial note: All Guest Post authors share their views and experiences, and do not represent Week of Saturdays.
Life as an African freelance writer is not a bed of roses. Rather it’s full of challenges. Being one myself, I’ve faced a couple of these challenges and I want to help you develop as a writer. Prepare for a voyage as this post explores the sea of challenges faced by the freelance writers in Africa, right from the passion stage to the earning level.
It is difficult to rise above a level that you have been stuck in all your life. Poverty is not only lacking money. It is lacking imagination, having a limited mindset and deadened dreams.
Bryan Tracey called it “the self-concept.” You cannot rise above your self-concept. It is not completely your fault so don’t beat yourself up. However, it is in your power to change your story. You can make a living and steady income through writing.
Starting Your Journey as an African Freelance Writer..
You have attended digital marketing seminars and read many online publications. You find yourself comfortable with writing. You’ve also learnt a little about SEO, Content Strategy, Content Marketing and Curation of brand stories.
You examine the profiles of your favorite writers and realize they have many years of experience. And here you are “midway” through life and just about to start.
All you have is a renewed passion and determination to start a new career as a freelance writer. And that is enough as long as you keep bellowing hard work, consistency and positivity.
Below are six challenges you are likely to face as you strive to become a successful African freelance writer.
Challenge 1: Confidence
The first step to finding the drive that feeds your dreams of becoming an excellent African freelance writer is confidence.
But confidence doesn’t lay somewhere under the bed where all you have to do is pick it up. It is something you create.
An innate inferiority complex seems to strive more in someone born in an African country.
The typical African child grew up watching western media paint Africa as a home of poverty and crime. As a result, he/she grows up with the belief that the white kid is better. Despite these factors, as a prospective African freelance writer, you can unlearn and relearn new things.
The sooner you realize that no writer out there was born with expertise and self-confidence, and that a company can depend on you to drive traffic through your written words, only then will you start working towards your goal.
Here are a few strategies to improve your confidence if you’re an African freelance writer who needs a confidence boost.
Consider Your Academic Background
In the average educational school system in African countries, you write an average of 40+ exams between primary and secondary school? This number doesn’t include the countless assignments, tests, and pop quizzes.
Writing as much as you did back in school is enough to prove to you that you have the potential to succeed as a writer.
If you could write to earn pass marks from your teachers, then you can write for companies to make sales, get shares, referrals, leads and a positive online presence.
Finetune and Fit in
What you need to do now is get better. You need to polish your skills if you want to succeed as a serious writer. One way to do this is by reading. Read everything that interests you.
This is because when you build on a passion, it becomes easy to talk, write and create content about it. And that is what raises your rates. It distinguishes you from other writers.
When you maintain an excellent reading culture as a writer, you’re better positioned to become a thought leader in your niche.
Publish your writing
When you read a new book, review it. Write about what you have learned and the impact of the books in your life. This way you are actively engaged in a rigorous activity that grows your strength and image as a writer.
Soon you will realize that writing is simply “precept upon precept.” The more you read and learn, the more you can write. When you finish writing your reviews, proofread and publish them.
Share on social media, Reddit, Quora, and with your friends. Asides writing book reviews, you can write on other interesting subjects and submit to websites and communities that accept guest posts. This will help you build your confidence, a good portfolio and invite the right audience.
Challenge 2: Taking Online Courses
Unfortunately, this approach seems to be a stumbling block for most African freelance writers. Working in an African country can mean surviving with as little as $100 for a whole month.
For example while in school, I had a friend who received $27 for the full month, covering for his food, maintenance, internet and transport. Such a person will never think about taking an online course that costs $10. Now, I feel bad for saying it was my friend. The person in that story was me but we are not here to talk about a forgotten past.
A simple way to pay for online courses is through collaboration with other writers or freelancers. They can be your friends, course mates or online friends.
By collaborating, you all contribute to pay for the course and then learn together. Don’t forget to practice as much as possible. Think of it like gearing up for an upcoming battle.
Challenge 3: Resources
For every utopia, there is a dystopia. We learn about technological advancements in every news update. But in every nook and cranny of the country where you reside are 2nd generation Intel laptops. The type that overheats when you open a browser alongside word processors. Sometimes they come with batteries that last for less than two hours. I once had one that lasted for 30 minutes, but here is a little motivation:
I have a friend who wrote articles by borrowing a laptop. After saving up, he bought himself a phone. He continued writing with the phone, an Infinix Hot 6, and then went on to buy himself a good laptop.
The truth is, there is always an excuse when you look for one. Likewise, there is always a way out when you look for one.
The next problem you may experience is limited internet. Fortunately, many network providers have tried to reduce this challenge for many developing countries.
While in school, I worked closely with my school professor not because I loved running his errands, but because it opened a window for me to use the school Wi-Fi.
Make sure to find and seize opportunities around you. Chances are, a few of your friends have a hack they leverage on for more internet.
Grammar checkers and other tools can also contribute to your challenge. For this, you can reach out to communities where you only have to contribute a token fee to get a shared password for premium features. It’s okay to seek alternatives until you are on your feet.
Challenge 4: Finding Your First Client
Now you are a freelancer who has past through the initial hurdles. You are gaining confidence to tackle your goals. The easiest start is to create profiles on freelance platforms like Upwork and set realistic pricing for your time and work.
When you start out, your goal is not to land a job that will feed you for the rest of your life but to start to gain professional experience and build an intentional portfolio through practice and exposure.
One of my favorite quotes from James Clear says:
“The way to attract good luck is to be reliable in a valuable area. The more you repeatedly deliver value, the more people seek out for that value. Your reputation is like a magnet. Once you become known for something, relevant opportunities come to you with no extra work.”
Sure you will make mistakes that may lead to your rejection. You will under-price your services. You are going to accept too many job offers and miss deadlines, then end up with bad days. You will leave grammatical blunders even after you proofread. You might end up writing polarizing content that you cannot defend when it stirs the dust.
But the beauty of mistakes is that, when realized, they draw you closer to your goals and insights. It makes you realize that even you can write an intriguing piece for readers and customers and grow bigger than you imagine.
Challenge 5: Landing Ideal Jobs
By now, you should be thinking about finding ideal clients, to take on more fulfilling tasks.
I said “fulfilling” because most tasks on freelance websites do not give this feeling. Fulfillment as a freelance writer to me means watching a business grow in sales, leads and engagement as I put good work in. But how do you land these kinds of jobs?
Understand Your Target Market
The first step to landing the right client is to understand your target market.
Early on in my career, I have written topics I was not comfortable with and accepted projects I hated doing. The world is unfair, so please be less unfair to yourself by not writing topics beyond your scope of excitement.
Get to understand your ideal market and client first. And it is fine if you do not know what I am talking about.
The Niche Story
You have the skill now, all you need is a direction. You need to be a vector quantity that moves in the right direction. And not a rocking horse, that stays stuck on one spot.
Being a vector quantity with both magnitude (skills) and direction can help you avoid mishaps. Of course, there is a saying “when you market to everybody, you market to nobody.”
You should try to have a niche or two. Your writing niche is that topic you are willing to write about even without pulling resources online. It is those topics that people ask you about because they know you are good in that area. Apart from having a sense of direction, having a niche has some other benefits.
Personal Growth Benefits
The thought that having only one or two niches will narrow your income and creativity is not true. When you have a niche, it sets you on a path to become one of the ‘original thinkers’ in the space.
People can create new ideas by linking a topic to another, for example; some posts combine two abstract topics, most of which hit the top on reading lists. Posts that link economics and human behavior, artificial intelligence and psychology, politics and psychology, the natural environment and lifestyle.
These several niche combinations would not have existed if there was no expert writer in those areas. Mark Manson, my favorite writer, calls it “The Freedom of Commitment.” When you are committed to a niche, that is when can you explore its depths. And only then can you mine the minerals and treasury hidden in its depths.
Secondly, being committed to a niche and having a sense of direction can land you a client who pays much more than what other clients would if you were just ‘hustling’ around. You become an irreplaceable commodity singled out from the sea of other African freelance writers.
You also get to have peace of mind, satisfaction, excitement while working on niche projects. A kind of peace that exists even during the struggles and challenges of a project. And nothing beats that.
Challenge 6: Painting the Right Picture
At this point, you are becoming a specialist in your field. You will need to find more of your ideal clients. You can do this by creating what I call a “customer avatar.” This includes the kind of business your ideal client is engaged in, their age bracket, problems and values. This way, you know where to search and how to draft the right resume and portfolio to attract them.
Meeting the right clientele means having the right kind of portfolio. This is where you point out your strengths and let the client know how you can be of help to their business.
If you started reading this post with the mindset of someone who cannot make real change in his/her life through writing, I hope I have changed your mind and shown you a way.
The experiences shared here, although somewhat extreme, are challenges faced by many freelance writers. There are many things I did not touch on like; invoicing, how to pitch or dominating your niche on social media, which are vital things to learn and earn more as a freelancer.
Reach out in the comments section and share some of your challenges and how you overcome them.
Feature Picture by Nappy.