Many people think that when I started working online I had money. I didn’t!
Here’s what happened back in 2011:
I started as a broke freelance writer struggling to get by. My first jobs were cheap (very cheap) articles in Freelancer. You may not believe it but I used to earn a paltry $1 per 500 words. Back then I didn’t even know that this pay was too low, that some would consider it slavery or free labor 😀
Note that I no longer recommend Freelancer. It still pays extremely low, deducts commissions before you start working, is full of scammers and has some membership plans that don’t really make sense to me. The best thing to do is to work for direct clients.
Back then, I kept slaving there all day writing articles for clients. Sometimes this would take me up to 10 hours a day. My goal was to earn at least $300 per month, which I had never earned before. To get there, I needed to write 10 articles per day at $1 per article. I was so broke and mentally exhausted.
Later I got this “angelic” client who increased my rate to $2 per 500 words. With that, I had to just write 5 articles per day to get to 30k per month working daily. Here are some of my old jobs and how clients rated me:
Long story short, I managed to get better paying clients with time. It felt great earning $10, $20, $50 plus per article.
This changed my life. At last I was able to pay the bills and take my family out once in a while! That was a dream come true.
Never despise humble beginnings.
Starting out without a laptop (and with limited cash for internet bills)
I never forget March, 2011 when two friends from church told me that they were earning online. It stirred up some fire in me that has never stopped burning.
But I had no computer.
And I could not afford internet.
Here’s what I did:
I borrowed a very old laptop from a friend I used to work for. It was so old and sluggish that it would take 5 minutes just to boot, and another 5 minutes to open MS Word. To me this was a goldmine. It was all I had.
Back then smartphones were very few (and ridiculously expensive) so I couldn’t afford one. I had this small phone that I used to access the internet with. So I googled and found out that I could actually share the phone’s internet with my computer using Bluetooth.
I installed software on my computer that allowed me to do that. I have totally forgotten the name of that software ;). But it worked. And that’s what mattered.
I could just turn on the computer, open the software, pair with my phone, turn on internet sharing and voila!
Now the problem was money for internet bundles.
I told you nothing could turn off the fire in me, remember? So I had to figure out how to get online while being extremely broke.
Safaricom had introduced these daily data bundles where you’d get 25MB data for Sh. 20. Guess what? This is what I used for my first month of freelancing – 25MB per day. That meant I would avoid Facebook, YouTube and anything else that was not work related.
Google’s Penguin update had not yet been rolled out, so back then many marketers were doing tons of article rewrites that they would distribute to different article directories and publications. My major client those days only wanted article rewrites.
So here’s what I would do:
- Rush to the cyber café
- Open the client’s mail
- Click on all the links to the articles I was supposed to rewrite
- Copy paste all of them in MS Word and save on my flash disk (all this would cost me Sh. 10)
- Go back home and rewrite them all on the borrowed laptop with internet switched off
- Switch on internet
- If there was some little data left, I’d bid for more jobs and glance through Facebook a bit
I worked so hard like this. Sometimes I would go even more than 16 hours a day working. The fire in me was blazing. Soon, I was able to make my first withdrawal.
You never forget that first dollar
$330. That was my first withdrawal from Freelancer for my first 1.5 months of work.
Not so good but for the broke me that was paradise. My day job was paying Sh. 15k and when I saw that I could earn more than Sh. 30k per month online, I quit my day job and went on to full-time freelancing.
With this little cash, I was able to buy a proper modem and get better internet access.
One problem with being so broke is the fact that whenever you get cash, it “somehow” disappears. I had all these pending bills to pay that I couldn’t still do much with that amount.
My friend who’d given me the slow laptop came for it, leaving me once again without a computer. I still couldn’t afford one. So I contacted my friends and also posted on Facebook stating that I needed to hire a laptop.
I got quick offers and chose the best. I used that for a while till one of my best friends saw the fire in me and gifted me his laptop. Felt good to know that visible zeal can give you unimaginable returns.
Outsourcing for double profits
Now that I had earned some little cash, my faith in online jobs could not be shaken.
Most clients were then paying me $2 per 500 words. Quick math showed me that I could hire other writers to write under me, and I pay them $1 per 500 words. I would then take on so much work (since bidding to me was a breeze), outsource to writers, then submit to clients.
I worked with only writers who gave me client-ready work that did not need to be proofread or edited.
I quickly doubled, then quadrupled my income using this strategy. My team at some point would produce up to 75 articles in one day. I would pay them $1 and earn $1. For me that was $75 per day. Working 20 days a month, that’s already $1500.
The actual amount per month would go higher or lower depending on several factors.
At some point Google deranked many sites which were spamming it using article directories and keyword stuffed content. Some of my major clients’ websites were affected and they could no longer sustain the bulk writing/submission system.
Some clients took off without paying me. I lost over $3,000. This was painful and frighteningly hard to recover from.
To try sustain my fast dropping income, I joined other sites like iWriter, Fiverr and Elance (now Upwork) and started writing there earning between $4 and $12 per 500 words. I also stopped bulk outsourcing and only worked with a small team of excellent writers.
With time, I was able to land higher paying clients, with my biggest one paying $200 per article (that was a one-time job though).
The game changer: How I started blogging?
Now that I had faced enough challenges as a struggling (but enthusiastic) writer, I asked myself, “Where do all these articles go?”
And that was a simple, life-changing question. I’ll tell you why in a little bit.
My closest friends at the time kept telling me to start a blog, but I had absolutely no idea how the blogging thing worked. It also looked scary since I was used to the predictable income from my writing clients.
I told you the above question was life-changing, right? This is because I wanted to now stop just being a freelance writer, but also earn as a blogger, just like my clients.
I started googling heavily to get information on blogging. I would literally copy paste great articles and save them in a Dropbox folder. I’d then keep reading and reading till I internalized the info. Later on I learnt I could use Evernote or Pocket to save articles. What a relief
With little knowledge (and very little cash), I started my free WordPress blog at the address http://freelancerkenya.wordpress.com/.
It was really lousy I tell you. Looked horrible but I loved it. Broke. Crazy. Fun. Adventurous. Here’s a 2012 screenshot.
I kept learning the craft and improving it.
Despite of the previous losses, my fire was blazing hotter than ever . So I did my best to post useful, relevant and actionable content. Some of my first blog posts still give me most of my traffic to date. Of course I strive to update the old posts often.
Readers would literally read my passion from the words I wrote. I wanted them to succeed, and not make the same mistakes I did. It was my joy seeing people come from being totally broke, to earning a living online.
“But, Walter, do you still want me to succeed?” you may ask.
“Yes I want YOU to succeed”, my response. That’s why I’m writing this post 🙂
Back then I didn’t even think much about monetization. This was just my way of giving back.
I took on a course called AffiloBlueprint which taught me a lot about monetization. One thing with me is that when I take a course, I learn what the trainer SAYS and observe what he DOES. Very important. For example, taking a course can help you learn how to build your own course (by watching what your trainer does), while you’ll also learn the core lessons from the course (such as affiliate marketing).
Blog monetization: Lessons from top bloggers
Top bloggers had some something they were selling. So I started selling my first eBook at just Sh. 500 bob. In day 1, I made 8k. I was gobsmacked !
I decided to self-host my blog. My mind did a quick poll and the ayes had it. It made financial sense to use Sh. 1300 per month and earn more than 20k from my blog, right? From my eBook sales I was sure I could hack at least 20k monthly blogging, and with more products, it would go to 100k plus.
You can pay way less hosting fees for your first year using this exclusive HostGator deal.
The thing about eBooks is they give you a set and go income generating system. Once you write the eBook and start selling, you won’t have to keep producing it again and again, you’ll just keep earning passively from it.
This removed me from the state where I had to wake up and write all day for clients. My eBook kept selling and selling.
eBook sales are usually very high when you launch, but they slowly keep going down and fluctuating depending on your marketing. At the time of writing this post, I have two eBooks for sale:
- How to Make REAL Money Online in Kenya
- Top Level Freelancing and Internet Marketing in Kenya
Experts told me email marketing would give increase my ROI by 3000% or so. Made financial sense, right? Why not spend Sh. 3,200 monthly (Sh. 1,900 plus Sh. 1,300 for domain/hosting) and earn over 100k per month?
Email marketing was another game changer. I quickly got thousands of subscribers. With that I was guaranteed that all my new posts would get instant traffic from my subscribers. Additionally, all my products would sell.
I’ve actually tested and proven this. I’ve created lots of products in my years of email marketing, and all have earned me well. Absolutely all of them :).
Did you think that just because you’re earning online you can’t hold events? You’re wrong. Events are awesome.
I organized so many events back in the days. And it was simple. All it took was to find out what people were really struggling with, then I’d hold a seminar in town and tackle the issue. I’d also be called for speaking engagements in different towns.
Here’s some quick math:
My very first seminar had 36 attendees and they all paid Sh. 500 each. That was Sh. 18k earned for just speaking for 3 hours. Remember before I started working online I was earning Sh. 15k PER MONTH. Now I would earn that in a 3-hour seminar thanks to blogging, email marketing and social media marketing.
Social media marketing
I love social media and I spend quite a chunk of my time there. I bet you do too. Most people spend 1-3 hours on social media every single day.
Any good marketer can cash in on this.
I created different Facebook pages and groups to cater for different needs. I used to accept all friend requests on Facebook till I got to the friend limit (5,000 friends). I then invited guys to follow me on Facebook and got thousands of followers.
As usual, I post useful, actionable tips on social media. Whenever I market something, I get awesome sales from social as well. I also get people to join my mailing lists for more info, making social media a win-win-win solution for me. You can feel free to join the different Facebook groups I created below:
- Remarkable Freelance Writers in Africa
- Awesome Transcribers in Kenya
- Savvy Internet Marketers and Online Freelancers
I realized that experts were doing more than eBooks, they were also training guys (me included) on different things. I then created my Complete Freelance Writing Training.
Currently, many top bloggers earn most of their income from courses.
Apparently, training helped these experts earn semi-passive income. There were also all these innumerable blessings that came with training and mentorship.
But how do you train?
You first need to be a subject matter expert – one of the very best in what you do. Join a lot of free and paid courses and learn how they’re done. You also benefit from the courses.
So, as stated above, I joined AffiloBlueprint and learnt a lot from the course. This actually was another game changer for me. It broke what I thought was my earnings barrier at the time.
Once I got trained and succeeded, I also started training guys passionately.
Courses are way better than eBooks. They bring in the mentorship aspects where you hold someone’s hand and take them through something. This leaves a mark in their lives that they never forget. Successful trainees market you heavily, spreading the word like wildfire. Check out a testimonial by one of my students below:
As opposed to what I talked about eBooks (income spiking during launch then going down), training income actually keeps going up if you play your cards right.
For something to come out well, there had to be a product launch. I had no idea what this was, but I studied the launch sequences of all these guys I was following online and there it was, I could now launch a product.
I used the product launch techniques to launch my training, second eBook, events and different service packages. Product launches can give you super profits when done well, especially through email marketing.
Other top bloggers I followed used to offer some kind of service – be it a direct service such as freelance writing or software as a service (SaaS) such as a social media marketing tool.
I couldn’t do SaaS since I didn’t have the budget, but I could definitely write and offer some financial services – where I helped people access their online cash from different accounts.
Over time I kept adding and removing different services. For example, I no longer offer any financial service for personal reasons. However, I still offer writing, editing, consultation and marketing services among others.
Offering different services was also a huge game changer. I once again broke my imaginary earnings barrier. I decided there’s no need to ever have barriers again.
We create our own mental barriers. We can do so much more than we have ever imagined. We just need to open our eyes, see what people more successful than us are doing and implement it in our own way.
Have you ever wondered whether you can create great blog/website content? Or if there’s something missing in your freelance writing skills? PenStars is here to help assess your writing and give you laser-targeted feedback on what you need to work on.
We created this site when we were both established in the market, so this is one of those that started earning from day 1, albeit slowly but steadily. I give all my Complete Freelance Writing course trainees 2 free PenStars submissions where they get top notch assessment from our international editors.
I therefore co-own the service and also use and pay for it. That’s just how much confidence I have in it. Join now and try it out as well.
You can also earn online, even if you’re starting out broke…
I started out very broke. Bills were piling up, some going months overdue. Getting food to eat was a problem. I decided to push myself beyond the limit to get to where I am today.
There are things I have not mentioned in the post, such as my first client not paying me, and even the offline transcription and data entry jobs I used to do. Imagine one of my offline typing clients once paid me Sh. 20 for a whole day’s work. Sh. 20! I quit immediately since transport alone used to cost Sh. 140 per day. It was hard.
The thing is I never gave up, and neither should you.
Things keep getting clearer as you take action. Once you’ve decided to do something worthwhile, become a fireball and do it with all your might. Avoid overthinking and procrastination. Learn from the best and become the best.
If you’ve loved this post, feel free to share it with your friends on social media. You can also join my free mini-course for writers for more tips on freelance writing or download my free blogging ebook here.
Did you also start out broke? What tips did you use to succeed? Or are you just struggling to start? Let us continue this conversation on the comments.