For the readers that don’t know, Maria Maina is a writer and freelancer extraordinaire. She is a graduate of the first edition of Biashara 30 – where she started her online freelancing career. Right now, Maria does something quite interesting: her online freelancing has grown to the point where she now has a team (of siblings and neighbors) who do all the work that she manages to get online through sites such as Freelancer.com. The set up very much resembles a BPO company, but on a smaller scale.
Q. You’re quite an achiever, tell us about you.
I’m just a kawa girl. If you met me on the street you would not think that I employ ten people from my home, LOL. I am a shy and private person. I think I am very talented at being hard working and ‘driven’. Also, “they” say that I’m quite young. I’m a girl who simply loves life! I love to live life to the fullest, you know? I take each day as it comes and I give it my absolute best, every time! Many people say I’m cheerful most of the time and pretty easy to talk to. I love my life and I love what I do.
Q. How did you start?
There was a time, in B30, that Kelvin was encouraging us to go out and try get online jobs so I was eager to try something out. A friend of mine had been using Elance for about six months, and she turned me on to Elance. She was behind on a project and asked me to help her with it for part of the payment, and I agreed. After working with her on it, I figured Elance was something I could do, so I checked them out, signed up, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Q. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
When I started out, I had no money in the bank and no access to any money. Things were thick! I used to live from hand to mouth month after month – every little bit of money that came in was already spent. But I gradually overcame this as I became better at getting clients and started saving.
Q. What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in Kenya?
I do not know if everyone faces this one – but not many people took me seriously. I kept hearing people tell me to get a job until my other business picked up. This is good advise and all but I believe one can only be successful if they focus sufficiently. One cannot focus sufficiently on both a full time job and a business – you have to choose. Atakaye yote hukosa yote.
Q. What was critical to your success?
I’m just a tenacious person. When I get into my stride I never give up. I think that is a quality that all business people need to have. Believe in yourself and never give up – no matter how dark and gloomy it gets.
Q. What about the competition and marketing, do you need to advertise, print flyers participate to conferences or is it mostly word of mouth?
I’m not sure how to answer this. I get all my clients online and the only form of advertising that I would say works is that all or almost all the clients I get really talk well of me. I would say word of mouth. It is the most important, anyway.
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?
Hey, people should wake up to the fact that if one is focused enough, then it does not matter where in the world you operate from. When you go to these online freelancing sites you will quickly realise that they are chock full of people from India. India is just like Kenya….why can’t we do it too?
Q. Where do you see yourself and your business (es) in the next 5 years?
Right now my whole team consists of semi professionals and we work from my home. I love that I can help my friends and family earn something. In the future I’d like to see it evolve to a point where I can hire more full time professionals who can help me manage the (hopefully) much bigger team. I want to see my little baby grow to the point where we can easily do five or six hundred gigs a month worth $30 each from sites like Elance and oDesk. That would be something, eh?
You always hear about BPO in the news and it is described in a way that makes you think it has to be a company getting huge contracts from big companies in America or Europe. Why can it not be a little business getting hundreds of tiny jobs from individuals all over the world?
Q. If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
It takes time to build up a client base and portfolio with references. You have to be willing to take a few jobs that are not exactly what you want to do or pay a little less than what you want to receive in order to gain that all important feedback and history built up so that people will trust you with the higher paying jobs. Initially I only did the very well paying gigs, I feel that if I did all and any jobs earlier, I would be much more ahead of where I am right now.
Q. What advice do you have for Internet business entrepreneurs in Kenya?
Freelancing is a business, not a hobby. In order to make enough money freelancing as your sole source of income, you have to treat it like the business that it is. You wouldn’t expect to be paid a full-time salary on a job for working part-time hours, right? And quality in your work are essential to being a successful freelancer.
That’s all for today readers. If you’d like to hear more from Maria Maina please visit her website: www.mariamaina.co.cc. Miss Maina wrote a book early in her freelancing career, you can find it here.