A Way Out: How To Start Freelancing Successfully

A Way Out: How To Start Freelancing Successfully

Every successful freelancer or independent worker eventually gets to the point where they have learned and discussed enough with bosses, that they become ready to build their own thing. And with the connections you have made doing good freelance work and diversifying your portfolio, you are in the best position to build what you want on your own platform.

Originally published on bellanaija.com

In 2017, I moved on from my job as a Head of Communications at a nonprofit, and decided to take the bold path of freelancing, consulting or working remotely for as long as I possibly could… for the rest of my life.

It’s 2019 and I’m still here. I’ve learned some lessons along the way, and had the craziest experiences – from being so broke I had to sleep at a friend’s for two months, to moving into my own badass place and growing a freelance team.

Life moves fast and slow simultaneously when you’re handling your business yourself every single day.

When I started freelancing, I created an excel sheet of all my earnings, so that over time, I’d be able to compare how much I’d have earned if I kept my day job.

That sheet has given me both ego-boosting motivation, and ass-kicking humiliation at different times. Because I see clearly all the money I make in a month, it lets me know when it’s time to kick things up a notch or when to slow down and relax.

It’s a good guide, especially for someone like me who is intentionally designing a life where I can get the least stress.

In 2017, after leaving my job, I wasn’t very money-smart. I was spending like I still had a job, and I wasn’t offering any services or selling products at that time. I basically had no income, but I was super relaxed. I stayed in a hotel for months before realizing I needed to move into an apartment before I ran out of money. Things started to get really serious from then on. When it rains, it pours.

First thing I did was to start reaching out to old contacts, looking out for jobs to apply to (on LinkedInMovemebackvarious email newslettersgreenboard.io, and so many others). I was looking for jobs in the communications/PR field because that was what was currently top of my CV. But every time I got an interview with a “dream” company and talked to these potential colleagues – about newsletters, team meetings, hierarchy and priorities – I’d literally have a panic attack and ask to reschedule. 

I realized I didn’t want that life anymore. I couldn’t make myself do it – be the happy in-house communications manager handling all the s***, sometimes when I disagreed with the stand we (the company) were taking. 

I wanted the option to work on things short-term, see them to their end, and move on to something else.

I wanted clearly-stated jobs, detailed results, timelines, owned responsibility, money made per job, flexibility to work at my peak hours, the option of sitting on my own while I worked, the possibility of travel, and the chance of growth. 

I didn’t want to be stuck at an office anymore, not for any sum of money or promise of team-hood, which almost always ended up as a noose around my neck. 

So I was still broke but I stopped sending my CV and applications into the black abyss of traditional 9-5s and the death of dreams.

I started reaching out to my personal network (close professional network, ex-clients, friends and family), telling them that I could help with their websites, copy, content, managing teams, community engagement, IT maintenance, business development, event PR; you name it. 

Whenever I saw a gap in a business I knew I could handle, because I had all the time in the world, I would reach out and offer to do it.

These jobs were contractual; in some cases, they were freelance, one-off jobs, and in more lucrative cases, they grew into independent consulting gigs, where I became an add-on member of the team for a set period of time. 

In the best cases, the period was often extended, and that was the best kind of business for me — where I was a part of the company but not really.

At my peak during these two years of struggle and growth, I had five, steady active clients – all paying no less than $300/month; one of the five paid five times that amount. 

I had found a good place. 

Being a successful freelancer, independent worker, remote worker – call it what you want (just not entrepreneurship because that’s not what this is) – takes a lot of work and guts because not a lot of people understand your logic behind choosing such an uncertain and unstable work life, especially if you have a chance at a good 9-5 like most sane, wise, people. 

But not everybody is the same.

Some of us crave a new kind of life, one that’s possible with the technology of today – a life where you can have teams across the world, a diverse portfolio of jobs, a selection to choose from, the chance to choose your hours, and make enough money to have a life. 

Starting an independent side hustle is the perfect way to enrich your life – financially and in self-development.

  • You push yourself beyond what you’re used to or what is expected of you

  • You create the possibility of a life far more interesting than the mundane

  • You get practice and knowledge about new business sectors, cultural differences, technology, and soon, make enough to match your day job

  • You give yourself the opportunity to create and do something you love

  • You give yourself the option of independence – which, frankly, once you’ve tasted, you’ll never be able to go back to full-time servitude

There are so many more benefits, but you have to make the deliberate decision to try:

  • To study the current global economy: What skills are most sought after? Which do you have and can build on? What do you need to learn now? Who is teaching it? What are the biggest remote companies paying for their remote workers? How can you earn money from all the time you spend on social media? 

  • To connect and engage with other young people who are starting things and creating small empires for themselves – these people need help and will welcome your loyalty, creativity and support, if you show interest to become key advocates for their causes

  • To consistently learn things that interest you in a potential money-making way. There are so many opportunities: most popular among them is learning to code, starting a startup, freelancing, creating content and art, etc

  • To join a maker or freelancer community to follow conversations on what it takes to become who you want to become, and actually believe that it is possible for you. You must believe that your life can change before it manifests, most times. It only takes about six months to one year to completely change your life and start in a new field, and you’re going to need some friends and support through it or you’ll lose motivation and crash and burn

I never suggest that anyone take up “freelancing” alone as a dependent career choice, but it is a good supplement to whatever income you’re making.

Another important benefit of freelancing is that by working so intimately with other people’s businesses, in various sectors, you learn so much that you start to be able to make connections between these disconnected industries that other people can’t see. And these new thoughts fuel your ambition to build your own empire – this is where, eventually, entrepreneurship comes in.

Every successful freelancer or independent worker eventually gets to the point where they have learned and discussed enough with bosses, that they become ready to build their own thing. And with the connections you have made doing good freelance work and diversifying your portfolio, you are in the best position to build what you want on your own platform. 

I hear a lot about unemployment here in Nigeria, and Africa, in general. And this is one solution I propose to all young Nigerians –in university and out of it, mid-career or confused about where you stand – start now and start early to expand your professional experience and connections through freelancing and self-employment.

This story on Zikoko Magazine’s Naira life series inspired me so much. It can be you too. 

What you can do:

You can join and contribute to sites for African freelancers like weekofsaturdays.com and expand your mindset, grow your support network, and get on that train towardsdesigning a life you truly want for yourself. Or you can keep applying for the typical 9-5s and pray for a miracle.

As with everything in life, what you do is your choice. Remember: We live in a time where you do not need geographical “permission” to grow and grow big. 

Like this article? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Have comments? Drop them below.