For the readers that don’t know, our interviewee today is an accomplished freelancer from right here in Kenya! She’s one of the most successful local freelancers I have heard of, having won a one year government tender to offer writing and editorial services for a regulatory state corporation recently. Imagine that! Our interviewee pens her thoughts at: http://kenyanfreelancer.blogspot.com. You can also find her on her website: www.smurtnotes.com
Q. You’re quite an achiever, tell us about you.
Thank you for having me here. I am writer, blogger, editor and proofreader. I found my passion in writing about a year ago and decided to pursue it, at first on a part time basis before taking it up full time at the beginning of the year.
Q. How did you start?
I started freelancing by chance. I had been working in corporate Kenya since leaving collage and my last FT job was in the banking sector. Upon leaving the bank and back into the overcrowded job market, I was searching for a job when I chanced upon an online magazine (nairobi.tujuane.com; I still write for them) searching for contributors/freelancers for their business magazine. With little knowledge about online writing but a salient passion and determination for writing, I put forward my application and like they say, the rest is history.
Q. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
The people over at tujuane were very supportive, understanding and offered the much needed help. However, the reality of working as a freelancer hit me so hard that it took me a while to adjust. Without a regular work schedule, daily commuting and no boss to answer to, at first it seemed like an easy thing to do, but it took an enormous amount of determination and self-discipline on my part to make it work.
I was also battling with the idea of telling people that I freelance which I must say is somewhat new here in Kenya. (Interestingly, saying you freelance is coded to suggest that one has no regular FT job hence searching). But after much thought, I realized what I did/do is no different than what people with a 9-5 do, just that I work from a home office with my own set of rules, structures and schedules and a very demanding boss-me. This has helped me greatly.
Q. What are the challenges of being a freelancer in Kenya?
Getting people to understand that being a freelancer is not about lazing around the house in your pyjamas and a bowl of pop-corn seated in front of the TV, while others are busy working out there. It’s still difficult to explain to people that I work from my home office, at times working 10-12 hours a day.
There is also the notion that one is not a professional or cannot deliver to par as those working in an office setting.
Finding clients has been an uphill task as Kenyans have been socialized to believe a 9-5 or operating an office outside your house is how one should be making a living. But, I must say this perception is changing, thanks in part to technology that has made it easier and fast to communicate with one’s clients anywhere in Kenya and/or the world.
Q. What was critical to your success?
Having a vision and believing in my abilities. I have also continuously sought to improve my skills by reading widely and attending workshops that can impart the necessary skills needed to be successful.
I am also a risk taker as I believe one can only know the extent of their abilities by taking wise and well calculated chances. Toss in a bit of luck, passion and drive; and you have a winning formula.
I do not view my freelancing as a hobby but as a business, thus putting in place the necessary business structures to support it.
Q. What about the competition and marketing? Do you need to advertise, print flyers participate in conferences or is it mostly through word of mouth?
I can say most of my clients are through word of mouth, networking, knocking on people’s doors and contacts I make at conferences. Having a presence online (blog) has greatly contributed to my marketing efforts. My business card acts as my marketing tool by clearly stating what I do and how I do it.
As for competition, I do not worry about it as the market is large enough for any one person, let alone a multitude, to fully exhaust it. It also depends with one’s line of work, how specialised, demand and market forces.
Q. Do you think that in order to “make it big” online you have to live in a Western country? Or does Kenya offer more or less the same opportunities?
I do believe, as long as you have high speed internet, patience, persistence and good judgment when it comes to making a living online, it does not really matter where you work from. I personally started writing online and still do, before sourcing for clients’ offline.
Q. Where do you see yourself and your business(es) in the next 5 years?
When I made the decision to freelance full time, I ensured to put in place a strategy that will chart my path to accomplishing my goals and vision such as working with a large corporation or even the government-but in the distant future, say, in three years time. But, this came sooner than expected and have had to make adjustments to my plans for bigger things. In the next five years, I hope to have made significant strides by having a freelance agency where businesses, government and NGOs can come to and source for highly skilled freelance professionally for their projects here in Kenya.
Q. If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
To be honest, I wouldn’t change a thing as I have learned so much during my short stint as a freelancer and still do. The only thing I would say… why didn’t I start this sooner!
Q. What advice do you have for internet business entrepreneurs in Kenya?
Just choose an internet service provider that charges for unlimited usage on a monthly basis. This will save you the first headache of working online/remotely without running a huge bill on internet usage. Trust me on this!
Have a contingency plan just incase things do not go as planned e.g. the current power rationing or how to meet your deadlines and other obligations when you are under the weather.
Last but not least, there are so many scams out there and one has to be very careful when venturing into internet business. Google is there to help you filter companies/individuals that want to make you a statistic of scammed individuals online. Just search for companies that you feel are not genuine or suspicious. You maybe surprised what comes of it.
For aspiring freelancers, one thing that needs to be clarified and understood is that not everyone can/should freelance let alone do it successfully. It takes guts, passion, determination and vision, and of course, an entrepreneurial spirit to make it.
Good luck and all the best.