In the last three months of 2019, I was comfortably hitting over KES 80,000 ($800) as a freelance writer working 6 hrs a day, weekends excluded. I was helping a client create content for his new internet security blog and we still had loads of topics that needed to be covered.
By my estimate, I would be hitting at least 200k ($2,000) within the first three months of 2020. Who said you can not make good money writing? I was finally going to prove all the doubters wrong.
Suffice to say, the reality has been brutal. My gradual decline began in February 2020 and by the end of April I was clientless, making zero shillings per month, and about 30K ($300) in debt.
I wasn’t even sure how I would pay for my internet in the coming month.
What went wrong? Well, COVID-19 happened. My one client who had made me feel untouchable bailed on me and new gigs became scarce because everyone thought the world was ending.
There has never been a time when I doubted my choice to become a freelancer than in 2020. But they say what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, yes?
My freelancing career is now out of the ICU and the road to full recovery has been quite impressive. And looking back, I can’t help but think I had a hand in my downfall.
Yes, the pandemic was unprecedented but to say that it has been hard on everyone is a lie. Some people have thrived during this period. No, I’m not talking about the COVID-19 millionaires who benefited at the expense of poor Kenyans.
I’m talking about legit people, writers especially, that grew their income to thousands of dollars. And that, right there, is the first lesson that the coronavirus has taught me.
#1. Writers will always have a job even if the world is ending
Have you ever heard of the story about the bird that was raised among hens? All its life it remained on the ground without realizing it could fly and it’s all because the hens around it didn’t know how to.
When COVID-19 broke out in full scale and people started losing their jobs, there was a consensus that everything was now shutting down. And I believed it.
So, instead of rising to the challenge, I accepted that I would not get a new client in the prevailing conditions.
Do you know what’s worse? I’m a tech writer. If anything, the virus has led to more opportunities in this field.
For starters, Internet usage has increased by 70% which means there is an increased need to educate people about internet security.
Second, with people unable to gather, there has been an increased need for remote software solutions like video chat apps and online learning apps.
Also, there has been an urgent need to come up with treatments for the virus and, artificial intelligence and machine learning are two technologies that could be leveraged to speed up the drug development process.
I didn’t see that. Instead, I listened to the multitude that believed the pandemic was shutting down the world economy.
I’m not sure which niche you specialize in, but if you look closely you will see endless opportunities that have opened up thanks to COVID-19.
#2. A client is not your friend
It’s okay to have a personal relationship with a client but, never for a moment think you are indispensable.
Here is a fun fact. The client I was working with on the internet security website, I knew his kid’s name. We talked about family sometimes.
Admittedly, this got into my head. With this kind of relationship, I didn’t see how we would ever stop working together.
And if it came to it, I was sure he would give me a warning in advance so that I could prepare myself.
Guess what! One day I submitted an article and that was the last time I heard from him. No warning and no goodbye. And that is how I went from making over Ksh. 80k ($800) to zero in just a day.
To make matters worse. I had put so much trust in this one client that I ignored the one critical rule that every freelancer should never forget — never rely on just one client.
When that client bails, you will get back to the job market as a desperate freelancer and you may end up going for low-paying jobs so that you make ends meet.
That is exactly what happened. And with it came another lesson.
#3. Never take low-paying jobs just to get by
I rely on just Upwork to get my clients. Yet another mistake I have been making as a freelancer but we will get to that in a short while.
If you are familiar with the platform then you know that you need points/connects to apply for a job.
In the past, freelancers used to get 60 free connects every month but Upwork changed their policy and now, you only get 10 free connects per month. If you exhaust them, you have to buy connects.
I still had my 60 free connects and so I had nothing to worry about. Or so I thought.
Almost a month after I had lost my client, I was down to 6 connects and I hadn’t landed a new client yet. My desperation grew.
I couldn’t afford to buy new connects once I had exhausted my free ones and I wouldn’t be able to pay for my internet if I didn’t get a new client.
Internet for me is everything. I would rather go hungry but have working internet.
What did I do? I looked for three jobs that required 2 connects each and applied for them. In case you did not know, the lower the connects an Upwork job requires the lower the pay.
Luck was on my side because I landed one of the jobs. I was getting paid less than I was earning even as a beginner freelancer, but at least I had money coming in right? Wrong.
The job was a disaster. It was my first ever bad review on Upwork and it was scathing. I had just been promoted to the Top Rated status and that review blew that away. My job success rate went from 100% to 89% real quick.
Did I deserve it? Maybe. See, the problem with working at minimum wage is that you will need to write a lot to earn a substantial amount of money. In an attempt to do that, I ended up making some mistakes like missing a few commas and using ‘she’ instead of ‘he’.
Nevertheless, I feel like, as a client, there are some mistakes you should be willing to overlook depending on how much you are paying your writer.
I have just finished my calculations and realized that I wrote 26k words for this client. I only earned Ksh 11,500.
#4. Never rely on one platform to get clients
Don’t get me wrong. Upwork is a great platform. I’ve lived a pretty comfortable few years thanks to the clients I got from the platform.
But, as I mentioned, I have found myself in a position where I have to bid for low-paying jobs because I was about to exhaust my connects and I couldn’t afford to buy more.
Worse still, I have missed several good job opportunities because one bad review from one client messed up my ratings.
I have since built back my job success score to 100% but I’m yet to be reinstated as a Top Rated freelancer.
I think it’s the high time I started exploring other client acquisition methods. More specifically, I’m in the process of creating a writer’s website so that I can begin cold-pitching.
I think this is an option you should also explore if you haven’t already.
#5. Make the best out of every opportunity you get
To quote my favorite rapper, “Go hard youngin. They let you in the game, you better play your part.” That’s Wiz Khalifa in case you are wondering.
When I was working with the internet security client I had access to a Google sheet with a list of all the topics that needed to be covered. I could have written as many as I wanted and earned twice as much as I did.
But, I chose comfort. The client let me into his game but I didn’t give it my best.
During those dry months when I was struggling to get a client, I used to remember that Google sheet with the same regret that filled me whenever I was eating githeri in boarding school and I happened to remember all the good food I had wasted while at home. The chapatis mostly.
If a client commissions some work today with a one-week deadline and yet it’s a job I can do in one day, I’m finishing it up on the same day.
These are my mistakes. Learn from them.
Do you know what’s crazy? All the lessons in this post, I’ve heard them before. They are things that Walter and other freelancing experts are always warning us about. And yet, they had to happen to me so that I could learn.
Take your time and learn how to do things the right way.
Don’t be like me.
Very inspiring,A timely warning before I start
Hi Wilkista. I’m glad you found it at the right time. All the best
That’s good advice, thanks for sharing.
You are welcome Jacqueline
Great piece indeed!
I’m glad you found it insightful, Nicholas
Good lesson there. Thanks for sharing.
It’s my pleasure, Mary
A good lesson indeed. As a newbie, I had a client who gave me a 2500 word article, at $6. I used the better part of it on the internet. On submitting the solution, he told me that he had lacked time to check my work so that he could release the payment. After pushing him, he released the money and told me that as my employer, I am not supposed to push him. He ended the contract and I am almost giving up because I have tried several times without getting any other client.
Hey Moses. Experiences like this, they are what harden you as a freelancer. These are the stories you will tell when your freelancing career hits off the ground. Don’t give up yet.
Try different platforms to find clients. Find a niche and be a pro in it. This will help you command better rates. But most importantly bro, never take a low paying job because you feel like you have no other option.
I didn’t mention this but after my contract with the low paying client was over, I got another client that paid me more money for one article than I had made writing a whole month for the other client.
Be consistent and continue reading up on how to be successful as a writer. You will find a lot of actionable tips here on Walter’s blog. Just make sure you are implementing them.
Cheers and all the best.
Great, Great Insights! A lot of learning.
I’m glad you found the information helpful.
Wow! What an eye-opening piece. I also lost a high-paying client around March 2020. Thankfully I have invested in several platforms. Otherwise it would have been one hell of an year!!
A wise decision there investing in several platforms. This year the focus should now be getting several high-paying clients.
A very inspiring story. Thanks for sharing! I won’t be like you ????
Haha, please don’t be like me, Betty.
What an inspiration…. That’s a wow????
I’m glad I could inspire you. May 2021 be your best year yet.
I have decided to go hard in, am sure they will let me in the game. I am creating a freelancer website and I hope to grow it to a global status. http://www.onlineworkboard.com is coming up!
Once the site is up they will have no choice but to let you in the game fam. All the best growing your brand.
I have to be honest, I had the same thing happen to me in the last quarter of 2019. But mine started with a death in the family. Then a breakup. There’s nothing as worse as losing two people that you love at the same damn time. I just lost it. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t do anything. Work would come in but I would take forever to finish it. And even when I did, I just did the absolute worst.
I’m just glad that I allowed myself to go through all that pain alone. Because now I’m back to myself again and eager to do even better than I did before.
Just a word of advice, to every freelancer out there, have something on the side that brings in some extra dollars. A monetized blog or an affiliate marketing website. You never know when your freelance taps will run dry. So make the most out of your skills. Work for yourself first before you work for anyone else.
I can only imagine. You are a strong, James. And allowing yourself to feel the pain, that’s the first step towards healing. I wish you all the success in 2021 mate.
I agree with you. Every freelancer should have something on the side that they can rely on even when they are not actively writing.
Helpful. I’m meeting this at the best time. May it help others too.
Hi Alila. I’m glad you found the information helpful.
Such timely and profound nuggets. I was also out of work for a few months last year mainly because I also relied on one client. Decided to up my rates, pitch even more and started hitting my targets. Still not there yet but working on it. You article, Hassan, was probably what I needed to work twice as hard.
Hey Kabue. Keep up the grind. I’ve learnt that you can never have enough clients. When you have so much work that you can’t take up anymore, now that’s the time to look for even higher-paying clients. After all, you have nothing to lose.
I’m glad the post inspired you. 2021 is the year that our freelancing dreams come true.
Well Covid 19 hit all of us in a bad way. It is time when we pick up things and start hustling. In a more diversified way this time.
You are right James. Covid-19 has been a great teacher.
You indeed learnt alot from your mistakes, just be careful you don’t get yourself again in the same. I have learned too as a newbie.
That’s the plan. No making the same mistakes twice. Good luck in discovering your freelancing journey.
…I’ve never had any success on upwork. Never. Three accounts , nothing. No client no job. So I decided to open a tech blog laptopanalyst.com which is now hitting 6k visitors a month. I think I’ll not take the client route anymore. Why sell content when you can own it and earn with it forever. Tech is a pretty good niche because not many people go that road. Your story is inspiring, but I encourage you to open a blog. Machine learning, iot, ai. Those are growing niches. You could be the next millionaire! Good luck
Hey Victor. So we can agree that your Upwork account not getting approved was probably the best thing that happened to you, yeah?
You are right owning a blog comes with a lot of perks. I especially love the idea of earning with one piece of content even years after you published it. And it’s true that the emerging techs like AI and IoT have a lot of potential. I’m definitely starting a personal blog this year.
Congrats on your blog and good luck growing it. I’m off to check it out. Haha
How much do you approximately earn from this traffic?
Not yet monetized but looking forward to
Can we link up victor?
sure. im on linkedin.@ victor wachanga
It is a good thing that you started a blog and are getting good traffic. However having a site could also get you hit by a Google algorithm update. So do not rely on just it wholly. Diversification is much better.
I agree James.
Indeed we should all learn from our mistakes. Someone told me if I ever lost money I should know I paid school fees in the school of life.
That person is a genius. I’m now a better freelancer because of my mistakes.