The downside of running your own business

I’ve been working freelance since February, and much as I hate to admit it, I’m bored. I always wanted to write for a living, but from the earliest days of blogging, it scared me. I was well aware that when you make a job out of a hobby, things get a little crazy. Once it becomes something you have to do, the fun goes out of it, and that’s not good. Money doesn’t make it easier – it makes it a whole lot harder.

I quit a good job in Tanzania because I wanted to work for myself. I wanted to do my own thing and get paid to write, and now I do. But it’s not what I expected. Of course there are perks. I pick my own hours, I’m here for my daughter, and I can hang out all day in pyjamas. My neighbours think I’m a housewife. A very strange housewife who has purple dreads and likes to walk around the estate in a sweatpants and a hooded sweater. One actually manned up the other day and asked me where I work. I said Westlands.

The part that tires me out is routine. I now have regular customers, but it’s the same thing. Write ten articles on bikes. Finish. Get paid. Write twenty articles on Nokia. Finish. Get paid. Write 15 articles on raspberry jam. Finish. Get paid. On and on and on and on. I’m still at the rookie stage, so I’ll make maybe $100 per assignment, and it’s a pretty good start. But when you make $100 for 100 articles, it can get a bit tedious, and I have to do at least 20 articles a day before it can pay off. That’s really tiring, and most days, I only manage 10.

At this point, it would be good to expand and get other people to do the writing so I can read Harry Potter all day,  but I don’t really want to. I love the writing, it’s just the humdrum that gets to me. When I wake up and find a brief that says ‘Write 10 pages on your imaginary boyfriend’ I’m thrilled, and it’s super fun for the first four pages. Then I push myself and finish all 10 pages, only to hear the client say, ‘Brilliant! I love it! Now invent 10 more imaginary boyfriends.’ I can barely stifle the groan. The gig pays really well, but I’m realising that sometimes, good money isn’t enough.

Maybe it’s just Quarter Life Crisis, [that runs until age 30, right?] but I feel disillusioned. If my dream job isn’t quite a dream, then what else will fall in my laps? Will I get my dream car and find it feels more like a mkoko? Will I buy my dream penthouse and get stuck with the neighbour from hell, or worse, have my mother-in-law buy out the building?

The thing with negative thoughts is that they spiral, and the more you dwell on them, the faster they increase. Jack Canfield says on The Secret that if it isn’t fun, he doesn’t bother to do it, but I can’t convince myself that he enjoys paying taxes, so I guess all rules have an exception. I don’t imagine sportspeople like waking up at 3.00 a.m. to train, or practicing every day for a year just to have it all hinged on a  ten second sprint. When I was whining about boredom to my better half, he asked me if there’s anything I like about freelancing, and I said, ‘Sure,’ and rattled off a list that was ten minutes long. He smiled and said, ‘See? It’s not so bad!’ How I love that boy.

So now I’m armed with a list of perks, and next time I’m restless, I’ll just look through the list. No matter how bad your job or business is, there are good things about it, and by dwelling on those, you can make it through the bad days. You might even turn the bad days good. And the good days are pretty awesome. I once got paid to say how much I like Ben 10. That was mad fun for the first four articles, but by the time I got to sixteen, even I knew I was bluffing. My client solved that my letting me write the articles in groups of five. She is SO cool.

I find basic writing assignments trying, because it’s fun saying how warm one woollen blanket; less fun saying it twelve different ways. I’d like to get to the level where I make $5000 on one assignment. Preferably, it won’t involve pimping on a Persian rug. But in the meantime, I love blogging assignments, so I spend a lot of time on those. I also update my website blog daily. Sometimes I feel bad that I spend more time working pro-bono, but it’s fulfilling, it keeps me sane, and it’s fun. Plus, yesterday I got a client recommended by a pal, and she hired me on the strength of my unpaid blogging. AND she recommended me to a second client who also liked my blog, so yay! I now have two long term clients paying me monthly to fill their blogs. How cool is that?! Definitely a good day.

Another thing you can do is to try emergency motivation. I’m told it’s a course in Boot Camp where they yell at you and call you names every time you start daydreaming. They also make you do press ups. The idea is to drill it into you that a boring task is fun. Later in life, when you feel like you’ll pluck your hair out on the assembly line, you just think of the drill sergeant and the press ups, and you have instant motivation. I’m told it’s very painful, it takes a while to learn, and you might become deaf, but it’s a worthy life skill for your 9 to 5. Me, I don’t like press ups; I prefer milk-free ice cream. So I’m going to stick with blogging, and when I buy that penthouse, I’m going to buy the whole building, just to keep my in-laws out.

Crystal Ading’ is a professional author, editor, rock lover, and mother. Her work is available through

Yay DukaPress!

When I moved back to Kenya last December, Kelvin was one of the first people I looked up. We’d chatted a bit online, and we talked for a good three hours about all things business. I now consider him a friend and a mentor, and he’s still the first person I call when I want to slap a client and I need to talk politely instead. He’s very good at Customer Care.

Kelvin and I laid out a lot of plans during that first meeting at T-spot. Some I implemented immediately, some took a little while longer, and some I completely forgot about for months. For example, it wasn’t until July that I signed up on GAF and Elance, and I didn’t get active until a month later. I’m now fairly settled with that. It’s not without challenges, but I know that I’ll get there eventually.

Another item on our agenda was starting an online shop. The idea was to gather all my little stories and put them on a platform. I’m very organised, but I’m also a bit of scatterbrain, so I have little bits of note paper, poetry verses, and half-finished novels that I’ve scribbled in my notebooks. Kelvin felt we could aggregate them and possibly make some money. I didn’t give the idea much thought until DukaPress came up. I’d always said I’d get the books PDFed and throw in some Photoshop covers, but I just never got round to doing it.

When Nickel Pro developed DukaPress, I didn’t know what it was, but I downloaded it anyway. Kelvin said it was a good idea, and after all, it was free. It sat idle on my dashboard for maybe another month while I fiddled around with Photoshop. I logged in occasionally to tweak the settings or something, but for the most part, it was just a pretty orange thing on my sidebar. Then Kelvin released this video and I immediately set it up. I drew up a quick book cover with Photoshop and google images, and posted my first two books on the shop.

The next few days were frustrating, because I realised that I’d have to buy a new Safaricom line to support Mpesa. *groan* I kept getting blank and partial orders, some of which were from me and Kelvin testing the system. I somehow clicked Paypal Sandbox and ended up opening a whole new account – I have no idea just what it was or why. But Kelvin helped me out and showed me where to click and where to check, and finally the shop was all set up.

Next came the Paypal issue. If I wanted to use Paypal, I would have to price the books in dollars , which is fine, except I kept thinking of this post and feeling like a dreadlocked Judas. I tweaked the shop like four times a day, mostly changing from Ksh to US$ and back again. If my website had a voice [and a hand] I’m sure it would have slapped me a thousand times over.

Yesterday I spent the whole day fimalising products, uploading covers, images and whatnot. I was still undecided on the whole US$ vs Ksh debate, so I was pretty excited when I saw Kelvin announce DukaPress 1.3.0 on twitter. It allows multiple currencies. Yay! It also allows manual control of the image sizes. It took me a while to figure it out, and I spent ages tweaking dimensions, literally. I’m sure it was at least three hours. By midnight, I was happy with the look of the site and the products, and everything was good to go. I did manage to somehow warp my media window, but Kelvin released 1.3.1, and I updated it early this morning with fabulous results.

What I really like about DukaPress, besides the fact that it’s free, is that it’s user-friendly. Even a technobof like me could figure it out, though it took me a while. Kelvin and the other guys at Dukapress are always available to solve problems, and you can even catch them on twitter. The interphase is smooth and pretty, and you can see results immediately, which is pretty awesome. I don’t have to mess with code to see my preferences flow, and it makes me feel like a nerd chick. Uber cool.

If you haven’t got DukaPress yet, I suggest you go download it. Business is all about selling stuff, and when someone gives you a prime, rent-free business space, you’d better find something good to sell. As for me, I’m content now that Kiosk 3CB is open for business.

Crystal Ading’ is a professional writer, editor, rock lover, and mother. Her work is available through

Enter Elance – Part 3

Just got here? Here is Part 1 and Part 2.

In the morning, I got mail that I’d won two jobs on Elance. Yay! Then I went to the kiosk and came back to see that I’d won two more jobs on GAF. Oookkkaaaaaay. While I was fixing breakfast, a third GAF client sent me a ‘yes’ for my bid. Yikes! I now had five different gigs totalling $300 and just four days to get them done. This was a different kind of panic.

I managed to push two of the clients to give me some extra time. One was crabby about it, but he liked my work, so he said ok. The other seemed excited that he had to wait. Go figure. He actually gave me five exra days, which is awesome. I like Canadians.

So far, I’ve managed to finish three of the projects, but I still have two to complete before Tuesday, and they total 190 articles ranging between 350 and 600 words, for which I will be paid $140. Wow.

Sometimes I think it’s sad that people with talent and papers get stuck doing grunge work. On one job that I bid, a fellow freelancer explained that he had two Masters degrees and had edited a newspaper, yet his bid was lower than mine. Plus, he’s in the States, so I’m sure he needs to earn way more than I do. The cost of living there is higher. But I guess we do what we have to.

Elance is a touch more OCD than GAF is, which is why the clients there are willing to spend more. Once you win a job on Elance, you get a workroom where you have to issue status reports on the progress of your work. You have milestones, or targets, so that the client knows exactly how many articles you have written by a certain time. You can get jobs where you’re paid per hour, and there’s a stopwatch to calculate just how much time you’ve actually spent on the project. There’s a provision for having a freelance team, so you can bid on multiple projects and ‘outsource’ with more transparency.

I like Elance more than GAF because the jobs are at a higher level, so you’re more likely to work with professionals. Online professionals are generally nice. Sometimes the people I work with on GAF are bullies with zero customer care, and it’s enough to make you smash your monitor … on their heads! The things we do for love money.

So, between Elance and GAF, I’ve reached my August target of $500, which has me pretty excited. My target for next month is $2000. I’d eventually like to make $5000 dollars a month, so that I can own a penthouse by 2020. I still have clients offline who bring in another 10 to 20,000 Ksh some months, but they’re not consistent, so my online work does the bills. Any work from the ‘real world’ is an investment bonus.

I can’t withdraw my GAF money before 31st, but after that, I can access it through Moneybookers, and I hear Paypal finally styled up, so yay! My GAF debit card gets here in about a month, and it’s usable on Elance as well, so I can easily draw my money. But meanwhile, I’m paying my membership through Paypal via my KCB card, and now that it accepts cash receipts, I can divert my Elance cash there and figure out some other way to draw it.

I’m really liking this freelance gig. It’s virtually cost-free except for electricity, $30 for membership, and my Zuku subscription. There’s no market saturation because there’s enough work for all of us. And the best part is that unless the worldwide web collapses, I’ll never be  retrenched or fired. How cool is that?

Crystal Ading’ is a professional author, editor, rock lover and mother. Her work is available through

Enter Elance – Part 2

Just got here? Here’s Part 1.

Next, you set up your profile by adding education and employment info. You don’t have to, but it helps you get jobs, because the client can see what you can do. Papers [or lack of them] are not necessarily a disadvantage online. On the internet, most people don’t care if you’re a boy or girl, if you’re black or yellow, if you have three PhDs or a high school diploma. What they care about is your skill, and you can show that clearly in your bid.

Speaking of skills, Elance has lots of free tests that you can do to prove how good you are. All the tests are multiple choice and are timed at 20 to 40 minutes. Some of them are pretty hard. When I first joined, I was afraid to bid and fail, so I procrastinated by spending six hours doing tests. I told myself I was improving my chances of being hired, but I knew I was just stalling. I did about 12 tests and failed two of them. Four more tests were registered as incomplete because I chickened out after doing three or four questions. Incomplete grades you as auto-fail by the way.

Depending on the type of membership you have, your profile will show between 5 and 20 test skills. They’re important because when you bid on  job, the client will check to see if you have the right skills for it. Fortunately, you have an option to hide your failed tests, so phew. Also, if you fail a test [or if you want a higher score] you can resit the test after 14 days.

Let’s see, what else. Oh, you have a number of connects every month which allow you to bid jobs. Most jobs need just one connect to bid, but the higher the budget, the more connects you need. Free  membership gives you ten connects a month, which means you can’t bid on more than ten jobs, although you can buy more connects at any time. 10 extra connects cost $5. I have a paid membership, so I pay $10 per month and get 25 connects. I generally bid on one job per day. Combine this with GAF and I’m trying out for 6 jobs every day, though I don’t bid when I have clients waiting; I don’t want to be overwhelmed and end up breaking deadlines.

Being the Queen of Technobofia, I had a few issues registering on Elance. I somehow managed to book myself in as a programmer, so I couldn’t bid on any writing jobs. I tried to correct it but got nowhere, so I registered a new account, this time as a writer, but it wouldn’t acknowledge my membership so I couldn’t do any tests. Then, because I had two account on the same IP, both accounts were suspect and kept asking me to prove that I was really me. *russumfussumsecretquestions*

I asked Support for help, and this awesome lady named Sophie helped me out without so much as a giggle. She deleted one account, corrected the second account, and upgraded me to 25 connects. I’m amazed she was so patient, as it took 10 emails between us to fix everything. I’m clearly a Passenger D kind of girl, but you rock Sophie.

When I finally got over my fear [and ran out of tests to do] I bid on four jobs, then I went to sleep. Two bids were $100 each, one bid was for $250 and the fourth was for $300. I used up four of my 10 free connects. That day had been particularly rough, because I hadn’t won a bid for five days. I went into panic mode and bid on seven GAF jobs plus the four on Elance.

… to be continued …

Crystal Ading’ is a professional author, editor, rock lover and mother. Her work is available through

Enter Elance – Part 1

I’ve been a GAF member for just over two months, but I’ve only been active since the 1st of August. So far, I’ve earned $ 180, which is not a bad start. It’s hard, because some days I have work from three different clients and I’m afraid to sleep, then after that I get four days where I win no bids at all.

The best strategy is to make as many bids as you can. I try to do a minimum of five bids a day, and some days I do as many as ten. The down side of this system is that I may end up with more work than I can handle. Luckily, the clients I’ve worked with are happy and patient, and some are willing to wait a few days before I start on their projects. In a way, you seem more talented when you have a waiting list, so the clients are more convinced you’re worth their money.

Once you get to the level of having too much work, you might want to do what Wham called working smart. You could gather your own team and outsource some projects to them. That way, you work less and earn more.

It’s a system that wouldn’t work for me because as much as I enjoy making money, I enjoy the writing more. Unless I’m really broke, I only bid on jobs that look like fun, so having someone else do the work would take the pleasure away. For me. Fortunately for capitalism, very few people think like I do. *cheeky grin*

Being a one-woman operation seriously drops your earning potential though, because no matter how good you are and how much coffee you drink, you can only work so many hours in a day. Besides, coffee makes me hyper.

There are two ways to fix this problem. Not the coffee problem – that one is beyond salvaging, so I just stick with black lemon tea. The only way you can boost your income – without becoming an employer – is to bid on bigger jobs. On sites like GAF that’s not quite possible, because the average gig pays $30. The site was started as a way for employers to get their work done on the cheap, so the low cost is part of their strategy. I thought about finding another site, so I tried Elance.

Elance is a slightly high-end provider compared to GAF. The lowest you can legally bid on a job is $50, and they have projects with a budget of up to $100,000. Per job.

Of course, Elance is harder to get into than GAF. I opened my account in July, then ignored it for a few weeks because I had to take a test to enter. *Groan* Eventually, I gathered the guts to do the test. It’s multiple choice, and it’s open book. Each question gives you a link where you can find answers, but since the test is only 40 minutes long, you may not have time to use the links.

There’s a resource called Elance University that gives you all the material for the test, and it’s a good idea to browse the campus before you sit to answer questions. EU gives information on where to get jobs, making successful bids, how to get paid and things like that. You can either read the material or watch a video. It’s pretty basic stuff, but there’s a lot of volume. I had to hang out there all day before I felt ready, and I still scored just 80%.

After you pass the test, you have to verify your phone number so they know you’re legit. It’s a pretty straightforward thing. When you click ‘verify’, you get an alert that asks you what time you want to be called. You can choose ‘right now’ or ‘in two minutes’ or whatever. The autovoice thingie gives you a call and while your phone is ringing, a code appears on your screen, which you read out when the autovoice tells you to. Voilà, you’re legit.

to be continued …

Crystal Ading’ is a professional author, editor, rock lover and mother. Her work is available through

Kenyans on Freelancer – Part 4

Here’s Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

I finally applied for my Freelancer card, which will let me draw my GAF earnings at any Kenyan Mastercard ATM. But it seems to have a lot of hidden charges. You pay $2 per every time you to load your card.  There’s a $3 levy fee monthly that allows you two transactions, with an additional dollar for every transaction after that. ATM withdrawals are $2.15 a piece outside the US, and it came with a fine print that I could barely read and hardly understood. That comes to almost Ksh 200 at a time. There’s even a charge for balance enquiries.

There’s a story I read online about the four types of plane passengers:

  1. Passenger A = All about me
  2. Passenger B = Business class
  3. Passenger C = Casual
  4. Passenger D = Deer in the headlights.

Passenger Ds are apparently the most scary, because they often pull shagzmodo moves that can crash the plane. Three guesses to which type I am.

When I first reached the $30 mark that allowed me to apply for a card, I was so excited that I rushed to fill the form. When it asked me to fill in ‘State’ I ignored it, and when it said P.O.Box is not an acceptable form of address, I stuck my tongue out. My application was rejected for incomplete information.

When I was done tantrumming, I emailed support and asked if I could get a card in Kenya, explaining the whole state and P.O.Box thing. They replied politely, showed me where to change the country from US to Kenya [Duh!!] and explained that I should fill in my physical address but that after my card was approved, I should write them an email requesting them to change my shipping address to P.O.Box. So I did.

Nothing happened for two days, then they sent me an email saying the card was being sent to my physical address, and asking me to give details to confirm my identity if I wanted to change my shipping address. They said it would cost me an extra $9.95 [to replace the card]. *russumfussum*

Meanwhile, my Moneybookers account is activated, and my bank accounts are attached, so I can withdraw using my standard ATM cards … after a $2.32 bank-to-bank transfer which I think takes 4 days. There’s a 1.99% charge for currency conversion, and a levy fee of $1.50 a month if your account is inactive. Active accounts – i.e. if you log in and transact at least once every 18 months – are free. It says there’s $2.32 Visa charge which I won’t even try to figure out, but at least there’s no charge for uploading funds.

Attaching my bank accounts was a lot easier than I thought. All I had to do was key in the bank swift code and my account number, and voila, ATM is ready to withdraw. Finding the swift code took me 2 hours. There are 4 ways to find a bank swift code:

  1. Call the bank. Unless you’re dating a bank employee, good luck with that. You could just walk into the bank … unless you’re a freelancer wearing pyjamas at 2.00 p.m. with no desire to shower and change.
  2. Check the bank’s website. Good idea. Unless your bank website doesn’t have a search box. WTF?!
  3. Check an online swift code directory. But you have to be a registered member.
  4. Check your bank statement. Right. Where is it again?

In the end, I googled and found the code on one of those articles that read:

If you’d like to make a donation to the XYZ medical bill, send your funds to Bank ABC account number 12345 Swift Code …

And just like that, my bank accounts were attached. Yay! I still have a maximum card loading option of $300 if I want to put money directly onto my credit card – for some inexplicable reason. Paypal is better for that. Paypal doesn’t let me receive or withdraw funds here, but I can use my Moneybookers to withdraw up to $5000 every 90 days. I can increase this amount by verifying my physical address [groan] or sending a $30 bank transfer to Germany…

So. I now have an active Freelance profile, a few new tricks to use, a one hundred dollar balance, and a way to access my earnings. Yay!

Oh wait … there’s a 15 day waiting period before GAF can release my first withdrawal. Groan. Sometimes I think security measures are ^%$£&%$£&%$&%£!!! Le big sigh.

Crystal Ading’ is a professional author, editor, rock lover and mother. Her work is available through

Kenyans on Freelancer – Part 3

If you’re just stepping in, please have a look at the first and second parts.

My GAF ( account has just hit the $100 mark and I’m pretty excited! I’m still very winded, and inside my head, I can’t stop dancing. I’m doing some dancing outside my head too, and quite a bit of screaming. Luckily, my house is soundproof, so no one has come to my rescue … yet.

I didn’t have any online work today, so I caught up with an offline client [though ironically, I needed to do the project with internet] and spent some time boosting my chances of getting hired on GAF. One way to do that is by sitting exams.

Relax, they last just 15 minutes and are multiple choice.

For writers, there are only two exams you can sit. There’s the English proficiency exam, which anyone from 8-4-4 can sit. I took 332 seconds and scored 98%. I’m sure they rigged it, because I don’t see how I got anything wrong. The test costs $5 by the way.

The second test you can sit is the Freelancer test. It’s free … and I failed it 3 times before I passed. Don’t ask me how I failed, just chill in the FAQ section before you start. You’re allowed to sit the test as many times as you like, but there’s a catch. If you have no feedback, you can only do the test once. After feedback, you get 6 tries for every feedback.

There are over 20 tests for accountants, designers, programmers and etc. But you can only sit 3 exams a day, so by failing the same one three times, I was really pushing it. Lucky for me there are no other tests for writers, so I wasn’t missing anything.

Perhaps I should explain feedback. After you’ve finished a project and been paid, you get an option of reviewing your boss and vice versa. You have to do this within 90 days. When you give feedback, it remains hidden until the other person responds [or until 14 days pass]. Your boss [client] can choose to block your feedback if it’s negative, but I don’t know if freelancers have the same option.

The more feedback you have, the better your chances of getting new projects. The top freelancer currently has almost 1500 reviews, and he’s been on the site since 2007. He’s a graphic designer. Number 2 has around 1420, is a designer as well, and has been on GAF since 2004. I think it’s a girl.

As I was browsing the stats, I noticed something. Despite being on GAF for years and having earned more than anyone else, they still lose bids, and they still get jobs worth $40. I don’t know if this makes me mean, but I found that very consoling.

I’ve learnt some of the GAF tricks, but I’m sure I’ll learn more every day. I’m trying not to cry every time I lose a bid, or to stalk the profile of the writer who won my lost bid. I’m learning that some people play dirty on the site, and that it’s immensely satisfying when you get the last laugh … which I’m still waiting on. It’s coming; it’s kharma.

I’m learning not to bid randomly. You can use a strategy so you can get paid without necessarily being a driven slave. And I’m learning that you don’t have to like a client to work for them, which is a massive lesson for me, especially when a potential client asks you where you’re from, and when you say Kenya, they ask, ‘What’s that?’  I did a search for Kenyan freelancers on GAF, and got over 1500 hits. There are a lot of us on there, and we’re all pretty active. It’s interesting to know.

…  to be continued …

Crystal Ading’ is a professional author, editor, rock lover and mother. Her work is available through